Controversial warehouse planned next to Harker School denied approval

WOOLWICH TWP. – After a 5 and a half hour long Woolwich Township Joint Land Use Board meeting on Nov. 16, the preliminary site plan approval for the controversial warehouse hoping to be constructed next to the Harker School on Oldmans Creek Road and Auburn Road was denied with a tie 3-3 vote.

Citing what he felt was a flawed traffic study, Woolwich Township Mayor Craig Frederick was one of three members of the board to vote to deny the application for the 850,000 square foot warehouse. Also voting against it was Carolyn Grasso who stated in her opinion that the applicant had not been following Best Management Practices in the application process, saying this said something about the developer already.

Ken Morris was the third and final member to vote against the project. Voting for the plan were Jon Fein, John Juliano, and Vice Chairman Bob Rushton. A tie in the voting means that the application is denied.

The lawyer representing the group NO Warehouses Next To Harker School In Swedesboro/Woolwich stated that variances were needed for the plan’s water pump station, sewer station, and a retaining wall location. Township professionals stated that no variances were needed for the items in question.

One board member stated that he felt this was a valid application and if voted no, the 200 people here that night will be happy as well as the 11,000 in the township, but there is a risk of a lawsuit, and the developer will win on appeal anyway. One professional for the township warned that the application could not be turned down due to offsite concerns.

Frederick said he felt the traffic study was flawed due to being carried out in October 2021 during COVID when there was less traffic and in person school was not happening. He said that a 24 hour study of traffic at the facility was not long enough, and the five year traffic projection did not include other completed and approved developments such the Center Square ShopRite and a second commercial location near the ShopRite.

The Oldmans Industrial Park application was listed as being an 854,450 square foot warehouse and office building along with 75 loading docks, 482 passenger car spaces, and 166 trailer parking spaces. The original design called for 150 loading spaces and 426 car parking spaces.

The plan also includes storm water management facilities, landscaping, buffering, sound attenuation measures and other site improvements all on 70 acres.

At the time of the submittal of the application, the ground in question was zoned for Light Industrial Office (LIO). This had been zoned LIO since the 1960’s. However, the zoning was recently changed to residential, but due to the timing of the filing of the application, it was grandfathered in.

The timing of the application was brought into question by a board member, stating that prior case law should be investigated on whether the developer knew that the zoning was going to change so planned on submitting their application before that date.

The rezoning of the property was done as part of the New Master Plan adopted in 2022, in an effort to keep industrial separate from residential areas in the township. Warehouse zoning was left mainly on Route 322.

It was pointed out by the developer’s professional that two of the school districts buildings, as well as the Locke Ave Park, are already located in the immediate vicinity of warehouses. The Margaret Clifford School on Auburn Road and the Walter Hill School which backs up to Auburn Road in Swedesboro are all within less than a mile of Locke Ave. Park which is directly adjacent to a pre-existing warehouse.

Concerns voiced by the public at the meeting:

  • One resident asked if the board would object to a school being built in the middle of an industrial park. Stating that of course they wouldn’t, then why should they approve a warehouse being built next to a school?
  • Residents who attended the meeting had stated that they felt if the lawsuit happened due to the denial of the plan, it was the best use of their tax dollars to keep the current way of life in the township.
  • Residents were concerned that the applicant would just move his warehouse site further down the road and get approvals. (However, the current township zoning map shows that all of the land in that area of the township has been rezoned residential. Warehouses and other LIO would have to be constructed in nearby Oldmans Township. Construction of more proposed warehouses there are being protested as well.)
  • Concerns were raised about unvetted personnel from the warehouses being too close to the school.
  • To reinforce school safety issues, the shooting in a Logan Township industrial park was mentioned as an example of crime at warehouses.
  • Idling trucks will cause air pollution.
  • Road safety on unimproved roadways was an issue.
  • Trucks parked on the shoulders waiting for their turn to go into the facility.
  • Current traffic issues due to tractor trailers making turns in to US Drop Forge on Auburn Road.
  • “We are the ones who will live and die with your decision. Put this in warehouse alley instead.”
  • A resident suggested holding off voting until all of the warehouses on Route 322 are occupied to show how things are.
  • “There is lots of speculation with this, but the only certainty is our quality of life.”
  • A fear of devaluation of homes.
  • “Look in the mirror and say you did the best for the children.”

Due to large public turnout against the construction of this particular warehouse, this was the third meeting on the preliminary site plan approval. Prior special meetings were held in June and August. Votes were not taken then due to the large number of professionals making presentations for both sides, and commenting residents.

By Karen E. Viereck, Editor/Publisher

4 Responses

  1. Residents can object all they want, with JUSTIFIABLE issues. BUT, in the end, and to be quite blunt, all of a sudden, Township officials and the Joint Land Use Committee will do a complete reversal, DEFYing residents, giving developers the approval, claiming there is no other choice. Saying the developers have threatened legal action, if denied. Same old bs story. It has happened time after time, in municipality after municipality. These developers are RELENTLESS! They and their slick lawyers will pull every shady trick in the book to get their warehouses built. Why would these developers have purchased the land, if they werent already PROMISED, by the appropriate people in local government, that, if necessary, the zoning laws WOULD BE CHANGED and/or they were ASSURED there would be no problems getting the warehouses approved. We’re not STUPID. We all know the all too familiar game. MONEY TALKS! And, again, the appropriate people in local governments listen. Please don’t be naive. It happens every day. Deals are cut in back rooms. Residents objections mean nothing.

    Whatever happened to “of the people, BY THE PEOPLE and FOR THE PEOPLE?” The time in America when the American people HAD A SAY in America is gone. The question is, WHAT ARE WE, THE AMERICAN PEOPLE, GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?! The TIME IS NOW!

    1. Unfortunatley for the residents, the ground was zoned for their usage and rezoned after the warehouse application. This meant that their application was still legal. No variances were required so the township could not legally object. If variances were needed, the township could have denied them outright. Instead, the township was able to stop them on a legal technicality with the developer’s original traffic study. Now it is out of the hands of the JLB and up to the developer if he wants to pursue through the courts. Time will tell.

  2. I would love to see the forecast on how devaluation of homes in woolwich would contribute to loss of tax revenue per property if this warehouse were to be approved. I suspect it’s not a “net gain of tax revenue ” as one board member who voted yes expects. There is a massive domino effect that appears to have been “overlooked” on top of the obvious terrible decision to put a mega warehouse in close proximity to children away from easy access of highway infrastructure.

    I am thankful for the 3 members of the board who voted no.

    1. As of now unless the developer pursues it in court, the warehouse plan for construction next to Harker is denied. They cannot resubmit it even with a new traffic survey. The property is now officially zoned residents.
      The planned warehouse project is now out of the JLUB’s hands and now in the court’s hands.
      It is an interesting idea on property devaluation.

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