A year ago, on March 16, 2007, Sprawl-Busters reported that a Superior Court judge in New Jersey has hammered Home Depot’s efforts to construct a store in Logan Township, New Jersey. The court upheld a Logan Township Zoning Board decision to deny a use variance that would have brought the big box store to the township. A use variance was required by Home Depot at the intersection of Center Square Road and Pureland Drive because the proposed location is not zoned for retail. The judge supported the zoning board’s decision that the developer did not meet its burden and the board made a fair decision. “To my knowledge this is the first time a local board was upheld in the denying of a use variance for a big box application,” a township official told the newspaper. The developer, Center Square Real Estate Development, tried to put its best face on the decision. “This wasn’t shooting down a big box, we were seeking a use variance,” he said. “It’s really a loss for the town and the taxpayers in the long run. They’re losing out on a nice ratable.” This case took roughly one year to resolve. The developer originally filed an application with the zoning board in March 2006 for a use variance to build a 132,659 s.f. Home Depot with garden center plus an additional 71,847 s.f. for a retail shopping center. The developer had to show “special reason” as to why a use variance should be granted, and demonstrate that this huge project would not impair the township’s zoning ordinance. The Logan township zoning board denied the variance on a 5-2 vote, citing concerns with the traffic impact on the community. “In that shopping area the existing stores are community orientated. If there was a big box there it would draw people from all over,” a township official explained. The developer, as usual, contended that their project would make the traffic flow improve, because upgrades and turning lanes would have been added to the intersection. The developer argued that traffic would not increase in the area since most people do not shop at a Home Depot during rush hour. “The traffic would have been off peak, not during rush hour,” the developer claimed. “People go to Home Depot on the weekends. They don’t go shopping at rush hour.” The developer did not give up after losing in Superior Court, and appealed the decision. Another year has passed, and on March 24, 2008, a New Jersey Appellate Court once again rejected the Home Depot. According to the Gloucester County Times, the court backed the Logan Township Zoning Board of Adjustment, which said in May, 2006 that the big box did not fit the location. “The board really took its time and carefully considered all the facts, and they just felt it was not the right location for a big-box retail store,” said attorney Dale Taylor, who represented the township’s zoning board. “The traffic is very congested there and the board’s concern was this was going to have a negative traffic impact on local residents. Retail use there was just too large and too intense.” The developer could have proposed many different kinds of permitted business uses on this parcel, such as hotels, restaurants, banks, or office buildings. But the Appellate Court said the zoning board “used its particular knowledge of the surrounding area to form an opinion as to the problems with traffic flow,” and that Center Square Real Estate “simply failed to assuage the board’s legitimate concerns.”
The developer now has more than 30 acres of land it needs to fill. A spokesman for the company said it would now look for some other community in New Jersey to peddle their Home Depot. Center Square doesn’t want to put up a fast food restaurant, because that would only make the local traffic worse, he said. “Our argument was that we were going to make the traffic situation better, not worse,” the developer said. That’s why he proposed a Home Depot and wasted everybody’s time and money for more than two years. Trying to assert that people on use Home Depot on the weekends was a pathetic argument on the developer’s part. Folks in Logan Township might have wished that this developer had spent a little more time reading the township’s zoning code and rules for a variance, thereby saving everyone in the community from the legal battles that have now dragged the taxpayers through two courts, and two years, for nothing.