All meeting minutes posted on the township website are unofficial minutes. Official copies of minutes may be obtained from the Planning/Zoning Department.

Minutes: March 24, 2021

Call to Order

Due to Chairman Theobald and Vice Chairman Spoerl absent, meeting was called to order by Acting Chairperson Cocula at 7:00 p.m. Meeting held via Zoom Webinar.

Statement of Compliance

Pursuant to the Open Public Meetings Act, adequate notice of this regular meeting has been provided to the public and the press on January 18, 2021 by delivering to the press such notice and posting same at the municipal building.

Roll Call  Also Present
Mayor’s Designee Diane WexlerNP Steve Tombalakian, Board Attorney
Craig WilliamsNP Cory Stoner, Board Engineer
Councilmember AubergerNP Jessica Caldwell, Board Planner
Martin TheobaldNP Kimberley Decker, Board Secretary
Richard SpoerlNP  
Willard McPeekP  
Andrea CoculaP  
Michael WhitakerP  
Kristi RapertoNP  
Kelly Mitchell Alternate #1P  
Joseph Tadrick Alternate #2P  
Paul Mele Alternate #3P  
Mark Vizzini Alternate #4P  

Record reflects that Mr. Spoerl and Mr. Williams advised the board of their absence; also absent are Chairman Theobald and Ms. Raperto who stepped down from application due to a conflict and Council Member Auberger and Mayor’s Designee Wexler due to hearing being a use application.

Public Participation

Acting Chairperson Cocula opened the meeting to the public for comments on items other than agenda items.

Seeing no one wishing to comment, Acting Chairperson Cocula closed the meeting to the public.

Public Hearings

LU# 9-20-6: Farm 94, LLC - Block: 58, Lot: 2, - Preliminary and Major Site Plan with Bulk and Use Variances to Improve and Upgrade the Parking Lot, Additions to Two On-Site Buildings with Proposed Uses of Outdoor Retail Sales, Art Gallery, Craft Space, Event/Conference Space and Butcher Shop, a Proposed Warehouse/Equipment Building and Proposed Glamping Area

Attorney Ira Weiner from firm of Beattie Padovano, Montvale, came forward for applicant Farm 94, LLC who purchased the site formerly known as “Rickey Farm” with interest to enhance the farm while maintaining farm character.

William Brown, principal of Farm 94, LLC was sworn in and testified he was the owner of an existing farm and store in Warwick but purchased this site at 441 RT 94 to enhance the viability of the farm store but also maintain the historical integrity of the site. The site also has been slated to be a historical farm designated by the state of NJ and has applied for a farm easement. Attorney Weiner explained a farm easement is when the property owner sells an easement to the state limiting the activity or development on a site to farm use only permanently.

Mr. Brown explained plans for site include farm store, craft area, artist studios with sales, including educational tour activities and glamping. Also proposed is a banquet hall with a commercial kitchen on second story of barn, and meat butcher service. Mr. Brown stated the site is 67 acres of which only 2 acres will be farm related commercial activities and buildings will be kept as 19th century character.

Mr. Brown stated that original plans for application were revised due to concerns from neighbor whose property that was once part of the farm is now a notch within the site. He added that the neighbor is now satisfied with the proposed improvements to site.

Attorney Tombalakian open the meeting to the public for questions for Mr. Brown.

Joyce and Jerry Soroko, Prices Switch Rd., questioned how many campsites are planned and if a septic system will be installed for the sites. Mr. Brown explained the maximum number of sites proposed is ten and that glamping uses tents not campers and utilizes composting toilets. Ms. Soroko expressed concern over increased traffic in area which is already heavily traveled. Attorney Weiner stated the engineer will address the traffic concern during testimony. Mr. Brown opined that traffic will not be an issue as the site has an abundance of parking spots and proposed activities will draw low crowds and occur at alternate times of the day.

Seeing no one further to question applicant, Attorney Tombalakian closed the hearing to the public.

