Florence Planning Board approves site plans for warehouse on West Front Street

Renderings of IPT's proposed warehouse along West Front Street. Photo by Thomas Wiedmann
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Renderings of IPT's proposed warehouse along West Front Street. Photo by Thomas Wiedmann

The Florence Township Planning Board recently approved site plans for the construction of a warehouse on West Front Street.

The Florence planners approved an application for the proposed construction of a 508,200 square foot warehouse sited on West Front Street at a Nov. 26 public hearing. Florence planners made a motion to approve and pass an application submitted by IPT Florence West Urban Renewal, LLC, for preliminary and final site plans along with a minor subdivision and bulk variances for the construction of a warehouse.

Following the decision of approval from the board, more than 1 million sq. ft. of warehouse space could be potentially developed on Front Street after planners approved an application last year with Industrial Property Trust Inc. (IPT) to build a 528,000 square foot warehouse. The applicant also agreed to donate approximately 23 acres of township property for open space and municipal purposes as part of that application.

The applicant’s plans call for this single-story (maximum proposed height of 43 feet) warehouse to be built on a 52-acre land parcel that once housed the Griffin Industrial Pipe Factory site. The factory’s operations ceased approximately a decade ago.

The proposed project is also situated within a redevelopment area where warehousing is permitted, according to a Dec. 19, 2018 resolution passed by the Florence Township Council.

Of the 508,200 square feet proposed to be developed on the site, the applicant’s plans call for 492,000 square feet of the building to be designated for warehouse use, while the remaining 16,200 square feet are to be designated for office space.

The proposed site plans also call for 92 loading docks, 95 trailer storage spaces, as well as the construction of a stormwater retention basin located behind the warehouse building, trees and landscaping along West Front Street, and the construction of a bike path on the eastern portion of the site, which is planned to lead to the Delaware River.

The applicant is represented by Christopher DeGrezia of Drinker, Biddle & Reath, LLP, who explained at the meeting the developer’s intent for the site as part of it being located within a redevelopment zone in the township.

“This site has a long history as it was a part of a manufacturing use for many years as Griffin Pipe…it became abandoned and created concern for the municipality – health and safety,” DeGrezia said. “In 2010, the municipality took a look at [the site] along with a couple other surrounding properties in need of redevelopment.”

Once the site became a designated area in need of redevelopment by the municipality, DeGrezia explained that IPT became interested in developing the property approximately two years ago.

Development on this parcel has also come before Florence officials earlier this year. In May, the township was the recipient of grant money to fund a project planned to transform abandoned property of the Griffin Pipe factory’s railroad tracks into a pathway for residents.

Officials said the municipality received $562,000 in federal funding from the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission in conjunction with the New Jersey Department of Transportation for the conversion of the former Griffin Pipe Railroad into a community greenway and pathway.

The grant, combined with contributions of $375,000 from IPT, are aimed to fund the project to transform the section of the rail line that runs down East 5th Street from Spruce Street to West Front Street to take a dilapidated old railroad system and turn it into a newly landscaped pathway.

During the public hearing of the application, the applicant’s traffic engineer, Karl Pehnke, provided testimony and data about the speculative trip generations on the site, but alternate No. 1 board member John Pagano raised concerns about the applicant’s projections.

Given the applicant’s proposed site could potentially host up to four tenants, Pagano explained that in a possible scenario where each of the tenants were to provide trucking services with less than full loads, the amount of potential trips to and from the site could be substantial.

“One of the biggest growth or drivers from a tenant’s standpoint for these types of projects are your less than full load operators,” Pagano said. “With these projections, those less than full load tenants tend to be very high traffic and very high volume, so I’m wondering – given the fact that we don’t know – lets go out on the far spectrum and say that all those four spaces are going to be less than full load operators – how much of that played into your consideration with these trip generation estimates?”

Although Pehnke testified that the data used has proven to be representative during the peak hours of various types of uses, Pagano still raised concerns.

“None of the uses mentioned were less than full load carriers, so I’m saying that because we don’t know who these tenants are going to be, it’s not out of the realm of possibilities that you could divide the space into four less than full load operators,” Pagano said. “Then, quite honestly, these traffic numbers are far off the mark.”

The applicant’s professionals countered Pagano’s point that if the applicant’s site plans come before Burlington County’s professionals, there were certain “triggers” in their review process that includes requirements put in place, which have the potential for an applicant to reevaluate its site plans.

“Because it’s speculative, we can make a bell-curve and say the range of probability is this; however, I’m looking at the worst-case scenario,” Pagano said. “We have 92 docks going in, presumably because this is going to be a high traffic location… If we stipulate that it’s occupied with less than full load users, this data would be skewered, and this would be inaccurate.

“I don’t think we are going to get a finished product that’s as advertised in this traffic study. My concern is that we don’t have a traffic study that reflects the range of possibilities for the users because it’s a speculative project,” Pagano added.

Following additional testimony and public comment, Florence Township Mayor Craig Wilkie made a motion to approve the application, which was seconded by board member Thomas McCue. Wilkie, McCue, Ray Montgomery, Wayne Morris, Mildred Hamilton-Wood, Bruce Garganio and Carl Mattson voted ‘yes.’ Pagano voted ‘no.’