Green Village, a 50-plus acre project that will contain 469 apartments, 117 of which would be affordable rental units, a 130-room extended-stay hotel and 20,000 square feet of retail space, was unanimously approved by the Planning Board on Thursday night.
The approval of the project, which initially , will help Hillsborough meet its affordable housing requirement and stave off future development and potential lawsuits, according to Board Chairman Steven Sireci Jr.
Sireci said the township has worked to reduce its affordable housing quota from 650 units to 191. If the Green Village plan were rejected, he said, the township's quota would rise to 500 units, meaning developers would be able to build a total of 2,500 housing units in Hillsborough, given a 5-to-1 ratio of market units to affordable units.
"Lawsuits will come tumbling through the court door and will be met by judges with a vengeance," Sireci said.
When Hillsborough previously lost its affordable housing certification, it led to a "nightmarish set of lawsuits" and overdevelopment, he said.
Township Committeeman Frank DelCore, who also sits on the Planning Board, reiterated that approval of the Green Village project will allow the township to limit future development.
"It's a very attractive project," he said.
The board's approval came after the fourth night of hearing testimony by witnesses for the developer, Antol Hiller.
"All the issues have been addressed," said William Savo, attorney for Hiller.
Much of the testimony at Thursday's meeting centered on the architectural details of the project and whether the township's tree preservation ordinance had jurisdiction over the proposal.
Richard Coppola, a planner who only reviewed the tree preservation part of the proposal, said that the township's preservation ordinance did not apply to Green Village because the law only referred to residential and non-residential properties, not a mixed used proposal. He said the lack of a tree preservation requirement for mixed-used developments was "inadvertent."
Also, Coppola explained, state regulations supersede municipal ordinances to encourage the construction of affordable housing. Those regulations call for municipalities to cooperate with developers of affordable housing and to avoid "unnecessary cost-generating features," he said, adding that the tree preservation ordinance goes against the state's affordable housing guidelines.
If the township's tree preservation ordinance was followed, Coppola said, construction of Green Village would be "impossible."
About three quarters of the 3,500 trees on the parcel, on the east side of Route 206, south of Valley Road, will be removed. Sireci characterized the parcel as "scrub woodland."
Coppola said the township's Green Village ordinance, which governs the development of the site, was developed after Hiller presented a conceptual plan for the project, a process encouraged by the state.
If the project were rejected the board, then the township would have to find other sites to meet its affordable housing quota, Coppola said.
But Joan McGee, a watershed policy specialist for the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association, contended that the state laws do not "trump" the township ordinance. She also urged the developer to take all possible steps to reduce the number of trees that need to be taken down, including lowering the number of parking spaces.
"The trees are critical," McGee said, adding that Hiller had not demonstrated why a waiver should be granted from the township's stream encroachment rules.
Hiller agreed to a suggestion by Board Vice Chairman Steve Cohen that the buildings housing the affordable units be the same in appearance as the market rental buildings. Hiller also agreed to extend the sidewalks in the development to Route 206.
To assuage concerns about traffic, Hiller previously agreed to onto southbound Route 206 unless he receives state Department of Transportation approval for a traffic signal.
Robert Heibell, the project engineer, said five other agencies must review and approve the plans to handle stormwater from the development. Three detention basins will be built on the property, he said.