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July 6, 2006

Lawsuit challenges warehouse approval

By JENNIFER KOHLHEPP
Staff Writer

UPPER FREEHOLD - A group of residents has filed an appeal in state Superior Court, Freehold, asking for a reversal of a Planning Board decision that authorized the construction of a warehouse on Meirs Road.

The group, called Meirs Road Residents Against Warehousing, filed a complaint in the Monmouth County courthouse against the Upper Freehold Planning Board and JAC Raw Land Co., of Freehold, on June 23.

The JAC Raw Land Co. plans to construct an 18,698-square-foot warehouse on the corner of Meirs Road and Route 537. The 2.4-acre property is located in the highway development (HD) zone.

The Planning Board conducted hearings on the application March 9 and then approved the application on April 25. The board granted variances for the width of the loading areas and a design waiver relating to window sizes.

Mayor Stephen Fleischacker and Committeeman Sal Diecidue voted against the measure.

On Monday, Fleischacker said he had not yet had an opportunity to review the complaint. Planning Board Chairman Richard Stein did not have a chance to respond to calls made for comment prior to press time.

One of the group's attorneys, Stuart Lieberman, of Princeton's Lieberman & Blecher, said the warehouse "seems to be one of the most incompatible uses to propose for the largely rural and residential area."

The property has historically been undeveloped, with the exception of a one-month use for Christmas tree sales.

According to Lieberman, the lawsuit alleges that the public was not treated fairly when the applicant submitted a revised environmental impact study for the project the night the board voted in favor of the plan.

"The public had not been given an opportunity to review this report prior to the hearing," the complaint states, "and an objection regarding the late introduction of this new report was placed on the record."

The complaint notes that the original report "was facially deficient" and the township's Environmental Commission demanded the update.

Phil Sinicropi, of Meirs Road, had urged the Planning Board not to vote on the matter during the April 25 hearing so that the public could have a professional evaluate the revised environmental impact report.

"This is a question of fundamental due process," Lieberman said. "These materials should have been made available to the public at least 10 days before the first hearing, and that absolutely did not happen."

Sinicropi, a spokesperson for the group that filed suit, said, "In my opinion, the Planning Board acted on poor advice from its attorney and planner," Sinicropi said. "Their attorney told them to vote on it, yet the applicant submitted a major document that night and they did not have time to review it."

Sinicropi said he also doesn't think the project complies with some township ordinances. "It doesn't comply with the design standards [Township Planner Mark Remsa] implemented," Sinicropi said. "Specifically, for example, the sidewalks will be too close to the building, the facility is too big for the property, and there is no room for a public area."

Sinicropi, his wife, and their four children have lived in their home for about a year and a half. He said he knew the lot where the warehouse may go was zoned for highway development when he moved in."

"But we didn't think they would put a warehouse out here," he said.

"We filed the complaint because we really don't feel it's appropriate to put a warehouse on Meirs Road," Sinicropi continued. "It's a residential road surrounded by residential dwellings with the exception of a pizza place next door."

Lieberman said, "Meirs Road is a rural road with a nearby bridge, none of which is designed for this intensity."

Sinicropi said he would support commercial development that "complies with the law."

"I am not against a developer building as long as it is done in a respectful manner," Sinicropi said. "These guys are putting 10 pounds of crap in a 5-pound bag."

Sinicropi said he personally has a major issue with the likely stormwater runoff problem that would occur once the warehouse is built. Although the project contains storm drain inlets that run into a detention basin and would collect runoff, Sinicropi alleged that all of the newly created nonpervious surface would direct stormwater runoff into his own yard and his neighbor's backyard.

Sinicropi said the residents who filed the complaint feel that the move has put the township in an awkward position.