BERNARDS TOWNSHIP BOARD OF ADJUSTMENT
Manufacturing proposal draws another crowd in BernardsTownship
Attorney: No warehouse planned
By W. JACOB PERRY Staff Writer
May 7, 2023
This large office building at 150 Allen Road would be razed and replaced with two buildings for manufacturing under a proposal currently before the Bernards Township Board of Adjustment. The plan is facing considerable opposition from area residents.
Photo by Charlie Zavalick
– Potential truck traffic remained an issue as a proposal to redevelop an Allen Road office complex with two buildings for light manufacturing was back before the Board of Adjustment and a large crowd on Wednesday, May 3.
An audience of about 130 people filled nearly every seat at town hall for the re-start of expert testimony, which initially began on Jan. 4, but was nullified after objectors challenged the applicant’s original public legal notice.
The applicant, Signature Acquisitions, LLC, of Cranford, is seeking site plan approval and variances to remove a three-story, 174,546-square-foot office building at 150 Allen Road and construct new two buildings of 127,977 and 130,551 square feet, for a total of 258,528 square feet.
More than three-quarters of each building would be for “light manufacturing,” which is a permitted use in the site’s E-2 employment zone.
But residents in surrounding communities have mobilized in opposition to the proposal.
A key issue is whether trucks from the site would be more likely to take a route using the east end of Allen Road, Martinsville Road and Interstate Route 78 or – as some residents fear – the west end of Allen Road through The Hills housing development, Schley Mountain Road and I-287.
The applicant asserted in January that trucks exiting the site would be prohibited from turning left onto Allen Road toward The Hills, but the issue hasn’t gone away.
As the May 3 hearing began, Jeffrey Lehrer, an attorney for the applicant, sought to address “misconceptions” that objectors cited in fliers.
He said that while fliers asserted that the applicant was seeking a warehouse use, that was not so. He said there would be shipping and receiving components but the plan to provide 24loading spaces would be “woefully insufficient” for a warehouse.
Signature has received interest from prospective tenants including a paper- and plastic-stamping company and a printing company, Lehrer said.
He stressed that his client was not speaking to companies like Amazon or Target.
Lehrer said he would present testimony from five expert witnesses – the project engineer, the project architect, a Signature representative who would discuss logistics and the supply chain, a traffic consultant and a professional planner.
Each witness will be subject to cross-examination from the public or their legal representatives. Once all the witnesses have testified, the public will have an opportunity to voice opinions on the proposal.
Board Attorney Steven K. Warner noted that three attorneys were representing various objectors.
They include: Robert F. Simon, initially on behalf of Jeffrey McBride of Alder Lane and William T. Knox IV of Mountain Road; Jennifer Phillips Smith, on behalf of Fellowship Village, Inc., which runs a 257-unit continuing care retirement community on Allen Road; and Donald Berlin of Fellowship Village, on behalf of residents at the complex.
Warner said Simon was now representing three additional clients – Couch Braunsdorf Insurance Group at the corner of Martinsville and Allen roads; Sky Farm, Inc., of Allen Road; and Ellen Pinson of Allen Road.
Lehrer said another entity organized by objectors, Protect Somerset Hills, has a website that repeatedly refers to Simon as its attorney. He asked who is in the group and if Simon represents them because legally, an individual represented by legal counsel cannot cross-examine a witness.
Attorney John Kaplan, who was filling in for Simon, said his firm has retained five clients, and Protect Somerset Hills was not among them.
Signature’s first witness, project engineer Robert Moschello, then testified for more than two hours on assorted site plan issues, essentially repeating testimony he gave back on Jan. 4.
The testimony drew questions from eight residents. Most of the residents asked traffic-related questions and were told they would need to wait for testimony from the applicant’s traffic consultant.
Warner then asked the three opposition attorneys how long they expected to cross-examine Moschello. Berlin said more than 45 minutes; Smith said at least an hour; and Kaplan said up to an hour.
The hearing was then adjourned and carried to the board’s next meeting, scheduled for 7:30p.m. Thursday, May 11, at town hall on Collyer Lane. Another hearing will follow on Wednesday, June 7.
Two of the board’s seven regular members have recused themselves from the review – Beth Pochtar who has a professional affiliation with a neighboring property; and Lisamarie Baumann, whose husband, Gary Baumann, is a Republican candidate for Township Committee
whose campaign opposes the proposal.
Their places have been taken by the board’s two alternates.
The site, located on the south side of Allen Road, consists of 28.25 acres, of which 17 acres is dedicated open space.
The existing building would be replaced by two buildings that would be in close proximity to each other. Building “A” would be 220 feet wide and 580 feet long; and Building “B” would be 210 feet wide and 620 feet long.
The number of parking spaces would be reduced from 855 now to 328. The reduced total would include 24 trailer loading spaces, or 12 for each building.
Moschello said the proposed 24 spaces are designed to accommodate WB-67 wheelbase trucks, which are the largest type of tractor trailer, although the spaces could also accommodate smaller trucks.
The 1980s-era stormwater management system would be largely replaced to include five bio-retention basins.
The existing light fixtures, most of which are 25 feet high, would be replaced with a total of 4516-foot-high fixtures. There would also be nine lights on the buildings.
Variances are sought for a floor area ratio (FAR) of 21 percent versus the E-2 limit of 15 percent; building heights of 52.5 feet and 50.6 feet versus the 48-foot limit; providing 328 parking spaces as opposed to a minimum requirement for 639; excessive retaining wall heights; and disturbance of steep slopes. Several waivers are sought, including one for tree replacement.
With 417 trees to be removed, 176 would be replaced versus a requirement for 649.