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HomenewsN.j. Town Residents Oppose "Mega Warehouse" Next to Train Tracks.

N.j. Town Residents Oppose “Mega Warehouse” Next to Train Tracks.

Sparta residents are protesting a Sussex County township’s request to build an 880,000-square-foot warehouse in a region where “mega warehouses” are not allowed.

In February 2021, township officials revised a rule to allow projects near freight train tracks to have taller buildings and more impervious surfaces.

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Residents believe the change permitted the developer to apply for the project, which would be Sparta’s largest warehouse, a few months later.

Sparta locals have signed over 3,600 petitions asking the township to reject the project, which they say would be larger than the Rockaway Mall and Sparta High School combined. A 1,000-member activist group was formed by residents.

The developer, planning board, and zoning board were sued by residents last summer to stop 33 Demarest Road’s development.

Neil Clark, a newly elected Sparta town council member, and Sparta Responsible Development president Anand Dash filed the complaint in July.

Under Sparta’s land development code, the project is not a warehouse. According to the lawsuit, it’s a freight terminal and shouldn’t be developed in the zone.

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“The desire of the people was utterly ignored,” Dash added, questioning the ordinance modification that permitted the developer to propose the mega-warehouse project a few months later.

He added the 70-acre, six-story warehouse structure may attract truck trailers.

“The pollution from the diesel trucks, the noise, you have some protected species like the bog turtle that are that are in this area,” Dash said. “All of that will be threatened, and you’ll practically rewrite Sparta’s history and character.”

The project’s developer, Diamond Chip Realty, declined to comment.

Sparta’s mayor and township attorney did not reply to requests for comment on the case.

Christine Quinn, a Sparta councilwoman, and former township mayor denied that altering the code was “the trigger propelling forth development of a large-scale warehouse” near the railroad tracks.

The proposed warehouse is near the 400-mile New York, Susquehanna, and Western Train freight railway in New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.

“Amendments to the (ordinance) were enacted to better utilize rail, with the ultimate goal of reducing truck traffic on our roads,” said Quinn. “These zones have allowed warehouse development for decades.”

In response to the town’s worries about how the ordinance was altered, the Sparta Township council recommended the planning board appoint a subcommittee to evaluate the controversial amendment.

The board released another amendment revision on Oct. 19. Building sizes and other requirements are capped.

Andrew Reina, Sparta’s planning board chairman, said, “What we discovered was (the code) actually did not give the township with appropriate protection from, sort of, massive, uncontrolled development.

The township used the state Planning Commission’s newly published warehouse siting recommendations to update the code.

Critics believe outdated land use rules are a problem across New Jersey as warehouse development grows.

Quinn added, “I have emphasized for many, many years that Sparta Township is not immune from the pain points hurting towns around the country – how we separate ourselves is in how we react.”

Sparta’s ongoing development applications, including the Diamond Chip warehouse application, will not be affected by the ordinance revisions.

Dash, a local who brought the action, asked the planning board to stop the Diamond Chip proposal until the court determines. State land use legislation prohibits development moratoriums, the township declared in an executive order.
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To address “threshold concerns,” the township engineer has requested Diamond Chip application modifications. According to officials, the warehouse’s square area was reduced from 880,000 to 700,000.

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Township officials and the developer haven’t decided if trailers can be stored on the land. According to officials, the facility would have up to 126 trailers.

It’s unclear when the planning board will review the warehouse request. According to Clark, the developer must submit amended blueprints in the next few days to be on the December planning board hearing schedule.

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The residents’ lawsuit is ongoing. The developer and township’s motion to dismiss the legal action has not been decided by the judge, officials said.

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