Mayor’s Message: The failures, and the future, of Richwood development

This week's message: Mayor Lou Manzo shares what he considers to be one of his biggest disappointments while in office, and how that could soon change.

As I enter my thirteenth year as your Mayor, I cannot help but have firsthand recollection of how our community has evolved over that timeframe. Happily, most of my memory bank is filled with great experiences and incredible stories of how things happened….or didn’t. Admittedly, there are a few disappointments or not-so-pleasant memories also. But only a few.

Today, I choose to write about one of those disappointments, because it is top-of-mind for me right now. And, in being honest, this topic is probably the biggest disappointment of my tenure. I’m talking about Richwood and the proposed major development plan in that area of our community. Most of you know, in general, what I’m talking about. But the not-so funny thing is that the history of this project is so long and stagnant, that many residents who have moved here in the last 6-7 years, have no real understanding of that history.

I won’t regurgitate it all here, I’ll just give you an update on where things stand today. This subject is top-of-mind, as I’ve said, for a couple reasons. First, I recently received a letter from a long-time resident, who lives on Lambs Road, complaining about those few abandoned homes on the east side of the street. She expressed her disappointment in the “township’s response” to this situation. I get it. Who wants to look at that eyesore anywhere in your hometown, let alone in your immediate neighborhood?

For those of you aware of the history, we have been dealing with these ghost homes that the developer created by purchasing properties along Rt. 322 and Lambs and Aura Roads a decade ago for this major project. As the project remained in “stall mode” over the years, we consistently pressed the developer to maintain these properties and eventually pursued their demolition; regardless of whether they intended to move forward with their project or not. Beyond our initial requests, we have used all the legal tools available to us, including issuing multiple violation notices and bringing them to court. Partial success was achieved when they demo’d the homes fronting Rt. 322 about a year ago. Still, a few remain.

That brings me to where we stand right now. I preface this with “nothing is done, until it’s done,” but the last 24 months have seen the developer and township officials working together to navigate the outstanding issues with the oversight of the courts, since there were many legal aspects to this agreement. We know the developer is highly motivated now, based on a strong economy and historic housing start cycle; not to mention a brand new hospital at the interchange.

That translates into final sign-off on our agreement in early February, giving the developer the ability to begin building the infrastructure (roads and sewer lines) and authorization to come before our Joint Land Use Board for individual site plan approvals as they build out each housing and commercial parcel.

Cautiously, I say “we’ll see”, but this is the most optimistic view of the Richwood project in the last decade. And, clearly, that’s good news for those residents most disappointed with that situation.