Planners nix warehouse complex

The Planning Board denied an application Feb. 15 that would have brought 1.8 million square feet of warehousing to the intersection of Davidsons Mill Road and Route 535.

By:Joseph Harvie
   To the delight of members of the Eastern Villages Association, the Planning Board denied an application Feb. 15 that would have brought 1.8 million square feet of warehousing to the intersection of Davidsons Mill Road and Route 535.
   The Planning Board voted 4-4 on an application for major subdivision approval made by developer Trammel Crow, which wants to build three warehouses in the area.
   Charlotte Camarota, Charles Carley, Debra Johnson and Joe Spataro voted against the application, while Mayor Frank Gambatese, Jo Hochman, Debbie Roedel and Chairman Robert Southwick voted in favor of the application.
   Because a majority of board members did not vote in favor of the application, it was denied.
   Trammel Crow was seeking a major subdivision approval to combine four lots into one conforming lot; preliminary and final site plan approval, with variances for more impervious coverage than is normally allowed; and extra parking at the complex.
   The complex would have been built in three phases: a 600,000-square-foot warehouse on a 34.64-acre parcel facing Route 535; a 450,000-square-foot complex on a 26.7-acre parcel adjacent to the first, located closer to the intersection of Route 535 and Davidsons Mill Road; and a 750,000-square-foot warehouse on a 44.8-acre parcel located behind the first two warehouses. The application also called for the creation of 7 acres for open space.
   Board members who opposed the plan said they were not comfortable granting the variances and waivers needed for the application’s approval. They said they would have liked the impervious coverage reduced to 60 percent from the proposed 63 percent, and said it could have been accomplished by eliminating 50,000 square feet from each of the warehouses.
   Members of EVA were pleased with the outcome of the vote, though they said they were surprised that the application was denied. About 20 members of the group attended the meeting, and several of them voiced their concerns about the effects the warehouses could have on stormwater runoff and truck traffic in the area.
   Jean Dvorak, a founding member of EVA, made a presentation before the board outlining how other warehouses on Davidsons Mill Road are all sending their water under the N.J. Turnpike and flooding areas of Pigeon Swamp State Park.
   She showed plans obtained from the township Planning Department for the Circuit City warehouse, which received stream encroachment permits from the state Department of Environmental Protection to send runoff to a nearby retention pond that drains through culverts to the western side of the Turnpike. Plans for the Opus warehouse complex show it tied into the Circuit City line, sending water across the Turnpike.
   She showed aerial photographs of the area west of the Turnpike between Davidsons Mill and Deans Rhode Hall roads. The first photograph taken in 1971 shows no runoff west of the Turnpike. The second photo was taken in 1991, after the Turnpike was widened to eight lanes; a small amount of runoff was visible in the picture. Photographs from 1995 and 1998 showed more runoff heading west of the Turnpike as warehouses were built in the area, Ms. Dvorak said. A photo from 2005 showed that the area was not a small stream any more but had been flooded.
   Ms. Dvorak urged the board to move cautiously and look at these problems before coming to a decision on the warehouse plan and urged the township to investigate the flooding before granting warehouses permission to build warehouses near Davidsons Mill Road.
   Alan Habiak, whose family has farmed on land west of the Turnpike for the past 93 years, said that after the Turnpike widening, there was a small amount of water running through the fields, but prior to that water never traveled across the Turnpike. Flooding has gotten much worse as the warehouses have been built in the area, he said.