Good news! For those who haven’t heard, the congregation in late April got a “pass” on the second season of pine snake trapping from the Pinelands Commission.
Last fall, Pinelands had rejected a suggestion that we simply protect a large parcel of potential habitat by deed-restricting the forested northeastern portion of the site. This patch, which we had intended to leave in forest cover anyway, represents well over half of the site, and other portions of the site will be tree-covered as well. After reconsidering data from our consultants, including the results of the no-snakes fall study, the Commission changed its mind. The suggested deed-restriction language they sent along even seems somewhat user friendly. It clearly states that if in the future, we (or future owners) want the restriction lifted, Pinelands will support that move as long as all relevant endangered species studies are completed at that time. The Home Team will soon be moving on to getting necessary Township and County approvals. Aside from the dollars saved by not having to complete the spring survey, this speeds up the entire process by several months!
-- submitted by Jon Luoma
As we’ve reported in the past, progress on all the needed local permits for our future building has been delayed by a requirement that we conduct a two season (last fall, and a coming spring-summer period) drift net trapping survey to determine if any northern pine snakes, a threatened species in New Jersey, use our land. Under state law, Galloway Township cannot even consider our site plan and building application until we have a first stage approval from the New Jersey Pinelands Commission
, called a Certificate of Filing
, so the pine snake studies have been a major roadblock. Our wildlife consultants have consistently stated in reports to Pinelands that our land is simply not critical habitat for the snakes, and none were trapped in the autumn fall drift net study, but until recently Pinelands has persisted in its demands that we continue this labor intensive, costly and project-delaying study.
Although we can be only cautiously optimistic, a few days ago the pendulum seems to have swung in the direction of common sense and credible science.
In January, we appealed directly to the executive director of the Commission. In a letter we received February 16, 2007, he acknowledged that our investigation of state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) records was accurate and that a Pinelands staff claim of a recent DEP sighting of a pine snake near our property was, in fact, “a mistake.” The agency continues to contend that it has in its possession an older record -- albeit one that Pinelands staff reviewing our project has admitted may be as much as a quarter century or more old. However, Pinelands director John Stokes stated that his agency was willing to reconsider the need for the spring-summer study on our land
Six days later, on February 22, we received an additional letter from Pinelands staff affirming they would revisit the notion that we had to conduct the second phase of the study. We had already forwarded a December 2006 letter from consultant Clay Sutton, an eminent naturalist/biologist and retired vice-president of the highly regarded consulting firm Herpetological Associates (HA), stating that, based on both his survey of our land and on the autumn data, no further study was needed in his professional opinion
. After we contacted them early in the week, staff at HA, which was conducting our snake trapping study, reported to us on Friday, February 23 that they were about to mail the autumn data, showing no evidence of pine snakes, to Pinelands accompanied by a professional opinion that our land is not suitable pine snake habitat and that no further work should be required.
We hope common sense will prevail at last, and that we will be able to report in the next newsletter that we can proceed with obtaining our local building approvals.
-- submitted by Jon Luoma
It’s been a very busy stretch for the Home Team (building committee). We reported in the November newsletter that, at the urging of several team members and the congregation’s Board, we were looking hard at the prospect of expanding our building, in light of the dramatic recent growth in our congregation. The concern was that in short order we could run out of seating space in our main meeting room, and that we’d end up being compelled to expand far sooner than we had anticipated (even though future expansion had always been in the plans). After more detailed discussions with the Board, and on the advice of experienced builders in our midst who note that future expansion will never be cheaper than completing the project all at once, a majority of the Home Team has tentatively recommended we complete the full build-out, adding about 800 square feet to each floor. This is likely going to increase up-front costs, but there will be some chances to save. For example, in the basement, space we don’t anticipate using in the near term we’d simply leave unfinished. Our architects, Steve Fenwick and Associates, are now adjusting their drawings.
Meanwhile, Home Team member and builder/engineer (and M.B.A. to boot) Richard Gryzwinski has developed a detailed spreadsheet which we are using to try to come up with tighter estimates of what it will cost us to build this expanded new home. Additionally, our engineering firm has tweaked the site and grading plan, and in late December submitted a full set of plans and a list of other requested items to the New Jersey Pinelands Commission for approval. Pinelands regulatory staff often respond with additional questions, but we hope to be done with almost all but one aspect of this complex application within the first quarter of the New Year.
