Training facility proposal goes before zoning board

By daniel walsh

Staff Writer

EAST BRUNSWICK — After weeks of speculation on the fate of a proposed heavy equipment training facility, the Zoning Board of Adjustment held its first public hearing before a packed municipal court room.

On Thursday nearly 100 residents turned out to hear the application of Operating Engineers Local 825, which calls for the construction of a 17,353-square-foot building, a 19.8-acre equipment training area, and parking space for 171 vehicles.

Local 825 wants to move its training site from its current location along the New Jersey Turnpike in South Brunswick to the new one in East Brunswick. The new site would be situated on a 66-acre tract of undeveloped land that is bordered by Church Lane, Beekman Road, the New Jersey Turnpike, and Irelands Brook.

In order to develop the site, Local 825 must obtain zoning board approval of the facility, which is to be constructed on land currently zoned for rural preservation.

James Cahill, the attorney for Local 825 and mayor of New Brunswick, supplied testimony of engineer Nicholas Rotonda and architect Jeffrey Venezia on the proposed site. Cahill is seeking to prove that the facility is a school in the academic sense, thereby allowing the application to proceed to the Planning Board without the need for a variance. If the zoning board rules that it is not an academic facility, then Cahill would seek a zoning variance for the facility that would allow the project to move on to the Planning Board.

The zoning board heard testimony on each of those points simultaneously during the hearing. Zoning chair Steve Phillips gave several residents the opportunity to speak before he adjourned the meeting and called for its continuance on April 13.

Alan Godber, a Milltown resident and chairman of the Lawrence Brook Watershed Partnership, said that the proposed development could lead to the pollution of the Farrington Lake by nonpoint source pollution, such as chemicals, silt, or fuel. The lake serves as a drinking water supply for several towns in the Lawrence Brook watershed, which includes East Brunswick, South Brunswick, North Brunswick, Milltown, and New Brunswick.

"Storm water will find its way into the upper and lower lakes, and Irelands Brook," said Godber, referring to the three water bodies located on the tract of land.

"Irelands Brook flows into Farrington Lake," he added.

The Lawrence Brook Watershed Partnership, a coalition of environmental commission members of East Brunswick, South Brunswick, Milltown, New Brunswick and North Brunswick, has already opposed the proposed facility, citing potential endangerment of wildlife and aquatic habitat, high levels of erosion, and large destruction of trees as possible environmental degradation.

Godber testified just minutes after Rotonda said that, upon visiting Local 825’s current training site, he found no evidence of any impact from the dust that would include some of this nonpoint source pollution.

Rotonda said that he had spoken with instructors at the site and witnessed their work at the South Brunswick facility. When asked by members of the zoning board, he replied that he had been there one time for a period of about two hours.

Several other residents spoke out in opposition to the plan. Several, including Godber, cited the concerns about the project listed by the township Environmental Commission, planner Debra Rainwater, and Public Safety Director Thomas Finn. Among those were the high potential for environmental degradation to the site and surrounding areas, and the potential negative impact on traffic.

Cahill will present testimony from a representative of the operating engineers, a noise expert, a planner, and a representative of the county vocational and technical schools during the next hearing on April 13.