David Getz, licensed civil engineer, 17 River Street, Warwick, NY was sworn in to testify on behalf of applicant. land use board accepted Mr. Getz as expert. Mr. Getz shared architectural and site plan maps on screen and explained he was tasked to maintain the historic preservation of the property while providing balance with some improvements and minor construction. He explained a 10'x 20' addition is proposed to the existing farm store for restrooms and storage which was reduced in size and will be screened with landscaping due to neighbor concerns. The existing barn will be a light grey color with the addition being a darker grey. Mr. Getz stated the southern parking lot off RT 94 will have a 25' wide double lane access per ASHTA standards and the lot will have 43 spaces to accommodate overflow parking for the farm store and banquet events. Proposed parking exceeds requirements in township code for all the uses.

Mr. Getz explained the northern parking lot will have better defined access points with 63 parking spaces, 10' x 18' deep, created on existing impervious surfaces. He added there is an existing farm road leading to an existing cell tower which is separate from other uses in application. Soil testing was done to check feasibility of sewage disposal system but not yet designed which when built can serve the farm store, barn, and other uses.

Mr. Getz stated the two small buildings will be removed for the addition construction, but area disturbance will be less than 1 total acre keeping the character of the site. The handicap parking spaces will be paved, striped, and signed as required while the remainder of spaces will be gravel surface with parking bumpers. He added the parking lots will have pole lighting which does not meet requirement in township code but maintains safety and preservation of existing site and will only be left on up to one hour after night events.

Mr. Stoner stated applicant testified parking lots will not be paved and therefore variances will be required for oil and stone and block curbing. He added that applicant should be prepared that NJDOT will require access apron from RT 94 to be paved.

Mr. Stoner questioned if applicant is planning any large outdoor events which Mr. Getz stated that that there will be none. Mr. Stoner inquired about circulation of lots for deliveries. Mr. Getz explained that only small vans or box trucks will be used for deliveries. He stated there will be little grading of site behind barn and all walkways will be ADA accessible. Mr. Getz stated hours of operation for the store are Friday - Sunday 10:00 -6:00 but banquet events and glamping will be during night hours and will follow noise ordinance restrictions.

Mr. Getz explained the visitors for glamping will be permitted only one car, use flashlights or lanterns, and composting toilets with no showers or restrooms. Mr. Brown testified that of the 67 acres, 45 acres are fields, 20 acres of woods and 2 acres where the buildings are located. He added the Highlands Exemption for the proposed application is still pending. Mr. Stoner questioned if there are any plans for the parking lot located on opposite side of Route 94 now owned by Mr. Brown but is not part of this application. Mr. Brown explained there are no plans for that parcel. Ms. Caldwell had no questions for Mr. Getz.

Attorney Tombalakian opened the hearing for public comments to Mr. Getz.

Joyce Soroko questioned about use of old farmhouse across the street and if there will be outdoor summer events with loud music or music played by glamping visitors. Mr. Brown explained music will be allowed in proposed courtyard area, away from roadway with township ordinances regarding noise and temporary events being followed. He added there is potential to make the farmhouse a historical building or museum but not without grant funds for the renovation. Attorney Weiner added the applicant would need to return to the land use board for renovation. Ms. Soroko questioned if number of glamping sites will be increased in future. Mr. Brown stated seven, to maximum of ten were proposed at this time with no intention to expand further.

Arnold, 440 RT 94, resident of house located within application’s site, stated there is water damage on his yard currently due to clearing of site and questioned how the proposed septic system will further affect his property. Mr. Getz explained the plan shows a 11/2-2" force main buried in ground connecting the sewage disposal system located in the northern field to both the northern and southern buildings and would not be loud or affect Arnold’s parcel. Arnold questioned if construction would be done on weekends which Attorney Weiner stated would be limited and Mr. Brown will cooperate with his concerns to be a good neighbor.

Seeing no one further wishing to speak, Attorney Tombalakian closed the meeting to the public.

