Resident William Enright told the Sparta Township Council on March 8 that a petition objecting to a massive new warehouse complex already had about 1,800 signatures
Residents attended the council meeting that night to continue to voice their concerns about Diamond Chip Realty’s application before the township planning board. It would put two warehouses with 191 truck docks and totaling more than 800,000 square feet on Demarest road. The facility is intended for the storage of food and beverages, paper and packaging, and possibly electronics as well.
Residents also complained that they didn’t get a chance to speak at the planning board’s first public hearing on the warehouse project, held March 2 on Zoom. But the public doesn’t get an opportunity to ask questions until all the testimony is complete. The planning board expects to hear testimony on April 6 from traffic engineer Adam Gibson and environmental consultant Mike Green.
The planning board heard testimony from two witnesses, Diamond Chip’s civil engineer, Tony Digan; architect, Richard Saunderson; and representative, James Ford.
Testimony from Digan and Saunderson, completed on March 2, included questions from the planning board and cross-examination by two attorneys, Larry Cohen and Anand Dash. Ford gave only testimony. Only a few minutes remained for questions.
“There’s a lot of information we have to get to,” Councilwoman Christine Quinn said. “I understand this is emotional, as well. I hear people saying, ‘We’re afraid the decision is already made.’ I understand because it’s fear-based. No decisions have been made.”
‘I want the applicant to go away’
If the board gets through the two witnesses, the public will have a chance to ask questions. Or the hearing could continue into the May meeting.
“I don’t want to question the applicant,” township resident Kathy Davis said. “I want the applicant to go away.”
Several members of the public, including attorney Anand Dash, who represented himself at the planning board meeting as an attorney and a Sparta resident, questioned passing an ordinance that allowed the warehouse application to go forward in early 2021, during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ordinance 21-01 passed 4-1, with Councilman Dan Chiariello voting against it. It changed the township’s land code to add the definition of “rail dependent uses and structures,” defined as “any uses or structures that are adjacent to and use the railroad and are adjacent to the railroad or rail siding.”
The ordinance allows for transshipment facilities for the transfer of goods between rail and trucks, as well as storage buildings, warehouses, and wholesale distribution centers. Dash continued to assert the proposed warehouse is a “trucking terminal” and would not be compliant with the ordinance.
Township engineer Stanley Puszcz of CP Engineers said even if the council were to change the ordinance now, he believed Diamond Chip would be able to submit its application under the current ordinance.
Diamond Chip is currently seeking preliminary site plan approval. It would still have to return for final approval. And then, after all was built, would have to return for further approval once a tenant was in place. Ford said at the hearing no tenant is in place.
Residents outside of Sparta, especially in Lafayette and Andover, have said they will be just as affected by the warehouse project and urged Sparta officials to consider them as well.
“There’s a lot of information we have to get to. I understand this is emotional, as well. I hear people saying, ‘We’re afraid the decision is already made.’ I understand because it’s fear-based. No decisions have been made.” Councilwoman Christine Quinn