Objectors’ traffic engineer testifies as residents oppose Howell warehouse plan

HOWELL – Objectors to an application that proposes the construction of nine warehouses at Randolph and Oak Glen roads have started to present their case before the Howell Planning Board.

Monmouth Commerce Center, the applicant, and Lawrence Katz and Felix Pflaster, as owners, are proposing to construct nine warehouses that range in size from 85,000 square feet to 150,000 square feet, totaling 1.2 million square feet, on a 99-acre parcel. The plan proposes parking for 706 vehicles, 142 trailer parking spaces and 234 loading spaces.

Warehouses are a permitted use at the location where they are being proposed.

During several meetings this year, attorney Meryl Gonchar, who represents the applicant, offered testimony from professionals who explained the proposed commercial development. The applicant has concluded its presentation.

On Dec. 5, residents who are objecting to the Monmouth Commerce Center were represented by attorney Craig Bossong. He called on Joseph Fishinger, a traffic engineer with Dewberry, to testify.

The volume of vehicles, specifically trucks, associated with the proposed warehouses has been a significant point of discussion during the hearings before the board.

Fishinger said he reviewed the applicant’s information regarding that issue. One item he discussed was the number of trips the warehouses would generate.

Fishinger said there were other options for peak hour trip generation the applicant could have used. He said he believed it would have been more appropriate and conservative for the applicant to use the average rate numbers, which he said were higher than what the applicant used in its study.

He said the average rate takes all the various studies for this particular use and averages the rates together.

“The issue in this case, as the applicant has testified multiple times, is that there is no definitive user (for the site). They do not know whether it’s going to be 200 small users or one large user occupying the entire complex. My opinion is that they should have been using the higher average rate trip generation because they do not know what the user is going to be or how big any particular user is going to be,” Fishinger said

He said he believes the five driveways the applicant has proposed to construct on Randolph Road are another reason the application’s traffic study is an underestimation.

“Because they have so many access points … this site can behave as five smaller developments. So in that regard, I believe the trip generation they used for the study underestimates the traffic this site could generate because there are so many unknowns in regard to what can be in this site,” Fishinger said.

He said the peak hour trip generations that were provided for Saturday should be discounted because manufacturing uses are usually closed on Saturday.

He also took issue with the applicant’s comparison to trip generations of hypothetical medical offices the same size as the proposed 1.2 million-square-foot project.

“A 400,000-square-foot medical facility is not medical and dental offices. At that size you are talking about a regional hospital,” Fishinger said. “So again, if you did have 400,000 square feet of medical offices it could generate those numbers, from a practical standpoint you just cannot have that much.”

The board’s chairman, Robert Nash, clarified that the Monmouth Commerce Center application is only for warehouses and he said the comparisons to office uses and medical uses are “what-ifs” that are also permitted by the municipal code.

Fishinger said that without any site improvements to the right-of-way, the possible 54 vehicles (not trucks) would be backed up past the first driveway during the evening peak hour.

“This analysis is based on just assuming they are all cars, it will hit their property line. On top of that we have not accounted for additional trucks in any of those numbers,” Fishinger said.

He said that based on a concept plan the applicant submitted to Monmouth County for intersection improvements at Route 547 and Randolph Road, there is substantial widening that needs to occur to accommodate utilities and road improvements.

“You can see from the cost estimate that is over a $1.2 million improvement and it is also important to note this estimate does not include anything for right-of-way. Our preliminary estimate is that it needs more than 1 acre of right-of-way in order to accommodate this improvement,” Fishinger said.

He showed the board members five locations at the proposed development site that could cause site and circulation issues. He said that according to the applicant’s site plan and even after several revisions, the locations still have vehicle conflicts.

“In location 1, if you have a truck turning right into the site and another one turning left out at the same time their vehicle paths still cross.

“In location 2, you see that a truck turning right into the site needs to cross over the double yellow line into the oncoming lane (on Randolph Road) in order to make its maneuver.

“If this was a small retail development that saw one truck a week, maybe that is OK …  this is a trucking facility, this is their design for trucks and yet the trucks have to (enter) the oncoming lane of traffic in order to complete their movement,” Fishinger said.

He said a third location had the same issue of a truck having to cross a double yellow line on Randolph Road to turn right into the warehouse site.

“At location 4, that vehicle has to use the entire width of the driveway to make its turn. Again, these are not occasional movements, this (site) is designed specifically to accommodate these vehicles and yet they are still required to drive into oncoming traffic in order to swing the turn,” Fishinger said.

He said location 5 presents the same issue.

At that point, testimony was halted for the evening and the board carried the Monmouth Commerce Center application to its Jan. 16 meeting at the municipal building.