Warehouse/flex space plan in Manalapan on hold pending jurisdiction issue


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MANALAPAN – An application that proposes the construction of a building that would provide space for a warehouse and several smaller uses on Business Route 33 in Manalapan has been placed on hold by the Planning Board.

Mercer Realty Partners, LLC, is seeking preliminary and final major site plan approval for a commercial development at 51 Route 33, Manalapan. The applicant is represented by attorney Ronald L. Shimanowitz.

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Testimony on the application was initially heard on Feb. 24. No decision regarding the application was reached that evening.

On April 28 the Planning Board convened in person at the municipal building for the first time since before the start of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020. The board’s meetings have been conducted in a virtual manner since March 2020.

Residents filled the meeting room to listen to the continuation of testimony regarding the Mercer Realty Partners application.

The location where the warehouse/flex space building is proposed is adjacent to the intersection of an exit ramp that connects the Route 33 freeway heading east to Business Route 33 heading east. The subject property is near the Village Grande at Battleground adult community.

Shimanowitz began his presentation by stating that since the application was heard in February, the applicant has revised the plan to eliminate the need for any waivers or variances. He said the application is now fully compliant with Manalapan’s ordinances.

At that point, before Shimanowitz could present a witness, the issue of which municipal board – the Planning Board or the Zoning Board of Adjustment – should hear the case was raised.

Shimanowitz and Ron Cucchiaro, who is the Planning Board’s attorney, offered legal perspectives as to which board should hear the application. Their discussion touched on several aspects of flex space and they did not agree on which board should hear the case.

“We feel we are properly before this board,” Shimanowitz said. “We object to going voluntarily to the zoning board.”

Cucchiaro said the matter is a fundamental issue of which municipal board has jurisdiction. He said the Planning Board members would have to decide which legal argument to accept – his or the one presented by Shimanowitz.

The issue could rest on the interpretation of a municipal ordinance by the zoning board, Cucchiaro said, before adding that the Planning Board “does not have jurisdiction to determine jurisdiction.”

Jennifer Beahm, the board’s planner, previously said the application indicates the proposed building would be 97% warehouse space and 3% for other uses, but noted that the township’s ordinance does not require a specific percentage breakdown for flex space.

The board members appeared ready to accept Cucchiaro’s legal argument when Shimanowitz asked for a short recess so he could speak with his client about the issue.

Following a 15-minute recess, Shimanowitz said upon further reflection, Mercer Realty Partners would choose to go before the zoning board to seek an interpretation of the matter.

The board members accepted the attorney’s position and agreed to suspend the hearing on the application until the matter has gone to the zoning board and is possibly returned to the Planning Board.

The property where Mercer Realty Partners is proposing to construct the building is in a Special Economic Development zone and the Route 33 Overlay Zone. The 26-acre tract is bordered on the north by Business Route 33 and on the south by the Route 33 freeway.

Access to the building is proposed from Business Route 33. There would not be any access to the site from the Route 33 freeway.

The applicant is seeking municipal approval to develop the property with flex space, landscaping, lighting, a septic system, a public water connection and storm water management facilities.

During the meeting in February, John Kainer, a principal of the applicant, said the building would have four spaces available: a warehouse of approximately 220,000 square feet and three spaces of 2,675 square feet each.

The type of tenants permitted in the 2,675-square-foot spaces would be a contractor’s offices and shops; wholesale trade establishments; and establishments for production, processing, assembly, manufacturing, compounding, preparation, cleaning, servicing and the testing or repair of materials, goods or products, with certain restrictions.

When asked by one of the Planning Board’s professionals what types of businesses could occupy a 2,675-square-foot space, Kainer said examples might be a wood shop operated by an individual artisan, a printing company or a robotics company.

Testimony presented by the applicant’s representatives indicated the warehouse would be storage space for products such as tile, flooring and paint that would eventually be distributed to wholesalers and retailers, but not to individual end users.

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