By ROBERT LINNEHAN
After a three-and-a-half hour meeting, the members of the Voorhees Township Planning Board told their planner to further change a master plan amendment that has been debated since the summer.
The master plan amendment includes various refinements for the major business zone on both sides of Route 73. However, if the amendment is passed by the Planning Board, then it will pave the way for the governing body to amend a zoning ordinance to allow for hotels to be constructed on both sides of Route 73.
The current Master Plan for Voorhees allows for the construction of hotels on both sides of the state highway, Planning Board Solicitor Stuart Platt said. However, in 2006 an ordinance was passed that disallowed the construction of hotels on the east side of Route 73.
If the Master Plan amendment is passed at the next Planning Board meeting — Wed. Oct. 27 at 7:30 p.m. — it will most likely pave the way for hotels to be allowed on both sides of Route 73.
The amendment was tabled until Oct. 27 to allow for several conditional uses for hotels to be written into the plan. Also, it would take out any mention of “motels” in the amendment, as many residents expressed concerns over the type of “transients” a motel would attract to Voorhees Township.
Included in the amendment would be several conditional uses for hotels. Hotels would have to be three or more stories high, could only be built on plots of land 10-acres or bigger, and have increased setbacks from residential properties.
Additionally, Planning Board Member Dr. Jay Sherbine said the hotels would only be permitted in the area north of the rural residential zone on the east side of Route 73, basically across the highway from the Virtua Hospital site.
That quadrant has two parcels of land that could contain a hotel, one being 11 acres and the other being 29 acres.
On the west side of the highway, Sherbine said hotels would be limited to the north of Dutchtown Road.
George Stevenson — a planner for Remington, Vernick, and Arango — was tasked by the planning board to change the amendment to strike motels from the document and to include the conditional uses.
Previously, residents of the Sturbridge Lakes development were concerned over hotels being “built in their back yard.” Sherbine said with these conditional uses the closest possible hotel that could be built on the east side of Route 73 would be more than half-a-mile away from the development.
Thomas Booth, vice president of the Sturbridge Lakes Association, thanked the members of the planning board for considering the concerns that several Sturbridge Lakes residents brought up in meetings past. In his perfect world, Booth said, there would be no hotels allowed on the east side of Route 73, but this was a good compromise.
“I’d be very appreciative if you could do this. It would protect our development if it includes a proper setback,” Booth said.
Crime and the fear that hotels and motels would bring an undesirable element into Voorhees were touched upon at the meeting and also at the previous meeting in the summer. Planning Board Member and Committee Member Mario DiNatale said he contacted the Voorhees chief of police and asked about the criminal element that a hotel would attract.
DiNatale reported that according to Chief Keith Hummel a hotel does not attract more crime or more police attention than other types of businesses.
Several members of the public supported the allowance of hotels on both sides of Route 73, citing the township’s difficulties with high taxes.
“The proposal seems to make sense to me,” said Milt Gottschalk, a longtime resident of the township. “Taxes are up and we need more ratables in the township. We need to balance the needs of the neighbors around this area with the needs of all the residents in Voorhees Township.”
While several residents questioned the need for more hotels in Voorhees, DiNatale stressed that it’s not the Planning Board’s responsibility to determine if something will be profitable or not. He reminded members of the public that it’s the Planning Board’s responsibility to determine if a plan is compatible with the location and with the township’s Master Plan.
A hotel was recently approved on the intersection of Dutchtown Road and Route 73.
The amendment will again be heard on Wednesday, Oct. 27 at 7:30 p.m. at the Voorhees municipal building.