Traffic from proposed warehouses remains issue of concern in Howell

HOWELL – The Howell Planning Board will hold a special meeting at 7 p.m. on Oct. 10 in the municipal building to continue hearing testimony and residents’ comments regarding the proposed Monmouth Commerce Center.

Owners Lawrence Katz and Felix Pflaster are proposing to construct nine warehouses totaling 1.2 million square feet on a 99-acre parcel at the intersection of Randolph and Oak Glen roads in Howell.

The proposed Monmouth Commerce Center has been the subject of several hearings before the board during 2019.

Most recently, testimony continued on Sept. 19 as traffic consultant Justin Taylor, a principal with Dynamic Traffic, representing the applicant, returned to answer questions posed by attorney Meryl Gonchar, who also represents the applicant.

“Since at a (previous) meeting, we had the opportunity to go back and review the proposed driveways (on Randolph Road) and the internal circulation (of the development). We did not eliminate any driveways, we are still separating trucks from other vehicles, but we now have fewer driveways which permit vehicles to exit onto Randolph Road,” Taylor said.

According to the initial plan presented by the applicant, five driveways would be constructed on Randolph Road to provide access to the warehouse site. Certain driveways would not accommodate trucks. All five driveways could be used to exit the site.

According to the revised plan Taylor presented on Sept. 19, there would still be five driveways constructed on Randolph Road to provide access to the warehouse site, but only three driveways would permit vehicles to exit the site.

Taylor described vehicle circulation changes that have been proposed on the property. In conjunction with those changes, one proposed warehouse has been reduced by 6,000 square feet and two proposed warehouses have each been increased by 3,000 square feet, yielding no change in the total of 1.2 million square feet of building space.

“I still believe the original design works best,” Taylor said. “This modification tonight was to address concerns that were expressed by the board.”

Board members did not make a decision regarding the proposed changes to the Randolph Road driveways or the proposed internal changes on the site.

The board’s chairman, Robert Nash, said he appreciated the proposed changes relating to the driveways and the internal circulation, and said he believes the board and the applicant are “moving in the right direction.”

He asked for additional discussion of these issues at the next meeting.

A significant issue in the applicant’s presentation and the board’s consideration of the Monmouth Commerce Center is the intersection of Route 547 (Lakewood-Farmingdale Road) and Randolph Road, which will come into play for trucks and other vehicles going to and leaving the warehouses.

There is no traffic signal at the intersection and according to board members, no guarantee Monmouth County will construct a traffic signal at that location. Route 547 is a county road.

“That intersection is failing now and will fail in the future,” Nash said. “The county is not going to put a signal there in any great rush. If that intersection is not signalized, traffic will back up on Randolph Road and that will affect the operation of the (Monmouth Commerce Center) driveways on Randolph Road.”

Gonchar said the applicant has limited on frontage on nearby Brook Road, but is not proposing any driveways on that street.

“If there were driveways on Brook Road, there would be less traffic on Randolph Road, but we were asked not (to put driveways) on Brook Road,” the attorney said.

Taylor said the applicant would prepare an analysis of the warehouse development’s operation on Randolph Road if a traffic signal is not installed at Route 547 and Randolph Road.

After Gonchar concluded her questioning of Taylor, attorney Craig Bossong, representing residents who are objecting to the application, asked Taylor questions relating to projected traffic volumes at specific times, the methodology of the traffic studies he conducted, the driveways on Randolph Road, the internal circulation on the site and the peak hours of traffic.

Bossong’s questioning elicited a response from Taylor which indicated there could be 400 truck trips to the site on a daily basis, which Taylor broke down as 33 trucks coming to the warehouse site each hour (one every two minutes) for a 12-hour day (396 trucks).

Bossong told the board members he plans to call his own traffic consultant to testify after the applicant has presented its case.

Following Bossong’s nearly one-hour cross examination of Taylor, residents were given an opportunity to ask questions of the applicant’s traffic consultant.

Residents Nicole Woolley, Kathi Novak, Tina Smilek, Joan Osborne, who chairs the Howell Environmental Commission, and Marc Parisi asked questions about the proposed driveways on Randolph Road; the impact of the warehouse project on local roads; potential conflicts between emergency vehicles entering the commercial site and vehicles leaving the site during an emergency; projected traffic volumes; and possible back-ups at intersections in the vicinity of the warehouses.

At 10:30 p.m., Nash called a halt to the evening’s proceedings and announced to the meeting room that was filled with residents that the Monmouth Commerce Center application would resume at 7 p.m. on Oct. 10.