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After numerous hearings held over many months, the Howell Township Planning Board is poised to hold a vote this coming Monday night over a proposal to construct a total of 940,400 sq feet of warehouse and office space near the Lakewood Township border.

The proposed 100 acres location, which has been unoccupied for approximately 40-45 years, sits at the intersection of Randolph Road and Oak Glen Road, just north of Lakewood's Brookhill neighborhood.

The current proposal, named the Monmouth Commerce Center, LLC by owners Lawrence Katz and Felix Pflaster, is to construct construct four 1-story warehouse buildings with office space.

Access to the site is provided by two right-in/left out only driveways along Randolph Road to serve as truck entrances. The intent with this is to force all of the truck traffic from the site to travel west on Randolph Road to County Route 547.

One full movement driveway for passenger vehicles is also proposed to Randolph Road. No driveways are proposed to Oak Glen Road or Lakewood Allenwood Road (County Route 547). An earlier version of the project included a driveway on Brook Road, however this has since been eliminated.

Trucks and deliveries to the location would operate on a 24/7-day schedule. The applicant's professionals have estimated the total project would provide jobs to 175-200 employees, however, no tenants have yet finalized.

Each building will contain its own parking and loading stalls to service the building.

The project is represented by Attorney Meryl Gonchar Esq, Engineer Steven Cattani of Newtown, Pennsylvania-based Dynamic Engineering Consultants, and Architect Kyle Ferrier.

At a hearing earlier in the fall, Ferrier testified about the design of the four warehouses and said the floorplans were all basically the same. Office space would be located in the front, with loading docks in the rear. Although the warehouses follow the same model, they are proposed to be different sizes.

  “The design is pretty typical for this type of facility,” Ferrier said. “It’s a concrete slab on grade with steel columns, steel joists to provide a clear height of 36 feet.”

  The buildings themselves would be neutral shades of grey with charcoal blue accent colors according to the architect. A dark grey canopy would be above the entranceway. Highest ceilings planned for the facility would be approximately 10 feet.

  Ferrier said the design features met with ordinance requirements related to the architecture. This included no uninterrupted wall lengths greater than 15 feet. Additionally, the maximum spacing between articulation met the 40 feet requirement.

  The architect described several other facets, including the roof.

  “The entirety of the roof will be sized appropriately to accommodate future solar array,” shared Ferrier. “This would be something we would expect to be installed by the tenant.”

Public water and sanitary sewer mains are proposed to be extended to the development.

Additional site improvements consist of lighting, landscaping, aboveground infiltration basins to address stormwater management and refuse enclosures.

Additionally, to make the project more palatable to Township Planners, the developers are proposing improvements at the Randolph Road and Lakewood Farmingdale Road intersection including the installation of a traffic signal, full width mill and overlay, stormwater inlets along the subject side of Randolph Road and Oak Glen Road, roadway striping within Randolph Road and Oak Glen Road and a right-of way dedication to Howell Township for purposes of future road widening along the entire Randolph Road frontage and at the intersection of Oak Glen Road and Lakewood Allenwood Road.

If approved by the Planning Board, the developers are requesting extended vested rights for the site plan approval which would permit development to be held off for numerous years without regard to future zoning changes.

The Howell Township Planning Board has scheduled a Special Meeting for this application, whose approval timeline deadline is expiring later this coming week. The Special Meeting will take place on Monday at 7:00pm.

An earlier version of this project which was for construction of 9 buildings was previously denied by the Planning Board.

In October 2018, the developers submitted its land use application for approval of a commercial center with 9 buildings, 706 parking spaces, 142 trailer parking spaces, and 234 loading spaces with 5 access ways from the road. The property is within the Special Economic Development (SED) Zoning District, which permits warehousing. However, a mixture of residential and industrial uses
surrounds the property. Thus, they requested variance relief and design waiver relief from municipal ordinances to accommodate the area and property development.

After holding ten public hearings regarding the application from May 2019 to January 2020, which were well attended by neighbors opposed to the project, the Board denied the site plan application, finding that the developers failed to satisfy its burden for each of the design waivers.

The developers appealed to the Superior Court Judge Owen C. McCarthy who upheld the Board's denial. The developers then appealed to the Appellate Division which affirmed the Board's denial.

One design waiver was for a sidewalk. Township ordinance requires that "all lots shall have private walkway access to a public sidewalk in the right-of-way." The Board heard testimony from Elizabeth McManus, the applicant's expert, who argued that "because we have a lack of pedestrian destinations in this area and a lack of pedestrian destinations on this particular site. We also have a lack of connecting sidewalks in the area. In addition, by not providing the sidewalks, we're able to reduce impervious cover and we're able to reduce tree clearances along the property lines, and so for all of those reasons I think that the waiver or the exception to not provide a sidewalk is appropriate."

The Board concluded that this testimony did not even touch upon "how compliance would result in impracticability or hardship based upon the peculiar characteristics of the land," and "that the lack of sidewalks in the area is also not a persuasive argument."

The Appellate Division concluded that the Board's decisions to deny the design waivers were not arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable because - based on the record - "the developer failed to show why compliance was impracticable or resulted in a hardship."

Following this loss, the developers submitted a reduced plan for 5 buildings. They have again reduced their plan to 4 buildings.

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