Howell planning board hears application for nine warehouses

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HOWELL – Nine warehouses totaling more than one million square feet would be built on a 99-acre parcel if the Howell Planning Board grants approval to an application that has been filed by Monmouth Commerce Center, LLC.

On May 9, board members and the public heard testimony from a civil engineer who represents the applicant. Testimony was not concluded during the three-hour meeting and the application was carried to the board’s June 6 meeting.

Attorney Meryl Gonchar, of the firm Sills Cummins and Gross P.C., represents Monmouth Commerce Center.

Attorney Craig Bossong, of the firm Florio Perrucci Steinhardt and Cappelli, LLC, came forward and told the board he is representing a group of interested homeowners.

In brief comments before she called on civil engineer Steven Cattani to present details of the proposal, Gonchar said the warehouses are a permitted use in the special economic development zone where they are being proposed.

In addition to the buildings, the plan proposes parking and loading areas, and landscaping throughout the site, Gonchar said, explaining that the project would be built in phases.

Cattani began his testimony by describing the 99-acre parcel that is at the intersection of Randolph and Oak Glen roads. The property is in the vicinity of Allenwood-Lakewood and Brook roads and is near Howell’s border with Lakewood.

“The property is currently wooded,” Cattani said. “Years ago, from about the 1930s until the 1970s, it was used for equestrian purposes and operations. We could find no records indicating the site was farmed at any time.”

According to a legal notice published in conjunction with the public hearing, Monmouth Commerce Center as applicant and Lawrence Katz and Felix Pflaster as owners are seeking preliminary and final major site plan approval, a “C” variance, and design waivers/exceptions from the board.

The applicant is proposing commercial warehouse use consisting of nine warehouse buildings which total approximately 1.2 million square feet, along with accessory office use. The project includes a storm water management facility, and public water and public sewer service.

The applicant is requesting a variance from a requirement to provide a 50-foot-wide, four-season landscaped buffer around the perimeter of the property where a property is adjacent to a residential use or residential zone.

Gonchar said the applicant is providing a buffer, but is using existing vegetation in some areas and is not providing a 6-foot-high landscaped berm or 10-foot-high landscaping, as required.

Commenting on the applicant’s request for a variance regarding the buffer, Shari Spero, the board’s certified tree professional, did not object to Gonchar’s request to maintain the site’s natural vegetation, saying, “It is worth keeping the existing buffer and adding to it.”

The applicant is also requesting several design waivers/exceptions having to do with lighting, outdoor recycling storage areas, parking areas and signs, among others.

Planning Board members are charged with determining if the requested variance and waivers will be approved, if they eventually vote to approve the project.

Cattani testified there would be no manufacturing, no automotive operations, no toxic materials, no outdoor operations, no tractor-trailer maintenance, no hazardous waste storage, no retail sales and no processing of materials at the site.

He described the proposed buildings as “traditional warehouses” that could contain items such as furniture and plumbing supplies that are awaiting distribution.

Gonchar said no tenants have been lined up for the warehouses. She said representatives of Kennedy International, which she described as an entity related to the applicant, are considering taking space in one or two buildings.

“I would be curious to know what types of tenants will go into this development,” board member Paul Dorato said. “That could have a bearing on trucks coming in and out.”

Gonchar reiterated that no tenants have been signed for the project and that warehousing is a permitted use in the zone. She said there could be more than one tenant in a building. Gonchar said the applicant would comply with whatever is permitted in Howell’s ordinance.

Dorato said the proposed project is about 5 miles from Interstate 195, noting that trucks “would have to go through town to access this site. That would be a big impact on the town.”

Cattani testified that the application is proposing five driveways on Randolph Road. He said trucks would only be permitted to use certain driveways.

The proposal for five driveways prompted questions and comments from Howell Police Chief Andrew Kudrick, who sits on the board.

“The more entrances you have, the more chances of collisions there will be” on Randolph Road, Kudrick said. “Is this the best you can come up with?”

Board Chairman Robert Nash and Vice Chairman Brian Tannenhaus also commented on the proposed driveways, with Tannenhaus suggesting that some truck drivers will use the entrances marked for employees’ vehicles, and Nash asking for a plan that proposes two driveways on Randolph Road.

Board members did not indicate an objection to having trucks and employee vehicles sharing driveways, if the plan reduced the proposed number of driveways.

“There are employee vehicles at certain times and trucks the rest of the day. I don’t see the benefit of multiple driveways,” Nash said.

Gonchar said the board members’ comments regarding the number of driveways, the use of the driveways and the suggestion for fewer driveways would be taken under advisement.

During his testimony, Cattani touched on issues including the collection of trash and recyclable materials from the developed property.

Gonchar said the developer would create a condominium association to manage the common elements of the property, including trash and recycling collection, and stormwater management.

Cattani had not concluded his testimony by the time the board halted the proceedings at about 10:30 p.m. After some discussion about the next hearing date, the board and the applicant agreed to resume the meeting on June 6.