SPARTA — The public hearing for a proposed 880,000-square-foot warehouse complex on Demarest Road drew such huge crowds on Wednesday evening that many were forced to watch from the town hall lobby.
When the planning committee meeting ended three hours later, many attendees expressed frustration at what they said was a lack of information from the developer.
Residents crammed into the Sparta Municipal Building, with dozens more forced to watch a live broadcast of the proceedings from the lobby after the meeting room was filled to capacity. Some in the crowd held signs opposing the Diamond Chip Logistics Park, which calls for two warehouse buildings on 68 acres of the Sparta Redi-Mix property.
Due to the high turnout, the Planning Board set aside the last hour of the meeting for the public to ask specific questions about the bid. But only about half of those who signed up to speak got the chance to do so. The questioning will continue at the next hearing scheduled for May 4.
Wednesday’s hearing included approximately an hour of testimony from developer Jim Ford, who was interviewed by Diamond Chip attorney Steve Gouin using a list of 72 questions of the public submitted online during the previous hearing on March 2.
Ford reiterated that it cannot answer some questions about site operations because there are no tenants for the property yet. The facility, he said, is meant to be a warehouse complex to store “consumer goods” and will not be a retail or manufacturing site.
The story continues under the gallery.
The lack of tenants worries residents, who have also expressed concern that once built, the facility may remain vacant.
“It’s a gamble to build two warehouses with 191 (truck) slots, and when you play and you lose, you get desperate and you start renting to whoever you want, whoever you can,” Scott Fadden said. , an inhabitant of Sparta. “That’s the worry for us is that we don’t know. The biggest worry in life is the great unknown, so that’s our problem. We’re here, we don’t know, and guess what? We have to live through it all.”
Ford said he was new to the Sparta community, but noted that his partners in the app — including Sparta Redi-Mix general manager Frank Hunkele — live in the area and understand residents’ concerns about quality of life.
The developer added that while “change is scary,” the Diamond Chip app would sit on a site already occupied by large-scale machinery and operations.
“I think a lot of people see it as an open field, a cornfield, whatever it is,” Ford said. “There are a lot of trucks and activities that have happened for years and years and years, that you may not all see or recognize all of them, that have been happening here for a long time.”
Ford said there would be “absolutely no” trucks and drivers staying at the facility overnight and is prepared to make that a condition of approval. He also said the site would not be an Amazon facility; he’s not interested in having the e-commerce giant as a tenant and said that wouldn’t even be a permitted use in the area.
Learn more about the warehouse:Is it a warehouse or a trucking terminal? The Sparta group wants the project to be suspended until a decision
Wednesday’s meeting was originally scheduled to include testimony from traffic engineer Adam Gibson, but Ford’s testimony and questions from the public continued until the meeting adjourned at 10 p.m. Ford said the complex should have “minimal impact” on traffic compared to existing models – a statement that drew laughter from a skeptical crowd.
The meeting began with attorneys and Sparta residents Neill Clark and Anand Dash asking the Planning Board to postpone the hearing, the same request they made in a letter submitted to the township earlier this week. The attorneys argued that Diamond Chip’s application was a trucking terminal, not a warehouse, and asked the Zoning Board to determine the proper classification.
Clark and Dash’s request was denied by Planning Council solicitor Tom Collins, who said the council had no power to defer a request and was simply applying the existing ordinance to a site plan. In Sparta, a warehouse is a permitted use where Diamond Chip offers the project.
The hearing is expected to continue at the Planning Board meeting on May 4. Gibson will answer traffic-related questions and the rest of the audience will have the opportunity to ask their own questions.