HOWELL – The local planning board set an ambitious schedule for its November meeting, featuring a master plan update, two submission waivers, and five distinct applications from developers.
Among all the applications, the one garnering the most anticipation from residents was the proposal presented by AAVRHW Property, LLC, referred to as the Victory Road warehouse application.
Most recently, the warehouse plan was to be heard on October 5. However, the proceedings were halted that night as it was deemed too late in the evening to conclude the deliberations on the project.
November’s meeting marked the fifth time that the warehouse was before the planning board. Since November 29, 2022, the item has been listed and rescheduled over a dozen times, contributing to the growing anticipation surrounding the final decision on the Victory Road warehouse application.
As it turns out, the long-awaited answer won’t come until next year.
At the November meeting, Robert Simon, the attorney representing the applicant, began by noting that his office had received correspondence from Laura Neumann, the Board’s professional and an engineer with CME Associates. The applicant’s engineering expert, Tung-To Lam, then provided testimony addressing inquiries raised by Neumann.
Lam said he believed the applicant’s stormwater management design and plan complied with applicable ordinances and regulations.
The proposed construction site lacks public sewer, which means that a septic system need to be carefully planned.
Referring to a letter from the Monmouth County Board of Health dated October 31, 2023, Simon asked Lam whether he had any objections to the comments provided by the Board. Lam responded that the comments concerning the site plan and the necessity to submit revised septic plans were standard requirements.
However, Lam’s reply didn’t seem to sit well with Stuart Lieberman, the attorney hired to represent the interests of neighbors objecting to the application.
“There was a very particular question about whether or not the system was compliant,” said Lieberman. “Because there was a suggestion that the bed might be too close to one of the stormwater features.”
Lam said that the submittal met the standard State Department of Environmental Protection requirement and that the Health Department was merely pointing out the requirement. He also acknowledged that the Health Department expected the applicant to submit plans to them.
After Simon asked him, Lam confirmed that the applicant planned to comply with the requirement for the septic disposal field to be a minimum of 50 feet from the infiltration basin.
Planning Board Member Nicholas Huszar asked Neumann if it was customary for an applicant to submit plans without a map showing the location of the septic field. She deferred the question to Lam about why it wasn’t shown.
“It’s just been designed by a separate consultant as indicated in the past,” Lam answered. “They need to wait for the planning board’s approval before reviewing the application. So it’s just a matter of time.”
Lam added that two test pits had been picked for the septic and were located 50 feet away from the base and the property line. The plan had not yet been submitted.
Discussions continued with references to the applicant’s prior dealings with the County Board of Health. Lieberman pointed out that some of the information presented that night had not been presented to his expert.
Simon addressed his concerns regarding questions posed by the planning board members.
“I think the appropriate thing to do, whether I like it or not, is that we will provide updated information to you, certainly with regard to the septic system, because you’re asking for it irrespective of jurisdiction and preemption,” said Simon. “There are questions that certainly we can answer, but it’s not appropriate for the Board to get the answers, frankly, on the fly.”
“As much as it pains me,” Simon said the applicant was going to need to carry the discussion to a future meeting to provide that information. “Because we have the information, but we want to provide it in the appropriate manner.”
The rescheduling of the Victory Road warehouse application for further consideration is not possible until January, and even then, there is a considerable likelihood that it may not be addressed.
The Planning Board’s January 4th gathering is the reorganization meeting, during which new members might be appointed. Prospective members would need time to familiarize themselves with previous presentations through video recordings and review documents to ensure they are adequately informed before participating in any voting processes.
A decision on the Victory Road warehouse application isn’t the only one postponed for next year. Lowe’s Home Center’s application to make changes to their Route 9 location was also moved to 2024.
Lowe’s is seeking approval to make changes, including converting some parking spaces into outdoor storage areas for items like garden center products and clothing donation bins. Additionally, Lowes wants to turn a few regular parking spaces into larger ones for trucks. These modifications would result in fewer spaces, changing with the seasons.
Other proposed improvements involve adding an air pump, picnic tables, a utility trailer display, a covered canopy over a pickup area, and fenced storage on the property.
Speaking on behalf of Lowe’s, attorney Jared Pape represented that Lowe’s first received planning board approval 20 years ago, when the resolution did not include a request for outdoor storage.
“As I’m sure many are aware, Lowe’s is a national company, and outdoor display and sale of products is standard procedure for them and competitors similar to them,” said Pape. “The applicant engaged in this type of activity outdoor storage for many, many years.”
“When it was brought to their attention that this activity required Board approval,” Pape continued. “They immediately filed this application.”
During the proceedings, Pape introduced expert witness Michelle Briehof, a traffic engineer. Briehof presented findings from her parking study, indicating a notable surplus of vacant parking spaces in the specific area that Lowes intended to utilize for its display and storage.
A key concern raised by the Board’s professionals centered on a driveway where vehicles exiting onto Route 9 turn right to head north. The issue revolves around compromised visibility due to a berm and landscaping at the top of the area.
The recommendation was that the area be regraded and that the berm that’s currently there be taken down and replaced with low-lying vegetation.
Kevin Bulger, a professional engineer and planner, was next in line to testify on behalf of Lowe’s. He emphasized that the site plan proposal highlighted the outdoor storage areas and encompassed various parking lot striping improvements implemented over the years.
Bulger provided details on different outdoor zones, such as the seasonal mulch pickup area, the garden center, and the space designated for fence pallets, utility trailers, picnic tables, and similar items. Additionally, he explained the inclusion of four angular long parking spaces tailored for contractors with trucks and trailers, offering added convenience due to their extended length.
Discussions ensued regarding discrepancies in parking space counts and concerns about potential blockages caused by contractors using an existing air pump for their tires. Before seeking board approval, Lowes received advice from the Board’s professionals regarding concerns that needed to be addressed. Approval includes resolving issues such as the sight triangle concern, storage items for bags, and sheds on the property.
Pape affirmed the commitment to address each concern before the applicant returns to the Board next year. Additionally, the total number of parking spaces will be verified to ensure accuracy.