HOWELL – After more than three hours of testimony, the Zoning Board granted unanimous approval for a land use variance that would allow for the construction of a new self-storage facility on the corner of Route 9 and Sunnyside Road.
Appearing before the Board on behalf of the applicant, K-Land Corporation and the owners, Advantage Properties, LLC, attorney Ken Pape and his experts presented the Zoning Board with exhibits and testimony regarding the proposed land use variance that would allow for the now-vacant property to be developed.
Situated on the exit ramp of Route 9, the property would be the new home of a forty-foot-tall Extra Space Storage facility located on the northwest corner of the intersection. The three-story building would have 20 parking spaces associated with the site and an office for the company’s employees. In total, the site would encompass 2.61 acres, with a 25-foot-wide entrance from Sunnyside Road.
Despite the fact that the oddly shaped property falls within a highway development (HD-1) area, the site is not zoned for a self-storage use. As such, Board Chairman Paul Sayah let the applicant’s attorney know that this was not going to be granted lightly.
“You know, Mr. Pape, we’re asking for a lot here, right?” Sayah asked rhetorically concerning the Board’s questioning of the applicant’s experts. “And some of [the questions] are technical, some are non-technical. And, for my fellow Board members, due diligence is paramount in understanding what it is that’s being presented to us.”
One of the biggest points of contention during the applicant’s presentation occurred during the testimony of building designer, Stephen Radosti. During the discussion of the design plans calling for a ‘loading’ sign on the building, Radosti’s narrative met with strong opposition from one of the Zoning Board’s members.
“Let me get this straight,” said Township Planner Jennifer Beahm, cutting off Radosti’s presentation. “You’re assuming that people that see these big garage doors aren’t going to understand that that’s where the loading is? So, you need a sign that says ‘loading’ and you need a variance to put that sign up?”
Radosti attempted to present an argument that would satisfy Beahm, but before he could complete his response, the Board member again voiced her disapproval of the applicant’s design.
“Come on, let’s be honest,” continued Beahm. “This sign is unnecessary. People are not that stupid. They’re just not. There’s no reason for a sign that says ‘loading’ above garage doors that scream ‘loading.’ It’s unnecessary.”
It was at this point in the proceedings that the applicant’s attorney ended the discussion in an effort to acquiesce with the Board. “Ms. Beahm, point well made,” said Pape. “This sign is withdrawn.”
Several members of the public did join the Zoom conference to voice their concerns and displeasure about the application. Most were neighbors immediately adjacent to the site who brought forth questions about increased traffic, traffic safety, lighting, and the visual aesthetics of the proposed project. Additionally, residents questioned the Board regarding why another self-storage business would be needed, given that there are numerous similar facilities along Route 9, including an Extra Space Storage location that already exists in Howell.
But while several on the Zoning Board did express empathy towards those residents in the vicinity of the site, a few of the members chose to explain why they were voting in its favor.
“It’s our job as a Board to make sure that this building is as appropriate as possible and fits in with the neighborhood, and the Route 9 corridor,” explained Board member Glenn Cantor, who cast the first vote. “I believe that the applicant’s professionals have definitely shown us that they’ve done way more than their due diligence in ensuring that this is an appropriate use of the land.” Others chose to echo his sentiments, including fellow Board member Matthew Gonzalez.
“I think it’s an honor,” said Gonzalez, “to have developers come in and take dilapidated and abandoned properties and turn them into something that can be successful for our town.”
Having now obtained the D-1 variance needed to move forward with the project, the applicant will now have to bring forward a site plan in the hopes of gaining its final approval.