The township planning board is scheduled to continue reviewing plans for a development along Espanong Road at its next regular meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 9, at 7:30 p.m. at the Jefferson Township municipal building.

The proposal, by Lake Hopatcong Ventures (LHV), proposes a 16,000-square-foot building with retail and storage on the ground floor, and office space above, as well as 64 parking spots. The retail space would be 8,000 square feet, while the office would occupy 5,207 square feet.

LHV operates under the holding company Camp Six, which already operates businesses on Nolan’s Point, including the Main Lake Market, the Miss Lotta tour boat and Lake Hopatcong Golf Club. Additionally, the company operates both The Windlass and Alice’s restaurants.

The board last addressed the proposal last year in June. At that monthly meeting an LHV representative said its traffic engineer would be present at a subsequent meeting to address questions about traffic on Espanong and Homestead roads. In addition, Mayor Russell Felter requested professional testimony should any blasting be required to complete construction on the property.

A number of residents attended that meeting but the lateness of the hour precluded much public comment.

Junior Patel, owner of the nearby Jefferson Market, said the same group of residents who were not able to comment at the June meeting will attend this Tuesday’s meeting.

Meeting Delays Concern Residents

Patel tells The Jefferson Chronicle that township residents are concerned several postponements of the hearings on the plans might mean that there have been alterations to them.  

To date, LHV has not specified what retail use, or uses, might be considered for the space, a fact that worries neighboring residents who are apprehensive that a convenience store might be built on the site.

At the June meeting, when one resident, April Leaver, asked if LHV and the board could agree not to lease the space to a convenience store, there was no agreement. Residents have expressed their concern that a convenience store would be detrimental to the business of the Jefferson Market.  

In a telephone interview with the Chronicle, Patel said he is concerned because the building is so large it could be used for any number of purposes, including a store that competes with his.

Another condition Leaver requested was granted. LHV will designate no more than 16 of the parking spaces for Miss Lotta passengers.

One of the reasons for the parking lot, according to testimony before the planning board, is to provide parking for Miss Lotta passengers and a 16-passenger bus to take them to Nolan’s Point. Parking is occasionally a problem at the point, according to testimony by Lisa Palanchi, chief operating officer of Camp Six. The Miss Lotta carries 49 passengers.

Bernd Hefele, the applicant’s attorney, said the shuttle would not run after 10 p.m.

Testimony from Palanchi went into detail about the storage area, which she said is intended to be one room with one entrance. She said LHV is planning on storing their seven boats and other equipment. She also said none of the parking on the Espanong Road property would be used by employees of the Nolan’s Point businesses.

Patel said another concern was the possibility of increased traffic. He said existing traffic makes it hard for customers to pull out of his parking area now. Both Patel and Art Bonito of Nolan’s Point Road noted Homestead Road is very narrow. Homestead has a 30-foot right-of-way, but the traveled way is not that wide in several areas.

“It’s hard for two cars to pass in places,” Bonito said.

Patel pointed out the development on the property will be right behind six or seven houses on Homestead.      

Espanong is a mix of commercial and residential and is the main road from Mt. Arlington to the lake. Its 33-foot right-of-way does not reflect the traveled way in numerous sections.

Original Intent for Property Questioned

The original intent for the property’s use has also become a topic of concern for residents of the area.     

Lake Hopatcong Ventures purchased several parcels along Espanong Road in 2014, 2015 and 2016, each from a separate owner. The earliest purchase by LHV, which was recorded on Dec. 3, 2014, was from the Lake Hopatcong United Methodist Church (UMC). The other two parcels were purchased from Espanong Plaza I and II in 2015, and from Felix Leonawicz Jr., in March of 2016.  

However, the UMC parcel was originally donated to the church by former Mayor Wilbur Willis in the 1960s. Willis’ wife, Irene, and then his nephew, Gary Martin, were organists at the church for many years.

There is much speculation that Willis intended the UMC to use the property for a new church and wanted it to revert to his heirs in the event a church was not built. Richard Willis, the late mayor’s nephew said he does not have a deed for the transfer of the property, so he does not know if that was his uncle’s intention.

Willis said his uncle gave the land to the congregation of the church on Howard Boulevard when there was talk of creating a Sunday school building. There isn’t room on that lot for an expansion, he noted, adding the church obtained a piece of land from Howard Morrow for parking some years ago.

Martin said the church hired an architect and there was a building fund during the time he was organist, from 1968 to 1978. During those years, the church also purchased the former Slockbower house on Espanong Road for use as a parsonage.

No one from the Lake Hopatcong United Methodist Church returned phone calls or emails on the matter.