Phillipsburg warehouse proposal goes to trial and opposition efforts in Easton

Opponents of a concept plan for a warehouse near the Delaware River in Phillipsburg are taking the battle to court and across state lines to Easton.

A handful of residents filed a lawsuit against Phillipsburg City Council late last month in New Jersey Superior Court, following the council’s decision last spring to rezone part of the Riverfront redevelopment area of ​​the city. Another group of area residents, backed by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, then appeared before Easton City Council last Wednesday in an attempt to generate opposition to the project.

The zoning change approved by Phillipsburg Council from residential to industrial would reflect the concept plan reviewed in February by the Phillipsburg Land Use Board for a 510,000 square foot “industrial building” on the property between the river and Howard Street in town. .

The Land Use Planning Board’s review only confirmed that the rezoning and development concept proposed by landowner Peron Construction LLC “appears to be in line” with the City’s Master Plan and the 2013 Riverfront Redevelopment Plan. Prior to approving rezoning on May 4, council discussion on rezoning referred to the Peron project as a warehouse.

It could end up being offered for manufacturing or other industrial use instead of warehousing, Phillipsburg City Council Vice President Bobby Fulper told on Friday. A presentation by Peron is in preparation for board meeting Tuesday evening at the Phillipsburg Senior Center, 310 Firth St., he and board chairman Frank McVey said.

“When you read the lawsuit, it’s based on a concept,” Fulper said. “They filed a complaint based on an idea… it’s not the actual project.”

City attorney Rich Wenner declined to comment on the lawsuit on Friday, saying it had been sent to the Phillipsburg insurance company to determine what to do next.

Wenner confirmed that Peron’s appearance before council is in the works for Tuesday, explaining that the developer is the city’s designated redeveloper for his property at 170 Howard Street. Peron had tried for years to build approved townhouses for the vacant site, but as he seeks to pass plans to industry, he will need the city’s support before official plans can be submitted to council. use of land, he said.

“They’re the remover of the subject property and the approvals in place are for residential, and they’re looking to change the project and instead of doing residential, do something light-weight manufacturing,” Wenner said.

The lawsuit brought by city residents Brenda and Garis Kormandy, Janice Hosbach and David and Sandra Morrisette calls into question Peron’s concept of a “510,000+ Sq. Ft. Warehouse serviced by trucks” as “totally incompatible” with the city’s official description of being “on the Delaware River, in a beautiful setting of hills, woods and white water …”.

In addition to the 31.65 undeveloped acres owned by Peron, the concept plan called for the developer to acquire an adjacent municipal open plan property. The lawsuit describes the overall size of the project at 42.61 acres and also notes that diversion of the open space to other use requires the consent of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

“The construction of a 510,000 square foot warehouse with 382 parking spaces on the northeast side and approximately 109 trailer parking spaces,” the lawsuit said, runs counter to declared municipal plans to remove “the truck-dependent uses of areas without or limited access to the main road network ”and,“ in direct violation ”of the city’s development master plan”, violates DEP’s stormwater management rules and “will end any possibility to develop the Riverfront redevelopment area into the last remaining waterfront park and recreation area.

Besides inconsistencies with the master plan, the lawsuit alleges “due process violations”, claiming that the rezoning order was not available to the public until the final vote. He further alleges “the making of arbitrary and capricious laws” and raises questions of conflict of interest, claiming that “the plaintiffs are informed and believe” that at least one member of the city council was represented by the cabinet of attorneys Michael Perrucci, director of Peron Construction.

Peron confirmed plans for Tuesday’s presentation to the board, but declined to comment further ahead of the meeting.

Across the river in Easton, Perrucci’s Peron Development is building a $ 16 million 68-apartment project called The Seville at 56 N. Third St. The city closed on June 25 the sale of $ 3.5 million. dollars to Peron of 185 S. Third St. which the town bought for redevelopment, demolishing the Days Inn there. Peron offers a three-building development called The Confluence there that includes 240 apartments, 19,600 square feet of retail space, 12,400 square feet of entertainment, 8,800 square feet of residential amenities and 5,200 square feet of workshops. ‘artists, with over 200 ground-floor parking spaces for residents and visitors and a pedestrian walkway leading to the town’s parking garage next door.

Appearing to Easton City Council on Wednesday night, resident Susan Ravitz argued Easton has a responsibility to oppose woodlands across the river resulting in industrial development without ‘positive impact’ for the city. Phillipsburg resident Mike King has also spoken out against the project, as have Palmer Township resident Beverly Hernandez and Delaware Riverkeeper Network’s Fred Stine.

“What we are asking you to do is stand up for your residents,” Stine told city council, arguing that 1,000 feet across from town, what is now a forest will be cleared to be replaced by land. from 60 to 80 feet. – large “warehouse”.

Mayor Sal Panto Jr. has said he will not take a stand. He compared it to a proposed warehouse in Wilson Borough near Highway 22 at the 13th Street interchange and a truck stop next to the Interstate 78 interchange in Williams Township: “We have no position, ”Panto said, saying it was“ not my right to tell them what is good or bad ”for neighboring municipalities.

Fulper and McVey, of the Phillipsburg City Council, noted that the Peron property is not directly on the river, but rather is set back about 100 yards. As for Easton’s view, it is across from the city’s sewage treatment plant on Route 611, city councilors said.

Both Fulper and McVey said the project would not require the sale of the city’s Delaware River Park, and they noted that Peron’s property is adjacent to other industrial uses in the city.

“It’s apples for apples on Howard Street,” McVey said. “I understand lightweight manufacturing is an option. We’ll find out more on Tuesday, I guess.

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Kurt Bresswein can be reached at [email protected].

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Ethel Nester

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