Mr. Brown commented that site was a former strip mine and swales force any water to back of property even in heavy rains. Mr. Stoner added that NJDOT would address any drainage concerns in the RT 94 access application.

Harry Pharr, 1 Point of View, Warwick, NY, licensed NJ/NY Architect, was sworn in and accepted by board to testify on behalf of applicant. Mr. Pharr explains proposed application is to rehabilitate or repurpose the existing barn and store while preserving the historical nature of structures. Mr. Pharr describes Exhibit A-1, lower level of existing barn, and proposed craftsman studio, butcher kitchen, retail, common area, restrooms with outdoor courtyard area. Exhibit A-2, second story of barn proposes a banquet hall with restrooms, window dormers and connecting staircases to interior and exterior. Exhibit A-3 through A-6 depict northern southern, easterly, and west views of site. Exhibit A-7 depicts existing retail farm store with added covered walkway. Exhibit A-8 shows new warehouse with same architectural board and batten siding with exposed rafters.

Mr. Pharr stated the existing height of the dairy barn is 37' from roadway with the proposed addition being 26 ft which mitigates the visual height while driving north.

Attorney Tombalakian opened hearing for public comment.

Seeing no one wishing to comment, Attorney Tombalakian closed the meeting to the public.

Karen Arent, 12 Old Minisink Trial, Goshen, licensed landscape architect, NY/NJ was sworn in and accepted by the board to testify on behalf of the applicant. Ms. Arent described plans displayed including the enclosed courtyard with rustic fence, old horse troughs, fountains, with birch, sugar maple trees keeping with native foliage. The RT 94 entrance, pending NJDOT approval, will be lined on both sides with stone piles creating defined opening with the lot border with arborvitae, dogwoods, shrubs, and green giant trees.

Board agreed to take small recess at 8:56 p.m.

Board reconvened at 9:00 p.m.

Ms. Arent stated the township code requires 3 1/2" or 4" caliber trees to be planted which generally are 12" to 15' in height but explained that trees that large are slower growing due to transplant shock and need more care. Ms. Arent recommended planting 2 1/2"- 3" caliber trees which are generally 6-7 ft in height, well branched and better suited for site.

Attorney Tombalakian opened hearing for public comment.

Seeing no one wishing to comment, Attorney Tombalakian closed the meeting to the public.

John McDonough, licensed planner, was sworn in and accepted by the board to testify on behalf of the applicant. Mr. McDonough described Mr. Brown as a steward of nature and landscape and who celebrates the intent of the eco-tourism zone.

Mr. McDonough displayed the planning exhibits 1-20 and provided a brief explanation for each sheet of application.

  • Sheet 1 - Tax parcel map showing oversized land conducive to multiple integrated uses
  • Sheet 2 - Site showing rustic setting of barn, farm fields and mountains
  • Sheet 3 - Color coded map showing open space fields, development
  • Sheet 4 - Agri-eco tourism zone of site with natural openness versus other permitted uses such as theme parks, recreational facility, or golf courses
  • Sheet 5 - Existing barn after removal of accessory buildings and replaced with addition
  • Sheet 6 - View of existing farm road which leads to campground
  • Sheet 7 - Reverse view of existing farm road
  • Sheet 8 - View of existing farm store with agricultural products
  • Sheet 9 - View of parking lot which proposed number of spots far exceeds requirement by code for aggregate of multiple uses
  • Sheet 10 - View from mountain top
  • Sheet 11 - View of cow pasture across RT 94 from site
  • Sheet 12 - View of existing farm store with agricultural products
  • Sheets 13-20 - Drone aerial views of site from north, south, east, and west showing natural fields, openness of lands celebrating the rustic setting

Mr. McDonough explained the applicant is seeking three types of relief. First a D-1 use relief is requested to allow an indoor retail store and banquet hall on site. Second a dimensional bulk variance is requested to continue existing front yard setback of 23.9 and height of 36.0 ft. Third a design related variance is requested including non-asphalt parking lot with no curbing, smaller tree sizes, no load zone, lighting less than 1.5 ft candles and location of sign for advance notice and increased public safety.

