CRANBURY – The township’s warehouse district is an attractive spot for distributors given its proximity to key transportation networks, but some residents are pushing back against potential future development.
Residents from Cranbury and Monroe have been lobbying local lawmakers to block approval of two fulfillment centers that would total almost 330,000 square feet on vacant land in Cranbury east of Route 130 between Hightstown-Cranbury Station Road and Halsey Reed Road, which has residential homes in both towns.
“When they wrote the master plan, the concept of a warehouse was different then than it is now. Back then it was a facility that stored product from one retailer for an extended period of time,” said Nick Morolda, who lives on the Monroe portion of Halsey Reed Road. “But now with online shopping the definition of a warehouse has changed. And what they are doing now are fulfillment centers. This results in a lot more trailer traffic. Additional fulfillment centers will be built to accommodate additional online orders. And additional fulfillment centers will be difficult on the community.”
After already voicing their concerns at a Cranbury Township Committee meeting in August, the unnamed coalition is taking its message to public meetings in Monroe and Cranbury, elected leaders and started a petition on change.org.
“Responsible land use must include consideration of the impact of development,” according to the petition. “We are losing the balance of commercial, open space, wildlife habits, residential, farmland and historic places in both Cranbury and Monroe Townships.”
Since its start on Aug. 31, the online petition has received more than 400 signatures out of the 500 sought.
“We are trying to make people aware that the development of these fulfillment centers on the east side of Cranbury will impact the village and Monroe,” said Morolda. “We’ve been getting together to try to convince Cranbury that putting a warehouse in an area surrounded by wetlands and [residential] communities is probably ill conceived at this point.”
The residents are concerned that an additional center on the east side will add to traffic problems, air quality issues, noise pollution and impact the overall quality of life for homeowners. Those concerns are also reflected in a change.org petition started to help add pressure on lawmakers to deny the application when its developers bring it before the Cranbury Planning Board.
But the residents interviewed also said that they aren’t against development. They understand that there needs to be a symbiotic relationship between protecting Cranbury’s historic, small-community charm and farms while attracting development to help offset the residential tax burden and provide local job growth.
“The balance all of the sudden has tipped,” said Cranbury resident Deanne Napurano. “And the question now becomes has Cranbury sold off everything east of Route 130 to maintain a lifestyle west of Route 130.” Napurano is a business owner and lives in the area where the developer has submitted site plans to build the fulfillment centers.
While to some, residents’ concerns may sound more like a case of “not in my back yard,” Napurano contends it is about protecting the whole of Cranbury and Monroe from over development.
They have also questioned the legality of Cranbury allowing fulfillment centers to operate in the warehouse district. According to their reviews, Cranbury’s master plan makes no specific mention of fulfillment centers, but that is also likely in part because the document was created before fulfillment centers became a main source to help meet online shopping demands.
“From what we can see, there is no definition of fulfillment centers in Cranbury’s master plan,” Napurano said. “So there are so many issues at play. You can look at the bigger picture of an aging master plan that has extremely vague zoning descriptions that could not have possibly been done in anticipation of warehouses and now what is whole-selling so many years ago. No one could have dreamed what these centers would become with the popularity of online retail.”
Cranbury Mayor Glenn Johnson, though believes that the property does allow for such centers, which had its zoning changed from agriculture use in 1993. But he too believes there must be a balancing act with development. And he knows that if the eventual developer appears before the Planning Board with a proposal that conforms to the properties' use there is not much that can be done to stop the project.
“We are waiting for them to come to us,” said Johnson, who also serves on the Planning Board as part of his duty as the mayor. “If they exceed any requirements they will have to ask for waivers or variances. If they come in with a completely clean application there won’t be much we can really do.”
Johnson said municipal representatives did attempt to persuade the current property owner from having the land developed, but that request was rejected, which the mayor doesn’t fault the owner for doing.
“He felt this was now the time,” Johnson said.
That said, Johnson notes the government is looking at road improvements to ease the burden on the truck traffic, that particularly comes from East/West Windsor area. Long term, he said, Brickyard Road is being eyed for improvements.
“Brickyard Road is good for truck traffic,” said Johnson. “It would keep some of the traffic off of Station Road. There are plans being formulated.”
“Responsible land use has to take in to account what’s going on the geographic area,” Morolda said. “We are trying to find a solution.”