(Bloomberg) -- Marianne Cucolo knows she’s a rabble-rouser.

For years she’s tried to stop the Kushners from building hundreds of homes in Colts Neck, New Jersey.

“When I see something is wrong I don’t go with the flow,” she said. “I fight it.”

But for all her fighting, the grandmother and educator is running out of options. The bucolic farm town about 50 miles (80 kilometers) from Manhattan, where Bruce Springsteen owns a home, Jon Stewart operates an animal sanctuary and former President Donald Trump has a golf course, is locked in a bitter fight between the developer and residents over a planned 360-unit apartment complex that is close to gaining final approval.

The town where the median home value exceeds $1 million currently lacks a sewage system, so Kushner Cos. — the family real estate developer once run by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner — plans to build an on-site wastewater treatment plant. Residents and environmentalists say the discharge from the plant risks seeping into a reservoir serving more than 300,000 residents. 

“It’s going to be catastrophic,” said Cucolo, who moved to the town of 10,000 people a decade ago to help care for her granddaughter.

Despite resistance, town officials have approved the development and advocates for the development say it’s important to help ease a housing crisis in the region and that the town should have created better infrastructure years ago. The project, which includes luxury apartments, also comprises 72 affordable units, which are “essential” to meeting the needs of low-income families after housing costs in the area skyrocketed in recent years, Kushner Cos. said in a statement to Bloomberg.

While the entire tri-state area is facing a housing shortage of about 540,000 residences, Colts Neck has seen home values rise by more than 50% in four years with only 42 properties currently for sale.

Rapidly Expanding

New Jersey, the most densely populated US state, requires that each town build its fair share of affordable homes. But dozens of wealthy communities have worked to delay or block their obligations set out in a series of court decisions stretching back almost 50 years.

Colts Neck brought this on themselves by not connecting parts of the community into sewage systems and instead using that lack of infrastructure to dodge their building obligations for decades, advocacy group Fair Share Housing Center said. In the past, Colts Neck paid other municipalities to take on their obligations, but updates to the law no longer allow it.

“You need the sewer to build multifamily housing,” said Josh Bauers, attorney at the center. “That has long been a tool of their exclusion.”

Town government officials declined to comment for this article. 

Cucolo says she’s not fighting Kushner because of Nimbyism, a term for those opposed to something undesirable being built in their community. She points to environmental group Sierra Club calling the Kushner project a “disaster” and the League of Women Voters warning that a protected stream that feeds the Swimming River Reservoir runs through the plot of land that includes the development.

Hazardous Sites

New Jersey has the largest number of hazardous waste sites in America, including one in Colts Neck.

“All good people support affordable housing,” said Kip Cherry, conservation chair of Sierra Club’s Central Jersey chapter. “But affordable housing should be in locations that are good for the people.”

Kushner Cos. is committed to ensuring the property is “operated with the highest level of professionalism and care for the surrounding community,” Michael Sommer, chief development officer, said in his statement.

The development was originally approved by the town in 2007 for only 48 units. But after the Kushners sued the neighboring town of Freehold to gain access to its sewers, and were counter-sued by Freehold, Colts Neck approved the larger complex in 2021 with the waste treatment facility known as an Amphidrome. Plans now include a 15-building development that includes a club house and swimming pool. 

The developer has been rapidly expanding its footprint in New Jersey after Jared stepped down to follow Trump to the White House in 2017 and the company pulled back from some large New York City tower bets. This year alone it kicked off two major projects in Monmouth County, home to Colts Neck, including a $500 million conversion of a mall into a new town center and a 299-unit retail and apartment development in Long Branch.

Last Hurdle

Over the past three years, Cucolo has tried everything to stop the development, from raising $14,000 for an independent hydrology report to collecting 2,400 signatures in a change.org petition. 

She even asked her friend who lives next door to Springsteen if she would “walk among the peacocks and ask if he’d give us a hand.” Her neighbor declined. His publicist also declined a request for him to speak with Bloomberg.

Residents have packed hearings in a drawn-out review process. Several years and permit approvals later, the last hurdle for the Kushners is to gain consent for its wastewater plans by New Jersey’s environmental protection agency.

Cucolo hopes the state will require the Kushners hire an independent company to review the project.

“I’m the troublemaker,” she said, insisting it’s for a good cause. “They’ll contaminate the reservoir and we’ll be paying for it for years to come.”

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