Planning Board Takes Actions Toward Warehouse Ban In Township

Mark Healey, the Township’s principal planner, describes the Master Plan changes to the Planning Board at the January 18 meeting.

The ban on warehouse development in the township came a step closer to reality on January 18 with two actions taken by the Planning Board.

The Board approved amendments to the Master Plan that excised any mention of warehouses from township zoning, and also gave a favorable recommendation to the Township Council of proposed ordinance amendments that would do the same.

The Master Plan amendments were needed for the Board to find that the Council’s proposed ordinance amendments were consistent with the Master Plan.

The Board first reviewed the Master Plan amendments at a workshop meeting on January 11.

The B9 Schoolhouse developers received a chilly reception from the Planning Board at the first hearing on the application on January 4.

As was the case in the Summer of 2022, when the Township Council adopted an ordinance restricting where warehouses could be built, several developer’s attorneys showed up to lodge their protests.

Frank Vitolo, the attorney for Heller Industries, said the Master Plan amendments, and the zoning ordinance amendments they were designed to accommodate, was “wrong, and you know it’s wrong.”

The amendments, he said, are “is ill-conceived, rushed, and not supported by any credible evidence.”

“How in the world can you move forward with this process in good faith when you have not even heard from the people and businesses who will be most impacted by what you’re going to do this evening?” he asked.

In a veiled reference to residents of Canal Walk, who have lobbied for months to get the Council to ban new warehouse development, Vitolo said, “It’s your job to make sure the interests of those most impacted are heard and treated fairly. Do not let the mob rule.”

“Allow Heller and the pothers a meaningful opportunity to participate in this process so that we may together come up with a plan to limit warehouse growth that satisfies the legal requirements and recognizes the decades of contributions that my client’s and others represented here tonight have made to this community,” he said.

Francis Linnus, who represents Northern Nurseries on Elizabeth Avenue, referenced the township’s last major Master Plan revision, which took four years to complete before final adoption in 2020.

“In 2016, this town did a real Master Plan update, because it was backed up by studies and certain strategic plans,” he said. “After four years of study, in 2020, a Master Plan that the township should have been proud of and was proud of, and apparently is no longer proud of.”

“It is our opinion … that this particular update of the Master Plan is rushed, there are no studies supporting that Master Plan amendment, and it just doesn’t work,” he said.

Linnus spoke about how the new ordinance has hurt his client.

“My client entered into a contract to sell the nursery to a warehouse developer,” he said. “We’re told the warehouse developer was 30 days away from filing an application with the township … (but was told that warehouses were) no longer a permitted use in the BI zone. It appears they’ll be losing that contract.”

“My question to the Board is, how fair is that?” he said. “Has the Board … looked at the site-specific information that’s necessary to accept or reject a warehouse use in the BI zone?”

Canal Walk residents were on hand to support the Master Plan changes.

Sarah Zacharczyk said that she was not anti-business, but that she does not “believe that a town does not have the right to set a vision for itself, and to set a Master Plan and reset it to a degree and first and foremost, for the health, safety and well-being of its citizens.”

“I sincerely hope that this town does take all of those things into play and proceeds to pass a moratorium because there are other places in this state where more warehouses can be built,” she said. “I think we’ve done our fair share to accommodate that business.”

Marlon Kwan told the Board that residents should come first in their deliberations.

“When the BI zone was created, I think there was a little bit of a lack of foresight in terms of how that BI zone was going to rear its head along residential properties,” he said.

The proposed ordinance amendments now go back to the Township Council for a public hearing and final vote, scheduled for 7 p.m. January 24 in the Municipal Building on DeMott Lane.

The Franklin Reporter & Advocate live-streamed the meeting:

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