Residents Mobilize Against Massive Development

Photo courtesy Howell Township

  HOWELL – Residents opposed to a huge development project are continuing their effort to convince township and county officials to nix the proposed Monmouth Commerce Center.

  The 1.2 million square foot project involves the building of a vast warehouse complex on 100 acres of southern Monmouth County forest.

  The plan includes parking areas and roads, on 100 wooded acres south of Randolph Road, which runs into Route 547, or Lakewood-Farmingdale Road.

  The applicant is Monmouth Commerce Center LLC and the property owners are Lawrence Katz and Felix Pflaster according to township records.

  Meryl Gonchar and Adam Faiella of Sills Cummis and Gross, of Newark are representing the applicant.

  According to township zoning, warehouses are allowed in the special economic development zone in the south-central region of Howell. That region is a 61-square-mile area where approximately 51,000 county residents live.

  While the project would bring a significant tax ratable to the township and hundreds of jobs, opponents fear that the complex would draw hundreds of tractor trailers daily which would travel several miles around the area’s rural roads toward the highway and a potential safety issue.

Photo courtesy Howell Township

  Justin Tayler, the applicant’s traffic engineer testified during recent Howell Planning Board hearings. He responded to residents’ traffic concerns by showing an animated video his firm produced imagining a drive past the site.

  The plan also involves cutting down a large swath of trees in the wooded area replacing them with buildings and parking lots.

  Environmentalists and some residents oppose this, citing that such action would also halt the natural absorption of rainwater and would transfer polluted runoff into the region’s water supply.

  Opponents of the plan are also fearful that the project would not only remove oxygen-generating trees but possibly cause an increase in the township’s affordable housing requirement. That requirement – set by the state – is partially based on development and growth in the township.

  The warehouse would exist along Randolph Road, which runs into Route 547. Route 9 is approximately one mile to the west, around four miles south of Route 195, which runs into the New Jersey Turnpike.

  Township resident Dawn Van Brunt started a petition against the plan which has around 1,700 signatures and has a goal of 2,500.

  Van Brunt was among those who gathered at a Freehold Starbucks on a recent evening to discuss their next move to convince township and county officials to deny the plan.

  Most of those present were members of HOPE (Howell for Open Land and Preservation of the Environment) who strongly oppose the warehouse complex. They are in agreement with the New Jersey Sierra Club, which also opposes the project, citing the potential loss of habitat and the impact of hundreds of truck trips per day on the ground and the narrow roads they would travel on.

  “The Starbucks meeting was extremely beneficial. We do try to get together in between each town meeting to strategize, plan out events and meet new people that we recruited to HOPE. We had a fantastic turn out, great dialogue and many new faces,” Van Brunt said.

  Van Brunt added, “I truly hope the board will re-examine this project and allow Howell to stay the humble little town that I fell in love with 19 years ago. I specifically started the petition to try to include many members of the community that may not be able to have their voice heard.”

  “I created HOPE a few years back as I started seeing the overdevelopment in Howell. Members are coming together to try to help our town and preserve green areas and open land. Randolph Road has been a specific thorn in our side as of late. Previously, we tried to stop 41 Randolph, another industrial project. Unfortunately, we were unsuccessful,” Van Brunt said.

  HOPE has around 300 members opposing the massive scope of the project which includes the construction of nine buildings ranging in size from 85,600 to 150,000 square feet.

  The Monmouth County Planning Board must also approve the plan and members of the Monmouth County Development Review Committee discussed it during an Oct. 28 meeting.         

  “Our attorney Craig Bossong, our traffic engineer, Joe Fishinger and many HOPE members were there. We packed the room. Originally, they were not even going to let the public speak,” Van Brunt said.

  “There was a rather loud uproar and they did concede and allowed everyone minimal time to speak their minds. One of the gentlemen, Paul Kiernan, though was very abrupt and was cutting people short, including the mayor of Howell, Theresa Berger. We all took time off from our jobs to be there for a very inconvenient 2 o’clock meeting time,” Van Brunt said.

  Phyllis Harrington, the recording secretary for the county planning board said the applicant was asked to present additional information concerning the plan which will need to be heard at a future meeting of the Development Review Committee.

  The applicant was also requested to provide a traffic signal at the corner of 547 and Randolph. County officials previously determined that runoff could have an impact on Route 547 which is a quarter mile away from the proposed project site and is a county road.

  Township records note the project’s size at 1.24 million square feet with 706 parking spaces in parking lots for regular sized vehicles plus another 142 extra-large spaces, or bays, for tractor trailers.

  “A defeatist attitude gets you nowhere. We absolutely remain hopeful that the ‘powers that be’” will see that this project is detrimental to the area for many reasons. The traffic alone that this project will generate is out of control, it’s estimated at a tractor-trailer every two minutes. That compounded with the environmental factors is enough to debilitate the area. We have seen concerns raised by the planning board at each meeting. I truly feel many on the board see this is not good for anyone. I’m just hoping that the momentum continues,” Van Brunt said.