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BY JANE MEGGITT
Board considers Meirs Road residents' objections to warehouse project
UPPER FREEHOLD - Even after nearly three hours of testimony, a final decision on a Route 537 warehouse proposal will have to wait until the Planning Board's Aug. 28 meeting.
Freehold's JAC RAW LAND Co. submitted an application last year to build an 18,098-square-foot building at the intersection of Meirs Road and Route 537. The board approved the project in April 2006. However, local residents fought the approval on environmental grounds.
On Jan. 12, state Superior Court Judge Alexander D. Lehrer remanded the warehouse application back before the board so the applicant could address how the project would affect stormwater runoff, water quality, and threatened and endangered species in the area. The additional hearing took place at the board's June 26 meeting.
The applicant proposes to use the almost 2.5-acre tract for 13,500 square feet of warehouse space, 5,200 square feet of office space, 40 parking spaces and a loading dock. The applicant's attorney, Michelle Tullio, said the warehouse is a permitted use in the township's highway development zone.
Tullio told the board that Lehrer allowed the plaintiffs to submit a report in response to the Environmental Impact Statement for the project that her client submitted to the Planning Board last year. After the plaintiffs submitted their report, Tullio said her client had the opportunity to reply.
Although the board had her client's reply in front of it, Tullio said that the plaintiffs' engineers, Ringoes-based Princeton Hydro, did not have an opportunity to review it.
Tullio told the board that her client has agreed to comply with new stormwater regulations that the township has not even adopted yet.
The applicant's engineer, Michael Geller, told the board that his client has also decided to use a different kind of detention basin at the site. The applicant will construct a combined infiltration/
detention basin rather than the previously proposed detention basin, he said.
The combined basin has enough storage for a two-year storm, Geller said. Runoff from a larger storm could meter out and discharge in the natural direction of runoff flow, he said.
Geller told the board that runoff would flow in sheets from certain edges of the site. He called this an existing condition. He added that the basin would reduce the current flow.
Geller said the applicant has also decided to modify a driveway from the site to Meirs Road. The driveway will now align with a driveway across the street, he said.
Township Engineer Glenn Gerken said that the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)'s major criteria for such developments are establishing a rate of runoff, establishing a recharge area, and reducing the number of total suspended solids at the site.
Gerken said that the applicant has submitted a full maintenance plan for the detention basin, which will remain the company's and not the township's responsibility.
Stuart Lieberman, the plaintiffs' attorney, said that the new basin does not satisfy the DEP's 2-foot-high groundwater elevation requirement, since the basin is only a little over 1.5 feet high.
Geller said the applicant has requested a waiver from having to meet that requirement. He said satisfying the requirement would result in having to raise the site, and alleged that would exacerbate the conditions that the plaintiffs have complained about. He said that the DEP does not have jurisdiction over the basin and that it falls subject to the township's best management practices.
Kyle Weise, of Trident Environmental Consultants in Toms River, also appeared before the board on behalf of the applicant. He said he walked the site to be developed twice and observed the soils, vegetation, and potential habitat for threatened and endangered species there.
Based on his observations, Weise concluded the proposed development would not have an adverse effect on wildlife in the area. He also said that the property
does not have habitat for species considered threatened or endangered.
Weise also said that he did not think that the proposed development would affect the neighbor's well. Phil Sinicropi, who lives next to the site, is one of the plaintiffs.
Geller told the board that groundwater in the area is drawn from the Vincentown Formation.
Lieberman brought up the federal Wellhead Protection Act (WPA), but Geller said that the act usually applies to public community wells.
Keithe Merl, of Princeton Hydro, showed the board a map of what he said are nearby wells that fall subject to the WPA. He said septic systems are a major source of well pollution and that nitrates are one of the most common pollutants in wells.
Board Attorney Frank Armenante asked what criteria determines if a well is a public well. Merl said establishments with public access, such as the pizzeria next to the site, are considered to have public wells.
Gerken noted that almost all of Upper Freehold's development relies on the use of wells and septics, since there are few public water/sewer systems in town. Gerken asked Merl if he was saying that no new commercial septics could be installed on the property due to the discharge they would create.
Merl said that the township's ordinances require such an analysis to be done but he had not done such an analysis. He also said that the township's Board of Health has already approved the use of a septic system on the site.
Merl said he would recommend moving the septic system and the stormwater basin out of the area affected by the WPA.
After Township Planner Mark Remsa asked Merl several more questions about the WPA, Lieberman objected on the grounds that Remsa was trying to confuse the witness.
Board member J. David Holmes asked if any of the wells on the map Merl provided are sealed. Merl said he did not know if all of the wells on the map are sealed.
Sinicropi said wells are a quality-of-life issue in the town.
He also alleged that township professionals badgered the objectors' witnesses.
"I'm taken aback that our [township] professionals don't know state laws," he said.
Tullio later said that Lehrer sent the application back before the board because of a procedural defect. She said that the applicant had failed to submit the Environmental Impact Statement to the board within 10 days of the initial hearing date.
"We have a piece of property developing as a permitted use in the zone," she said. "There is no testimony that there are endangered species."
Lieberman later said that the basin does not meet best management practices, and said his clients are concerned with flooding as well as degradation.
Gerken informed the board that he only sees that one boring on the site would need a waiver, and that the Planning Board could make that a conditional waiver.
He said the applicant should redesign the basin to address the groundwater issue.
Armenante said the applicant should make the basin modifications and then return before the board in August so it could render a final decision on the project.