Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Blairstown Warehouse Gets Conditional Approval – Appeals Planned

The Blairstown land use board gave conditional approval to a warehouse on Route 94. Photo by Joe Phalon.

Faced with a reality check, the Blairstown land use board gave conditional approval to an over 70,000 square foot warehouse project on Route 94 at the Blairstown-Knowlton border.

The 8.9-acre wedge of property has long been zoned for commercial, and land use board attorney Roger Thomas cautioned the board that rejecting the application would likely result in costly litigation with slim chances of winning as the application conformed to existing zoning rules. 

Conditions imposed on the developer, Hackensack-based Tritop Realty, include stipulation that the application applies only to warehouse use, and does not include manufacturing and distribution centers. Any use proposed outside that definition would require the applicant to go before the land use board for approval, Thomas said. 

During a December meeting, Tritop project planner John McDonough had said in the opinion of the developer, an “outward sales component” would be permissible under the current zoning, which stoked additional concerns by opponents of the project. 

The structure could accommodate up to nine separate units, each with an office and a loading dock, reduced from 10 in the original application. Other modifications in application revisions from September included the relocation of a driveway, which would eliminate the need for a waiver from the board, and the establishment of a 50-foot buffer between the building and the south property line, which abuts a Knowlton farm owned by Frank Arena. 

Arena has asked the board for a 100-foot buffer, which his attorney, Richard Schneider, argued was required under the Blairstown ordinance. He said that the ordinance requires a setback of 100 feet between the commercial structures and the property line when the adjoining property is zoned for residential. 

Tritop attorney Bernd Hefele disputed that interpretation, pointing out that the zoning had been changed for that particular lot by the Knowlton township committee after the proposal was submitted, so the previous farmland zoning should be applied in this case. 

The land use board left the 50-foot buffer intact. 

Afterward, Arena expressed frustration with the decision. 

“I was disappointed in the board’s decision,” Arena said. “They completely avoided the discussion dealing with the 100-foot setback from my property line, which was our entire case and which my attorney laid out clearly and indisputably.”

Arena said he felt the board had already made up its mind before the meeting and said he intends to appeal the approval. 

“It appeared that the board had earlier conversations about that issue and had a predetermined opinion,” Arena said. “In any case, we plan to appeal this very unfair decision.”

Adding to the border skirmish during the public hearing portion, Knowlton Mayor Debra Shipps also called for a 100-foot buffer, adding that her municipality would bear a disproportionate burden of traffic from the proposal.

“The majority of the traffic generated by the development will travel through Knowlton Township for approximately 3.5 miles along Route 94 and only for about 250 feet through Blairstown,” Shipps said. 

She called on the land use board to include the 100-foot buffer to protect the Arena farm and also called for an independent traffic study of the impact on Route 94, particularly its effect on the Hainesburg section of Knowlton and a tunnel under a railroad right of way that she described as “not suitable for truck traffic.”

Thomas, the land use board attorney, advised the board that because Route 94 is a state highway, the board has no jurisdiction over the roadway and that any changes, adjustments or alterations to the highway must go through the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT). 

Approval from the NJDOT, however, is another condition for the application’s approval, which requires Tritop to comply with all studies and requirements from state and federal agencies that have jurisdiction over the property, such as the Department of Environmental Protection as well as the Transportation Department. 

The frontage of the 8.9-acre lot proposed for a warehouse. A barn from the Arena Farm is in the background. Photo by Joe Phalon.
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.