Sunday, April 14, 2024

Proposed Warehouse Traffic Debated in Blairstown

Bernd Hefele, attorney for developer Tritop, answers questions from the Blairstown Land Use Board. Photo by Joe Phalon

Testimony over a 70,000-square-foot warehouse proposed in Blairstown continued before the Township Land Use Board this week as the developer’s representatives and local residents and officials debated the actual use of the building, planned for Route 94. 

The December 18 meeting was moved to the North Warren Regional High School auditorium in anticipation of a larger-than-usual crowd. 

Calling the intended-use issue “the elephant in the room,” attorney Richard Schneider, representing Frank Arena, who owns a farm directly adjacent to the site, asserted that the plans for the building could result in a wide array of uses not spelled out in the proposal. 

The single-structure building, according to the proposal, could be divided into as many as nine individual units, each with its own loading dock and office space. Schneider asserted that a traffic study submitted by the developer, Tritop Realty of Hackensack, did not differentiate between the potential traffic resulting in a single entity occupying the building and multiple entities occupying smaller units.

Schneider said that while the building has been viewed as a warehouse, there was nothing that prevented the structure and its units from being adapted to other uses, including assembly and even retail.

“What are we approving?” he asked rhetorically. 

Tritop attorney Bernd Hefele said he disagreed with Schneider’s characterization of the issue.

“There is no elephant whatsoever,” Hefele said. 

Hefele said that any business seeking to occupy the warehouse would need to go before the Land Use Board for site plan approval. In addition, Hefele said the township’s zoning officer would be empowered to enforce violations, and the police department would be able to deal with traffic violation related to the building. 

Several residents said they were not reassured by Hefele’s statement, pointing out the Blairstown police department operates on a part-time basis as does the zoning official. It was also pointed out that Knowlton Township, along whose border the warehouse would be located and would bear much of the traffic originating from the site, has no police department at all and is covered by the State Police.

Land Use Board attorney Roger Thomas clarified the issue of use saying that the application before the board involved a warehouse, not an assembly plant or distribution center. That did not, however, rule out other commercial uses for the building provided they complied with the zoning ordinances that applied to the property. 

Despite the application being reviewed as warehouse space, Schneider asked Triptop project planner John McDonough if the building could host a retail operation, using as an example a plumbing supplier that stored materials at the site being able to transition to selling to other contractors from the building.

McDonough said that in the developer’s opinion, an “outward sales component” would be permissible. 

“The applicant is not foreclosing the option for retail,” McDonough said. “Retail is permitted as a subset use.”

That brought Schneider’s questions back to traffic.

“Was there a traffic study about retail?” he asked. 

McDonough said the submitted traffic study applied to all potential variations of the building’s use. 

“So, you haven’t done a retail study?” Schneider again asked McDonough, who responded that they did not do a separate study because it was not necessary.

Frank Arena, whose 33-acre farm borders the entirety of one side of the Tritop property, but lies within adjacent Knowlton Township, answering questions directed by Schneider, his attorney, said that he had concerns about the deterioration of quality of life on his property. He pointed to an access driveway to the rear of the building that would be on his side. 

“You’d have trucks 50 feet away from you,” Arena said. 

Responding for Tritop, Hefele said to Arena, “It’s not like we don’t care about your concerns.”

Hefele said Triptop, reacting to concerns from the town and the property’s neighbors, had scaled down the proposal, including moving the driveway further from his property. 

The redrawn plans submitted in September, would reduce the 10-unit building to nine, eliminate second floor office space and reduce parking spaces from 94 to 84, according to Tritop architect Jorge Fernandez. 

With the reduction of units from 10 to nine, one loading dock would also be eliminated. The original plans called for a waiver for the driveway to the back of the warehouse, where the loading docks would be located, to encroach less than 50 feet from adjacent property.

With those changes, Hefele said, the application is now in full compliance with Blairstown’s zoning ordinances for the site, which permit Tritop’s intended use and were in place before Arena purchased the farm in 1997. 

The Land Use Board’s review of the proposal is expected to resume in January pending adoption of the board’s 2024 meeting schedule. That meeting is also planned to be moved to the high school auditorium. 

Joe Phalon
Joe Phalon, Contributing Writer
Contributing Writer

Joe was lured out of retirement by the opportunity to be a part of the Ridge View Echo. During a decades-long career in publishing and journalism, he has covered government on many levels from local school boards to the United States Supreme Court.

Along the way, Joe has worked at American Lawyer Magazine, The National Law Journal and The Record among other publications, and as the Press Officer of Columbia Law School. His work has been recognized with several first place awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the New Jersey Press Association.

Being part of the Ridge View Echo brings Joe back to his roots and the kind of news coverage he loves: Telling the stories of people and local communities as well as keeping an eye on how their money is spent by their government officials.

Joe lives in Blairstown with his wife Rose, the founder of Quilting for a Cause, and their two wiener dogs. He is an artist in his spare time.