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Howell planners deny application for Monmouth Commerce Center

HOWELL – Following months of public hearings, members of the Howell Planning Board have voted unanimously to deny an application that proposed the construction of 1.2 million square feet of warehouse space on Randolph Road.

The board’s vote to deny the project came during a meeting that began on the evening of Jan. 30 and concluded at about 1 a.m. Jan. 31. Residents who were objecting to the application filled the meeting room in the Howell municipal building, Route 9, and spoke in opposition to the plan.

Monmouth Commerce Center, the applicant, and Lawrence Katz and Felix Pflaster, as owners, proposed to construct nine warehouses totaling 1.2 million square feet on a 99-acre parcel.

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

Attorney Meryl Gonchar represented the applicant and attorney Craig Bossong represented residents who were objecting to the project. Following hours of public testimony and summations from both attorneys, board members declined to carry the application to another meeting and decided to vote on the proposal.

Board member Robert Nicastro said he could not remember one time in 12 years that a meeting went beyond 12:30 a.m. He thanked the residents in attendance for spending hours commenting on the plan and for staying so late.

He noted that hours of expert testimony and public testimony were offered to the board during the process.

“Some (testimony was) conflicting and some was not, but I think the biggest issue with this site has been and continues to be the traffic testimony. The court again is clear when it comes to expert testimony.

“The board is not bound to accept the testimony of any expert … and the board is entitled to give little weight to the testimony of an expert when the testimony was based on insufficient information to address the board’s concerns, specifically about the safety of ingress and egress that we have heard so much about from this proposed project.

“With all that said, I will not be supporting this application and will support a motion to deny (the project),” Nicastro said.

Deputy Mayor Evelyn O’Donnell, who sits on the board, said she was prepared to make a motion to deny the application.

“This is without malice, I am not being capricious, I am not being arbitrary, my motion is to deny this application. I feel the environmental issues far outweigh what we have heard in terms of protection of the environmental issues that I know to be true, and mostly there has been testimony that I have found unbelievable. So in good conscience based on that, I cannot sustain this, so my motion is to deny (the application),” O’Donnell said.

The applicant was seeking preliminary and final major site plan approval and variances for outdoor storage.

On a roll call vote, Chairman Brian Tannenhaus, Vice Chairman Nicholas Huszar, Paul Schneider, Robert Seaman, John Leggio, Paul Dorato, Police Chief Andrew Kudrick, O’Donnell and Nicastro voted “yes” to deny the Monmouth Commerce Center application.

During the public hearing that preceded the board’s vote, many residents criticized the application. Many people who spoke said they believed truck traffic going to and leaving the warehouses on Randolph Road would have a detrimental effect that would be felt across Howell.

Barbara Lloyd said she believed the application would change the environment of Howell.

“I am afraid the complexion of the town is just going to change. You (board members) have to decide, do you want an industrial park to be your town or do you want (your town) to be families? I choose families. I choose children who can grow up in an area that is safe, where they can go to school and play soccer, play baseball and ride their bikes. That is what we are, we are a family town, we are a community,” Lloyd said.

Resident Dawn Van Brunt offered a video of existing traffic conditions at the Randolph Road property and on Route 547, which is near the site. Resident Susan Springer also provided video evidence to the board.

One video showed a tractor-trailer backing up on Lakewood-Allenwood Road after missing a turn at Oak Glen Road; another video showed how trucks parked and blocked Lanes Pond Road during the night; several videos showed traffic congestion at a traffic light at Route 547 and Herbertsville Road near Interstate 195, with traffic backed up to Soldier Memorial Park.

Residents in attendance at the meeting could be heard saying “that’s every day” while they watched videos of the traffic between Soldier Memorial Park and Interstate 195.

Some residents took issue with the size of trucks the warehouses would bring to Howell and expressed concern that local bridges, especially in the Ramtown section of the community, could not withstand the stress of those vehicles.

Resident Katherine Moore said her property is about 1,000 feet from the proposed warehouses. She expressed concern about what the project would do to her property value and how it would negatively affect her friends, neighbors and community.

Moore took issue with a comment that was made by a witness for the applicant who said “Randolph Road is a long stretch of road that leads to nowhere.”

“Randolph Road leads to my home and the homes of my friends, neighbors and to our community. A community of hard-working middle class Americans. I feel that to fully appreciate the context of what is happening today, we must first understand where we were yesterday because when tomorrow arrives and we look back on today, we will be viewing our legacy,” Moore said.

She asked the board members to consider the legacy they want to leave behind and said, “We are worth it, thank you.”

Resident Euzelma Santos lives on Oak Glen Road and has a son who has special needs. She said she wanted to tell the board about the chaos her life would become if the warehouse project was approved.

Santos was holding a picture of a school bus that was involved in an accident with an automobile on Oak Glen Road. She said her son was on the bus and she said the mishap highlighted the current traffic conditions.

“My son was on that bus, and five kids. That accident was caused by a distracted driver. What do you think (would have happened) if a trailer was behind the bus? A tractor-trailer does not stop faster; do you think my son would be alive?” Santos asked.

“Oak Glen Road has a lot of kids and we are all at risk of losing our home and neighborhood to greed,” Santos said, before she asked the board members to deny the Monmouth Commerce Center application.

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