Mr. McDonough testified per the Medici test special reasons why proposed use promotes the general welfare and public good. He explained the land is suitable for the multiple uses due to the rural setting and proximity to the Appalachian Trail. Per land use law and zoning, the historic preservation and maintaining the viability of an existing farm is a promotion of general welfare.

Mr. McDonough explained the application requests relief for D-3 conditional uses for the proposed conference room, restaurant, outdoor retail, and campground. He explained the conference room does not include any lodging and is justified as passive use as a part if the integrated whole, so-called a “farm plex.” The application seeks setback relief due to pre-existing non-conforming structures for the restaurant and outdoor retail. The applicant has testified the conditions for the campground; therefore, no relief is related. Mr. McDonough stated the application adheres to the Ordinance and the planning rational meets the statutorily criteria for approval.

Ms. Caldwell expressed concern with multiple uses and variance relief requested regarding fall events in area which in past have drawn large crowds.

Mr. McDonough explained that numbers of parking spaces provided in testimony are reasonable and if needed, the board can control the intensity of use and impose conditions. Mr. Brown opined that he does not believe more people will come to Vernon for this property. He added that thousands already come to the area north of site causing road disturbances and this application will not make matters worse. Mr. Brown stated the redevelopment of this site is a positive move for the area.

Mr. Mele commented that plans submitted state that a parcel was owned by Mr. Rickey was incorrect and is owned by other.

Attorney Tombalakian opened hearing for public comment.

Seeing no one wishing to comment, Attorney Tombalakian closed the meeting to the public.

Attorney Weiner asked Mr. Brown to describe location of campground. Mr. Brown explained the campground is not able to be seen from RT 94 and is tucked back near the woods.

In summary asking for board approval of variances and site plan approval, Attorney Weiner stated the application is to preserve the farm agricultural use by adding more dimensions such as retail, small weddings, and artist/craft shows and working with other farmers in area. He added the application is a highly creative way to help Agri Eco Tourism planning in area while preserving the open space and minimizing the detrimental impacts.

Attorney Tombalakian opened hearing for public comment.

Kirk Stephens, Sandhill Road, Vernon, was sworn in and commented his family has run Vernon Valley Farm in Vernon since the 1700s and offered support of project on behalf of his farm and of Gerard Farm. He commented the project is critical to the few remaining farms in area and expressed appreciation to Mr. Brown for facilitating this project for the good of the farming community. Mr. Stephens added that farms are very vulnerable as farming being a point of pride and passion.

Kristen Wheaton, 17 West Gate Drive, prior planning board member, voiced support for application as it will maintain open space and contribute an outlet for local farmers to continue their activities. She added the variances requested are reasonable and will allow improvements to be made while keeping the natural character of the site.

Seeing no one further wishing to comment, Attorney Tombalakian closed the meeting to the public.

Ms. Mitchell commented the project is amazing for the collaborative efforts of local farmers,

Mr. Mele commented the property has been in disarray for a long time and commends applicant for investing time an effort in the project.

Motion: Motion is made to approve LU#9-20-6 based on stipulations testified by Mr. Vizzini and was seconded by Ms. Mitchell.

ROLL CALL: MCPEEK: Y; COCULA: Y; WHITAKER: Y; MITCHELL: Y; TADRICK: Y; MELE: Y; VIZZINI: Y.
Motion passed.

Land Use Board Discussion Items (Action May or May Not Be Taken)

Annual Update of N.J.S.A. 40:55d-70.1 2020 Recommendations

Motion: Motion to approve annual update recommendations was made by Mr. Mele and was seconded by Mr. McPeek.

