JACKSON – Township residents of the R-3 residential zone along Bennetts-Mills and Cedar Swamp recently turned out for a virtual Zoning Board meeting to fight a commercial application that ended up being carried to a future session.
It was carried over due to the lack of the full board being present and to allow for more public participation as more than 30 people joined the virtual meeting for that variance application.
Some residents have stated concern regarding the application feeling it could severely alter the Master Plan for all R-3 zones.
The application involves Green Apple Holdings LLC which is seeking use variance approval to allow for retail/commercial use for its proposed project located at 32 Bennetts Mills Road.
Green Apple Holdings is seeking to put a 39,990-square-foot, two-story building and two 5,000-square-foot, mixed use buildings along with 280 parking spaces next to the speedway on Bennetts Mills Road also known as the JR Custom Landscaping property which is surrounded by residential homes.
Critics of the plan maintain that this type of development is not permitted in the R-3 zone. The property is on well and septic and has no stormwater management plan despite the court ordering one four years ago.
The project would pave approximately five acres of land that is surrounded by residents on all sides except for 200 feet of speedway.
Resident Eleanor Hannum posted to social media calling for the support of her fellow township residents to learn more about the application and to add their voice in opposition to it.
She noted that “residents on streets and courts around this project just received letters in their mailboxes to sell their homes. What is really going on here?”
Zoning Board Attorney Sean Gertner said during the meeting that “presuming that the majority of the public is focused on this particular application, 34 folks are a lot and I happen to be in a position of representing both boards (planning and zoning board of adjustment). The boards have taken a position on matters of public interest. We should be looking for alternative sites to allow the public full participation.”
When he said “sites,” he referred to the location of the meeting, not the location of the development.
Gertner said this protects the public and the applicant their due process rights. “The planning board did that with the Adventure Crossing application and we were able to procure the high school for that purpose.”
The attorney said he was reticent to set a date as “if the 34 folks are here, we really should be looking at the governor to be releasing some additional space for us or to see if the high school is available.”
Currently gatherings inside are limited to 25 people or roughly 25% of a building’s capacity utilizing social distancing protocols due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The Zoning Board of Adjustment have been holding their meetings through a Zoom format.
The applicant’s attorney said his client was ready to go forward whether it was 100 people in the audience to hear testimony on the application.
“You have an absolute right to have a full board present, period, however, in an attempt to be proactive as well and to be consistent with how Jackson Township uses public participation in applications of public interest, I want to lay out to this board that it is my opinion that there are alternatives to ensure public participation” Gertner added.
The attorney said that instead of setting a date he wanted to confer with the applicant if they had any objection to the use of the high school which would also need to be verified from the school district.
Township Zoning Officer Jeffrey Purpuro agreed with Gertner’s recommendation. “We’d certainly have to check with the high school before we could do anything. We know what are upcoming dates are”
“The first step is to find out if the high school is available on any of our regularly scheduled dates and then we can circle back. We don’t know now that school is back in session if that is an option,” he said.
The meeting info would have to be publicized once it’s settled, he said.
Gertner said for those who were present during the recent Zoom meeting of the Zoning Board that an announcement would be made notifying them of the new date, location and format of the meeting that was now carried over on this application. It would not be rescheduled for the next regular session of the Zoning Board.
“The matter is being carried by right of the applicant because the board does not constitute a full membership,” Gertner added.