PHILLIPSBURG, N.J. – By a 3-2 vote, Phillipsburg Town Council on Tuesday night passed a resolution approving a scaled-back industrial structure along Howard Street and directing the mayor to amend a 2013 riverfront redevelopment plan with Peron Development.
Before the vote, which moves the plan before the town's planning board, Rob DeBeer, Peron's director of development, described a plan for a 420,000-square-foot single-floor "spec" building, which means it would be built before tenants have been identified. The building would be built on land Peron owns between the Delaware River and Howard Street.
It would be smaller than the 510,000-square-foot industrial building first considered, DeBeer said, noting that it was too expensive to build and unpopular.
Council earlier this year amended the town's zoning to change District 5 of the redevelopment plan from residential to industrial as recommended by the land use board. Along Howard Street east of Union Square, District 5 currently allows mid- and low-rise residential units, retail establishments, cultural and educational sites and parks and recreation.
Under the redevelopment plan, Peron had tried for 15 years to develop the area with 450 residential units. However, those plans have been unsuccessful because of the site's relationship to the river and a neighboring gun range, DeBeer said.
Concerned about pollution and truck traffic, residents from both Easton and Phillipsburg attended Easton City Council's meeting last week to voice opposition to the proposed 510,000-square-foot structure riverfront warehouse project in Phillipsburg.
There had been other concerns raised by residents about a spoiled river view resulting from a large industrial building. DeBeer said the site does not have access to the Delaware and sits well above it.
Only Phillipsburg residents spoke to their council on Tuesday night, sharing their concerns about increased truck traffic and adding another industrial building when the town lacks a supermarket.
While Peron is planning for all scenarios, including a warehouse, DeBeer noted that a 420,000-square foot building is on the small side for a distribution center or warehouse. While he could not say with certainty, DeBeer said it's likely the site could attract manufacturing.
Councilmember Harry Wyant Jr. questioned whether manufacturing, which is declining nationally, would come to the site.
Councilmember Danielle DeGerolamo, who said she would prefer that the project be on North Main Street, asked DeBeer if the building would take another 15 years to construct. DeBeer assured it would not.
Both Wyant and DeGerolamo voted against the resolution. Wyant, concerned that the public hadn't seen the resolution, said it wasn’t prudent to move forward without an opportunity for residents to offer input.
DeGerolamo said council should have a role in the negotiations with the mayor, as it did when Peron first proposed apartments on Howard Street. Like Wyant, she said she would have preferred more time and information before voting on the resolution.
Council President Frank McVey, who supported the new plan with council Vice President Robert Fulper and councilmember Randy Piazza Jr., thanked DeBeer for his presentation of the revised plan.
"I like it," he said, adding that the presentation ended a "litany of lies" about what was planned for Howard Street.
McVey noted that the more than 400 parking spaces planned for the site would allow more people to come to do business in Phillipsburg, whether it's buying a lottery ticket or grabbing lunch.
"We cannot become what we want if we remain what we are," McVey said.
He said that council should assume the responsibility of solving the truck traffic issue in the neighborhoods around Howard Street. "That's on us," McVey said.
In other business, council unanimously passed the second and final reading of an ordinance that prohibits recreational marijuana.
The action was one option council had to address state legislation legalizing recreational marijuana, allowing time to establish zones where residents may ultimately be able to use marijuana.
If no action is taken by Aug. 21, any class of cannabis establishment or distributor will be permitted to operate in a municipality and will be considered a permitted use in certain zones.
Municipalities can opt out, meaning that all uses are prohibited, or they can opt in and establish certain zones for recreational use of cannabis. Town attorney Richard Wenner advised council to take the opt-out option, to allow time to consider the new law.
He once again noted that Apothecarium, a medical cannabis dispensary at 55 S. Main St., would not be affected by the opt-out action.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy in February signed bills legalizing recreational marijuana after voters approved it in the November 2020 election.