Mayor: Confusion on whether New Jersey American Water pulling application for Stagecoach Road water tower

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PALERMO – Mayor Richard Palombo said Friday that a New Jersey American Water Company official told him the company was pulling its application to the Upper Township zoning board for a controversial water tower on Stagecoach Road in Palermo, but said a subsequent email indicated the company may continue with the  application.

“I pulled up the first email just to make sure I wasn't imagining things,” said Palombo. “They said the application was being pulled and they wanted to consider other sites. Now they say it’s only been temporarily pulled from the zoning board agenda and that it could come back.”
The Gazette has contacted New Jersey American Water Company’s press office seeking comment.
The water company has proposed a 158-foot tall water tower on the 1300 block of Stagecoach Road. In early January, homeowners who live within 200 feet of the property received a notification in the mail of New Jersey American Water’s plans to seek zoning variances to build the water tower.
Residents immediately began voicing opposition to the tower, posting handmade “No Water Tower” signs on their property and holding town hall meetings to organize opposition.
The Upper Township Zoning Board of Adjustments was originally scheduled to meet on Thursday, Jan. 12 Township Hall to discuss the water tower. The proposal was then moved to the zoning board’s Feb. 9 meeting.
Palombo said early Friday that New Jersey American Water Company informed him in an email that the application for the Stagecoach Road site has been pulled.
“They have pulled the application and want to consider another site,” he said. “The neighbors there opposed this very much and I think they recognized that. It was very unpopular there, rightly so. I think there are a lot of better places where this could go.”
The mayor said it’s not clear now whether the application has been pulled from just the Feb. 9 zoning board meeting’s agenda, or whether it has been pulled permanently.
The water tower was planned for a property between 1316 and 1318 on Stagecoach Road, adjacent to a former horse ranch and a campground.
New Jersey American Water was seeking a preliminary and final major site plan approval, a height variance and conditional use approval since the lot is in a residential zone. The company also needed a variance for a six-foot high chain link fence with three strands of barbed wire.
Kevin Barr, who lives next door to the property where the water tower would rise, said in an interview in January that the height limits on homes is 35 feet in the residential zone. The proposed height of the water tower, at 158 feet tall, is more than four times as tall as zoning allows.
“You’re going to have this monstrous tower in the middle of Palermo,” he said. “It will have a visual impact on the whole area.”
Barr said he also had concerns about the aesthetics of the property if a chain link fence with barbed wire is installed as planned.
Barr and others started a Facebook page called “Topple the Tower: Say no to the Stagecoach Road water tower.” Former committeeman Frank Conrad, who lives in Palermo, also helped organize meetings for neighbors opposed to the water tower. The group was considering hiring an attorney to argue against New Jersey American Water Company’s application at the zoning board hearing.
Palombo has said he would rather see a water tower near the Garden State Parkway, where it wouldn’t be in a residential neighborhood and could advertise the township. The tower would make sense in the Marmora or Seaville town centers, he said, and it could be painted to say “Welcome to Upper Township.”
“It could be an icon instead of an eyesore,” Palombo said.
New Jersey American Water serves approximately 2.5 million people in 17 counties in the state, and has about 61,000 accounts serving approximately 180,000 people in Atlantic and Cape May counties, according to the company’s website.
The company is currently seeking an increase in water rates to pay for $300 million in infrastructure projects. In July, it made a request to the state Board of Public Utilities to increase its rates. A decision is expected next year.

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