Credit: (AP Photo / Danny Johnston)
Photo file: Warehouse website

As a new sign of community opposition to the expansion of warehouses, the city of Mansfield in Burlington County has banned more giant buildings other than those already approved or under construction.

“The Mansfield Township Committee believes that no additional warehouses should be allowed in the township,” reads the March 2 ordinance approving the ban.

The move appears to be the strongest move by any of New Jersey’s 564 municipalities to control flooding of warehouse buildings, which opponents say clogs local roads with trucks, degrades air quality and often places giant industrial buildings on previously undeveloped land.

While some supporters are calling for a new nationwide policy to curb the “expansion of warehouses,” and some community groups have sued their own cities for permitting warehouses, many municipalities are approving projects because they increase local tax revenues and because officials fear lawsuits from developers in case of denial of permits. .

“There is an element of a horse that has already come out of the barn …”

But Mansfield, with a population of about 8,500, is saying “no” to a larger warehouse after a wave of construction of eight buildings covering nearly 5.1 million square feet has already been allowed. Four are under construction, the rest are approved.

Deterioration of quality of life

Bob Talon, a member of the city committee that supports the ordinance, said most residents want the township to retain its rural character, and fear that creating more warehouses will industrialize the area and worsen its quality of life.

Residents of one area in the center of the township are already worried about the increase in freight traffic, he said. “People in Columbus say their houses tremble when heavy trucks pass through them and they get cracks in the foundations,” Talon said.

With more than 5 million square feet of warehouse space already under implementation, he acknowledged that the ordinance seems more reactive than proactive, but he argued that the measure is designed to prevent further development.

“The open ground in New Jersey is like a gold mine.”

“There is an element that the horse is already coming out of the barn, but there is also a look into the future,” he said.

The attempt to tame the warehouses is partly based on the large area of ​​impenetrable surface created by buildings, creating storm drains and preventing the replenishment of an already depleted local aquifer, Talon said.

He said city officials want to update the city’s master plan as soon as possible to reflect the new decree because it will protect against any legal challenge to the ban on warehouses and will reflect public sentiment.

“The open ground in New Jersey is like a gold mine,” he said. “There’s money that wants to come after the whole state. I’m not saying it’s evil, but it’s not necessarily what communities want. “

The struggle for space

Online stores are stimulating demand for warehouses near Newark Harbor, where a lot of consumer goods come into the country, at highway junctions and increasingly in towns like Mansfield, which was once considered too far from major markets to find warehouses. The struggle for space, which analysts called “insatiable”, has led to rising rents and lower vacancy rates as demand exceeds supply.

Mike McGuinness, president of the New Jersey branch of NAIOP, the commercial real estate industry trade association, did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the Mansfield measure.

“Many residents have called for this to be done before the last round of warehouses was approved.”

Mika Rasmussen, a professor at Ryder University who led a successful campaign against a planned warehouse in the Upper Freehold, said Mansfield’s decree is likely to inspire other local authorities who are feeling uncomfortable due to the warehouse boom in the last couple of years.

Rasmussen predicted that the measure “will certainly not be the last” in New Jersey cities, which are aware that warehouses are rapidly changing the landscape and quality of life.

But he argued that Mansfield’s decision came too late for many opponents of the warehouse.

“There is a strong feeling in Mansfield and the surrounding area that this moratorium is like closing the barn door after the horses have jumped in,” he said. “Many residents have called for this to be done before the last round of warehouses was approved.”

Cities are urged to impose a moratorium

He called on cities to introduce a moratorium on the construction of warehouses to allow themselves to decide how their land will be used in the future.

“It would be most useful if cities used them as pauses to sum up who they want to be when they grow up so they can have municipal ordinances and zoning that fit their vision,” he said.

In another recent attempt to curb the expansion of warehouses, last month the town of Bordentown, also in Burlington County, recommended refusing to build warehouses along corridors 130 and 206. These plots are a small piece of land that is already set aside for industrial use and where everything warehouses will still be allowed, said Mark Siegle, director of community development for the township.

If completed, the policy will not represent a significant change in the management of the development of Bordentown warehouses, because most of the land will not affect the zoning suitable for the warehouse. However, the township is proposing to relocate along the two highways because it wants to see more commercial development there, Sigle said.

“There are a few objects left that we would like to see more commercial,” he said.

An earlier attempt to control the expansion of warehouses took place in September 2020, when Brunchburg in Somerset County passed a decree removing warehouses from the list of permitted uses in two types of industrial zones.

Tim Evans, research director at the nonprofit New Jersey Future, said he was unaware of any other cities that had passed warehouse restrictions laws. He predicted that Mansfield’s ruling, if it withstood any legal challenges, would encourage other cities to do the same.

“I would imagine that it would encourage other places to try it, or at least encourage civic action groups to start putting pressure on local authorities to declare a moratorium,” Evans said. “They would say, ‘We know you can do it because we’ve seen it done by Mansfield.’

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