JACKSON – Local residents want commercial property near them to be rezoned as residential since a warehouse and offices are proposed for the area.
Janice and James Rapp of 49 Johnson Lane brought their issue before the Township Council. They said they were surprised at the proposed development since they thought they were buying into a quiet, agricultural area.
“My wife and I are approaching the council tonight to implore you to take steps and actions to reverse the rezoning,” James Rapp said. He described the location as Johnson Lane, the portion that enters Bennetts Mills Road, a 14-foot-wide dirt road right of way. “It ends at our house where there is a township-installed gate that says ‘emergency access only’ and there is no place to turn around.”
He added that a problem in his neighborhood began “when the properties began to be rezoned. I say ‘began to’ because it is a continuing process. The main properties that were on Bennetts Mills lot 18 and subsequently lot 16 caused our neighborhood a considerable amount of angst, undue stress and nervousness about what possibly was going to take place in and around our homes which are rural in nature.”
Rapp continued saying the properties there were “always agricultural use.” The Rapps moved to this neighborhood on a dirt road ending on a tree farm because they wanted to buy into a bedroom community.
“It caused the owner of that property a considerable amount of angst. Her name is Theresa Lewis and she came before the council with a whole bunch of other residents, almost 20 in 2016. She had expressed dismay, anger, frustration and fear that her property was rezoned without her even being informed,” he added.
“It changed the way she perceived her property and that perception continued and I believe that shaped her final decision where she told us that she had sold the property under duress because she didn’t trust the government enough for her to sign a piece of paper with the Ocean County Lands Trust. She was standing ready and willing to preserve the land,” he added.
Rapp said, “it is a piece of buffer land that is a clear field. It is home to several threatened endangered species. We have documented that it is home to box turtles and they live right there on the field. There were so many I had to put signs saying ‘turtle crossing.’ There are several types of falcons. There are red tail hawks every single day, snakes and tree frogs.”
He also noted that there are a variety of wetland plants there and 800 blueberry bushes that are historic and on that property. She wanted to preserve that. She steadfastly stuck with only realtors that were willing to sell to someone who would build a single-family home with the same agricultural use.
Council President Andrew Kern asked if she owned the property currently and was told no but that her realtor sold it while she was in South Carolina without her knowing. “What are you asking of council?” Kern asked.
The couple asked the governing body to rezone the area to residential – the same way it was when they bought into the neighborhood. They said they had an expectation that it would remain an agricultural use or at least a residential use but the zone changed to limited commercial use.
Kern said this was done through the 2010 master plan change. “So you are asking us to reverse something back from 2010?”
“Why today are we asking this? That is a reasonable question. It is because the fears we had when expressing it to Ms. Lewis,” Rapp said. “Everyone says the same thing ‘why would I buy a piece of commercial property that isn’t even on a road.’ This has been an ongoing fight through every agency.”
Kern said, “the new owner – whoever that is – who purchased the land, they purchased it with it being zoned in the same way it has been zoned since 2010. As to how they are going to be able to develop it, I don’t know without (knowing) the frontage, that would have to go before one of the land use boards.”
Rapp said the current owners have an application and are seeking a use variance and the proposed development consists of a 600-foot warehouse, retail/office space, 24 parking spaces and a minimal septic field that extends 30 feet from his neighbor’s horse farm.
“We don’t even know what the uses are. The applicant hasn’t stated what the uses are. It could end up being a mish mash of businesses,” Rapp added.
His wife added that such an operation there made no sense as there was nothing else there and is surrounded by non-buildable wetlands and few businesses.
Council President Kern explained that because there was an application before the Zoning Board right now “there is nothing we can say. It is an active application. There is no comment we can make about it.”