Jackson Avenue plan approved

Ordinance imposes extra zoning restrictions on tract to allay concerns


W hile acknowledging that the measure is far from ideal, the Edison Township Council nonetheless unanimously voted to approve the redevelopment plan for an 11- acre project area along Jackson Avenue during its regular July 9 meeting.

The ordinance would impose additional building restrictions on the site, currently zoned for light industrial uses, on top of the ones that already exist.

These limits were formed in response to concerns from residents compiled during previous public meetings addressing potential projects the tract might host. For example, according to Township Planner Brandy Forbes, many nearby residents were concerned about the traffic impact of new development, so the new redevelopment plan requires the land’s owners, Kaplan Companies, to submit a traffic study and work to mitigate the additional traffic that a new project might bring. Under the current zoning laws, this would not have been required.

Similarly, even though the area is zoned for industrial, not residential, use, the owners could still theoretically apply for a use variance and build houses on the land. Attempts to do so on Jackson Avenue had been made before. With this in mind, Forbes said, the redevelopment plan specifically and explicitly bans residential development of any kind on the property, even through variances.

Another restriction springing from residents’ concerns relates to the type of industrial development that would be allowed under the redevelopment plan. Under the current zoning rules for the area, Kaplan would be able to place a large, standard-type warehouse that would bring 18-wheelers bearing cargo into the area. Under the new plan, Kaplan will be limited to flex-space warehouses, where larger buildings can be broken down into smaller businesses and services. While the space that the buildings occupy may be about the same as a large warehouse, the type of traffic that it attracts won’t be as intense, since the kinds of businesses housed within it tend not to require large, 18-wheelers coming in.

The plan, added Forbes, also adds schools as an allowed use. The plan forces the developer to build in at least two phases, and between the first and second phase, talks with the district about having a new school built could take place. The possibility of having a school built on some of the land as part of an agreement with the developer was an idea discussed with much enthusiasm that night, both on the dais and in the audience.

“This site would lend itself to a school, and a desperately needed one,” said resident Jane Tousman, a regular at town meetings.

Board of Education Vice President Joe Romano, however, was skeptical that such an arrangement could be made, saying that the area was not an ideal environment for a school. He cited the presence of heavy metal contamination in the soil that would need to be cleaned up, as well as the presence of a nearby cell phone tower as reasons why the site may not be optimal for schoolchildren.

“You can’t build a school on 5 acres of land, and, number two, the land is contaminated with contaminants, they would have to be cleaned out, and three, the school, if we put a school there, there is a cell tower on that property. So I won’t fight [alongside] township people to build a school with heavy contaminants and a cell tower,” said Romano.

He also expressed puzzlement at the enthusiasm people had over the land’s potential for use as a school ground, given that Mayor Jun Choi had opposed the construction of a cell phone tower at Martin Luther King Elementary School late last year.

“Mr. Choi and his council people said that they would not allow a school to have a cell tower erected next to it, and that was at the MLK School. Now they want to give me property to use with a cell tower and heavy metal contaminants,” said Romano.

In previous conversations with the Sentinel, Romano had said that there had been a previous attempt to build a school on that property but that the district declined the offer because the plan also came with 200 residences, which Romano felt was self-defeating, since the new school would only be filled with the new students.

Some residents expressed concern over whether the owner could be trusted, noting that the stated plans had been changed since plans were first presented to the public. Original plans called for four smaller, flex-space warehouses, but this number was reduced to two larger in the final proposal. Resident Esther Nemitz, a town meeting regular, said that a letter she received from the owners stated that a two-building configuration was the only way the project could be financially feasible, and that the fourbuilding plan was only conceptual to begin with. Still, Nemitz said that this cast doubt on any other promises the firm might make in the future.

“I didn’t realize Mr. Kaplan was going to change his mind,” said Nemitz. “It is the wrong plan for Jackson Avenue. … We do not need flex warehouses, we need schools.”

Many other opponents of the measure expressed similar arguments and added that they would prefer to see the land used for open space or other civic purposes.

“Do we really need four flex warehouses, or is it better to have potential schools, open space and greenways? … This area would be a real asset to have a mini park or maybe a small community center,” said Bob Spiegel, of the Edison Wetlands Association, a local environmental group.

Supporters of the ordinance agreed that, yes, open space would be a nice thing on the land, but that such a thing was just not feasible at this time. Many noted that the owners have the right to develop their own property and that they intend to do so, and with this in mind, it may be best to impose the redevelopment plan to at least mitigate some of the negative effects that may come about.

“I think this plan has merit,” said Robert Karabinchak, a former councilman and current zoning board member. “It’s for small trucks, small businesses. Monster warehouse? It’s for tractor-trailers.”


esident Fred Wolke, a town meeting

regular, concurred.

“It would be nice to have this be open space, but do we have the money? I doubt it,” said Wolke.

In the end, the council had similar sentiments when deciding to support the redevelopment plan.

“In a perfect world, we have unlimited funds and can build a school and preserve open space. But it’s 2008 and we all know the economic situation right now,” said Councilwoman AnnMarie Griffin-Ussak.