Highway development issue vote postponed


UPPER FREEHOLD — Two ordinances that would change nonresidential zoning were carried to the final meeting of the year on Dec. 18.

The first ordinance would amend the Highway Development (HD) zone at I-195 and Old York Road, while the second would amend the HD zone along Route 537. After the public hearings on the ordinances, the governing body decided to amend the first ordinance and leave the zoning as it presently stands, with only a minor change.

Under the recommendation of former planner Mark Remsa, the Planning Board voted last Dec. 13 to adopt a new land-use plan that would contract the current HD district at the corner of Route 539 and Old York Road. New Township Planner Charles Newcomb recommended changing the HD zoning to community commercial (CC).

At the Dec. 4 meeting, Newcomb said that the land-use plan element of the master plan identified 4.69 million square feet of potential commercial development in the township. The population build-out study done by Remsa indicated that 584,902 square feet could be supported by residents, according to Newcomb. He recommended that lot 22 and 23.01 be changed from HD to CC. The Reed property, which is also in the HD zone but is in farmland preservation, should have the HD recommendation removed, he said.

Committeemen David Reed and Stanley Moslowski Jr. recused themselves from the issue because their families own properties affected by the proposed ordinance.

Attorney Jeff Hall represented several landowners whose properties would change from agricultural/residential to CC under the ordinance, but who want their land to be zoned HD. Hall said the parcels are near the interstate and would attract regional business.

Stanley Moslowski Sr., owner of block 123.01, lot 2.2, which is currently zoned HD and would change to CC under the ordinance, said he has had offers to sell his property for a gas station, which would not be a permitted use under the CC designation.

“Now we have a planner who is going to change my property. Is that fair or what?” he asked.

Allentown resident Frank Cinquegrana said keeping the Stein property zoned HD, which the township could use for its Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) obligation, and changing other zoning may result in spot zoning.

When Mayor Steve Alexander asked Cinquegrana if the township should zone for Allentown’s purposes, Cinquegrana replied, “Yes, without a doubt.”

After discussion, the committee decided to amend the ordinance to take the Reed property out of the HD zone and not to make any other changes.

Several landowners also appeared before the committee to protest the change from HD to CC zoning on Route 537. Newcomb said he recommended the change due to the environmental sensitivity of the area.

Property owner Joe San Nicola said development along the corridor was already limited due to the lack of sewer and water. He said the area’s demographics has residents traveling to various towns for services, and gave the example of Rick’s Saddle Shop on Route 539 as a business that does not just depend on local traffic.

While Newcomb said that variances could be granted if the zoning were changed, San Nicola responded that getting a use variance is easier said than done.

Glenn Gobel said he has been working for 18 months on opening a car wash on his Route 537 acreage, which is a conditional use under current zoning but would require “a full-blown use variance” if the ordinance passed.

Michael Figaro owns 5 acres in the zone, and bought the property four years ago for his limousine dealership.

“I have over $100,000 into site work, etc. Now you are telling me I can’t do this in the CC,” he said.

Figaro said the township has to have consideration for those who have been working on their projects. Neither application has yet come before the Planning Board.

Resident Al Trenton said most people moved to Upper Freehold because of its rural character, and he would hate to see Route 537 become like Route 33 in Hamilton.

“Many Township Committee meetings deal with the traffic problem on Route 539. This would add to it,” he said.

Committeeman Moslowski said the property owners had invested a lot of time and money, and asked what would happen to any application in progress. Township Attorney Granville Magee said that the law in effect for the zoning would take precedence unless the applicant had final approval from the Planning Board.

Alexander said that if the township waits for every owner to be complete, no planning or land-use decision would be made.

“It’s paralysis by analysis,” he said. “It would always be keep the door open one more minute to make a final decision.”

He noted that New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection regulations are gettingmore restrictive and limit what can be built in the zone.