JACKSON – Right now an orange fence, one of those flimsy, temporary ones, is the only sign the pristine woodlands along Anderson Road are in trouble. Soon there will be two warehouses here. Huge ones, covering more than a million square feet between them.
It’s part two of the massive Adventure Crossing project, following a sports and entertainment complex whose construction already is underway.
Development is a way of life in suburbia. If you live in New Jersey and can’t accept that, then move to Montana. But warehouses — monuments to the online shopping boom whose bubble may be about to burst as the pandemic winds down — are a bridge too far for a group of Jackson residents trying to push back.
“Everyone we call is pointing us in a different direction,” said Tracy McKinney, an environmental biologist who lives near these orange fences. “I’ve written letters to all our (government) representatives. No response from anyone. Not a single one.”
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This problem goes beyond Jackson. “Warehouse sprawl” has become a thing in the New Jersey, especially along the Interstate-195 corridor that cuts across the central part of the state.
It’s so bad that today, Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, will introduce a bill designed to rein it in.
“New Jersey is proud to be known as the Garden State, but we are at risk of becoming the warehouse state,” Sweeney said in a statement. “The rapid increase in the construction and operation of retail warehouses poses a threat to the preservation of farmland and open space. The impact of these large-scale projects extends to neighboring communities that can experience economic and environmental consequences that impact their quality of life.”
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Sweeney is no tree-hugger. He is the consummate political moderate, and his championing of this cause should set off alarm bells for anyone who lives near a highway.
‘An explosion’ across the state
Warehouse wars have unfolded in Howell and Upper Freehold, too.
“We have seen an explosion of warehouse projects all across the state, but especially in Central Jersey, that are zeroing in on I-195 as kind of the warehouse/truck corridor for the one-click economy,” said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “We have a speculative economy of developers rushing in to build these massive warehouses. This is the height of pandemic development. Warehouse have huge environmental costs to communities.”
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In Jackson, for example, “this property lies on the border of two watershed areas,” said Britta Forsberg, executive director of Barnegat Bay EcoCenter. “The portion with the warehouse projects, that watershed drains directly into Barnegat Bay.”
The bay, Forsberg said, “is dying the death of a thousand cuts” from development-related pollution. “Every one of these projects matter.”
Warehouses built in the woods also destroy habitats for animals and plants, and the relentless stream of trucks clog local roads and choke the air with emissions. They could unleash a torrent of ticks, too.
It should be noted: The land under construction in Jackson was zoned for this. In a state with Jersey’s population, stuff gets built. The sports and entertainment complex will be enjoyed by a lot of folks.
But can we be a bit more judicious about what we build and where? That’s the crux of Sweeney’s bill. If one town approves warehouses whose impact could affect bordering municipalities, those neighboring governments could appeal to an intermunicipal board that would have final say over the project.
“I’m happy to see some leadership and some movement on this from a policy point of view,” Forsberg said.
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‘Not just a Jackson issue’
The bill arrives too late to impact the Adventure Crossing warehouses, but environmentalists would like to see another check and balance employed.
“We have a stopgap, and that stopgap is the state,” O’Malley said. “We need the DEP (New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection) to step in and look at the comprehensive impacts of this.”
Adventure Crossing’s developer, Vito Cardinale, previously told the Asbury Park Press that he already slimmed down the size of the warehouses and accompanying parking lots in response to residents’ concerns. He also said he’s working with the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife (part of the DEP) and the Audubon Society to create rain gardens — designed to treat polluted stormwater runoff — and nesting sites for endangered bird species in the area.
We’ll see how it plays out. The larger point is that warehouse sprawl, left unchecked, could spill into your community next.
“This is not just a Jackson issue, not just a Barnegat Bay issue,” Forsberg said. “This is a regional issue, and it deserves a more intensive scrutiny.”
Jerry Carino is community columnist for the Asbury Park Press, focusing on the Jersey Shore’s interesting people, inspiring stories and pressing issues. Contact him at [email protected]