By Elliot Wiesner
The mayor of Allentown, Thomas Fritts, opened a community meeting on May 4 in the Newell Elementary School auditorium. Approximately 100 people attended, including two current members of the Township Committee from Upper Freehold Township.
Mayor Fritts chaired and moderated the meeting which included two speakers, a slide presentation and a video.
Mayor Fritts emphasized the need to keep open the lines of communication between the elected officials of Allentown, and the townships of Upper Freehold, Robbinsville and Hamilton.
He also urged the residents of these four communities to cooperate with each other, especially with the possibility of the development of affordable housing and/or a warehouse on the Stein property near the Valero gas station by exit 8 off Interstate 195.
The two guest presenters were Micah Rasmussen, the director of the Rebovich Institute for
New Jersey Politics at Rider University, and Keith Becker, leader of the local community group Communities United/Keep the Integrity.
The speakers made it clear that although no application has been made to develop the
Stein property, it was recently sold for $15 million to a development company.
This sale is unusual as usually developers only buy an option from the existing landholder to purchase the property at a future date if, and only if, the development application is approved.
It was also noted that the property to be developed also includes an adjoining property owned by the same developer in Robbinsville.
It was also stated there are two signs on the Stein property advertising that 460 affordable
luxury homes would be “coming soon.” An academic study was cited which concluded that 460 homes would add 1 child per home to the school district headcount.
The additional student headcount would cost the Upper Freehold Regional School District approximately $9 million per year based on the current cost per student.
This number would be in excess of any real estate taxes generated by the development. It would also result in overcrowding in certain grades, possibly resulting in teaching being done in trailers as has been done in the past.
The new housing signs gave rise to a bait and switch theory that the threatened
townhouse development is a ruse to get residents to prefer a warehouse, which would pay taxes and not add to the school burden.
However, a high-traffic, 24/7 warehouse would generate additional truck traffic. It also could mean a need for a full-time Upper Freehold police department.
Mayor Fritts spoke about smart development, which is different than no development,
and about working with neighboring towns about development.
For example, while acknowledging that Allentown was not able to prevent approval of a warehouse on the Allentown-Robbinsville border, he stated that by working with Robbinsville and the developer, he was able to get the warehouse building “flipped” so the noisy loading docks would face already existing commercial buildings in Robbinsville rather than face Allentown residences.
He also stated that trucks would not be allowed to make a left turn when leaving the warehouse.
However, should a truck make a left turn there would be a circular turnaround built so the truck would not go down Church Street in Allentown.
Other discussions included the fact that open spaces keep property values up, that once a
piece of land is developed it is never “undeveloped” and that as warehouses age they go from prime tenants and uses to lower quality tenants and uses.
Also, open spaces have value for the future as well as the present, but they are undervalued relative to commercial development in the present.
Elliot Wiesner is a resident of Upper Freehold Township.