Thirty minutes before the Jefferson Township planning board meeting began, the room was buzzing with noise while everyone tried to patiently wait for it to start. When it finally did, the crowd of frustrated people would have to wait quite a while before they got to the project they were there to protest, a new strip mall and office space on the corner of Espanong Road and Homestead Road. This project has sparked the attention and frustration of local residents, who fear an increase in traffic problems, safety issues, and a conflict with other local businesses. The original meeting for this project had been postponed from the spring, and residents had to wait several weeks to present their concerns to the board. They would end up having to wait yet longer.

The first project, proposed by Lake Hopatcong Marine, would improve the property on 539 Howard Blvd. and construct a new building. The property currently has old structures and storage that would be renovated and improved. The new building would primarily be used for office space, a service area, and a showroom.

The owner of the property for the past 25 years, Ronald Sorensen, proposed this plan after the owners of the property adjacent to his declined to renew his lease. He decided that he could consolidate his operations and move it just to the property he owns.

Ronald Sorensen being sworn in for his testimony for Lake Hopatcong Marine. (Photo: Kalen Lucano)

In addition to the new building, the rest of the property will have the 75 boat slips that he had when he first bought the property 25 years ago and the boat ramp for day launching and slip customers. This would all be managed by four full time employees: two mechanics, one secretary, and an administrator.

The biggest concern from the board was any issues with parking, but in Sorensen’s 25 years of running the business, he never had an issue. Even in the busiest time of the season, the Fourth of July, only up to 30 percent of his customers would have their boats in use, and he was always able to manage with parking. He never had any complaints from the town or his neighbors about parking issues. The new parking lot will be an improvement as well because the raised exit will provide a good sight distance.

After hearing three testimonies, the board approved the project and started a five minute recess before the next project began its proposal.

After an hour and a half of sitting through the first presentation, the crowd had grown impatient. Although they sat quietly through the first presentation, during the break, they were talking with their neighbors about all the problems of the next project. As the architect for the next project prepared his presentation, some of the crowd nitpicked the blueprints.

At the end of the break, the board had to wait a few minutes before the crowd would sit down. They were tired of waiting and wanted their voices to be heard. That’s when Chairman Williams announced that, since it was so late into the night, this next project will carry over into the next meeting and public hearings will be suspended until that time. That did not sit well with the crowd, but they settled down once the presentation began.

This controversial project, proposed by Lake Hopatcong Ventures, would combine three lots at the corner of Espanong Road and Homestead Road in a C-zone to form a two acre property. On this two acre property, the company plans on building a nearly 16,000 square foot building.

This building would be a mixed use building. The first floor would be used as retail, the second floor for office space, and the rear for storage. In addition to this building, a shuttle service lot for Miss Lotta customers would be built to alleviate some of the congestion at Nolan’s Point.

The first to testify was the architect, William Byrnes, who has been a licensed architect in New Jersey since 1994 and has testified before this board and several other boards in the surrounding area.

Byrnes went into detail about the building, explaining that the size of the first floor would be about 8,000 square feet, but when asked how many stores would be there, he didn’t know because they don’t have any tenants there yet. Councilman Jay Dunham was concerned about this because depending on the type of retail stores that are put there, parking might become an issue.

The storage area would more or less be similar to warehouse storage. There is only going to be one room with one entrance, and the entire room would be for the applicant’s use.

The next testimony from the Chief Operating Officer of Camp Six, Lisa Palanchi, went into further detail about shuttle service and storage area. As Lake Hopatcong Ventures, they would use this property for its storage and shuttle service. The storage unit would be used to store their summer equipment during the winter. The only times there will be activity related to the storage would be during the spring when they are taking equipment out or during the fall when they are putting their equipment away. This storage area would not be used for any maintenance.

They are planning on storing all of their boats in the storage unit along with a gator and any other equipment they can fit. There are about seven boats with their largest being about 25 feet. Palanchi argued that this will not only help their business more confidently store their equipment but create a better visual by putting the equipment inside instead of having it shrink wrapped outside.

The shuttle service, which will be handicap accessible, will help their company alleviate some of the congestion in the area and will strictly be used for Miss Lotta customers. According to Palanchi, currently, parking can be a bit of an issue at times, particularly Friday through Sunday. By providing a shuttle service, the company can direct some of the traffic away from Nolan’s Point, opening up some of the parking for other businesses such as the mini golf course, The Windlass, and Alice’s.

However, the boat holds 49 people and the shuttle will only carry 16 people, which means only some of the customers will be able to use the shuttle, but since the Miss Lotta is booked by reservation, the company can control and decide how many people would park in the new lot and take the shuttle. The Miss Lotta also normally has an hour gap between each cruise, allowing plenty of time for the previous cruise and their cars to leave before the customers for the next cruise arrive. This parking and shuttle service won’t be used by any employees at Nolan’s Point either, opening up parking space for customers and employees in the new building.

The biggest issue the board had other than traffic, which will be addressed at the next meeting with the traffic expert, was the parking issue. In the plans, there would be 64 parking spaces, and between the office space of 5207 square feet, retail space with about 8000 available square feet, and the shuttle service, the board, particularly Dunham, is concerned that this won’t be enough, and it’s hard to tell because there are no office or retail tenants yet.

When the board was presented with other projects owned by the same applicant, they didn’t anticipate the kind of parking problems that they currently have at businesses such as The Windlass and Alice’s. As the businesses grew and became successful, the parking became an issue, and even though they hope to have excess parking at the new location, a parking issue could develop just as easily again.

Dunham brought up another point in their proposal about how they anticipated that this project wouldn’t replace any current businesses or displace any residents, but they won’t really know that until the tenants come in.

At this time, the residents were able to ask questions as long as they were relevant to the current testimony. April Leaver, a local resident, asked if they could make a condition against a convenience store, but the attorney for the proposal refused to allow it. Another publicly proposed condition was setting a maximum of 16 parking spots to be used for the cruise. They were more willing to allow that one.

Although there were still two testimonies to go through and a public hearing, it was 10:30 pm, and Chairman Williams decided to end it there. The next meeting will continue this proposal and will open up to the public for their own testimonies. The frustrated residents will have to wait until September 12 at 7:30 p.m. for the next meeting to begin and make their voices heard.

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