Following months of speculation, public comment, testimony, standing-room-only meetings and revisions, the Lake Hopatcong Ventures, LLC (Ventures) project on Espanong Road was approved at this month’s Planning Board meeting.

The approved resolution calls for 8,110 square feet of commercial retail space (previously labeled as a convenience store), 5,207 square feet of office space, and 7,278 square feet of storage. The project will be situated on a vacant two-acre lot on Espanong Road near the Jefferson Market.

There are no current tenants for the proposed retail space, while the second-floor office space will be occupied by Ventures and its parent company, Camp Six. Ventures will utilize a portion of the space for another of its enterprises. It will serve as a remote parking lot for customers of Miss Lotta, a vessel that cruises Lake Hopatcong, with a shuttle to the lake.

The project created some controversy in recent months among residents who opposed increased traffic and the project’s close proximity to existing houses, among other concerns. Minor modifications were made to the plans to include trees and shrubs as buffers along the boundaries. Also included are a “No Loitering” sign and a stipulation that the shuttle will not operate past 10 p.m. on any night. The shuttle is limited to no more than three cruises per day.

Some Controversy Remains

This month’s meeting drew only a few residents with no public comments. When asked why there was low attendance, area residents stated that they knew it was going to be approved regardless of their input and that further fighting would be futile. Local resident Bobbi Tomalo was not able to attend the meeting but told The Jefferson Chronicle, “It’s honestly a big disappointment that a building so large to be used for storage and a strip mall is going to be right across the street. I worry about the traffic increase on an already very busy summer road,” he said.

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Tomalo added that while working from home for the last year, he was “amazed at the increase in summer traffic on Homestead Road. It’s disheartening that Lake Hopatcong Ventures didn’t seem to care much for local residents’ concerns at the meetings or the possible impact on neighboring businesses. To me this doesn’t represent bettering the community.”

Resident Michele Katz echoed similar concerns. “The area is zoned for business/residential,” she told The Chronicle, adding that “it is supposed to be for building that would improve the quality of life of the residents.” She opined that “a parking lot, a shuttle bus coming down our narrow residential street, and a large building do not improve the quality of life of the residents.”

Katz also said she is worried “about the Espanong-Homestead Road intersection becoming more dangerous with an entrance driveway right at the corner. I am also worried about the bus bringing people back to the lot intoxicated. People already speed down this road; I can’t see this project making it better.”

When asked how he felt about the decision to approve the project, Mihir (aka Junior) Patel, owner of the Jefferson Market, told The Chronicle, “I just hope that they don’t lease to any competitive business to mine such as a deli, café, or convenience store.” He noted, “There is plenty of competition as it is right now. Some may think competition is good for business, but at the same time the math is simple. If I lose $100 a day business to competition, that is $3,000 a month, which would be my rent payment.” Patel added, “However, I have my loyal customers for whom I am grateful, so I am staying optimistic.”

The Jefferson Township planning board meets on Tuesday, April 10, 2018. (Photo: April Leaver)