MANALAPAN – An applicant who wants to construct two warehouses at Route 33 and Smithburg Road, Manalapan, is expected to present revised plans on Dec. 17 when the Manalapan Planning Board resumes a public hearing on the plan.
Joseph Skeba is seeking preliminary major site plan approval to construct two warehouses: Building A would total 300,220 square feet and Building B would total 652,000 square feet, on a 97-acre parcel that has 1,500 feet of frontage on Route 33 eastbound and 1,500 feet of frontage on Smithburg Road (Route 527).
Previous testimony has indicated that warehouses are a permitted use in Manalapan’s SED-20/W zone (Special Economic Development/Warehouse). The application has been heard on Sept. 27 and Nov. 8.
The SED-20/W zone in Manalapan where Skeba wants to build the warehouses borders a residential zone in Millstone Township and residential uses on Smithburg Road in Manalapan. Smithburg Road is the border of the two municipalities.
During a three-and-a-half hour hearing in Manalapan town hall on Nov. 8, a room full of residents of Millstone and Manalapan asked board members to deny the application and to protect their quality of life.
Scott Friedman of Manalapan said he owns warehouses at three sites in New Jersey and said, “If I stood on the roof of one of my warehouses, I couldn’t see a residence.” He said the proposed buildings are too close to homes.
Gene Madeam of Millstone said the trucks going to and leaving from the warehouses “is going to be a huge burden on the community and my block. You (the applicant) are not being honest in saying you don’t know who the end user is.”
Attorney Kenneth Pape, representing the applicant, said his client has received interest from several national companies, but has not signed any tenants. Pape said if preliminary approval is granted by the board, the applicant will identify the end users when final approval is sought.
Debbie DeLuca said she has lived in Millstone for 20 years and lived in Manalapan for 10 years before that.
“I ride my bike with my dog to a park,” she said. “Now you tell me tractor-trailers are going to come barreling down the road. Please consider my quality of life and the quality of life I share with the people in this room.”
Regarding Smithburg Road, Ron Schlegel of Millstone said, “If you introduce 200 trucks (a day) on this road, you are going to kill people. This (project) does not belong in a rural area. I don’t want to see people get killed here.”
Sophie Kasmir of Millstone said motorists use Timmons Hill Drive as a cut-through when Route 33 is backed up with traffic. She said trucks going to the warehouses will do the same, and “people will die. Children will be killed. Adults will be killed. I don’t want to have to share my road with hundreds of trucks every day.”
Joseph Teston of Millstone said, “It’s a big secret who wants to use this building,” but he did not state who it is he believes wants to use the building. Teston mentioned “our governor” and described the combined size of the two proposed buildings as “one million square feet of grow facility.” He mentioned “hydroponics,” which is the process of growing plants in sand, gravel or liquid, with added nutrients, but without soil.
Regarding residents of Millstone who purchased homes in a residential zone that borders another municipality whose adjacent zone permits warehouses, Teston said, “We could have looked into what could be built (on the Skeba property), but we didn’t think about a driveway (to the warehouses) on Smithburg Road, not when there access on Route 33.”
At various points during the meeting, Manalapan Township Committeeman David Kane and Manalapan Mayor Jack McNaboe, both of whom sit on the board, expressed concern about aspects of the plan, including the potential for hundreds of trucks and employees’ vehicles to come to and leave the site each day, and the turning movements of trucks entering and exiting the warehouse property.
Teston said he appreciated the concern Kane and McNaboe had expressed for the road system surrounding the development site.
The Planning Board’s attorney, Ronald Cucchiaro, had previously explained that in an application involving a permitted use, such as the Skeba application, “an increase in traffic with a permitted use is not a reason to deny the application.”
Cucchiaro said the state Department of Transportation has jurisdiction on Route 33 and Monmouth County has jurisdiction on Smithburg Road and he said those entities have the authority to grant permits after reviewing the road improvements the applicant has proposed.
Another resident, Maria Font of Manalapan, said, “We moved to this neighborhood for a reason. The reason is peace and quiet. I beg the board, please don’t allow this to take place.”
Tim Leitinger of Manalapan said he works on Route 33 near the location of the proposed warehouses. He described traffic backups on Smithburg Road he said he observes on a daily basis.
Pape said the SED-20/W zoning has been in place in Manalapan since 1976 and was reconfirmed in 2012. Regarding specific regulations of the zone, Pape said the zone permits 60 percent lot coverage and 52 percent lot coverage is proposed, and he said the zone permits a maximum building height of 50 feet and 42-foot-tall buildings are proposed.
“We stayed inside those limits on purpose. We did not want to give the appearance of overdeveloping the site,” he said.
Several residents expressed concern that trucks coming to and from the warehouse site could leak gas and oil that would pollute ground water and their wells. Pape said reports submitted by the applicant indicate that will not be an issue and said he stands by those reports.
Finally, the board heard from Millstone Mayor Gary Dorfman, who said, “As a citizen of Millstone and as a representative, I would like that property to remain a green field. If it does not remain a field, I would like to ask for some accommodations.”
Dorfman asked the applicant to consider shifting the location of a building to create a deeper setback from Smithburg Road and Timmons Hill Drive.
“Could (you) possibly shift that setback to be more accommodating to residents of Route 527 (Smithburg Road) and less accommodating to Route 33? Can you move the building as far away as possible from Route 527 and direct most of the traffic to enter (the site) on Route 33, and avoid truck traffic on Route 527, if this has to go forward?” he said.
Dorfman also asked for as much of a landscape buffer as possible to hide the view of one building from Smithburg Road.
At that point, about 10:45 p.m., Pape asked for a five-minute recess to confer with his client. When the meeting resumed, Pape said, “we can and we will move (a building) closer to Route 33.”
He said creating an additional lane of travel on Smithburg Road, as had been requested by several residents, would be “very problematic” because land that would be needed is encumbered by the state and the issue is “not solvable.”
Pape said revised plans would be submitted and board members agreed to hold a special meeting at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 17 at Manalapan town hall to continue hearing the Skeba application. Members of the public may review the application in the Planning Board office during business hours.
The Nov. 8 meeting included testimony from Scott Kennel, of McDonough and Rea Associates, Manasquan, who described the projected flow of traffic to and from the site, and the volume of traffic during the morning and afternoon peak hours.
Kennel said trucking companies that access warehouse sites “tend to tailor their schedules to surrounding traffic patterns” and added, “I’m confident this project can be approved” by the DOT and the county.