Mayor’s Message: recent changes to the Richwood plan

In this week's message: Mayor Manzo sets the record straight about the recent approval of amendments to the Richwood redevelopment plan

Today, I’m writing a follow-up to the article written by The Sun about our recent approval of amendments to the Richwood redevelopment plan. I think it’s important for me to clarify exactly what that means since I’ve received two or three inquiries on the subject that would indicate a lack of understanding about our recent action and the history of the Richwood project, as a whole. This isn’t surprising, by the way, considering the length of that history.

So, first, our recent “approval” does not change the number of houses or retail development. All of that was approved through public hearings more than a decade ago. These amendments do not change or increase the scope of the project, as they are mostly related to the affordable housing component of the project. A court master mediated this process.

Second, developing the Richwood section of town is not something we (town leadership) pursued. Occasionally, someone will make a reference to development in Harrison as if our governing body is initiating it. That is not the case. In fact, if we had that authority, there’s a good chance nothing else would be built here, LOL. Other than seeking some desired uses, like restaurants on Main Street, we’d love to keep things the way they are. But that’s not how it works. If a landowner chooses to sell their property to a developer, they can. At that point, the developer can build whatever the zoning permits for that parcel. And if they file a plan that adheres to that zoning, our Joint Land Use Board (JLUB) is required to grant the approval. We cannot just “choose” to deny an application because we don’t like the particular use or we don’t want anything built, period.

Therefore, our job is to ensure the inescapable development of land is the best it can be; in essence, we are playing defense. In fact, that is the basis for the Richwood plan. As landowners began selling their property, we proactively implemented a “smart growth” strategy to avoid the “sprawl-type” of development that New Jersey is infamous for. Otherwise, we’d end up with multiple landlocked housing subdivisions with retail strip malls scattered in between, like Washington Township. Hence, we engaged with the developer (Madison Marquette), who had purchased most of the properties on the south side of Route 322 between Route 55 and Richwood Road, as well as the parcel behind the Post Office, butting up against Route 55 on the north side of Route 322 (approximately 385 acres in all).

The original version of the plan was adopted in 2008, with several amendments over the years; the most recent in December of 2019 (http://harrisontwp.us/wp- content/uploads/2020/02/Richwood-Amended-Redevelopment-PLan-dated-12-13 19.pdf). Basically, this plan lays out where things can be built (i.e. houses, retail, etc.) and defines all the infrastructure requirements like connecting roads and sewer lines, which are extensive. As each parcel is developed, required JLUB public hearings will take place to approve every individual section, which is known as Site Plan Approval.

We pride ourselves on protecting our future and maintaining our existing charm within the legal zoning guidelines. The Richwood Plan is a prime example of that.