HOWELL – Following testimony that stretched over three calendar years, the Howell Zoning Board of Adjustment has voted 5-2 to approve an application that proposed the development of an asphalt manufacturing facility on Yellowbrook Road.
L&L Paving, 89 Yellowbrook Road, Howell, received the municipal approval it had been seeking to remove an existing concrete manufacturing facility and to develop a bituminous (asphalt) concrete manufacturing facility at its property in a Special Economic Development (SED) zone. Numerous hearings on the application had been held since 2017.
Zoning board members rendered their decision following comments from residents and summations from attorneys representing L&L Paving and Stavola Leasing, which was objecting to the application, on May 20 during a meeting at Howell Middle School South.
The applicant needed to obtain a use variance from the zoning board in order to proceed with its plan. A use variance required five “yes” votes from board members hearing the application.
On a motion to grant the company the use variance and preliminary and final site plan approval, Chairman Wendell Nanson, Vice Chairman Michael Sanclimenti and board members Jose Orozco, Mathew Hughes III and Thomas O’Donnell voted “yes.” Board members Richard Mertens and Herbert Massa voted “no” and the motion carried, 5-2.
Hundreds of residents attended the May 20 meeting. Many of the residents were from Equestra, an adult community on Route 33 near Colts Neck Road that is in the vicinity of the proposed asphalt plant.
In 2018, more than 400 residents of Equestra signed a petition stating their opposition to L&L Paving’s application.
During the public hearing, some residents voiced their displeasure with the application; calling it a detriment to the public good and citing concerns about traffic, health, noise, taxes and the overall effect on the quality of life in Howell.
Some residents expressed support for the application; about how the company’s plan would improve the current condition of the site.
Some residents criticized L&L Paving’s competitor, Stavola, for its objection to the application and for allegedly attempting to manipulate public opinion on the application.
Attorneys representing the applicant and the objector summed up their cases and then Sanclimenti spoke before making a motion to approve the application.
“We started this application in November 2017 and we have heard testimony throughout from both the applicant and the objector,” he said, adding that the board heard all the issues from impervious coverage of the property, to traffic plans, to business plans.
“What we have to keep in mind is that this board is about land use. This SED zone has been in Howell, in this area, since the late 1950s. It has been there over 50 years and we see here that L&L Paving is trying to establish a bituminous concrete plant using the latest technologies. We heard testimony from the manufacturer that the business is going to run quiet and be environmentally safe,” Sanclimenti said.
He spoke about the testimony and the history of the site as evidence.
“Submitted as evidence, this site started in 1960 and ceased operation in 2014. The site was never abandoned from concrete product, it was never made to be for a permitted use of a textile, or lumber, or leather products. It has always been a concrete producing plant, even though it has not been in production for five years. This board has seen applications where a site ceased operations for over a decade and then started. This application is not a new use, it is a continuation of what the site has always been for decades,” Sanclimenti said.
He made the motion to approve the application.
O’Donnell told residents the board members do not take taxes into consideration when they are making a decision on an application.
“Also, we do not take competition into consideration. In this particular case, we have a competitor that is the main objector,” he said.
Many residents reacted negatively to O’Donnell’s statement, leading him to say, “We have 54,000 people in Howell. We do not represent just one group. We represent everyone.”
At that point, some residents walked out.
“I would like to say I do care about everybody in town and I have been in this town for 47 years, but I have to do what is right for Howell. I have been on this board for 15 years, like I said, there are 54,000 people. I see 300 people tonight, the other (residents) have not complained, they are not here, they did not write letters. You have a small group of people led by a competitor,” O’Donnell said.
He said he found that most of the applicant’s testimony met the criteria needed for the granting of a use variance.
“L&L was not really a difficult case at all, it was made very difficult because of one objector. This application has been heard 16 times,” O’Donnell said.
Massa said he listened to the testimony and toured the community around the site where L&L Paving was proposing the asphalt plant.
“A couple of weeks ago we denied an application that proposed a far less intrusive use, primarily because the use was not permitted in the zone. Now we have before us a similar application which is a much greater invasive function. The township (officials have) decided there is not to be a new asphalt plant within the zone, of course there is one there already,” Massa said.
“The existing plant owner (Stavola) has staged a vigorous, self-serving opposition campaign against this project, and I may add that if I owned the asphalt plant across the street I probably would do the same thing,” Massa said.
He said he had concerns about the tons of asphalt that would ultimately impact the number of trucks in the area.
“A much higher amount of asphalt will probably be produced and therefore there will be a substantial increase in truck traffic and noise. The key point is the township has said no more asphalt plants and based upon the rules, it is my understanding on the zoning board, the zoning board should try to adhere as close as possible to the township’s zoning and not superimpose its own determination above those of the township. We just did this a couple of weeks ago, why are we doing this now?” Massa said.
Mertens said he listened to both sides and said he appreciated the time both attorneys put into their case. He said the testimony from the professionals who testified on behalf of the applicant was very strong. Mertens said he believed the owner’s testimony was sincere.
“But there are a couple of issues I have been very concerned about. Even though this site is going to be extremely improved, it is almost going to be the Taj Mahal compared to what it is right now, like a sandbox. I still see those concerns about traffic and noise,” he said.
Nanson said he agreed with his colleagues on both sides of the issue and added, “I try to be fair, as fair as I can.”
He said his vote was “yes,” but there were still issues he wanted to address.
“The applicant’s engineer is to continue working with the township, this is under recommendation from the township,” Nanson said, noting he has lived on Yellowbrook Road for 28 years.
“I lived there when Stavola was running asphalt night and day, seven days a week. My house is 71.5 feet off Yellowbrook Road and I do not have an issue with the cars. I have an issue with speeding,” Nanson said.
He clarified he did not mean the applicant’s trucks would speed, but said he had an issue with drivers who speed around trucks on Yellowbrook Road.
The application concluded with the board’s 5-2 vote to approve the L&L Paving application.