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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 4, 2003

Contact: Elaine Makatura
(609) 292-2994

DEP NEGOTIATES SMART GROWTH SETTLEMENT FOR HERITAGE MINERALS PROPERTY
Agreement Allows Limited Development Meeting High Environmental Standards

(03/122) TRENTON --- The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) today announced a conceptual development agreement for the Heritage Minerals property in Manchester Township that will settle outstanding litigation brought by H. Hovnanian developers. The agreement, employing smart growth principles, allows clustered construction of 2,450 units on 1,000 previously disturbed acres, while protecting over 6,300 acres - including sensitive endangered species habitat - from future development.

"This agreement demonstrates a significant commitment to minimize environmental impacts and shows how limited, focused development can embrace smart growth - protecting New Jersey's natural resources while accommodating our growing population," said DEP Commissioner Bradley M. Campbell.

Since 1989, H. Hovnanian has been seeking to develop the Heritage tract, which includes a former mining site and straddles the Pinelands management area and the area regulated under Coastal Area Facility Review Act (CAFRA). The company's original proposal called for a six-phase development on the 7,000-acre site including as many as 15,000 residential units, 2,000,000 square feet of commercial development and a 160-acre golf course. Over the past fourteen years, DEP has reviewed permit applications for the first two phases, denying them for failure to be consistent with Pinelands rules and with DEP's coastal zone management rules.

In 1996, H. Hovnanian requested a hearing with an Administrative Law Judge in the Office of Administrative Law over the DEP's denial of the permit application for the first phase of development. While the judge ruled in favor of the DEP, the DEP offered the company another opportunity to prove that its application was consistent with Pinelands rules. DEP subsequently denied the application again and H. Hovnanian again requested a hearing with the Office of Administrative Law. In 2000, the company also filed suit in federal court.

The agreement announced today would settle all outstanding litigation between the developer, the DEP, and the Pinelands Commission.

As part of the proposed settlement, H. Hovnanian has agreed to retain all stormwater onsite, discharging it into the ground to help recharge natural aquifers and to eliminate harmful runoff that can pollute surface water and wetlands. The company also has agreed to connect to existing wastewater infrastructure, thereby avoiding discharge of residential sewage into groundwater or surrounding surface water.

In addition, H. Hovnanian will develop habitat conservation plans to protect endangered species during and after construction through a combination of habitat enhancement and preservation. Concerns about impacts on the pine snake, a threatened species in New Jersey, will be addressed through construction of a bridge and a series of culverts along the site's main access road to allow the snakes to travel between preserved forested areas.

The company has agreed to maintain buffers ranging from 150 to 300 feet around existing wetlands to minimize impacts to these sensitive areas. Lakes located on the property will have minimum development buffers of 75 feet and the use of the lakes will be limited to passive forms of recreation that do not use gas-powered boats.

"The final agreement is a sensible balance of environmental and economic interests," added Campbell. "Not only will strict environmental standards in developed areas help protect groundwater, surface water, endangered species habitat and wetlands, but several thousand acres will be preserved from development as well."

6,000 acres of the site - 3,000 in the Pinelands and 3,000 in the CAFRA area - will be protected through a conservation restriction on the deed and conveyance of the property to the state and/or a conservation group.

In addition to the land on the Heritage tract, H. Hovnanian has agreed as part of this settlement to protect 360 acres on another property in Berkeley Township from future development. This 360-acre parcel is the last unprotected part of the 3,000-acre "Berkeley Triangle" area that is an undeveloped, significant pine snake habitat, which the state has been working to preserve.

All of the development on the Heritage tract will be limited to the approximately 1,000-acre brownfield area previously disturbed by mining. This area has radioactive sand and groundwater contamination that will require H. Hovnanian to perform all DEP-required remediation prior to the commencement of any new construction. Except for needed access roads, none of the development will occur in the Pinelands portion of the site or in forested areas.

The settlement announced today does not authorize any development, nor does it provide guaranteed approvals of any permits. Instead, it provides a framework for the long-term process of permit applications, with ample opportunities for public comment.

 

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