A developer has revived a controversial proposal to build a housing development off West Chestnut Hill Road – a project that was tabled twice a decade ago due to concerns from neighbors.
Just like the first two times, the neighbors are once again mobilizing to oppose the project, which they say will destroy a wooded area and add to traffic and flooding concerns in the area.
“This is like déjà vu,” Brad Bugher, a resident of West Chestnut Road, said Monday. “Traffic is an issue; runoff is an issue.”
The plan calls for building 44 two-story townhouses on an 8.9-acre site on Independence Way. In order to do so, the developer is seeking to have the land annexed into the city of Newark as well as rezoned and subdivided.
Independence Way is a short road off West Chestnut Hill Road. Across Independence Way from the land in question is Exceptional Care for Children, a pediatric nursing home. At the end of the road is the Southridge Condominiums, a 55-and-over community.
“I think [the project] fits nicely within the area,” said Jeffrey T. Russell, vice president of Diversified Holdings Inc., the Radnor-Pa.-based investment company that owns the land. “I think it’s an ideal use to fit into the location.”
The Village of Chestnut Hill project, which initially called for 48 townhouses restricted to those 55 and older, was approved by the city’s planning commission in 2004 but stalled the following year amid concerns from neighbors. In 2007, Diversified Holdings tried again for city council approval, but pulled it from the agenda in an attempt to address concerns. Shortly after, the economic downturn decimated the real estate market, and the project never progressed.
Now, the company is proposing largely the same plan, except with four fewer units and the townhouses no longer restricted to seniors.
“We said, ‘Let’s take another shot at this now,’” Russell said. “The market is much improved from where it was before.”
Residents of Southridge caught wind of the project earlier this year and began organizing a petition drive against it. As of last week, they had approximately 200 signatures from residents of several surrounding neighborhoods.
“We’re not against development, but we’re against them turning 9 acres of forest into asphalt and townhomes,” Southridge resident Paul Havey said.
Mona Stein, another Southridge resident, concurred.
“It’s not like we’re saying absolutely nothing,” Stein said. “We’re just saying we don’t want annexation and we don’t want deforestation.”
Havey said the main concern is flooding. Right now, during heavy rains, water comes from the neighborhoods north of West Chestnut Hill Road, flows downhill across the road and floods the Southridge parking lot and residents’ garages, he noted.
Adding more houses will only make the problem worse, he said.
“We’re trying to be proactive,” Havey said.
Denise Schwartz, another Southridge resident, is also concerned about adding traffic to Independence Way and West Chestnut Hill Road.
“The backup now in the morning is horrendous,” Schwartz said.
Lydia Timmins, who lives on West Chestnut Hill Road adjacent to the proposed townhouse community, said heavy traffic already creates a dangerous situation for kids who board school buses along the road.
“Adding more cars to that road is asking for trouble,” Timmins said.
Russell said Monday he is aware of the residents’ concerns.
“Obviously when you build something, you take away from something else,” he said. “To the extent there are trees that have to come down, it’s just the give and the take, and having more units in there, of course there will be traffic.”
Russell said the company plans to meet with the residents soon to discuss the project.
“We’ll do what we can to accommodate specific concerns,” he said. “Within reason, we’ll do whatever we can because we want to be good neighbors.”
Opponents have attended the past two city council meetings to make their concerns known, and Stein said they have no intention of letting up.
“I come from a long line of organizers,” she said.