Last updated on July 19, 2021
COOLBAUGH – Developers are hoping the third time will be the charm in Coolbaugh Township. But supervisors are not so sanguine.
On July 20, the Coolbaugh supervisors work session will include the third informal presentation from the team looking to put a warehouse, hotel, truck stop, and senior housing building on parcels of land in the area of the intersection of routes 611 and 423 in the township.
AAD Commercial Development first met with the supervisors at the May 4 work session. Elliot Ogulnick, a representative of the developer, told the board in May that the group wanted to put a hotel, truck stop, and distribution center on property in the township owned by Lynch Corp. Ogulnick said they were looking to gauge the supervisors’ willingness to consider relief from some zoning issues in order to allow the project to go forward.
The property is currently zoned as a C-3 “commercial village” district. The hotel is a permitted use in that district, as is a warehouse. But neither a distribution center nor a truck stop is currently allowed. Initially, the group asked if the supervisors would consider revising the C-3 district to permit truck stops and distribution centers as a “special exception” or “conditional use”. At that meeting, supervisors raised a number of environmental, practical, and legal concerns. The developers were asked to consider those questions and return at a June work session to respond. They were also told that the supervisors would not likely be willing to consider changing the C-3 zoning designation as that could be considered as improper “spot zoning”.
When they returned in June, the request to amend the uses permitted was replaced with a proposal changing the C-3 zoning designation. In the May meeting, supervisor Alma Ruiz-Smith suggested that they consider changing the distribution center to a senior housing project. Their June plans added a senior housing project, but made it in addition to the distribution center/warehouse. (It is unclear, as the supervisors discussed, what the difference is between a distribution center and a warehouse. Weimer reported that the township engineer told him that part of the definition of “distribution center” was “see ‘warehouse’.”)
The June meeting brought out about two dozen residents and concerned citizens, mostly all opposed to the entire project. In addition to the new senior housing and the new request for a change in zoning classification, they also asked for a height waiver to put four floors on the hotel and senior complex. By being able to build up, instead of out, they said they could give more of a buffer with game lands, streams, and other properties. The original height limitations were apparently adopted with the then-limited reach of the fire company ladder trucks in mind. The fire company now has the capacity to fight fires at the height proposed by the developers. They also asked for a waiver of the limitations of the “impervious” coverage limit of 42%, so they could cover more of the ground with parking areas or buildings.
At their meeting on July 6, supervisors seemed a little exasperated with the shifting approach by the developers and their apparent failure to take heed of the statements and requests by the supervisors. Weimer said, based on a brief preview of the July 20 presentation, “they’re not listening. So they’re going to give another presentation of the same stuff.”
He also said that the only proposal “totally out of whack (with current zoning) is the truck stop – that’s the only one that doesn’t fit. Everything else fits.” He noted, though, that although the proposed uses appeared to “fit”, their plans called for configurations and specifications which did not entirely comply with the size, set back, and coverage limitations.
The current design calls for a truck entrance to the truck stop on route 423 – right across from the route 380 exit. Automobiles would enter off of route 611. They are planning 65 truck parking spaces, 54 automobile spots, and a 4,000 square foot restaurant. The hotel would be placed on the same side of 611, north of the travel plaza. They want a 500,000 square-foot distribution center/warehouse in the area south of route 423, between 380 and a group of homes on 611 and 423. The senior complex, which would include retail shops catering to the needs of the residents, is proposed on the east side of route 611, north of the intersection of 611 and 423.
The July 20 meeting is expected to bring a larger crowd, as organizers against the project have been promoting opposition on social media and encouraging opponents to attend. Not all of the information they are using to attract attention appears to be accurate. Contrary to their claims on social media, the current zoning of the area is commercial, not residential, although residential housing is an allowed use. Other possible uses in the district currently include railroad terminals, resorts, warehouses, restaurants, junkyards, hotels, amusement parks, lumberyards, and bus shelters.
Opponents have also circulated a petition which incorrectly labels the proposed development as “industrial”. None of the proposed uses would fit under the township’s definition of “industrial” use, which essentially refers to manufacturing and factories. Rather, the proposed project is “commercial” as that term is defined under the ordinances. Commercial uses are the bulk of the permitted uses in the C-3 district, and some form of commercial activity is permitted in nearly every zoning district in the township.
As always, the July 20 Board of Supervisors work session begins at 6 pm, with a regular meeting to follow. The Boro & Towne News is planning to livestream this meeting on our sponsored Coolbaugh Township Facebook Page. Opponents to the measure have secured time at the August 3 work session to present their points of view. Currently, all of the presentations are informal and no decisions will be made at either of those sessions nor any time in the near future, according to Weimer, as no formal requests or applications have been filed. The supervisors have solicited input from the township planning commission, which meets Monday, July 12.
The Boro & Towne News is committed to journalistic ethics and transparency. This requires us to disclose that our editor, Tom Ford, during his legal career, represented numerous developers and provided advice and counsel to the developers of this project beginning two years ago and ending long before it ultimately was presented to the township.