ROLL CALL: MCPEEK: Y; COCULA: Y; WHITAKER: Y; MITCHELL: Y; TADRICK: Y; MELE: Y; VIZZINI: Y.
Motion passed.

Minutes

January 13, 2021 - Reorganization Meeting Minutes (Wexler, Williams, Auberger, McPeek, Spoerl, Cocula, Whitaker, Raperto, Theobald)

Motion: Motion to approve minutes of January 13, 2021 Reorganization Meeting was made by Mr. Whitaker and was seconded by Mr. McPeek.

ROLL CALL: MCPEEK: Y; COCULA: Y; WHITAKER: Y.
Motion passed.

February 10, 2021: Regular Meeting Minutes (Wexler, McPeek, Cocula, Whitaker, Raperto, Mitchell, Tadrick, Vizzini, Theobald)

Motion: Motion to approve minutes of February 10, 2021 was made by Mr. McPeek and was seconded by Mr. Whitaker.

ROLL CALL: MCPEEK: Y; COCULA: Y; MITCHELL: Y; TADRICK: Y; VIZZINI: Y.
Motion passed.

Appendix A: Escrows, Board Fees, Bond Reductions and Escrow Closures

  1. Board Fees
    1. Board Attorney: Glenn Kienz, Weiner Law Group LLP
      1. Land Use Board Business - Services through 1/28/21 ($960.00)
      2. Land Use Board Business - Services through 2/23/21 ($1,003.52)
      3. Evan Dolcimascolo - LU# 2-21-1 - Services through 2/16/21 ($45.00)
      4. Christopher Newsom - LU# 2-21-2 - Services through 2/23/21 ($45.00)
    2. Board Planner: Jessica Caldwell, J. Caldwell & Associates
      1. Land Use Board Business - Services through 1/28/21 ($2,250.00)
      2. Land Use Board Business - Services through 2/10/21 ($125.00)
      3. 515 Vernon Property LLC - LU# 7-20-4 - Services through 1/14/21 ($1,250.00)
    3. Board Engineer: Cory Stoner, Harold E. Pellow & Associates
      1. Land Use Board Business - Services through 12/9/20 ($455.00)
      2. Land Use Board Business - Services through 1/25/21 ($130.00)
      3. Allain & Bilomauser - LU# 11-20-8 - Services through 12/10/20 ($556.60)
      4. Allain & Bilomauser - LU# 11-20-8 - Services through 1/25/21 ($325.00)
      5. NWAC - LU# 11-16-12 - Services through 12/1/20 ($245.80)
      6. Fred Decker & Son - LU# 4-17-2 - Services through 1/27/21 ($179.81)
      7. Diamond Communications - LU# 10-18-7 - Services through 12/4/20 ($831.00)
      8. LGWS - LU# 7-16-7 - Services through 1/5/21 ($205.50)
    4. Board Recording Secretary: Irene Mills ($75.00)
    5. Board Conflict Attorney - Ursula Leo, Laddey, Clark & Ryan LLP
      1. Land Use Board Business - Services through 12/18/20 ($1,310.40)

Motion: Motion to approve board fees was made by Mr. Mele and was seconded by Ms. Mitchell. All members were in favor.
Motion passed.

Board engineer Stoner informed the board that he received a letter from Mountain Creek stating that improvements presented in their 2020 Annual Report were not completed due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions but will now be completed in 2021. Mountain Creek respectfully requests to forgo the annual update hearing before the board in 2021 due to no additional changes being made. Mr. Mele questioned when Mountain Creek will complete the previously planned fence improvements on RT 94 to increase public safety and restrict visitors crossing major roadway through traffic. The board authorized Mr. Stoner to respond to Mountain Creek requesting detailed written plans to the Township on fence improvements.

Adjournment

There being no further items of business to be conducted on the agenda, a motion was made by Mr. Whitaker and was seconded by Mr. Mele. All members were in favor. Meeting adjourned at 10:03 p.m.

Respectfully Submitted
Irene Mills, Recording Secretary