“We’ve never done a project where people have been riled up like this," developer George Sangiuliano says of his proposal to build 39 condos on the Miele's Greenhouse property and the residents who oppose it.
Sangiuliano says he never sees this level of alarm from folks with properties abutting his projects. At the most, “sometimes they want a fence," he says.
Sangiuliano bought the property along Lake Avenue a year ago from Lou Miele for $2.5 million, according to Miele, though the sale won't be final until plans for the condos are approved. Sangiuliano declined to confirm the sale price. In March, he applied to build luxury townhomes on the five-acre property. Some neighbors instantly balked and have formed a group called the Clark Neighbors to oppose the housing project.
The Clark Neighbors consist of many residents with homes adjacent to the Miele’s property and they are against the condo complex for a laundry list of safety, traffic, environmental and aesthetic reasons. The group has started a grassroots effort distributing fliers, launching a website, creating lawn signs, hiring an attorney and becoming the leaders for those opposed to the condo complex. The first time the condo application was scheduled to be heard at a planning board meeting on July 7, so many residents had been galvanized that the meeting had to be rescheduled for a space that could accommodate all who wished to attend. The rescheduled meeting took place at Arthur L. Johnson’s auditorium with nearly 200 people in attendance on Oct. 20. The next meeting is set for 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
Meanwhile, Sangiuliano claims his proposed condo complex, known as Stone Hill Village, meets every bit of the ordinance that governs development on the site and believes the project will be an asset — not a detriment — to the town.
Sangiuliano says he has deep roots here in Clark where he’s lived for some 40 years. He has previously served on council and been a leader in community organizations like UNICO and Kiwanis. “When people see the renderings of what we’re going to build, I think many of them are going to think completely different about it,” he says. The renderings were unveiled at the Oct. 20 meeting – see them in our gallery, above.
Sangiuliano points to some of his other properties as examples of his work, including the condos on Cellar Avenue, the homes on Melvin Court and the new medical/professional building where Steak n’ Ale once was.
Through their website, the Clark Neighbor's argue, "With so little greenspace left in Clark, do we really need multi-family housing on every available piece of open land? Or do we need to protect the value of our homes, the quality of our neighborhoods as they currently exist and keep the small town feel which brought us to Clark?"
“I’m disappointed that they’re so upset because it's going to be a beautiful project that’s going to enhance the town,” Sangiuliano says. “And it’s going to provide more tax dollars for the town.” Sangiuliano's project, as a condo development, would be taxed at a higher level than Miele's, a farm and business.
Sangiuliano also believes that the Clark Neighbors misunderstand how much recourse they have exactly to prevent condos from being built.
“I've heard that the only thing those people will accept there is a park or one-family houses,” he says. “That tells me they don’t understand. To build one-family houses is not an approved use in that zone. You can’t just pop up and say we want to build one-family houses. The ordinance has existed for many years, with the property zoned this way since 1991. Our project meets 100-percent of the ordinance."
Indeed, though residents sometimes confuse the planning board application process for a democratic one – that is, board members should listen to citizens’ concerns and vote based on what it seems most residents want – in fact, the board has little power to deny an application if it meets the requirements of the ordinance. Planning board attorney Michael Cresitello confirms that as long as the applicant meets the requirements of the municipal land use laws, a planning board cannot deny an application simply because there’s public outcry.
Sangiuliano also says that he offered to meet with the Clark Neighbors group to explain the project clearly and answer any of their questions. “I offered to bring all of my professionals and even offered to pay for a place to show them the project,” he says.
The Neighbors turned down his offer. “We didn’t want to walk into a sales pitch,” Marianne Disporto, co-leader of the group, told Patch.
When discussing the Clark Neighbors group, Sangiuliano says he prefers to “take the high road,” but believes their efforts are misguided.
“They need to verify some of the misinformation they’re putting out,” Sangiuliano says of the Clark Neighbors' flyers and postcards. “They have a lot of nerve.”
The Clark Neighbors believe the application is further complicated by the possibility of low- and moderate-income housing units to be built on the property because of state-mandated requirements under the recently disbanded Coalition for Affordable Housing. Sangiuliano maintains that the township has authorized a waiver of these requirements, but the Clark Neighbors are skeptical that such maneuvering is legal, even with COAH in flux. This COAH issue was brought up at the Oct. 20 meeting, with planning board attorney Michael Cresitello asserting that the waiver (which requires developers to pay a fee per unit into the town's affordable-housing trust fund) is allowable. That fund is then used to build the low- and moderate-income units elsewhere in town or used to pay another town to build the units.
At this Thursday's planning board meeting at Arthur L. Johnson's auditorium, Sangiuliano will take the mic and explain the project himself, followed by a question and answer period for those in attendance.
“At all costs, I want to avoid as much hard feelings as can be avoided,” Sangiuliano says. “My name is on many projects here. I would never want to do anything that’s going to hurt the town."
This is the third post in our series. Read "Why is Miele's Being Sold?" our first story on the Miele family feud that led to the sale of the property, and "'Clark Neighbors' Lead Fight Against Miele's Condos," our second story that profiles the group opposed to the project. Check back for a response from Clark Mayor Sal Bonaccorso on whether the town is overdeveloped and later in the week for our coverage of the planning board's second meeting to discuss the application.