That final aspect is the pine snake study. Herpetological Associates completed the fall portion of a drift fence trapping study, and no snakes were found. Normally, an additional spring-summer study period is required. However, we are requesting that the spring-summer study be waived. Our lead consultant on the pine snake issue, the naturalist-biologist Clay Sutton (now retired, but once a Herpetological Associates consultant), in December wrote a detailed letter arguing his reasons why he believes the totality of data, including the fall trapping study and Sutton’s own previous habitat assessment, show that this is not suitable habitat for pine snakes. Under a New Jersey Open Record Act request, we have also recently received a response from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, indicating that NJDEP has no records of pine snakes in the vicinity of our property and that its own habitat assessment deems our land not to be suitable habitat. We are forwarding this information to Pinelands Commission staff with a request that the issue of the pine snake be closed so that we can proceed with construction.
Timeline: if the snake studies are deemed to be complete, our engineers say we should anticipate about five months after Pinelands initial approval to gain all the needed township and county construction approvals and then the required final Pinelands approval. Optimistically, we could begin construction as soon as fall 2007. If we must conduct another season of snake surveys, construction would be delayed for another five or six months.
In the meantime, we are proceeding with a wide range of other items. Our architects should soon be providing completed detailed construction drawings and schematics for the up-sized building, and Home Team member Dr. Lynn Stiles is beginning to develop a design for a highly energy-efficient but also highly cost-effective heating, cooling, and ventilation system. For our green building project, we’re looking further into what environmentally sustainable and healthy materials will be suitable and cost effective for our building.
We’ve appointed two small, focused action teams, a Construction Committee of three led by Richard Gryzwinski and including Jonathan Shambare (an architect in our midst, who manages facilities development at Stockton) and, tentatively Lynn Stiles. (Lynn would be happy to step aside and concentrate on heating and cooling issues if a congregation member or friend with extensive construction management experience steps forward.) Builder Chris Holaday continues to serve as our key intermediary with architects and engineers and has generously offered to serve as construction manager for the project; we are recommending that the Board take him up on this generous offer. Chris has also offered to provide one of his framing-carpentry crews to us at his hourly cost. The Construction Committee will manage accounts payable, assess the subcontractor bids Chris brings in, and will see that all subcontractors are properly insured and the congregation suitably indemnified. Jesse Connor will be heading up another group of three that will focus on interior finishes and fittings. We’ve also put landscape design in Jesse’s experienced and capable hands -- if you’ve seen the new garden at the Cape May County Zoo, that’s Jesse’s work.
Building is a daunting prospect in many ways. But we’ve been astonished at some of the professional expertise that has emerged from volunteers within our own congregation. And we promise, all of those who have offered to chip in with “sweat equity” once construction is underway – whether painting, hammering nails, or planting shrubs – will be given that chance to sweat.
-- submitted by Jon Luoma
Most of you know that the Pinelands Commission has required us to conduct a trapping study to rule out the possibility that the threatened Northern Pine Snake forages on our land. After services on October 15, some of us from the congregation had the opportunity to tramp through the underbrush to see the drift fence and traps set up as part of the study. This sort of study normally is conducted over two seasons, autumn and spring. The autumn study period ends on October 31 and, as our consultants expected, no pine snakes have so far appeared.
Meanwhile, Home Team members, at the urging of the Board of Trustees, are using the time-lull to revisit the issue of how large our building needs to be. The dramatic growth in our membership in the past two years suggests that we may need to allow for more seating in the main meeting room. This, of course, would entail more construction costs. But it also might ultimately be more cost-effective than building a too-small building now, and having to add an addition shortly afterwards. Stay tuned for the committee’s recommendation on expanding sooner rather than later.
