For over 20 years, a developer, Hovsons Inc., has been trying to build a massive development on portions of a 7,000- acre site in Manchester Township. This area is valuable for threatened and endangered species as well as protecting Barnegat Bay’s water quality. About half the land is in the overlap of the Pinelands National Reserve and the Coastal Zone Management Area. In this overlap area, where Hovsons proposes to build, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), rather than the Pinelands Commission, reviews and approves or denies development applications.
In 2004, the DEP, Pinelands Commission and developer, with PPA’s concurrence, entered a formal settlement agreement, approved by the federal District Court, that limits the amount of development that could occur on the property to 2,450 units within a 930-acre development area, while providing that the developer will permanently dedicate the balance of the site for conservation. This amount is a small fraction of what the developer originally sought to build.
Hovsons, however, never moved forward on development. Instead, in recent years, it has sought to redo the settlement in order to greatly expand the allowed development, in violation of its prior commitments. PPA is opposing these efforts and pressing DEP and the Pinelands Commission to enforce the settlement agreement’s limits.
DEP denied Hovsons’ most recent effort to expand its development, stating that its application to build almost 4,000 units violates coastal zone regulations and the settlement agreement. Hovsons filed an appeal against this denial in the Appellate Division of NJ Superior Court. That appeal is pending, but Hovsons and DEP appear to be engaged in further settlement discussions.
How you can help:
You can write to NJDEP at the address below demanding they uphold existing CAFRA regulations and the 2004 settlement agreement and reject this application.
NJDEP, Division of Land Use Regulation
P.O. Box 420, Code 501-02A
Trenton, NJ 08625-0420
Attn: Manchester Bureau Chief
Issue Location Map:
In 1978, by Federal legislation, approximately one million acres of land in Southern New Jersey was designated as the “Pinelands National Reserve”, but in 1979 when the New Jersey Legislature enacted the Pinelands Protection Act about 221,000 acres were not included with the boundaries of the “Pinelands Area”.
Hovsons Inc., a Hovnanian-affiliated business, owns 7,173 acres of land in Manchester Township, purchased in 1984, called the Heritages Minerals Site. Approximately 3,087 acres are north of the Conrail Tracks, and within the Pinelands Protection Area, where the Pinelands Commission must approve any development under the rules of the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP). This part of the property includes forests, streams and a large sand-mining area, with two large “lakes” created by the mining operation.
The remaining 4,085 acres are within the Pinelands/Coastal Zone overlap area, where the DEP reviews applications for development under the Coastal Zone Management regulations. In the overlap area, DEP is required to ensure that the goals of the Pinelands Protection Act are met in its review of development applications, and DEP is supposed to consult with the Pinelands Commission on developments in this overlap area.
The Pinelands Commission assigned land management designations to both the Pinelands Protection Area and the Pinelands/CAFRA overlap area. The Heritage Mineral Site was assigned a “Forest Area” management to the 4,085 acre overlap portion of the site. Under the CMP this would allow for 1 house for every 15.8 acres of land.
During the initial review process the Pinelands Preservation Alliance strongly pushed to have the more stringent Pinelands CMP regulations apply to any and all development of the site. These regulations would protect the water quality and quantity of this large area and ensure protection of threatened and endangered species and their habitat.
After abandoning one expanded development proposal (see the timeline below), Hovsons in submitted a new application to DEP to build 3,862 housing units, 40,000 square feet of commercial space, a clubhouse and roads within the 900-acre development envelope of the 2004 settlement. PPA and Save Barnegat Bay filed objections to the proposal because the amount of development still violated the settlement agreement, and the development would have an unacceptable impact on water supply.
In October 2018, DEP denied the coastal permit on numerous grounds, including the settlement agreement. Hovsons immediately appealed this denial to the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court. That appeal is currently pending.
See PPA’s and our partner Save Barnegat Bay’s comments on the latest proposal here:
1995: As just the first phase of an enormous multi-phase project, Hovsons applied for a coastal zone permit to build 838 single family homes and 12,000 square feet of commercial development on 398 acres of the land they owned adjacent the Manchester Township High School. This number exceeded the density set by the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan.
PPA advocated against approval of the development and commissioned expert scientific studies on the impacts on rare species and water supply that the proposed development would have. DEP relied on these studies in its review of the application.
1996: DEP denied this application on 14 major grounds which the applicant had not meet coastal zone regulations. Hovnanian filed an appeal in federal District Court, claiming the whole Pinelands protection program violates the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution. PPA and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) intervened in the appeal on the side of the State of New Jersey.
2004: DEP, the Pinelands Commission, PPA, EDF and Hovnanian Industries held settlement discussions that included discussions among the scientific experts on the scope and location of development compatible with protecting natural resources. These discussions culminated in a settlement agreement in the federal District Court lawsuit. Under the settlement agreement, development is restricted to an area of about 900 acres of already-disturbed sand mining area and 2,450 housing units, with 6,178 acres are to be deed restricted (click here to view map).
Click here to read attached points of settlement agreement.
Click here to review a map of the developable portions of the site under the agreement.
July 2014: The Manchester Planning Board and Council in July of 2014, designated the entire 4,087 acres of the site located in the CAFRA portion, as an area in need of redevelopment. This 4,087 acres went far beyond the 900 acres mapped out in the 2004 settlement agreement.
June 2015: Manchester Township, under the direction of Mayor Kenneth Palmer, put together a Heritage Minerals Working Group made up of political and community leaders to steer and review the redevelopment plan now envisioned by the developer. Hovsons presented the committee with a new plan for 6,543 homes, one million square feet of commercial space, and one million square feet of industrial space.
June 2016: Manchester Township passed an ordinance (#16-022) which approved the new Hovsons proposal. When thousands of area residents voiced their strong objections to this plan, Mayor Ken Palmer vetoed the ordinance. (This plan was never formally submitted to DEP for coastal permits.)
August 2017: Hovsons submitted to DEP a new proposal for 4,000 homes and additional commercial space. This proposal also violates the 2004 settlement agreement.
February 2018: NJDEP held a public hearing in response to intense public interest. Approximately 250 residents attended, and many spoke against the development and in support of preserving the land to benefit the community. Read PPA’s and Save Barnegat Bay’s comments via the link above.
October 2018: DEP denied the permits on numerous grounds, including violations of several provisions of the Coastal Zone Management Regulations, the CMP and the settlement agreement. Read DEP’s detailed explanation of the denial at the link above.
November 2018: Hovsons files appeal against the DEP permit denial in the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court.