Pequannock Lays Siege to Castle

By Christopher Lotito

There are some topics which defy verbal explanation and which no amount of hyperbole or lyrical prose can do sufficient justice.  A 30 foot castle rising out of Pequannock's flood plain just happens to be one such topic, so perhaps a photo is the best place to start:

Click to enlarge (press Spacebar to joust)
Perhaps even more perplexing: this is not the site of a new Medieval Times restaurant.  No, the aptly monikered "Castle Project" is Badanco's latest attempts to utilize the former McDonald's Lake swim-park site.

The Public Speaks Out

To say that the villagers are restless would be quite an understatement as township residents have laid a veritable siege to this castle in the realm of public comment since Badanco first posted a sign on the property last month.  Many have asked how an enormous concrete structure shoehorned between two lakes in a flood zone after 5 years of the worst recorded flooding in New Jersey could ever have received approval.

The short answer is that the project conforms to current construction requirements within the township and that the permits and plans that have been filed far predate the recent bout of severe flooding the region has suffered.  It is of course worth noting that as of last month, Pequannock Township Engineer Dave Battaglia noted that none of the paperwork required to actually start construction has been filed with his office as of this time.  Some speculate Badanco's latest sign is an attempt to gain investors for a project which may be financially beleaguered.

Pictured, storybook castle just 25 minutes from the city, not pictured, dragon.
A History of Controversy

Clear-cutting being completed on site.
The longer answer to questions of permissibility (and many would say common sense) goes back as much as 15 years to when plans were started to develop the property as a training facility for the Metrostars soccer team.  A lengthy answer indeed, suffice to say that the then Planning Board approved the Metrostars project as, again, fully in compliance with existing zoning and construction regulations.  For those who may not have been aware of the project at the time, lawyers were called in on both sides, public hearings were held (with walkouts, police presence, and many unkind words said), and a hydrology expert from Rutgers University was even hired by the residents living in the adjacent area, who felt that the increase in impermeable surface would worsen flooding to their homes (drainage for that site backs homes on both Madison and Greenwood in Pequannock).  After suffering a number of public relations black eyes over the project, the Metrostars opted to take their facility to a more hospitable development location.  Not helping public opinion was Badanco's decision to clear-cut the forested property down to a weedy patch of sand in the midst of all this, a process which adjacent Edward's Engineering duplicated just recently.



A Public Divided

Still more residents have replied to the sundry concerns raised over flooding issues, appearances, traffic, and environmental issues by citing Pequannock's rejection of the Home Depot project in the 1990's as a loss in tax rateables.   These individuals represent a view that Pequannock's commercial land should be developed to fully take advantage of a robust commercial tax base as well as the consumers and jobs that these businesses can bring to the community.

While there are no final plans to begin construction at this time, what can be said for certain is that the issue is not fully decided while the public has taken such an interest on both sides of the project.  In a bit of a twist, one of the best resources covering the controversy that Badanco seems to cultivate with their every move has been Badanco's website itself, linked below, which features a vast collection of newspaper scans talking about public protest against their projects:

Badanco's News Archives

Additional credit to Badancoholding.com for press photos provided.

Christopher Lotito is a member of the Pequannock Historic District, Open Space, and Flood Control Advisory Commissions as well as the author of  "Torrent," a book about flooding in the region.  Lotito's personal mission is to reduce new taxes, drastically reduce flooding, and preserve more green spaces for our children.  Christopher Lotito Profile

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