-- submitted by Jon Luoma
Stockton student Phil Skipwith has been surveying the snake traps on our property for Herpetological Associates, as part of our response to the Pinelands Commission decision that we needed to perform a full drift fence survey for the northern pine snake. Phil is a junior biology major and an avid herpetologist. The fence is comprised of several hundred feet of reinforced black plastic that is anchored by stakes. Snakes and other animals encounter the fence and are then led into box traps as they try to find a way around. Phil checks the traps every other day, so that any trapped animal is not left there long. Anything caught in the trap is recorded and released. The temperature, wind speed, and weather conditions are also recorded for each visit.
So far, he’s had no finds of any snakes of any species. Our upland oak/pine forest is not considered prime snake habitat.
The UUCSJS is indebted to Phil for agreeing to volunteer his services to Herpetological Associates. We are saving a great deal of money by not having to pay for HA to have a staff person come to our property to do the drift fence checks every other day. In appreciation of his willingness to help out, and consideration of adjustments he has to make to his own schedule, we are gathering a basket of gift certificates and goodies for this hard-working college junior. We are hoping to present him with the basket on October 15 when we visit the site after service.
-- submitted by Jon Luoma
At this point, several critical pieces related to building our new home on Pomona Road have fallen into place, or nearly so. The Home Team met recently to refine several points of our architect's building design, which is now nearly complete. We hope to have the option of adding a deck off the main meeting room. Some new adjustments in the basement layout are aimed at providing even more workable space than in preliminary floor-plan drawings on display at the annual meeting in May 2006. Also, our site engineering firm is making some final adjustments to building and parking lot placement and -- [high excitement coming] recently we've had a backhoe on the site digging holes to evaluate our soil for the design of our future septic system.
Moving through the Pinelands approval process, however, has not proved to be easy or quick, despite some truly outstanding help we've received. The very good news: as our environmental consultants, Jack Connor and Steve Whitford completed a detailed series of surveys that determined that our site is not habitat for any of the three threatened or endangered birds Pinelands demanded we check for: Barred owl, Red-headed woodpecker, and Coopers hawk.
The more problematic news: Pinelands notified us in August that it intends to require us to conduct time-consuming trapping studies for the Northern pine snake, largely based on a Pinelands record of such a pine snake having been spotted somewhere near our property in the past. We have a meeting scheduled with Pinelands staff in early September to ask for clarification on this matter, to discuss options and negotiate the issue in more detail. We hope to have an update available on this in the next newsletter.
-- Jon Luoma
You may think there’s not much going on with our new church home. But it's been an extremely busy (and exciting, even amazing) month for your Home Team (building committee). We've met with Marathon, our site engineering firm, to develop an initial draft of a siting plan, Chris Holaday and Jon Luoma have had meetings with architects Steve and Dortje Fenwick (it's pronounced DOR’sha, and she's Steve's wife) and their construction manager. And on Wednesday, April 27, Marathon Engineering's chief planner Rob Reid spearheaded an “informal” meeting at township hall with Home Team reps Chris Holaday and Jon Luoma, Steve Fenwick, and four members of the Galloway Township Planning Board. Although we can't submit our plan to the township formally until we have Pinelands approval of our site plan, in the form of a “Certificate of Filing,” the purpose of the informal consultation was to satisfy ourselves that our plan is on the right track as far as the township is concerned. Otherwise, we might find ourselves with that Certificate in hand, only to have the township object to the plan, forcing us to send a major revision all the way back through the long Pinelands regulatory process.
At the meeting, Fenwick also presented a first working draft of both floor plans and exterior views of our future home. Although this draft will be changing, it served to give township officials a better sense of our plans. A label on the roof for "solar panels" also helped a certain magic to happen. Many of you are aware that the township limits development in our “rural development zone” to five percent impermeable surface (parking lot, sidewalks, plus roof). Yet they also require us to pave one parking spot for each four seats, and, as loony as it sounds, are adamant that they will count as “paved” any formal parking surface we propose: stone, open pavers, open grids. This has really constrained us. While officials at the meeting concurred that we could allow for abundant unpaved “overflow” parking in the plan, Marathon's Rob Reid made it clear that, in order to put up our modest sized building and 25 paved parking spaces the township will require, the five percent constraint really put us up against the wall in terms of future growth. I asked how difficult it would be to get a variance to cover future growth.
