UPPER SADDLE RIVER, N.J. -- Upper Saddle River Mayor Joanne Minichetti responded Monday to a Daily Voice story about an investigation into the pumping of muddy water into a stream from a luxury-housing construction site at the former Apple Ridge Country Club by accusing a state assemblywoman of a conflict of interest.
The Sunday story centered on an investigation by state authorities -- prompted by state Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi -- into what residents fear is a toxic discharge into Pleasant Brook.
In a 9:45 a.m. email to Daily Voice on Monday, Minichetti wrote:
"You do know that the golf course is being developed due to affordable housing requirements mandated by the NJ [L]egislature and NJ Supreme Court. The 50 acres in USR [were] listed as a scarce resource site in the 90’s, meaning if the land is ever developed the project must include affordable units.
"The developer wanted to build 351 townhomes with 71 affordable units. After lengthy negotiations, we settled on 44 single[-]family homes and are putting the 70 affordable units on the property the town had purchased for this purpose.
"The townhomes would not require DEP remediation. The single[-]family homes do. The remedial process was all in keeping with NJ DEP requirements. A municipality can rarely if ever [overide] state requirements. We’ve sued the NJ DEP in the past over development with water issues and had to settle.
"Bergen County Housing Authority is building and will maintain the affordable units. The attorney is none other than Holly Schepisi.
"Assemblywoman Schepisi is voting on affordable housing legislation, dealing with developers and constituents as their elected representative while as an attorney profiting from its construction.
"That’s NJ for you."
Given a copy of Minichetti's remarks, Schepisi responded:
"It is unfortunate that the mayor would choose to personally attack me as I work collaboratively with the borough to provide assistance.
"The court rulings on affordable housing have put immeasurable stress on many of our local officials while placing them in untenable positions within their own communities.
"I understand her anger and frustration and that is why I fight so hard to revise our laws on affordable housing, but her attack on me is misplaced. I look forward to continuing to offer assistance and working with the community on this and other matters."
Residents who live near the former Apple Ridge property have been concerned about contamination ever since high levels of arsenic and lead were found on the more than 100-acre property straddling both Upper Saddle River and Mahwah, on which Toll Brothers plans to build 78 luxury homes.
The chemicals came from pesticides sprayed on the former apple orchard, as well as treatments to the golf course that succeeded it more than 50 years ago.
Heavy rainfall and snow melts began creating large runoffs ever since nearly 1,000 trees were cleared to make way for the development, residents said.
After one of them posted videos of the pumping, Schepisi told Daily Voice she'd been addressing issues at the site with Minichetti, the Borough Council, the borough engineer and state environmental authorities -- who she said were visiting the site Monday to investigate.
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