On-site Sewer Plan Denied for New Jersey Housing Project

A proposed adult community and assisted-living complex will not get New Jersey approval for a key element: an on-site sewage treatment plant.

The sanitation issue is of regional interest because of the site's location on a wooded ridge near the Wanaque Reservoir that provides drinking water to 2 million North Jersey residents.

A letter from the Department of Environmental Protection stating it won't issue a permit for the project as proposed was sent to the developer and the borough in June, but it has yet to be discussed at public hearings before the Board of Adjustment. A third hearing is scheduled for Nov. 18.

Developer Ronald A. Pagano of Glen Rock is seeking a use variance and height variance to allow construction of five buildings with 204 housing units on a 15.8-acre tract off Skyline Drive next to the Fieldstone Shopping Plaza. Besides municipal approvals, the project also needs state approval for a wastewater treatment system.

In a Sept. 9 report to the Board of Adjustment, Borough Planner Peter Steck noted that the rocky site poses "severe limitations" for septic systems. Steck questioned whether the developer could "realistically secure approval of the sanitary sewage system" from the DEP.

Steck noted stark reasons for local concern as well.

"The consequences of a failing disposal system would be significant for this type of land use," he wrote. Given the proposed cluster of buildings for people age 55 and above and elderly people in assisted-living apartments, "the relocation of occupants upon failure of the system would be troublesome to senior citizens."

Such concerns prompted Sandra Cohen, a DEP watershed management official, to tell an engineer for the developer that the proposed system would not be approved as designed. That is because Ringwood's water quality management plan only allows septic systems with discharges into the ground of less than 2,000 gallons per day. But the proposed system, Cohen noted in a June 25 letter to McNally Engineering, would have a projected flow of about 30,000 gallons per day.

Either the project must be redrawn or an exception made to Ringwood's reliance on small-scale septic systems, she concluded.

Michael Kauker, the planning consultant for the developer, said that he has not seen the DEP letter. But he said it is not unusual for developers to request a change in a town's water quality management plan to accommodate a larger project. For example, he said, the adjacent shopping center has a package, or small-scale, treatment plant.

Kauker said Pagano is proposing "a state-of-the-art small package treatment plant." A sanitation engineer, he said, will make a presentation on the system when the Board of Adjustment hearing resumes next month.

In a report submitted in August, Kauker argued that the proposed "on-site treatment system and waste water disposal fields ... will help to avoid any water that is being discharged from the site from impacting water quality in the area and the surrounding lakes."

He stated that the closest body of water is Lake Erskine, uphill of the site. Kauker did not note that the site is directly uphill of the Wanaque Reservoir.

In its efforts to stop sources of pollution, the DEP has gone so far as to ban car wash fund-raisers at the shopping center, after runoff from soaped-up cars at several such events went into a stream flowing to the reservoir. About the same time, in 1995, the borough health officer cited the shopping center for overflowing sewage and called in the state Department of Health to enforce a quick repair.

Bergen Times

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