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Endangered Species on Contested Property, Experts Say

Latest testimony includes claims not enough time was spent evaluating wildlife on Wemple property.

Endangered Species on Contested Property, Experts Say

Despite having to redo an entire section of testimony from a previous meeting because of a malfunctioned audio recorder, the Lang application was heard at Tuesday’s planning board meeting with a focus on the many endangered species living on the land.

Although the testimony was not completed, the bulk of the new information focused on the .

The application is for the building of 18 single-family homes on the woodlands formerly owned by the late John Wemple, and currently owned by Steven Lang.

Wemple, who willed the property to his nieces and nephews after his death in 2002, had maintained to his neighbors that he never wanted to see the land developed, and made that a part of his will, which was overturned by the Superior Court of New Jersey in 2005.

Blaine Rothauser, one of the environmental experts hired by those opposing the application, said the study already done on the property is insufficient to justify such a severe development on the land, and he testified to the fact that he believes there are threatened and endangered species on the property.

Rothauser said in his testimony that the survey done by the applicant was completed too quickly, but a deeper search would reveal more wildlife and endangered species. He noted that the applicant’s expert provided a total of 39 hours of onsite inspections, but 15 of those hours were used for wetland studies.

“He is not in agreement with a lot of the information that [the applicant] presented,” said Laura Hierspiel, a member of the steering committee for Stop 18 Homes, the group opposing the application. “He does not feel there was enough time given.”

According to Hierspiel, she said Rothauser claimed there was not enough time spent to evaluate the 37 acres of property and to determine what kinds of species are living on the land. In addition, she said, he was not actually allowed by the applicant to be on the property during his own investigation and had to observe from the outskirts.

Still, Hierspiel said, even she can attest to the kinds of animals living on the property from what she has seen over the years.

“I agree with everything he said,” she said. “I always felt that this was not an isolated area.”

Hierspiel said she knows there are box turtles on the property, and Rothauser heard the sound of a Barred owl, which he proved to the board with a taped broadcast of the owl call at 1 a.m. one morning. In addition, she said, she has seen a Cooper Hawk flying around the land, and saw a Wood turtle a couple years ago.

“Mr. Rothauser feels this is a significant property, and I agree with him,” she said. “If you have enough development, it’s going to extinguish the environment that these woodland creatures need to flourish.”

Since she already lives close to the land, Hierspiel said, she has seen a number of other creatures throughout the area, and wandering around the property.

“Anyone interested in birds or wildlife can pick these out,” she said. “We do have these species, and if you drive around, you will see this is not an isolated property.”

“We have another 20 acres behind us of woods, and maybe more that connects with the Watchung Mountain Range, and Washington Valley Park where the reservoir is, which is now preserved land,” she added. “It is foolish to say this land is isolated because it’s not.”

With the animals and the vegetation, Hierspiel said, the property is worthy of consideration.

“There is a lot more potential to this property than might meet the eye just by driving around it,” she said.

Also presented at the meeting as evidence was a letter from the state Historical Society concerning the property.

In the letter, the administrator for the State Historical Preservation said that the Wemple property is potentially eligible for listing in the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places, because of its association with William Lester Wemple and because of agriculture.

In addition, according to the letter, there is the potential for mid-19th century archaeological deposits to be found on the property that could make it eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

At this point, the property is not officially listed for historic preservation.

Councilman Filipe Pedroso, who is a member of the planning board, said he knows both the applicant and residents are eager for an end to this case.

“I do understand that this is an important case for everyone, and I am confident that the planning board members are taking it seriously and will consider all testimony,” he said. “I am pleased to see so many residents come to the meeting and show concern for the future of this wonderful town.”

Pedroso said he himself went to school right across the street from the Wemple property, and would trick-or-treat in the neighborhood.

“I’m very familiar with this area,” he said. “I take all cases involving development, construction and zoning as having potential consequential impacts to the character of the neighborhoods. The protection of Bridgewater’s quality of life is a paramount priority to me.”

Michael Camerino, attorney for the applicant, declined to comment on the state of the application outside of the planning board meeting.

The meeting has been carried to Oct. 22 at 7 p.m. at the municipal complex, when the board will have the opportunity to question Rothauser, and there will be cross-examination from the applicant.

At this point, the applicant has already rested his case, and deliberations should begin soon.

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