Clustering Gone Bad?

The Pinelands Commission and Buena Vista Township, Atlantic County has received a cluster development application for the Rural Development Management Area of the Pinelands. The application which was submitted by IMAJE LLC, - Ira Mendelsohn’s does not raise any inconsistencies with the Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP), but when you take a close review of the site plans for this 97 home project it’s hard to see how this cluster layout will protect the natural resources of the Pinelands.

The Pinelands Commission, on July 7, 2010, issued a Certificate of Filing development application in Buena Vista Township. This certificate is what the applicant needs to proceed to the Buena Vista Planning Board for preliminary and final major subdivision approval. It also lets the applicant know if their proposal, which has been submitted to the Pinelands Commission, is consistent with the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP).

The certificate issued by the Pinelands Commission for IMAJE LLC, - Ira Mendelsohn’s Buena Vista Township application does not raise any inconsistencies with the CMP, but when you take a close review of the site plans for this 97 home project it’s hard to see how this cluster layout will protect the natural resources of the Pinelands.

The Pinelands Commission adopted amendments to the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan in April of 2009 require mandatory clustering of residential development in the Pinelands Forest and Rural Development Areas. The IMAJE LLC, - Ira Mendelsohn application, located in Buena Vista’s Rural Development Area, is the first application for a cluster development that PPA is aware of since these new cluster rules took effect.

In Buena Vista Township single family homes are permitted in the RDR-1 zoning district at a residential density of 1 dwelling unit per 3.2 acres but the CMP mandates the clustering of homes on lots of at least 1 acre whenever two or more dwelling units are proposed as part of a residential development. The balance of the property within the development is required to be permanently deed restricted from further development.

Image of Buena Vista Cluster map, by Fred AkersBuena Vista Cluster map, by Fred Akers ©PPA

The applicant, IMAJE LLC, - Ira Mendelsohn, is proposing to build 97 single family homes. Eighty one homes which would be permitted under the RDR-1 zoning (on 3.2 acre lots) and an additional 16 units are mandated under the CMP’s clustering bonus provision. The above map shows the location of the homes (red lots) and the deed restricted open space lots (green lots).

The red area to the northeast will contain 38 homes while the red area to the south will support 59 homes. The 38 home cluster is surrounded on two sides by some of the deed restricted open space while the 59 home cluster will have no surrounding open space. The only additional open space associated with this portion of the proposal is located at the far northwest point of the cluster, 1/2 mile from homes on the southeast end of the cluster.

A portion of the red 59 home cluster application is outlined in green on the above map. This area was designated by Herpetological Associates (click here to review report), in 2006, as critical habitat for the Barred Owl (strix varia). The Barred Owl (strix varia) is a New Jersey threatened species and habitat which was deemed as critical to its survival is now being proposed for development.

The natural-resources goal of the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan is to "preserve, protect, and enhance the overall ecological values of the Pinelands, including its large forested areas, its essential character, and its potential to recover from disturbance." In 2008, the Pinelands Commission completed an Ecological Integrity Assessment of the entire pinelands area and in this study the lots proposed for development by IMAJE LLC, - Ira Mendelsohn obtained a score of 90 to 100%. This score is supported by the 2006 Herpetological Associates report. A review of all the survey reports seems to suggest that there will be impacts to a portion of Barred Owl (strix varia) habitat. These habitat areas, under the new cluster rules, were to reap more protective benefits because applicants would be required to deed restrict large contiguous open space areas in the Forest and Rural Development Management Areas of the Pinelands. In this application the open space lots are barely connected and don’t provide for a contiguous connection of all the forested open space areas of the development.

The IMAJE LLC, - Ira Mendelsohn application is proposing to use 74 conventional septic systems and 23 alternate design systems. The lots proposed to have the alternate design systems (Amphidrome, Bioclere and FAST) will be scattered throughout the two development clusters. The 74 conventional septic systems, in theory, will have the benefit of the open space for dilution, but this open space does not surround the homes portion of the development. For the 59 home cluster portion the dilution area is about a half a mile to the north with ground water flow to the south of the development cluster.

This cluster layout will also have impacts to Buena Vista Township’s rural character and place strains on its municipal infrastructure.

In the Pinelands Commission’s rule proposal summary for the cluster regulations, page 38, states "Mandatory clustering on smaller lots may also result in lower building lot values, although the presence of substantial permanently protected land adjacent to the development area will reduce this impact. For example, an examination of recent data suggests a diminution in value of between 25 and 50 percent. The bonus density provisions being proposed and the added value which should accrue to the lots due to the proximity of and access to protected open space will reduce or eliminate this potential negative economic impact for property owners." The IMAJE LLC, - Ira Mendelsohn 59 home cluster portion will have no surrounding open space to reduce the impact because the open space for the 59 home cluster portion is located about a half of a mile to the north of all the units. Only the two units backing up to the open space will not have this reduced impact. Fifty seven of the new homes built, using the Pinelands Commission’s data, will have a 25 to 50 percent lower assessment than the homes in the surrounding neighborhood. The Fiscal Impact Analysis submitted by The IMAJE LLC, - Ira Mendelsohn indicates that all the homes will have an equal value. Click here to read the report.

Homeowners will have to belong and pay into a homeowners association responsible for maintaining all the storm water measures and protecting the open space. There will be legal deed restrictions on every lot requiring storm water system maintenance, no tree removal, and limiting the accessory uses to each lot. In reviewing the application it is unclear how this homeowners association will be established and how these restrictions will be enforced. If there isn’t a viable homeowners association infrastructure put into place at the beginning of the project, which includes six phases, Buena Vista Township would have to step in to ensure that maintenance measures are being taken care of on a regular basis.

For this development proposal there is no room for any active recreational facilities to be placed within the development. Buena Vista Township’s land use ordinance allows applicants to pay fees in lieu of recreational facilities. The fee is $2,500 per created lot prior to signing the final plot plan. The applicant, IMAJE LLC, - Ira Mendelsohn, is asking that the fees be required at the time each phase (click here for phase map) is being approved by the township. This means any recreational facilities Buena Vista wants to establish could not be completed until all phases are approved which could take 5 to 10 years (unspecified by the applicant due to current poor economic times). This also means early occupiers of homes would begin to use and possibly even strain Buena Vista Township’s current recreation facilities.

This application has begun the local approval process with the first of several meetings before the Buena Vista Township Planning Board. IMAJE LLC, - Ira Mendelsohn is asking for preliminary approval and in the near future will be requesting final approval.

Watch this web page for future updates announcing the date and times of meetings. Next meeting: Thursday, December 20, 2012 at 7:30 p.m.

PPA opposed the mantory cluster provisions as proposed by the Pinelands Commission. See our Pinelands Watch Issue 47.

Other documents

Download Cluster Buena Vista - Township  Planner Review

Cluster Buena Vista - Township Planner Review - 2.6MB
Karabashian Eddington Planning Group, dated 06 Nov 2012

Download Cluster Buena Vista - Township Engineer Review

Cluster Buena Vista - Township Engineer Review - 1.2MB
Schaeffer Nassar Scheidegg Consulting Engineers, dated 15 May 2012

Download Cluster Buena Vista - Township Engineer Review

Cluster Buena Vista - Township Engineer Review - 1.3MB
Schaeffer Nassar Scheidegg Consulting Engineers, dated 21 May 2012

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