The state’s superior court has reversed the Harrison Township Joint Land Use Board’s rejection of Russo Development’s four-building warehousing project.
The project’s plan is for a series of warehouses on Route 322, along Mullica Hill’s border with Woolwich Township. The board voted unanimously to reject the idea after hundreds of residents voiced their concerns about its potential impacts, including pollution, negative effects on wildlife and excess traffic.
The court did not agree with the board’s rejection.
“The court finds the defendant’s (the board) denial of plaintiff’s (Russo Development) site plan application was arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable, and, accordingly, it is hereby reversed,” the court said.
As a result,the warehouse project is on again, though there is not yet a timetable on when it can begin. But residents aren’t backing down: They took to Facebook to again voice their conceerns.
“Of course, they lost,” Mullica Hill resident Michael Koestler said of the board on Facebook. “The planning board was tasked with defending a decision they did not want to make. The real power lies with township committee. They can repeal the enabling ordinance as a change in policy.”
Mayor Louis Manzo raised the issue at the Aug. 21 Harrison committee meeting in response to residents’ questions about the township’s plans going forward.
“The judge, in a very detailed decision, basically did what’s called a reversal,” the mayor explained. “He overturned the denial of the joint land-use board of that project, and actually reversed the decision. So as we speak, that project is approved by the court.
“As far as an appeal by the joint land-use board, that’s a question for the … board,” Manzo added. “It’s not our purview. They’re a separate door from us. That’s a question for them and their solicitor.”
A decision on when work will start on the warehouse project will ultimately be up to the developer, not the township committee or the joint land-use board. Residents have had no contact with New Jersey-based Russo Development since the board’s initial rejection.
“From the time a developer leaves the joint land-use board with an approval, they’ve always had what are called outside agency approvals that have to occur after our approval,” Manzo noted. “Which takes months and sometimes a year or sometime longer, depending on the agency.”
The next land-use board meeting is scheduled for Thursday Sept. 7, at 7 p.m. in the municipal building. The next township committee meeting is on Tuesday, Sept 5, also in the municipal building at 7 p.m.