Upper Freehold’s Breza Road zoning hangs in the balance


Staff Writer

UPPER FREEHOLD — With a 9-1 vote on Dec. 14, the Planning Board put an official end to the Rockefeller Group’s plan to build warehouses on Breza Road.

The New York City-based developer had plans to construct 1.8 million square feet of warehouse/office space on a 254-acre tract on Breza Road. Township officials had approved a general development plan for the site in September 2004.

After months of hearings during which local residents strongly opposed the plan, the Rockefeller Group withdrew its application shortly before another hearing was scheduled on the issue for Nov. 30.

Board member Barry Wright, who cast the dissenting vote at the recent meeting, said the township had to spend a reasonable amount of taxpayer money to go through with the affordable-housing plan for the site.

The Rockefeller Group planned to donate 19.2 acres of the tract to the township to use for its affordable-housing obligations with the state.

Wright said, “I assume there will be no reimbursement if we have to redesign the affordable-housing component for Upper Freehold Township?”

Board Attorney Frank Armenante told Wright it would be a loss to the township unless someone used the same development plan for the tract in the future.

Since the Rockefeller Group’s plans for the site fell through, residents have many suggestions about the tract’s zoning.

The property has a commercial overlay, which is the result of an early-1990s litigation settlement. The overlay has been in effect for 10 years but has now expired. However, since the overlay was placed into the township’s master plan, the designation would have to be removed through the zoning process. Without the overlay, the property would fall subject to the 3-acre zoning the rest of the township falls under.

Former Mayor Bob Abrams, who supported the warehouse project, said he does not want to see any houses built on the property.

“There’s too many new houses here now — we can’t afford the schools,” he said. “I’m sick and tired of houses in this township. They’re costing us too much money, too much aggravation, and ruining everything we came in this town for.”

Walter Helfrecht asked the board to remove the word “warehouses” from permitted uses in the area.

“There’s no question in anybody’s mind hereafter that we do not want them in this town,” he said.

Resident Keith Becker, a spokesman for Communities United, a grassroots group formed to oppose the Rockefeller Group’s warehouses, said that having any sort of industrial zoning on the Breza Road tract is “a ticking time bomb.” He said the Planning Board should take the opportunity to defuse it.

Four Seasons resident Elliot Weiser said he is in favor of withdrawing the commercial overlay aspect of the tract’s zoning. He also said he would like to see the township create a height ordinance for buildings on the tract and a tighter definition for what can be built there.

Allentown resident Micah Rasmussen, another warehouse opponent, quoted Deputy Mayor William Miscoski, who said at a recent Township Committee meeting that if the Rockefeller Group could not do a project there, nobody could. Rasmussen said that given wastewater and wetland issues on the Breza Road site, the same problems would occur with other applications.

“Get rid of the overlay,” he said. “It’s so inappropriate in terms of zoning.”

Vince Gelsomino, a member of the township’s Economic Development Committee, said he is in favor of keeping some of the commercial overlay.

“I know how much commercially zoned property there is in the township — not much,” he said. “To take away more is not an advantageous thing at this time.”

Gelsomino suggested light retail space along with office and flex space on the site. He noted that the township’s planned revision to its master plan includes a component for high-density housing.

“If you put thousands of houses up in town, it will add a lot of kids to the school system,” he said. “We need some ratables in this town. It’s good to have some of that land remain commercial.”