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Attorneys raise issues with ordinance that would limit warehouses in Howell

HOWELL – Discussion is expected to resume at the May 25 meeting of the Howell Township Council regarding an ordinance that will, if adopted, remove warehousing and distribution as a permitted use in Howell’s Special Economic Development (SED) zone.

A public hearing on the ordinance began during the council’s May 11 meeting.

If the ordinance is adopted, permitted uses such as assembly and packaging, and/or the manufacturing of food, textile products, apparel, lumber and/or wood products, furniture, stone, glass and clay would still be permitted in the SED zone.

The proposed ordinance states that retail uses will continue to be permitted as an accessory use in the SED zone only to those warehouse/distribution facilities that legally existed as of April 12, 2021, provided the percent of floor area devoted to retail use be limited to 1,000 square feet or 5% of the gross floor area, whichever is less.

During the May 11 meeting, Councilwoman Evelyn O’Donnell thanked Councilwoman Pamela Richmond for bringing the issue to the forefront.

“I know sometimes being on the Planning Board, bringing things to the council doesn’t always give you a positive outcome, but I want to thank you for doing that. That is something we really need to get underway so we have warehousing in the proper zones in the future,” O’Donnell said.

During the public hearing, attorney Ron Gasiorowski said he represents Stavola Leasing, which owns property that would be affected by the adoption of the ordinance. He said, “I think the ordinance itself is basically self-defeating.”

“Property owners will still be able to apply for variances for the use. So you are saying it is a permissible ban, but in fact, if someone owns property and comes before the zoning board the obvious response is going to be what chance do you have of securing a variance, when in fact within perhaps months of the application you are passing an ordinance banning the use,” Gasiorowski said.

He said rather than have an issue proceed to litigation, the council members should take a step back and re-evaluate the proposed ordinance.

Attorney Adam Faiella represented the Monmouth Commerce Center, LLC, which proposed  constructing nine warehouses totaling 1.2 million square feet on a 99-acre parcel on Randolph Road. The Planning Board denied the application in January 2020.

“We believe this (proposed) ordinance is contrary to sound planning and the goals of the Municipal Land Use Law, that it is inconsistent with the master plan and that it fails to accomplish the goals it sets forth in the resolution.

“The township has not presented any studies or data to support its conclusory statements contained in the resolution in support of passing this ordinance, and many of those statements are actually factually incorrect,” Faiella said.

Attorney Matthew Fiorovanti represents Arnold Steel Company, which opposes the adoption of the ordinance. On behalf of his client, he asked the council members to table the ordinance.

Tina Smilek, who has lived in Howell for 46 years, said the people who matter are residents who have to deal with the end result of development.

“We the taxpayers get stuck fixing roads, we get stuck with traffic … (The attorneys representing companies) talk about substantial investments. Well, how many residents in this town made a substantial investment in their home and we have to live here?” Smilek said.

“Currently, we have seven applications in a process that will be grandfathered in. I am hoping this is not just a political play that says you did this just so we can see it on a postcard.

“Because right now what I am looking at, if you table this (ordinance), these businesses are going to rush in and put in applications. They are going to do that so they can be grandfathered before you (adopt the ordinance).

“If you do not table this, the taxpayers are going to be on the line for lawsuits. So right now it is looking like we the taxpayers are losing on this either way,” Smilek said.

Councilman John Bonevich said, “I would like to table (the ordinance) and really think about it, and probably watch this meeting again. I would like all of us to get together and talk about this meeting.”

Bonevich made a motion to table the matter. Richmond seconded the motion and the council approved tabling the issue until the May 25 meeting.

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