BY ROBERT KNIGHT
ROCKLAND COUNTY TIMES
Pearl River area residents who have long opposed a planned 24-hour warehouse and storage facility in a wooded area of the hamlet center were dismayed last week when the Orangetown Planning Board voted 4-1, with one abstention and one absence, to grant final site plan approval to the proposed Hillside Commercial Park project.
The approval, after a two-hour public hearing April 27 held in the courtroom at Town Hall in Orangeburg to accommodate the overflow crowd of nearly 100 residents, effectively gave the green light for developer Edmund Lane to continue his decade-long effort to transform the 10-acre site from a wooded wetland into a commercial project with warehouses and storage lockers.
All of those who spoke at the hearing opposed the project, and enumerated dozens of reasons why it should be defeated or denied by the Planning Board.
The controversial approval means Lane will probably be able to begin construction of the project later this year, pending remaining minor requirements needed from the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals, satisfactory completion of various Planning Board requirements and the issuance of building permits by the Building Department.
Lane, a Pearl River resident operating through his Route 304 LLC and legal counsel Donald Brenner, is expected to file the required permit applications within weeks.
Residents in the vicinity, organized through an ad-hoc civic association called RUSH (Residents United to Save Hillside), have vowed to continue their opposition to the project, to file objections at every coming hearing and permit application, and even to possibly filing lawsuits against the developer and the town in a last ditch effort to derail it before land-clearing operations can begin.
Lane bought the 10-acre wooded lot between Route 304 and Railroad Avenue in Pearl River about a decade ago from Lederle Laboratories, its long-term owner, which was by then downsizing its local operations in preparation for selling their sprawling Pearl River campus to Pfizer and other prospective purchasers.
The land is long and narrow, squeezed between the state highway and the Pascack Valley (more recently called the New Jersey Transit) Railroad commuter line running from Spring Valley to Hoboken. It is bordered to the south by William Harris & Co. and the Pearl River Industrial Terminal, and to the north by the Modern Auto Body repair shop and Our Town newspaper off Crooked Hill Road.
The land is vacant and consists of century-old mature trees, along with some swampy wetlands that drain into the nearby Muddy Brook. Renamed in parts the Pearl River in 1872, this is the small stream that gave the former hamlet of Muddy Brook its current name. A part of the low-lying tract is designated a 100-year floodplain because of its frequent springtime flooding, and it has been zoned for light industrial use since Orangetown first adopted its zoning code.
Its zoning, in fact, is what led to the creation of the Pearl River Industrial Park at its southern terminus in the 1960’s. That development consists of several masonry buildings divided into rental units, with tenants ranging from contractors to warehouses to specialty wood and metal fabricators.
When Lane first bought the adjacent 10 acres from Lederle, he announced plans to continue that industrial park northward. Instead of being for commercial uses, however, his new two-story structures would be divided into smaller storage rental units, similar to one on Route 59 and First Avenue in Nanuet.
As his plans advanced, however, Lane changed focus somewhat and announced that he would instead subdivide the parcel into two similarly sized lots. One half would be for the original rental self-storage use, while the other half would be for rent of larger units to business tenants who wanted the spaces for various commercial, industrial and warehouse uses, all of which are permitted in Orangetown’s zoning code for that district.
Opposition to Lane’s plans arose almost immediately from neighbors living in residential areas bordering the site, especially along Hillside Avenue, North Railroad Avenue, North Main Street and streets to the west of Route 304.
All of those neighbors were excluded from being notified when the original public hearing notices were mailed out nearly a decade ago. The town’s law at the time required applicants to notify all “adjoining” property owners. Dutifully following the law, Lane and Brenner notified the only two qualifying owners, N.J. transit and the New York State Highway Department, neither of which cared nor responded.
In response to the public uproar the town eventually amended its notification law to include all property owners within a specified distance from the subject property, instead of just those immediately “adjacent.”
RUSH, already enraged over the earlier lack of notification, has mounted a strenuous campaign against Lane’s project ever since.
Among other objections, RUSH members have complained the project would be an environmental disaster for the residential area of Pearl River because they argue it would:
· Feature 24-hour floodlighting of the buildings and parking lots
· Increase flooding in the area by eliminating the existing floodplain and wetlands
· Eliminate the vast majority of vegetation from the site, destroying the view shed for area residents
· Increase already frequent flooding
· Eliminate an entire habitat now home to dozens of animals, birds, reptiles and other creatures and vegetation
· Create a health hazard because large fire trucks would be unable to access the site to fight fires or other disasters or accidents
· Pave the entire site, now a natural wooded wetland, with impervious buildings and macadam
· Have no regulation over what hazardous chemicals, compounds or other materials might be stored in any of the units or spaces, and with no postings of such storage on the outside of the units, for the benefit of first responders
· Lack loading docks or berths for the warehouse units
· Lack of room to dump snow plowed from the parking areas
· Lack of space for trucks to enter, turn and exit the complex
· Lack of vegetated buffer zones around the complex perimeter, creating a public and neighborhood visual blight
· Lane obtained a zoning variance for the complex in 2008 but it expired in 2010, and he never sought an extension or a new variance
· Violate restrictions imposed earlier on development of the site by the town’s ZBA, ACABOR and Building Department, as well as the state transportation department DEC and other agencies
After last week’s meeting, Lane’s attorney Donald Brenner said his client would now prepare plans for replacement plantings to be submitted to the Planning Board, as required, submit final development drawings and then seek a building permit to begin construction.
When it came time for a vote by the seven-member Planning Board, the tally came up with four in favor and one (Robert Dell) opposed. Member Michael Mandel recused himself and abstained from voting because he is a RUSH member and is opposed to project, and member Stephen Sweeney was absent.
Members of RUSH indicated they would hold several emergency meetings within the next week or two to decide on a course of action, including possible appeals and possible lawsuits against the town and the Planning Board.