Planning Board Denies B9 Warehouses Application

MOVE TO DENY – Planning Board member Robert Thomas explains his reasons for moving to deny the B9 application.

An application to build two warehouses across from the Canal Walk housing development was unanimously rejected September 26 by the Planning Board.

The vote came after months of Board hearings, sometimes acrimonious testimony and regular attendance at the meetings by more than 200 residents, most of whom live in Canal Walk.

It also came after pleas for its denial by 19 township residents who spoke during the public session, and summations by the attorney hired by the Canal Walk Homeowners Association, the attorney hired by a group of citizen activists and the applicant’s attorney.

In rejecting the site plan application submitted by Link Logistics/B9 Schoolhouse Owner, Board members generally said they felt they did not receive answers to their questions about environmental and other issues, and in some cases did not get the chance to ask all of the questions they had.

“The bottom line is, I don’t feel I have enough information to do anything other than to vote a no for this,” said Board member Robert Thomas, who made the motion to deny the application.

The plan was to construct one 144,450-square foot warehouse and one 70,970-square-foot warehouse on a 20-acre plot at Schoolhouse Lane and Mettlers Road.

Residents – some of whom formed a citizen’s group and hired an attorney and their own experts – objected to the plan on mainly environmental reasons. The residents said the warehouses, with their constant truck traffic, would create air and noise pollution, and would violate the serenity of the portion of Mettlers Road that has been designated a scenic corridor.

Link’s attorney’s argued that the plan, after it had been modified, met all Township zoning ordinances and should be approved.

The project also spurred a number of Township ordinance amendments by the Township Council which concerned where warehouses could be located and what types of activities could occur near areas designated as scenic corridors. Those amendments are the topics of more than a dozen active lawsuits filed by current and potential warehouse developers.

The Planning Board denial is widely expected to spawn another lawsuit, although Link’s attorney, John DeLuca, said he had no comment after the vote.

Not so for Stuart Lieberman, the attorney representing the Citizen’s Warehouse Action Group, the group formed by Canal Walk residents.

“We’re very gratified by the Board’s decision,” he said. “We think it was appropriate, there were a lot of deficiencies in the application.”

“We think it was the right decision,” he said.

As is their custom, Board members gave their reasons why they supported denying the application.

“After all these months and all these hearings, there are more questions in some areas unanswered than we have answers for,” Thomas said when he made the motion.

Thomas cited no agreement on the warehouses’ operating hours, landscaping, tree removal and replacement, a third driveway suggested by the Township engineer, and the impact of noise from trucks and the warehouse operation.

“We got a lot of wishy-washy answers and actual refusal to answer from experts on both sides of the fence,” he said.

Councilman Ram Anbarasan, who seconded Thomas’ motion, said his vote was guided by the residents’ concerns.

“I think I’ve heard the people’s call, and it is my duty and responsibility to listen to their call,” he said.

Board member Sami Shaban said he “found the application incomplete.”

“Whether it was around noise concerns or environmental studies, there were overreaching statements like there will be no impact to the community,” he said. “We had a lot of questions come up with no complete answers.”

Board member Erica Inocencio said she felt there was more information that she would like to have heard.

“Aside from whether or not if it was something that was required, it would have been helpful to the Board,” she said. “That’s the thing that’s most concerning to me.”

Board member Ted Chase said he was voting for denial basically on the issue of noise.

“I understand the applicant has refused to entertain a restriction by which trucks should not operate on the property between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. or some such hours,” he said.

Also, he said, “There was no consideration of air pollution by heavy truck traffic, which residents have indicated was a major concern.”

Board member Meher Rafiq said that she considered both sides’ presentations, and that she felt “the applicant has failed to answer satisfactorily the questions I had. The noise, the pollution, the landscape, the amount of trees; there just wasn’t clarity in all of those.”

Rebecca Hilbert, an alternate Board member, said her vote to deny was based on the “lack of proper information around noise, the (Environmental Impact Statement), scenic corridor and a number of other things we’ve talked about.”

Board chairman Michael Orsini said he did not believe that the applicant’s expert’s answers to questions “were satisfactorily addressing the concerns of the Board, which were made quite clear.”

“I don’t believe (the application) meets the standards legally outlined by municipal law and case law,” he said.

Residents’ opposition to the plan focused on charges that the warehouses would ruin Canal Walk residents’ quality of life, and would affect the township’s overall environment.

Nancy Beirne of Bryant Court told the Board that her bedroom, den and kitchen windows face the area targeted for the warehouses.

“Will I ever be able to open my windows for fresh air?” she asked. “Will I be able to sleep at night … will you be able to sleep at night knowing that the people you represent don’t?”

“The retirement house of our dreams has been turned into a nightmare,” she said.

Another Bryant Court resident, Enid Doyle, said that “this is the wrong location for these warehouses.”

“There are only negatives, no positives” with the development, she said.

Charles Inghilterra of Saratoga Court told Board members that they “know what the right thing to do is.”

“Forget the law, forget you’re going to get sued,” he said. “You have a responsibility not to the robber barons of the country, you have a responsibility to us.”

Daniel Robinovitz of Bayard Road told the Board that he and his wife have lived in Canal Walk for 18 years, and that they “truly fear that if the B9 warehouses are built across the street from us, we will have to move away.”

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