WHITE TOWNSHIP – Acres of farmland in this Warren County town will remain just that – farmland.
More than four years after it began – and after many, often contentious, hearings – a proposal to build 2.8 million square feet of warehouses on about 600 acres near the Delaware River disintegrated Wednesday night when the developer said the land will be sold to the state and preserved.
So, “there will be no warehouses,” someone asked from the audience.
No, there will not be, was the answer.
To many in the crowd, which on this cold night was a bit less than normal, the news seemed, if you excuse the cliche, too good to be true.
There were cheers, hugs, but no over-the-top displays of glee.
This was at its root a land use dispute, of which there are many in New Jersey.
The pattern is long established. An out-of-town developer proposes to turn vacant land into something else. Residents oppose that “something else,” but in the end, the project gets built.
The process, though, is never smooth. Accusations are often made about ties – either real or imagined – between the developer and public officials. There are a lot of hard feelings.
This one was like that, but there was more to it.
What was quickly evident to any objective observer was just how out of place the proposal seemed.
Besides the construction itself, the plan would have thrust continuing truck traffic onto two-lane roads in one of the most rural corners of the state. Everyone talks about how development can ruin one’s quality of life, but in this case, it was not just talk.
The population of White Township, which is crossed by Route 46, is older and less affluent than neighboring towns. In some ways, this was a case of high-powered developers forcing their way on people seemingly without the financial means to truly fight back,
But as it turned out, residents did organize and fight back – coming in droves to meetings wearing orange shirts.
Wednesday’s planning board meeting was supposed to be about a storm water plan. Can’t you just feel the excitement?
But before anything started, Charles Rohr of the state’s Farmland Preservation Program, told the board and the audience that the developer has agreed to sell its land to the state for preservation.
Speaking afterwards, he said the parcel just checks all the boxes. That’s easy to understand when you realize there aren’t all that many large farms left in the state. He said the state approached the developer, Jaindl Land Co, and talks began.
Given the fact this ordeal has gone on since the spring of 2019, it’s probably no surprise that the developer was willing to sell.
Anthony Sposaro, Jaindl’s lawyer, hinted that the developer was not interested in spending more and more money trying to push the project through.
He called it a “win for everyone,” and humorously asked if there were any members of the public who wanted to oppose the new plan.
There were none.
There are, of course, details to get through.
The state and the developer have to formally reach an agreement. Sposaro said he hopes that happens by December. The sale price was not disclosed, but given the fact this is public money, it will have to be disclosed eventually.
The lawyer did say – a bit ominously – that if things with the state hit a snag, “We may have to revisit the issue.”
But as people celebrated the good news, no one wanted to think about that.
Sposaro has not always had a pleasant time at these meetings. The crowd at times booed him, and a few meetings ago, he criticized opponents for basically saying the same things over and over again.
On this night, however, the attorney seemed genuinely filled with cheer, commenting on how everyone in the meeting room – an elementary school auditorium – seemed happy.
I asked Sposaro if he was going to miss coming to White Township?
He smiled and said “Yes.”