Howell zoning board approves warehouse-office building

HOWELL – The Howell Zoning Board of Adjustment has approved an application filed by a businessman who proposed to construct warehouse and office space on Route 33.

The applicant, 1294 Equities, LLC, was seeking a use variance and preliminary and final major site plan approval to construct a flex warehouse/office building and parking lot at 1294 Route 33, near the highway’s intersection with Route 34.

The applicant proposed 12,000 square feet of warehouse space and 2,000 square feet of office space, the widening and paving of an existing gravel drive, a storm water collection system, an underground detention system and a new well and septic system.

The property was described as having limited frontage on Route 33, with the bulk of the parcel being behind another property that has the majority of the frontage on Route 33.

The limited frontage consists of 106 feet on Route 33, where a minimum of 150 feet is required. The existing lot is non-conforming and contains a two-story, 1,200-square-foot home and no storm water management facility.

There is farmland to the south of the parcel (in the same HD-3 zone); to the east is Tice Road with several homes; to the west is a pet food and supply store.

Attorney Dante Alfieri, owner and applicant John DiFazio, engineer Josh Sewald, traffic engineer Andrew Jafolla and planner Christine Cofone represented the application at the Jan. 13 zoning board meeting.

During his testimony, DiFazio said, “The DiFazio companies are a utilities-based construction company. We do work around the five boroughs of New York City. We are a Verizon master contractor, and we do a large amount of ornate work, water distribution work and sewer work in New York City.”

The location in Howell will be used for storage, trucks and employees (between eight and 10 employees on site). DiFazio said employees who need to pick up a truck could arrive at the Route 33 facility at 5 a.m. so they could reach their job site by 7 a.m. He said trucks would return to Howell between about 4:30 p.m. and 5 p.m.

The board’s planner, Jennifer Beahm, asked what kind of noise could be anticipated at the Route 33 location during the early morning hours.

“Typically a lot of the vehicles we have today are under New York City rules. We use a low volume back-up alarm instead of a beep. … The vehicles will be parked in the warehouse and they will be pulling out, not so much backing up. The idea is to have the trucks stored in the warehouse at night,” DiFazio said.

When Beahm asked DiFazio if he would store 10 trucks in the 12,000-square-foot warehouse, he said “yes” and elaborated by saying some trucks could be stored in the parking area, but he said he intends to store as many trucks in the warehouse as possible.

“This (proposed Howell facility) is an ancillary use to our operations in New York. This started as an administrative plan to move some of our administrative personnel here … and slowly, a grassroots effort to build into other work here in New Jersey,” DiFazio said.

The owner clarified that materials that are needed by his employees to complete a job generally go directly to the job site. He said any materials that may be brought to the Howell location would be surplus.

“We operate on more than 15 acres on Staten Island … This is really an alternate hub centrally located between two operations. I am not looking to move the whole operation here, I am trying to create a second site,” DiFazio said.

During her testimony, Cofone said the proposed use (warehouse-office) is well suited for the property even though the HD-3 zone does not permit the specific use DiFazio was proposing.

“When you look at the property you can see this is a challenging site, which from a planning point of view goes right to the particular suitability. Why is it challenging? The presence of wetlands makes it difficult to develop, and the access.

“The frontage is non-conforming … so we as planners know that retail and highway uses thrive on frontage, so not only do we not have conforming frontage, but then we have a very long (piece) of property until we get back to the usable portion of our site that we decided to build on,” Cofone said.

“This zone allows for (lot) coverage of up to 70% and I believe we are at 31%. So this is not a situation where we are overbuilding the site,” she said.

Cofone said the board members could recognize that the proposed use of warehouse and office space would be significantly less of a traffic generator than a retail use which is permitted in the HD-3 zone would be.

At the conclusion of the applicant’s testimony, the board’s vice chairman, Paul Sayah, said, “All in all, I think this is a pretty good application” and he made a motion to approve the project.

Board member Mathew Hughes III seconded the motion.

Board member Richard Mertens noted the unique aspects of the property and said he was impressed by DiFazio’s presentation and by the presentations that were offered by the professionals who represented him.

“This is a very difficult property to work with,” Mertens said.

On a roll call vote, Sayah, Hughes, Mertens, Jose Orozco, Glenn Cantor and Chairman Wendell Nanson voted “yes” to grant the variances and approve the site plan.

“Thank you to Mr. DiFazio for bringing this opportunity, this business, to Howell, and also for conforming to all of the restrictions that make this a benefit to our township,” Cantor said.

“This is a very unique piece of property. You (DiFazio) have done your due diligence for the property and we thank you for that,” Nanson said.