If some business and government officials think they will enjoy an easy time in efforts to construct a retail and residential development including Whole Foods Market on Parsippany's Waterview Plaza, they had better think again.
Citizens from the township and neighboring Mountain Lakes have united under the seven-year-old banner of Don't Rezone Waterview to stop the project from going forward. And now armed with a new federally approved nonprofit status, the group has the ability to raise funds to finance a battle to protect a way of life.
Right now, the matter is in front of the Parsippany Planning Board, which will hold what may be the final night of deliberations Feb. 11. The board is deciding whether to recommend that the Township Council approve RD Realty's request for an overlay to the site's currect office space zoning to permit a mixed-use development. The meeting will take place at Parsippany High School, 309 Baldwin Road at 7:30 p.m.
Members of the grassroots Par-Troy-based group Don't Rezone Waterview say they plan to fill the high school auditorium to make their position clear.
Founder Dave Kaplan of the Intervale area says he thinks a packed house is possible.
"The membership in Don’t Rezone Waterview has grown significantly since the last meeting," he said. "We are encouraging everyone to bring their families to the high school because this ridiculously inappropriate concept plan impacts every member of every household."
Those impacts cited cover a wide range of issues: light, sound, environmental matters, traffic, safety, aesthetics. Some say the project flies in the face of the Parsippany master plan, which discourages big box development and high-density residential developments such as the proposed 72-unit townhouse community included in RD Realty's plan.
This is not the first time at the rodeo for this citizen action collective. Kaplan started the group in July 2005, during a similar attempt to change the zoning of the Planned Office Development zone on Waterview tract.
"The entire process was simple," Kaplan told Patch. "I started reaching out to neighbors, word spread, and the next thing you know we were overcrowding the council chambers and the developer abandoned the project."
The group leaped into action again exactly seven years later when news emerged that Whole Foods Market was coming to Parsippany.
"This summer, as soon as I learned about Whole Foods' interest in the parcel of land, I did the same thing," Kaplan explained. "Only this time, this developer's concept was far more extreme with the obvious outcome of destroying this neighborhood. As word spread, residents from Parsippany, Mountain Lakes and even people from other states have joined the effort to save this community."
He said a host of people are "volunteering their time, knowledge, money and resources" to protect Waterview Plaza.
Patch Poll: 91 percent of respondents say Mt. Lakes residents deserve input into debate of a matter that affects them.
"There is no political boundary to this effort because it impacts so many—from the immediate impact on our quality of life to the frightening precedent this project would set if approved," said Kaplan. "Everyone knows that the developer is an intruder to our town, looking for a quick profit at the expense of those who live here."
The website, like the group, called Don't Rezone Waterview, lays out an in-depth exploration of the residents' concerns from their point of view.
Members have also made an online petition available, which asks people to urge the Planning Board not to recommend the zoning change to the Township Council, which will make the ultimate decision.
The group established a space on Facebook and has a Yahoogroup email list as well.
Don't Rezone Waterview has also kicked off a yard sign campaign in the township. The message on the placards makes its members' position clear: "No overlay on Waterview. No strip mall & townhomes. Keep the Planned Office District."
Organizer Leonard Cipkin said the group has nearly sold out of its initial run of 200 signs. He told Patch that a redesign is in the works, to add the Don't Rezone Waterview website address.
Information for obtaining signs will be posted on the website if and when the new batch becomes available.
Late last week, attorney Joseph O'Neill of Par-Troy law firm Garofalo and O'Neill addressed some resident complaints regarding a gas station included in the initial plan for the 26.6-acre proposal. According to O'Neill, a gas station is not part of the currente plan. He added, contradicting a report released last week by the Mountain Lakes Environmental Commission, that the project will not involve wellheads., even though the application does request a wellhead exemption.
Kaplan isn't buying it.
"Whether or not a gas station is currently in the concept plan, the language in the ordinance that they have written and presented allows for the construction of a gas station in the future," the citzen-activist insisted. "There is no other reason for a wellhead exemption."
For Kaplan and Don't Rezone Waterview, the fight is a deeply personal one.
"This will unquestionably change our quality of life," said the group's founder. "It's one thing to live up against an office complex with traffic from Monday through Friday, 9 to 5. It's very different living up against a strip mall with a large box store that generates traffic, noise, and pollution until 9 p.m. seven days a week."
And the group asserts that their objections are not about being anti-business.
"Our number one concern is protecting our way of life and property values," said Kapan. "There is absolutely no point to a supposed increase in ratables when the values of the homes in the area drop."
The group plans on broadcasting its message in hopes the Planning Board will do what it considers the right thing. Should the board recommend a zoning change for Waterview, Kaplan said the group will redouble its efforts.
"If the planning board recommends this overlay to the [Township] Council, the council should be prepared for audience numbers greater than what the Planning Board witnessed," he stated. "They will also likely have to deal with an attorney and experts, as Don't Rezone Waterview has officially become a registered nonprofit organization and is currently collecting funds to hire experts on our behalf. We have been interviewing attorneys for the past few weeks."
Kaplan would not predict the outcome of the Planning Board's deliberations. But he said whatever happens, his group will be ready in hopes of achieving the second victory over development in Waterview Plaza.
"I can only hope that the appointed and elected officials are responsive to the concerns of the people they are chosen to represent.