Hemming and hawing ensued. The basic response seemed to be “well, you can try.” And then Chris simply said: “And you should know we're planning a green building,” meaning an environmentally progressive building.
The atmosphere in the room changed palpably. Everyone seemed to sit up in their chairs. Although the meeting was about siting, not really about the particulars of the building, suddenly there were questions. Fenwick showed them the space, clearly labeled, for solar panels on the roof. One planning board member asked if we would be eligible for the huge state subsidy available for solar. Answer: yes. We explained that we are planning a super-insulated structure, which includes aspects of both passive heating and passive cooling. Another asked if we were thinking about geothermal heating and cooling. Answer: very likely, but we are focusing on doing green in a way that pays for itself. We want to serve as a model of cost-effective green building for the community – we've called it “The Greenest Building in Galloway.”
“Well,” said the township planner, “I can't see any good reason to deny you an extra two percent.” Nodding ensued. We will still need formal approval, but it looks good. Pinelands the very next morning agreed that if we get this variance, they will not require us to buy expensive “development credits” to exercise this right. Within hours, the township planner told Reid we could likely go to 7.5 percent, based on a revised plan Reid had prepared. We will now have 35 paved parking spaces, instead of 25, enough for a future addition to expand our meeting room to seat 140, from the presently planned 100. (Clarification: the stage one space will be large enough to seat 100 at tables.) Space for the future addition will appear on the plan. We can build a patio there for now if we want, or just spread out some crushed seashell. Our parking lot will be far better, with a full turn-around, at the township planner's request (easier to get an ambulance and fire trucks in, should there be an emergency). We will have informal on-grass parking for many more cars. So instead of being jammed into 5 percent, we are now jammed into exactly 7.5 percent.
More good news: our endangered species surveys are going well, and so far, so good. No barred owls. The search schedule for other species continues.
The Home Team and a few Board members will be meeting on May 1 to review the site plan and take a preliminary look at the draft building design. Soon the site plan will be submitted to the Pinelands Commission.
We're focusing on the stated desires of the congregation in planning for a building we can truly live in. Not just for circumscribed visits on Sunday mornings for fire, brimstone, coffee, and cookies. And not just for board and committee meets. But eventually for choir practices, evening and weekend get-togethers, evening adult and teenage RE (with interminable showers and learners permits will come deep-sleep-Sunday mornings that often won't jibe with morning services). And many are hoping for increased interaction with the Stockton students just across the road, with an active campus ministry and perhaps a home for student groups that develop along the lines of the current very active campus Fair Trade student group, or the Darfur student group.
Stay tuned for another update on what’s happening, at our Annual Meeting on May 21.
-- Jon Luoma
You've probably heard of the old Chinese blessing/curse: “May you live in interesting times.” Well, it's been an interesting several weeks for your Home Team (building committee) and, by extension, the Board. After a long meeting, Home Team members, along with President Paul Utts, came to a solid consensus on the firm to do our site engineering. A contract has now been signed with Marathon Engineering & Environmental Services,
a firm based in Absecon. We were highly impressed with Marathon's get-it-done competency and substantial experience, particularly with both Pinelands and Galloway Township. Their lead planner turns out to be the former Galloway township planner, and the firm has recently done the site planning and engineering for the newly approved Catholic church on Pitney Road as well as work on another church within the Pinelands in Galloway, along with numerous other Pinelands/Galloway projects. In a move that probably saved us a full year of delays, Marathon had advised us to move quickly in determining if springtime surveys for rare or endangered species might be required. Site engineering firms do not do this work themselves, instead either sub-contracting the work or (better, because of no overhead charges) allowing the congregation to contract out this work itself. Marathon itself suggested that to save costs we contract the work out ourselves and provided a recommendation of a local firm that could help us.
That's when it got interesting. We immediately sent a letter to Pinelands requesting clarification on the endangered species question. Although surveys for such species had not been included in Pinelands' initial response during our “due diligence” period before we bought the land in 2003, there were signs that circumstances had changed. As noted in the last newsletter, barred owls had been located in the general vicinity, and we had learned that a developer with a large block of property adjacent to ours had recently been asked to conduct assessments for several other species. Our response from Pinelands, received in mid-March, indicated that, indeed, we would be required to conduct surveys for three bird species (Barred owls, Coopers hawks, and Red-headed woodpeckers) as well as the northern Pine Snake.
