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Howell zoners grant variance for building with retail, office and warehouse uses

HOWELL – The Howell Zoning Board of Adjustment has granted a use variance to Sea Free Plaza LLC, which plans to construct an office, warehouse and commercial building at the intersection of Okerson Road and Route 33.

The property is in a Special Economic Development (SED) zone and the applicant needed a use variance because it proposed a multi-use space with office/warehouse and retail uses.

Office and warehouse spaces are principal permitted uses in the SED zone, but a use variance was required for the retail use. Retail is only permitted as an accessory use and is limited to 1,000 square feet or 5 percent of the gross floor area, whichever is less.

In April, Sea Free Plaza initially sought municipal approval to construct a building with a gross floor area of 24,881 square feet and 7,460 square feet of retail space.

At that time, board members asked the applicant to redesign its plans.

When Sea Free Plaza returned before the board on Sept. 17, it was represented by attorney Thomas Hirsch, engineer William Fitzgerald and architect Michael Simpson.

“We believe the application that is now before you is more in conformity with the ordinance in that it has office and warehouse space which are permitted uses and less tenant space for the commercial space, which is the non-permitted use,” Hirsch said.

The revised application Sea Free Plaza presented in September proposed a building totaling 24,533 square feet, with 7,097 square feet of retail space (a decrease of 363 square feet of retail space from April). The building would also include 5,900 square feet of a two-level office and 11,536 square feet of warehouse space.

Fitzgerald described the site of the proposed building. At present the land is vacant and the applicant was proposing a triangular building. He said the parking and layout remained the same from the application that was previously submitted.

Fitzgerald said a proposed storage yard at the rear of the building was modified from gravel to pavement. He said there would be fencing and extensive landscaping placed on that side of the property to meet Howell’s buffer requirements.

The board’s chairman, Wendell Nanson, asked how high the fence would be.

“The fence securing the yard is shown as 6 feet (tall) on the plan, but the applicant would have no problem with an 8-foot-tall fence if the board would prefer that,” Fitzgerald said.

Nanson said either way the applicant would need a variance for the fence. The board’s professionals agreed that an 8-foot fence would be the preferred option.

Simpson described the architectural elements of the proposed building.

“We still have a warehouse (portion) separate from the commercial component … At the moment, we do not know who the tenants are going to be along Route 33 … It could be a single tenancy, it could be up to four … along Route 33,” Simpson said.

The architect said the applicant took steps “so it does not feel like it is one monolithic building on either Okerson Road or Route 33.”

“By breaking the building into (what appears to be three sections) on the Okerson Road side, it sort of represents itself more like three buildings that have been attached almost in a way that it might have been organically grown over time, as opposed to being one massive building across the whole site,” Simpson said.

Zoning board members complimented the architectural adjustments that had been made between April and September.

The board’s vice chairman, Michael Sanclimenti, called the revisions a vast improvement on the application and made a motion to grant the use variance and approve the application based on the applicant meeting all of the board’s requests.

Board member John Armata said the applicant took the advice and suggestions that had been offered by board’s professionals in the right spirit.

“You covered everything our professionals advised and required,” he told the professionals who represented Sea Free Plaza.

Board members Mathew Hughes, Thomas O’Donnell, Thomas Posch, Jose Orozco, Armata, Sanclimenti and Nanson voted “yes” on the motion to grant the variance and approve the Sea Free Plaza application.

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