MANALAPAN – The Manalapan Zoning Board of Adjustment has approved an application that proposed the construction of office/warehouse space in a residential zone.
Ambe Holding, LLC, (Englishtown Industrial Park) applied to the zoning board for preliminary and final major site plan approval regarding a property that is partially in Manalapan and partially in Englishtown. The applicant sought approval to expand the existing industrial park by constructing four flex space office/warehouse buildings.
The applicant also sought a use variance for office/warehouse uses in the RE and R-20 zones in Manalapan where such uses are not permitted, according to a presentation that was made to the zoning board on March 3.
Testimony was presented that evening and was not met with significant objections from the board members, the board’s engineer and planner, nor members of the public, however, a technical issue with the public notice that had been provided prevented the board from voting on the application that evening.
The application was carried to the board’s April 7 meeting. Prior to that meeting Ambe Holding, LLC, provided a second public notice regarding the application.
When the zoning board meeting convened on April 7, no one from the public spoke and no additional testimony was provided by the applicant.
At that point, board members Adam Weiss, Robert Gregowicz, Joshua Shalikar, Terry Rosenthal, David Schertz and Chairman Stephen Leviton voted “yes” on a motion to approve the application.
During the March 3 meeting, the applicant was represented by attorney William Mehr, planner James Higgins, traffic engineer John Rea and engineer Bashkar Halari, who is the property manager of the Englishtown Industrial Park.
The industrial park is the former site of the Washington Forge cutlery factory. The property is 30 acres (8 acres in Englishtown and 22 acres in Manalapan).
Halari testified that the current uses at the site are not retail in nature. Vehicles coming to and leaving the site are primarily the employees of the existing businesses. That will remain the case with the new buildings, he said.
Testimony presented by the applicant’s representatives indicated that four new buildings would total 68,851 square feet (53,661 square feet of ground floor space and 15,190 square feet of mezzanine space).
Approximately 48,270 square feet of the total ground floor area/building footprint will be in Manalapan, with the remainder being in Englishtown. Two existing buildings will be removed to facilitate the proposed construction.
The property where the project is proposed is in the Residential Environmental (RE) and R-20 Single Family Suburban Residential zones in Manalapan and in the Industrial zone in Englishtown.
The largest of the four proposed buildings will have a gross floor area of 24,051 square feet, including 5,390 square feet of mezzanine space, and will straddle the border of Manalapan and Englishtown, according to the applicant.
The other three buildings (the first with a gross floor area of 13,740 square feet; the second with a gross floor area of 20,460 square feet; and the third with a gross floor area of 13,380 square feet) will be entirely in Manalapan.
The existing paved parking area on site is proposed to be expanded. A total of 260 parking spaces are required and 400 parking spaces will be provided.
Halari said landscaping that will be provided will screen the buildings from view.
“Our goal is to provide a year round buffer for residents. We think this plan provides good separation between residents and our uses,” he said.
Rea testified that the project has received preliminary approval in Englishtown and said final approval in the borough is pending. He said all access to the industrial park will be in Englishtown on Harrison Avenue and on Center Street.
The closest residential streets in Manalapan are Farm Tree Road, Hearthstone Drive and McGellaird’s Crossing Road, but Rea reiterated there is no direct access to the industrial park from Manalapan and said the plan “will have no impact on Manalapan’s street system. The plan will add about 40 peak hour trips through Englishtown.”
Higgins made several points during his presentation as he presented the case as to why the variance should be granted for commercial uses in a residential zone.
He said the property is not conducive to residential development as the zoning in Manalapan requires; the site has had industrial uses for many years; a substantial visual barrier has been proposed to block the site from residences in the area; and significant drainage improvements have been proposed.
The zoning board’s planner, Jennifer Beahm, did not take exception to Higgins’ testimony regarding the variance, and in response to a question from Beahm, Halari said the project would be constructed in two phases.
The board’s engineer, Brian Boccanfuso, did not take issue with the testimony and noted there will not be any retail uses at the site.
Boccanfuso said the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has fully approved the proposed storm water improvements and he said the plan complies with all applicable storm water management regulations.
Leviton said the applicant’s representatives have been meeting with Beahm and Boccanfuso since 2019 to address pertinent issues at the property and Boccanfuso confirmed that no concerns remain.
Leviton commended Halari for making plans to provide a fence and trees that will block the view of the buildings from the Manalapan side of the property.
Weiss called it “a good presentation on a property that is in need of redevelopment.”
Several residents of Hearthstone Drive asked questions of the applicant’s representatives when the meeting was opened to public comment.
Halari responded to one question by stating that the location where a new building will be constructed on Center Street is currently being cleaned of contamination that has existed at the property for several decades.
Len Marcu of Brick Township said he has been a tenant at the Englishtown Industrial Park for eight years. He complimented Halari as the site’s owner and said the property is well maintained.