The bad news: some checking with the local firm recommended by Marathon suggested that their “best rate” for doing this work would be $13,000, and perhaps substantially more if we were required, as is common for Pinelands, to do snake surveys in both spring and fall. As noted last month, Stockton ornithology professor Jack Connor (husband of Board member Jesse) has very generously offered to conduct the bird surveys for us at no charge, an immensely generous offer. Although Jack is without question well qualified to do the fieldwork and related reporting, he expressed concerns about establishing scientific survey protocols that would be a good “fit” for Pinelands submissions. Another angel has arrived in the person of Steve Whitford, an old friend of the congregation with 17 years of experience working on these issues. He has offered to provide whatever back-stop consultation we need now, including help in setting up proper survey protocols, and will accept pay on an hourly basis. At a March 22 meeting at the Connors’ home, a group of us developed a strategy for dealing with the snake issue that we believe will likely relieve us of the need to do expensive full scale surveys: Jack and Jesse's recent walk of the site, and Steve's general knowledge of the area (he arrived at the meeting with ecosystem maps) suggest we can make a scientifically solid case that there is no pine snake habitat on our site.
More good news: although it took a number of days to work out details in our engineering contract, the kickoff design meeting
with project manager Chris Holaday, our architect Steve Fenwick, and our engineers is scheduled for March 30.
-- Jon LuomaBARRED OWL (Strix varia)
This bird makes a call that seems to be saying "Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?" It grows to about 16-23 inches long. It's a dark grayish-brown, barred with white and vertical streaks on its belly. It lives in wooded swamps and lowland forests and drier upland forests. It mostly eats mice but will also eat small mammals, birds, reptiles, snakes, insects, and crayfish. NORTHERN PINE SNAKE (Pituophis melanoleucus)
This snake likes flat, dry, sandy areas. It is one of the few snakes that burrow in open sandy fields. It mostly travels on the ground and occasionally climbs trees. It feeds on rabbits, rodents, birds, and their eggs. When approached it will loudly hiss and vibrate its tail - so you would think it is a rattlesnake! But it is a constrictor that squeezes its prey and will not strike. They live well in the Pine Barrens because when fires occur, it clears the forest floor for them.
We know there hasn't been much news here from the Home Team (the committee focused on getting our new congregational "home" built) That's because, like a ship on a long-becalmed sea, progress has been stalled while we waited for detailed bids from three site-engineering firms, a process complicated by the fact that most of these firms seem to be already intensely busy. Three bids from professionally qualified outfits are finally now all in. The work these firms will do is going to be extensive, and evidently more expensive than we had hoped. As of this writing, the Home Team and Board President Paul Utts will be poring over these proposals in an attempt to make a recommendation to the entire board about which firm fits our needs at the best price. And, despite some sticker shock here, we also do have some great news on some aspects that will actually save us a bit of money, so read on.
The scope of work our engineering/environmental/site-planning group will do ranges from designing the septic, drainage, and retention systems to coordinating site design, parking, lighting and other issues with our architect, and also seeing us through all our environmental, municipal, county and other permits. There are a lot of regulatory requirements.
We've already learned that the owner of the large tract of 110 acres of land surrounding us has applied for a Pinelands permit to develop 19 houses on 5-acre lots. (Right across Pomona Rd., Stockton College is applying for permits to expand its dorm complexes even further in our direction.) Early in February, the private developer of the land around us was notified that he was required to conduct a preliminary habitat assessment to check for the possible presence of several endangered species, some associated with wetlands near one part of this large tract. If his consultants indeed find suitable habitat, further studies will have to be conducted to check for actual presence of these species.
