Tensions ‘ware’ thin at planning board meeting

The proposed DCT warehouse did not receive preliminary approval at Wednesday’s planning board meeting as the township defers for a month to do more of their own independent studies.

Burlington Township residents and planning board members alike expressed their frustration at the Thursday, June 8 planning board meeting where residents questioned how their town could allow a warehouse to be built in their backyards. Residents of the Steeplechase development made their appeals that the board find a way to stop the redevelopment of McCollister’s Transportation Group property, with the board ultimately stopping the meeting at 1 a.m., deciding that rather than granting preliminary approval of DCT Industrial Operating’s site plan, it would allow both DCT and residents an additional opportunity to speak at the next planning board meeting on July 13.

DCT appeared before the board Wednesday night seeking preliminary approval of its major site plan application to construct two warehouses totalling around 1 million square feet and a minor subdivision application. The property is located on Route 130 and Neck Road, and the residents whose homes border the property passionately questioned how a warehouse in close proximity will affect their quality of life.

Prior to DCT’s presentation, Denis C. Germano, board solicitor, said any decision the board makes has to be based on two of Burlington Township’s ordinances: the zoning ordinance and the site plan ordinance.

“We are in a position here tonight where an applicant wants to build a warehouse,” Germano said. “We cannot say no, provided it complies with ordinances.”

Germano said there is a common misconception planning boards can grant or deny approvals as they please. He said the reality is a planning board’s only authority is limited to examining a site plan and determine if it meets all of the township’s design standards. He said when a board determines a site plan meets all of the requirements of the site plan ordinance, a board has to approve.

“That I expect to be disappointing to some,” Germano said.

Under the law, the zoning in effect on the date an application is filed is the zoning that must stay in place. For that reason, DCT has the right to build an industrial facility according to the location’s industrial zoning.

Representatives from DCT and its design team at Maser Consulting P.A. presented testimonials outlining how the design complies with local ordinances.

As of yet, DCT does not have an occupant for the warehouse in mind, but if the approval process progresses as planned, it is looking to start construction on the site in the fall. The redevelopment process would take approximately 12 to 18 months, with around 180 trucks entering and exiting the facility on any given day, said Fred Ferraro, vice president of development and construction at DCT.

Residents expressed their concerns about diesel fuel emissions.

Connie Keen, a nurse at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, was emotional as she talked about the potential health hazards of her son breathing in diesel fumes from trucks passing through the site. She said she took it upon herself to speak with the EPA about diesel emissions, and the information it gave her was alarming.

“God forbid you have to have your kids living next to that,” Keen said to both the representatives from DCT and the board.

Keen asked the representatives from DCT if they have any other warehouse locations surrounded by residential neighborhoods.

“We do not have other properties this close to houses,” Ferraro said.

Resident Lester Grovatt made his impassioned plea before the board for someone at the township to admit they dropped the ball by not taking a second look at the zoning of the property after residential houses were built in the surrounding area.

“As a councilman, yes, we probably dropped the ball,” said Michael Cantwell, the board’s council representative.

Mayor Brian Carlin admitted similar culpability. He said the township should have done a review of the master plan as outlined in Chapter 330 of the Burlington Township Ordinance. Throughout the night, Carlin expressed his sympathies with the residents, even extending the planning board’s meeting late into the night so every resident who wanted to speak had an opportunity to do so.

Carlin said he was equally as frustrated as the residents are by the situation they find themselves in, but under the law, DCT has the right to build.

“The fact of the matter is that we have an ordinance, and we probably should have looked at it in the last review of our master plan,” Carlin said. “We’re stuck in a situation where they can build.”

Germano said the board had the option of granting preliminary approval, but DCT was not bound to final approval yet. He recommended the board grant them preliminary approval, as he said the plan is compliant with everything on the township’s books. He said the situation “is not going to get better, and it’s not going to change.”

Following public comments, Carlin said he understood there’s little the board can do to deny DCT’s preliminary approval, but there were enough concerns about sound, fencing and other impacts on the residents to look at their application globally and say there’s not enough there for final approval.

Israel Rivera, the planning board’s school board representative, echoed Carlin’s sentiments, saying in all the years he has sat on the planning board, he’s never denied an application but he would not be voting “yes” to DCT’s preliminary approval, to which those in attendance erupted in cheers.

Ultimately, the board voted for a continuance to allow time for the township’s independent researchers to do studies on sound levels as well as some of the residents’ other concerns.

The next planning board meeting will take place on July 13.