PHILLIPSBURG, N.J. – Phillipsburg Town Council voted again Monday to allow an industrial use to the town's riverfront redevelopment plan, clearing the way for a 420,000-square-foot warehouse.
Peron Development plans to build the warehouse at 170 Howard St., off South Main Street. Residents and others have objected, citing concern about traffic, noise, fumes and diminished quality of life in Phillipsburg.
Two residents presented opposing sides of the issue.
"We need tax ratables. We need tax revenue. We need jobs," said former Mayor Philip Mugavero. He reflected on how the town suffered from the loss of industry. "This could be the start of how we come back. We need many more projects like this."
Mike King said Phillipsburg will lose more than it will gain.
"If we ruin the downtown with trucks, we will lose more jobs and more economic growth than will be brought in by a 420,000-square-foot warehouse," he said.
Others, residents and non-residents, also objected to clearing the way for Peron. The Monday schedule, with overlapping land board and council meetings, was also criticized.
Council Vice President Robert Fulper said later of some of the opposition: "They have an agenda. They aren't from here."
The vote on the second reading of the amendment to the town's riverfront plan was carried by a 3-2 vote. Fulper, Randy Piazza and Mark Lutz were in favor, with Danielle DeGerolamo and Harry Wyant opposed.
Before the vote, Wyant said "This would add more traffic than you can imagine."
Piazza said Phillipsburg should welcome investors and noted that the town has a 20% poverty rate and needs jobs, while DeGerolamo said there was a lack of communication during the process.
Lutz said there is other development near the river, and Fulper said Main Street already accommodates trucks for deliveries and garbage hauling.
Before town council met, there was a land use board meeting that overlapped with some of the council session. That board's mission was to determine whether the change to the riverfront development plan was consistent with Phillipsburg's master plan.
The meeting was moved up over a threat of litigation from Peron that board attorney Scott Wilhelm said was frivolous. He also said the town decided that the public interest was better served by holding the meeting than spending money on a lawsuit.
As residents and others raised issues during the land use board meeting about the proposal, including an alleged conflict of interest, Wilhelm reminded them several times that the land board's only mission Monday was to determine whether the amendment to the riverfront redevelopment plan was consistent with the town's master plan.
"You have a very limited role here," he told the land use board.
That role was to review the amendment and pass a recommendation to town council. The board made a favorable recommendation. Because the land use board meeting started at 6:30 p.m. and town council started at 7 p.m., that recommendation was passed to council during their meeting.
One item that was not resolved was Planner Angela Knowles' recommendation that Howard Street be extended to bypass downtown Phillipsburg and keep truck traffic out. Rob Colontrelle, owner of LMR Disposal, said that would infringe on his land and could wreck his business.
Fulper said during the council meeting that Phillipsburg would not use eminent domain — the forced sale of property — to extend the street if Colontrelle and Peron do not agree on a sale.