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Lawrence Township Planning Board approves developer’s plan for warehouse

A proposal to build a 340,400-square-foot warehouse on Princess Road has gained the Lawrence Township Planning Board’s approval despite stiff opposition from residents of a nearby age-restricted community.

On Nov. 19, board members voted 7-2 to grant preliminary and final site plan approval for PSIP Metrix Princess Road LLC’s proposed warehouse. It marked the third and final meeting on the application.

Board members Maria Connolly, Ian Dember, Vice Chairman Terrence Leggett, Doris Weisberg, Chairman Edward Wiznitzer, Mayor Christopher Bobbitt and Municipal Manager Kevin Nerwinski voted “yes” on a motion to grant approval.

Board members Philip Duran and Kim Taylor voted “no” on the motion to grant approval.

The warehouse is planned for a 31-acre site at 10 Princess Road, which runs between Princeton Pike and Franklin Corner Road. The building would be closer to the Princess Road intersection with Princeton Pike, which is also near the entrance ramp to I-295.

The Gatherings housing development, which is age-restricted, is off Princess Road near its intersection with Franklin Corner Road. Residents of the Eagles Chase condominium development, off Princess Road near Franklin Corner Road, also objected to the plan.

Residents of the two housing developments opposed the warehouse because of traffic, noise and environmental concerns. They said tractor-trailers from another, smaller warehouse on Princess Road routinely drive past their developments and have damaged a roundabout and knocked over a fire hydrant.

In responding to residents’ concerns, the board will recommend to the Township Council that a portion of Princess Road should be closed off and made into a cul-de-sac, or dead-end street, near The Gatherings and Eagles Chase developments.

Tractor-trailers and other vehicles that need access to the warehouses, offices and other businesses on Princess Road will be able to reach them by turning onto Princess Road from its intersection with Princeton Pike.

The 340,400-square-foot warehouse will include 10,212 square feet of office space. The building will include 103 loading docks, divided between the front and rear of the building, and 64 trailer parking spaces. A variance is needed for the front-yard loading docks, which will face Princess Road.

In addition to the front-yard parking variance, variances for the building height are needed. The building would be 47.3 feet tall, where the maximum height permitted is 45 feet. The extra height is needed to provide for 44 feet of clearance inside.

Also, the lot is irregularly shaped and the building cannot be constructed to allow for loading docks on the rear and sides of the warehouse. The township’s Land Use Ordinance does not permit loading docks in the front yard, unless the building is on a limited access highway.

During the Nov. 19 meeting, a planner and a traffic engineer hired by The Gatherings Homeowners Association presented testimony in an effort to derail the application.

Planner Michael Simpson said two of the requested variances – for building height and front-yard loading docks – should be denied. He said the need for loading docks in the front yard could be avoided if two smaller buildings were constructed.

Simpson said the applicant’s testimony indicated the building would be a straightforward warehouse, but with the loading docks designed to allow cargo to be moved from one truck to another across the warehouse floor, it is “pretty clear” it will be used as a fulfillment center. He said it would be similar to Amazon’s warehouses.

Simpson acknowledged there is another warehouse next door to the proposed site, but said it is much smaller. The scale of the proposed warehouse is “off the charts,” he said, comparing it to “an aircraft carrier landing in a neighborhood of yachts.”

Traffic engineer Hal Simoff questioned whether tractor-trailers would be able to navigate on the warehouse property and make the turn onto Princeton Pike from Princess Road.

Simoff also challenged the amount of truck traffic that would be generated by the proposed warehouse. He said the number of loading docks and trailer parking spaces hint that the warehouse would be used as a fulfillment center.

Attorney Christopher DeGrezia said the size of fulfillment warehouses is typically 800,000 square feet to 1.3 million square feet.

Simoff agreed and added that although the proposed warehouse is smaller, a tenant has not been signed up and there is no commitment as to its use.

When the meeting was opened for public comment, several residents of The Gatherings spoke in opposition to the proposed warehouse. They pointed to the negative impacts of air and noise pollution on the aging population in the development.

James Loper, the president of The Gatherings Homeowners Association Board of Directors, said the residents are concerned about their quality of life. He also pointed to the damage caused by the Kramer Beverage Co.’s tractor-trailers, which often enter Princess Road from Franklin Corner Road on the way to its warehouse.

“Princess Road is simply not designed for 18-wheelers. We are talking about what could be the destruction of our neighborhood,” Loper said, adding that “this is nothing new to me” because he is a former Pennington mayor and served on its Planning Board.

When it was time to vote on the application, Wiznitzer said that “contrary to what many people believe, this site allows warehouses. The law says it does belong.”

The configuration of the lot, plus the requirements of the warehouse industry, do not allow for the orientation of the building other than how it was presented, Wiznitzer said. This creates a hardship and the board can approve it, he said.

Duran, who said he would vote against the application, disagreed and said the applicant could have met the guidelines if a smaller building had been proposed. The board does not need to approve a variance to permit loading docks in the front yard, he said.

Nerwinski, who sits on the board, said that while he empathizes with the residents, there is an obligation to review the application and make a decision, but not one based on emotion.

Although the residents do not want any development, something will be built on the lot because of its desirable location, Nerwinski said. He said he would vote in favor of the application and recommend to the Township Council that it close a portion of Princess Road.

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