Zoning board approves warehouse in Florence

Foxdale Properties LLC project engineer Robert Stout reviews the preliminary and final site plans of the proposed warehouse located at Railroad and Delaware avenues at a July 1 Florence Township Zoning Board of Adjustment meeting. Photo by Thomas Wiedmann

A plan for the construction of a 300,700-square-foot warehouse located at the intersection of Delaware and Railroad avenues was  approved by the Florence Township Zoning Board of Adjustment.

The approval from the Florence board members came at a July 1 meeting. It was during that evening when additional testimony and public hearing continued from a June 6 meeting on Foxdale Properties LLC’s application for preliminary and final site plan approval, along with bulk and height variance to build a 300,700-square-foot warehouse facility, which will stand at approximately 50 feet.

Foxdale’s professionals explained that the proposed warehouse is designed to accommodate two tenants with more than 289,000-square-feet of warehouse space and additional designated office space.

The applicant said the project will also include a 354-space parking lot, landscaping, lighting, stormwater management and several sound walls on the 30-acre lot, which is situated adjacent to the Ready-Pac processing facility in Florence.

Given that the property is located in the township’s special manufacturing zone, which allows a maximum building height of 30 feet or two stories, the applicant’s request to build a facility with a proposed height of 50 feet brought the application before the zoning board rather than the planning board.

Although residents at previous zoning board meetings had expressed their concerns in regards to potential traffic, noise and visual issues with the site when the application was introduced and heard, township solicitor David Frank explained that the board does not have jurisdiction over multiple factors in their overall decision on the application.

“The site plan issues, I think, have largely been worked through and it’s essentially compliant,” Frank said at the July meeting. “The role of either [the planning or zoning] board is, when faced with an application for a permitted use that meets all of the standards that are applicable to that application, the zoning and site design standards – the board has an absolute obligation to approve it.

“If an application is for a permitted use, whether it’s at the planning board or zoning board, and they meet the standards of the zone, it must be approved,” Frank added.

When multiple residents had raised similar issues and concerns in June with the proposed site’s noise and traffic, Frank explained that because the zone allows this kind of use, the latitude of the board with regards to approvals or denials or conditions is less than it would be if the board was hearing a use-variance application – an application for a use that is not permitted in the special manufacturing zone.

The township solicitor also said that when the board’s professionals examine the height variance, the zoning board does not have the authority to deny an application or impose significant conditions on this application on the notion that it would potentially add additional traffic to various intersections.

When the board was questioned by a resident at the July meeting as to why this application did not come to the planning board instead for a decision on the preliminary and final site plan, which is typically standard for development applications, the board explained that Foxdale’s height variance in their application brought them before the zoning board, instead.

“It is not the normal process for things to always go to the planning board,” Frank said. “Sometimes, the zoning board of adjustment has the jurisdiction. In this case, while this is a permitted use and if [the applicant] didn’t want a height variance of this extent, they could go to the planning board and be heard there.

“Once they want a height variance that falls under a subsection D variance of any [kind], this body is the only body that has jurisdiction to hear the site plan. Once we get jurisdiction, we hear everything,” Frank added.

Although the application came before the zoning board rather than the township planners, Frank noted that the township’s professionals still reviewed the proposed site for compliance.

“Every issue that may properly be contested or discussed or reviewed at the planning board for a site plan, for a permitted use, is in fact being reviewed and is going to be reviewed here at the zoning board as a part of this application,” he said. “If this was at the planning board, they would be even more constrained because they wouldn’t be hearing a height variance, so this body has a responsibility to hear and decide that height variance, first, and then to move on to the site plan issues.”

After approximately two hours of testimony and public comment at the July meeting, the applicant’s attorney John Gillespie explained to the board that the applicant had done more than enough to comply with the township’s request to develop the site in the designated zone for its permitted use.

“We weren’t required to submit a sound report or have a sound expert testify. In fact, our checklist was approved in January, and we had no sound guy even named because it’s not a requirement for this,’ Gillespie said. “But there is no way we are going to present to [the board] an application, even though it’s a permitted use, because [the board] is going to ask those questions , so we offered that.”

In regards to traffic and sound concerns raised at the meeting, Gillespie testified that those points were not sufficiently contested to the board for potential denial of the application.

“There has been no evidence submitted that increasing the height [of the warehouse] from 30 feet to 40 feet to 50 feet is going to increase any traffic. There’s speculation. There’s speculation about a lot of things,” he said. “The only evidence [the board] has before [them] advances the idea of granting the height variance.

“I cannot reiterate enough that this is a permitted use. This is in the [special manufacturing] zone. We are not seeking a use variance for something that is not permitted. We are asking to construct a building that is consistent, not only with distribution centers and warehouse facilities in the immediate vicinity, but in the area generally and in the industry,” Gillespie said.

Once Gillespie finished his statement, zoning board member Lou Sovak explained that the proposed additional 20 feet in height of the facility could have a negative impact on surrounding residents of the site.

Moments before the board members took a vote on the applicant’s site plans as well as a vote on the height variance, Sovak stated his stance on the application.

“I know we have a traffic issue and I know that it’s not a part of the application, but the biggest thing is the height variance,” Sovak said. “30 feet is permitted in this zone and yes, there are other warehouses in the zone that are taller than 30 feet, but I think this particular site is significant because of the amount of residential housing all along the perimeter of this building.

“[The applicant] says it’s only asking for 20 [additional] feet, but if you have one building that is 970 feet in one direction and 310 feet in another, that’s an additional 1,280 feet on two elevations, which is above residential properties. At 20 feet, that’s an additional 25,600-square-feet of visibility. That, to me, affects the residents all along Delaware Avenue. This is a significant impact and variation of people around the site,” Sovak said.

Following Sovak’s explanation, the board members proceeded with a motion to vote for the approval of the preliminary and final site plans of the facility and a vote for the approval the height variance for the facility.

Both motions for approval passed with a majority vote of 5-2 from the board members

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