HOWELL – After nearly three hours of discussion and testimony, the Planning Board voted unanimously to adopt the changes made in the township’s Master Plan, along with the adoption of ordinances 02211 and 02212, which address moderate and low-income housing development.
“The Master Plan is a document that’s exclusively within the jurisdiction of the Planning Board,” explained Board attorney Ron Cucchiaro. “It’s a policy document. It’s a document that basically analyzes the town and makes policy determinations in terms of how and where the town should develop under particular circumstances. The Master Plan has to be reevaluated or re-examined at least every ten years. It’s a living, breathing document that responds to actual changes and challenges and new technology and planning philosophies. So, in Howell we [review] it much more often to help keep pace with the surrounding circumstances that were forced to deal with.”
Speaking before the Board, Township Planner Jennifer Beahm outlined the proposed changes to the circulation elements and the land use portions of the Master Plan. The circulation element of the plan deals with the way traffic moves about the town, with the goal of finding the most efficient way to achieve that end.
“Why that’s important, is that the town hasn’t looked at the circulation element in about thirty years,” explained Beahm during the Board’s Zoom call hearing. “As I’m sure all of you on the call can attest to, is the fact that over the course of the past thirty years, things in town have changed significantly. Some sleepy roads have now become some major thoroughfares that warrant a re-look.”
Beahm stipulated that some of the Planning Board’s changes were based upon a survey of residents that had been conducted online over one month’s time. The Board took the residents’ concerns into consideration when crafting the traffic plan.
Beahm, who serves as the Township’s Planner, Planning Board Planner, and the Zoning Board Planner for the township, presented a litany of roadways in Howell that had become problematic. While Route 9 is “not within our control,” Beahm explained that being able to augment the development of those streets that feed into the highway may serve to alleviate future issues.
The town looked into accident data from the NJ Department of Transportation and police reports, as well as car counter data to make their decisions. Based upon these factors, the designation of several town streets would change, which could mean raising speed limits or seeking to widen existing roadways.
Also discussed were land use elements of the Plan, especially given that new directions from the State of New Jersey call for governing bodies looking to change land use within their towns to adhere to more stringent environmental concerns. As a result, Howell’s new Master Plan had to consider sea level rise, climate change, electric vehicle legislation, fire management, storm resiliency, storm water management rules, flood hazard areas, evacuation routes, emergency services and the smart growth conservation concerns. Smart growth plans attempt to limit “suburban sprawl” and lessen the potential impact on the environment.
“We evaluated build-out trends by looking at the number of housing units by building permit, and looking at what could potentially occur in the future,” said Beahm as she spoke to the Board. “I do think some of the circulation recommendations, as well as some of the recommendations [on land use], do lend itself to being cognizant of what we don’t want to have happen here in Howell. We don’t want every square inch of the town and every blade of grass eliminated for pavement concrete development.”
Of note was the concern regarding the “boom” of warehouse development in Howell, and Beahm explained that there were to be changes in some zoning areas. She recommended the creation of a new HD-4 zone along Route 33. The new zone classification is an outgrowth of the HD-3 zone type, but removed age-restricted single-family residences, while adding assisted living facilities, self-storage facilities and craft distilleries.
Also discussed at the meeting was the fact that Weapons Station Earle has requested a military exclusion zone of 2,000 feet around the border of the base. While the parameters of this have not been specified, it will likely require the town to make a new zone classification for this area.
The documents that were discussed at the meeting had been put online for more than one week for the public to review. While several members of the public did choose to join the discussion with recommendations and requests, including one to delay the vote, the board went forward and adopted the new draft version of the Master Plan.