The Mood gets Black in White

WHITE TOWNSHIP – The crowd was already in a testy mood.

After more than four years of discussion, another planning board meeting had ended with no vote on a massive warehouse proposal in this Warren County town. Worse than that, the scheduled testimony didn’t happen and the public didn’t have a chance to speak.

So as about 150 people filed out of the meeting in a local school Tuesday night – much earlier than expected – the atmosphere got a bit foul.

Anthony Sposaro, the developer’s attorney, had dropped some documents on the floor. Hey, it happens.

As he was picking them up, a woman leaving the meeting stepped on them and gave the papers a little kick.

“Sorry,” she said with evident sarcasm.

All large-scale development projects engender opposition, some of it strident.

This one seems to have raised tensions a notch or two higher than usual.

One reason is the sheer size of the project by Jaindl Farms and Land Development – about 2.8 million square feet on 600 acres.

Another is the location – farmland and open space in the most rural corner of North Jersey.

Don’t forget the time people following this plan have invested. We are now in the fifth year of hearings. Mind-boggling even by the glacial pace of the development process.

But there’s more. Go to even one meeting and it’s obvious that many of the residents in opposition are senior citizens.

Census data tells you this is no mistake. The median age in White Township is 61, much higher than most locales in New Jersey. In fact, more than half the population (53 percent) in this town of 4,600 is over 60.

Many seniors in New Jersey tend to move away, but these people have stayed. They apparently like living in a very non-Jersey-like part of New Jersey. So the prospect of warehouses just  “down the road” and constant truck traffic is unnerving to say the least.

So, they come to meetings wearing orange shirts and holding signs of protest. And sometimes, they kick papers.

The official part of the meeting this night was supposed to be about a storm water plan.

Jaindl had submitted a new proposal to comply with recently-changed state regulations.

Flooding already occurs in the area so this is an important – although not sexy – subject.

But it never happened.

Blame the corn crop.

Sposaro said all required test borings on farmland could not be completed because they would have “decimated” the corn crop. He sought a delay on the storm water plan discussion until the October, or maybe even, November meeting. You got to wait for the harvest, one presumes.

The crowd groaned; a few said “no.”

The board more than once asked for quiet.

Members of the audience wanted to speak, but given the fact there was no testimony from the developer, that didn’t happen.

“Why don’t we get to give an opinion?” yelled one woman as the Jaindl part of the meeting was ending.

Residents have been giving their opinions on this issue for years, but many who attend public meetings want to be heard.

One annoyed resident said outside the school that he’s inclined to make a formal complaint about the board not holding a public session specifically for the warehouse plan.

Board members, theoretically, could have voted to deny the application, but that was not seriously considered.

It was pointed out that any resident coming before the board would want ample time to present a case. So, the board said Jaindl deserves the same. The case will resume possibly next month.

OK, but it is tough to compare a four-year odyssey with a routine application to subdivide a lot.

Nonetheless, one board member suggested that, “We all got to chill out a little.”

For the many residents showing up at these meetings, chilling out is one thing. Fighting this battle for years and years is quite another.

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5 responses to “The Mood gets Black in White”

  1. the cornfield fiasco was just another stall tactic on
    the part of jaindl’s atty. why was the farmer permitted
    to plant in the first place. the suits aren’t fooling
    anyone.

  2. The reality is that public comments don’t matter very much.

    The objectors need a land use lawyer to cross-examine the developer’s experts, and they need expert witnesses of their own to counter the testimony of the developer’s experts.

    If the Planning Board denies the application and the developer appeals, a judge may well reverse the denial as being arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable because there was no expert testimony to support the denial of the developer’s application. Lay opinions don’t carry much weight in court.

  3. Big warehouses have No Place in this part of the State!!!! The Trucks, the congestion to the small town roads, the noise, the destruction of the environment- the BEAUTIFUL SERENE COUNTRY will be so devastating!!!! The lawyers are shrewd but our people are tough.

  4. I wish I had thought of this, but anyway, someone pointed out that the farmer could be compensated (by Jaindl) for any destroyed crops.

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