We do not know yet if we will have to conduct similar studies. We were careful to be sure our plot neither contains nor is near wetlands. There's some chance that if the private developer's studies show no evidence of habitat, at least near our land, we'll get a free pass. However, there's suddenly a timing problem. If there is a possibility that we will have to undertake at least a preliminary habitat assessment for barred owl, a state “listed” species that has been located in more deeply wooded areas on the Stockton College Campus and other nearby areas in the months since we purchased our land, that study will have to be completed during the spring nesting season. If we miss this spring, we could be made to wait a full year.
In fact, there's enough bird and Pinelands ecology expertise in our own group that we don't anticipate a serious problem. However, we do have a letter in to Pinelands inquiring about whether we will have to document this and should have a reply soon. The good news is that we have learned that Jack Connor, husband of board member Jesse Connor (and an ornithology professor, among many talents) would not only be qualified to conduct any required study, he has offered to donate his services, if needed -- a substantial potential savings to our building account.
And for those who missed the news: our architect has been retained. His name is Steve Fenwick. You're already familiar with his work. Not only did he design the extensive remodeling of the old building that became Jewish Family Services in Margate, where UUCSJS once met, he is also the designer of our present rented space, the Campus Ministry Center. Steve will first provide the preliminary design that will give our engineers a building "footprint" to work with in their site design and permit application work. He'll then be filling in all the details as the Pinelands permit work proceeds.
What's next? In a matter of days, Chris Holaday, as our construction point-man, will be getting together with architect and newly-retained site engineers for an all important kickoff meeting. This meeting will also include a representative from Superior Walls. This company may be providing an innovative, highly insulated, and, from initial estimates, quite affordable pre-cast concrete walls for the shell for our structure.
Soon, we'll be able to provide more information about other energy efficient and environmentally friendly aspects of our future “green” building.
So how long to groundbreaking? One engineering firm provided us with a timeline, highlighting the additional steps we will have to take to get through various regulatory bodies, including completing the application we already have at Pinelands and moving on to township approval: seven to eight months. This may be a bit overly optimistic. If not, work could begin sometime this fall!
-- Jon Luoma
The Home Team (building committee) has had a busy several weeks lining up interviews with architects for our new building on Pomona Road, and we think we’re days away, at this writing, from making a recommendation to the board on which one to hire. More about that soon, and it promises to be exciting news.
We’ve also been interviewing site engineers, who will be responsible for civil engineering, including drawing up the various drainage, septic, grading, parking and other exterior features that will be necessary to gain regulatory approvals from various agencies, and that selection should also be made in a matter of days.
After we retain these professionals, what’s next? First, working with the Home Team, the architect will develop a solid working design “footprint” for our building, then consult with the engineers to determine where on our 6.2 acre site the building will be located, and how it will be oriented. (One certainty: the plan for our “green sanctuary” will include an expanse of roofline aimed directly south for solar panel efficiency.) The engineers will use that footprint to design a complete site plan for submission to the Pinelands Commission for their approval, which could take a few months, or more if we have any unknown environmental complications to resolve. After Pinelands approval, our next major hurdle will be to gain necessary approvals from Galloway Township, which has requirements for everything from landscaping to lighting. We may also have some county requirements to meet, particularly since we’re on a county road.
We’re still hoping we can begin construction by spring to early summer of next year , but a great deal will hinge on the speed with which we move through the regulatory process.
-- Jon Luoma
As most of you already know, the Board has decided to retain an architectural firm (or architect-regulatory planner), not only to help us with design, but to guide us through the time-consuming and sometimes difficult process of gaining environmental and other permits.
The Home Team has now had excellent conversations with two architects, and may be talking to a third in coming days. By the next issue of this newsletter, we hope to announce that our architect has been chosen and is already moving forward in key discussions with Galloway Township.
We're continuing to collect information on the sorts of "Green Building" approaches we're going to recommend. Currently, ideas under consideration include massive insulation, a solar electric photovoltaic electric power system, flooring made from highly renewable and/or recycled materials, and an innovative heating-cooling system that could include "passive" solar. In each case, these are systems that will at least pay for themselves over the life of our mortgage. In some cases, they include state subsidies aimed at kick-starting renewable energy industries that we as UU’s believe in so strongly.
-- Jon Luoma
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September 2005 - Floor plans
Here are the latest floor plans.