The Sparta Township Council on Feb. 23 passed an ordinance to promote and regulate rail-dependent parcels adjacent to the railroad.
The parcels are located in the Economic Development District and the PDRM-1 zones. Councilman Dan Chiariello voted against the ordinance.
The ordinance will allow office, research, and industrial uses in a campus-like setting that has good access to Route 15 and the railroad, with buffers between that area residential areas.
Uses would include scientific research and development, laboratories, office buildings, storage buildings, warehouses, and wholesale distribution centers, among other uses.
The township engineer, Stan Puszcz of CP Engineers, said the change is being made with businesses able to use the rail line. “We’re looking at the properties adjacent to the existing rail line,” he said.
The rail line enters the township near Limecrest Road before it heads across Route 15, turns southeast along Route 15, then turns northeast next to county Highway 517 and into Ogdensburg.
When asked asked about the scale of the ordinance and about traffic, specifically the number of trucks allowed in the area, Puszcz said that would depend on the operation. Land use ordinances do not regulate traffic, he said.
“This is only available to very limited properties immediately adjacent to the rail line that properties of a specific size can accommodate,” Puszcz said.
Permitted uses would require a minimum lot area of 80,000 square feet in both zones. The structures must also be within 500 feet of the rail line.
Councilman Dan Chiariello said he was concerned about increased congestion on Route 15, one of the main routes out of Sussex County, and what local commuters might have to contend with five or 10 years down the road.
He said he also was concerned that it further eroded the Highlands Planning Zone.
Councilman Josh Hertzberg said it’s frustrating that state officials don’t look at Sparta to see where the best places are to develop business before making decisions.
“That’s not what happens,” he said. “They look at a map. They slap it down and they call it a day. We’re left having to do the best we can with what we have left. That’s what we’re trying to do, to give some of the taxpayers some tax relief through these business developments.”
He said he was also concerned about what would happen to the township budget. He pointed to North Hills, which brought a significant increase to the ratable base, but increased township spending by $2.6 million.
Township manager William Close said even though spending increased, the township did not raise taxes.
“Sometimes by spending that money, you’re not going to leverage the taxpayers,” Hertzberg said. “Our state is in an awful financial position because all they do is borrow, borrow, borrow. We’re in a good financial position because we do things like this.”
A zoning map is available at spartanj.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/ZoningMap201610.pdf.
Uses would include scientific research and development, laboratories, office buildings, storage buildings, warehouses, and wholesale distribution centers.