HOWELL – A massive construction proposal in the township again faced criticism during a packed Planning Board meeting earlier this month.
The meeting featured a large turnout of residents who gathered to hear the latest testimony concerning the 1.2 million square foot project.
The Monmouth Commerce Center project includes the construction of a warehouse complex on 100 acres of county forest land. The proposal by the Monmouth Commerce Center LLC also includes roads and parking lots on 100 wooded acres south of Randolph Road which runs into Route 547.
The property owners are Lawrence Katz and Felix Pflaster. The applicant is being represented by Adam Faiella and Meryl Gonchar of Sills Cumis and Gross, of Newark.
Township zoning permits warehouses in the special economic development zone in the south-central region of the community.
Despite the promise of a large tax ratable to the township and hundreds of additional jobs, opponents of the plan have cited environmental, traffic safety and other concerns to why the project should be turned down.
Environmental concerns extend beyond the removal of oxygen-generating trees which would be replaced by parking lots in the new facility but that it would also halt the natural absorption of rainwater and would transfer polluted water into the area’s water supply.
Among those in the audience at the Nov. 7 meeting was Dawn Van Brunt, leader of HOPE (Howell for Open Land and Preservation) who created a petition on Change.org to oppose the project. She and members of her 300-strong group were present during an Oct. 28 Monmouth County Development Review Committee meeting which ended with the committee asking for the applicant to return with additional information. Consideration of adding a traffic light to the intersection near Randolph Road was also discussed.
Howell Mayor Theresa Berger said, “This project is the size of the Freehold Raceway Mall. This is a bedroom community on a scenic road which cannot sustain the traffic.”
Berger added, “the surrounding roads are less able to support the frequency and weight of these trucks. The responsibility will fall on the taxpayers to fix these roads.
“I believe in growth, as long as it does not have a detrimental impact on Howell’s environment, character, quality of life and infrastructure,” she said.
Berger reminded members of the Development Review Committee that the project site would be based within an area of homes and very close to the Metedeconk River. She also mentioned the proposed Resource Engineering solid waste transfer station at 34 Randolph Road, near Route 547. The transfer station has yet to receive approval.
Councilmen Tom Russo and John Bonevich were also present at the meeting.
The accessibility of emergency vehicles such as firetrucks was also discussed during the meeting. It was stated that there would be five different ways for vehicles to enter and exit the site and there would be separate entry points for emergency responders.
Van Brunt said, “I was truly excited to see a packed house, standing room only. The members of HOPE have done an amazing job spreading the word and I think the board is seeing the disaster this project will create.”
“The meeting uncovered a lot of site plan concerns, as well as missing required soil testing. The board was also unanimous in the interpretation of on-site trailer storage,” Van Brunt said.
Opponents of the plan also expressed at both meetings that the number of trucks that would enter and exit the transfer station on a daily basis, presented potential safety problems.
As the project borders Ocean County, information from the Ocean County Planning Board is also needed.
Noise and air pollution are a concern of Howell Environmental Commission. The Commission’s chairwoman, Joan Osborne said both would increase if the project is approved.
Testimony on the project was supposed to continue on December 3 but has been canceled due to the Christmas tree lighting ceremony.