LOPATCONG TWP., N.J. – Lopatcong Township will review a plan to open up about 150 acres for redevelopment, including a tract that includes part of the Phillipsburg Mall.
Planner George Ritter went over the proposal with the township planning board Monday night. Any changes to how land can be used in the four parcels on both sides of Route 22 between Route 57 and the borders of Greenwich and Pohatcong townships will be up to town council. Ritter emphasized that the proposal is for potential redevelopment, not condemnation of land.
"This is not something where they're going to use eminent domain or anything like that," Ritter said, referring to government taking of private property for public use. Development decisions made after the review is over would be made by landowners, who would also have the option not to do anything.
"This process is only the beginning," Ritter told the planning board before it approved his report. Any final decisions on redevelopment zoning will be up to town council, and the review will take months.
Most of the land in the four tracts is fully or partly developed, Ritter said. In some cases, buildings are vacant or dilapidated, or the site layout is inefficient, with lots of empty space and land paved over.
One exception is a 50-acre farm field behind the Phillipsburg Mall that Ritter said has limited access to Route 22. The mall itself is split between Lopatcong and Pohatcong, with the western edge in a potential redevelopment parcel.
A redevelopment plan could allow new uses for land and change design standards for the area, Ritter said. He added that the township is not aware of any solid plans for land along the highway, despite rumors of development.
Board member Joseph Pryor said the decline of the mall, "a gateway to town," prompted the study of new uses for land.
John and Cynthia Curtis of the Perfect Christmas Tree Farm said they are concerned that the redevelopment review might make a sale difficult.
"We're trying to sell it so we can retire," John Curtis, 81, told the crowd. "Don't muck it up so we can't sell it."
After the meeting, Cynthia Curtis said she would like to see the farm preserved and not become a warehouse.
The meeting finished with a long discussion of warehouses, including the 877,000-square-foot Bridge Industrial building proposed for 80 Strykers Road. The board voted Monday for preliminary site plan approval for that site, confirming a decision it made earlier.
Residents of the Overlook at Lopatcong, near the Bridge Industrial project, were among those objecting to more warehouses. Township ordinances that would limit warehouse development are being challenged in court.
"I buy everything from Amazon," said Jim Belske. "I get it," he said of the need for warehouses to supply e-commerce customers, but he questioned how a cluster of warehouses could cover land in Lopatcong.
When Belske and others asked if the township is fighting for the residents, Pryor, a former council member, said Lopatcong passed ordinances to do that and they are now being challenged in court.
James Bryce, attorney for the planning board, said warehouse development "is a function of the road network and available space." He and Pryor said questions could be taken to town council at its meeting Wednesday, but that comment on items under litigation should not be expected and there is no way for anybody to provide specific answers on what will happen in court.
Board Chairman Gary Van Vliet wound the meeting down after about two hours.