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Howell zoners OK building switch from warehouse space to administrative use

HOWELL – The Howell Zoning Board of Adjustment has approved an application that will result in the construction of a building for administrative purposes associated with the New Horizons in Autism facility at Route 33 and Okerson Road.

On Aug. 24, Five Points Business Park, LLC (formerly Okerson 33 Associates) was before the board to seek a use variance and amended preliminary and final major site plan approval to construct a previously approved “flex space” building and to use the space for administrative purposes associated with the New Horizons in Autism facility at the location.

According to its website, New Horizons in Autism (NHIA) “was formed when a group of parents came together with one common goal, to provide the best opportunities possible to their loved ones with autism.

“The nonprofit organization was initially founded in March 1908 as Community Living for the Autistic and provided respite and residential services to adults with autism.

“In 1993, the organization changed its name to New Horizons in Autism Inc. and services were expanded to include pre-vocational, day habilitation, after-school and Saturday programs and behavior therapy, as well as continued expansion in the residential programs throughout Monmouth and Ocean counties.

“As of 2020, NHIA has 14 residential programs. 3 day habilitation programs, in addition to our after-school program, Saturday program and in-home support program that provides services to over 110 individuals throughout Bergen, Monmouth and Ocean counties,” according to the website.

Attorney William Mehr, representing the applicant before the board, reviewed the history of the application. He said five buildings were approved at Route 33 and Okerson Road. Use variances were previously granted so the first three buildings could be interconnected and used for a variety of purposes.

New Horizons in Autism has occupied buildings one, two and three. Two buildings are being used for training programs and education, and one building is being used forĀ  administrative purposes, Mehr said.

A fourth building has been approved with an indoor pool for recreation and education uses related to the New Horizons in Autism center, Mehr said.

“We are now taking the final building that was previously approved for flex warehouse space and changing it to an administration building. The current administration building will become part of an expanded program for the autism center,” he told board members.

The new administration building will be 5,000 square feet and have the same footprint as the previously approved warehouse.

Engineer Lorali Totten, representing the applicant, said a proposed greenhouse would be located near the building with the indoor pool. She said the greenhouse would not be a permanent structure.

Totten said the Monmouth County Health Department has reaffirmed that the existing septic system is adequate for the proposed administration building.

“There are currently 11 staff members and there could be one more. There are generally 35 to 40 people who assist with the students/clients, there are up to 60 or 65 students/clients, and their age is 18 and above,” Totten said.

The students/clients are picked up and transported to the Howell location by staff members who use a van, according to the testimony.

Following the conclusion of the testimony, zoning board Chairman Wendell Nanson and board members Thomas O’Donnell, Joe Orozco, Matthew Hughes, Glenn Cantor and Richard Mertens voted “yes” on a motion to approve the New Horizons in Autism application.

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