A Brick Township man has proposed what his representatives described as a “business incubator” that would allow small business owners in the trades to have a secure space to operate their enterprises, in the first test of the township’s new “village zones.”
The complex, planned to be constructed on an “L” shaped lot at the corner of Drum Point Road and Old Silverton Road, will blend space for five businesses on the first floor with two, three-bedroom apartments above. The owner of the property, Samuel J. Pica, told members of the township’s planning board Wednesday night that he envisions a space where plumbers, electricians and those in similar professions can rent an area to secure their work vehicles, store equipment and have a small office to receive mail and take care of paperwork. The use of the property in such a way is allowed under the “village zone” ordinance Brick officials adopted in 2018, which provides opportunities for mixed-use complexes where small businesses and residential spaces are contained in one parcel.
The board was unable to take a vote on whether to approve the project since, after four hours of testimony, neighbors with concerns about the project had not had a chance to have their say on the application. The neighbors chiefly expressed concern over the number of parking spaces included in Pica’s proposal, as well as having commercial properties front Old Silverton Road, which is otherwise developed residentially. Pica told board members he is a longtime township resident who wants to be a good neighbor, and that the building would allow fledgling business owners to grow.
“This way their equipment is not out on the street, they have an office and a bathroom,” Pica said. “They are for mom-and-pop operations, such as a plumber or electrician who [currently] runs out of room at his house.”
Pica is seeking approval from the planning board to build two new buildings on the site. In one building, the applicant is proposing two, three-bedroom units on the second floor and five contractor units on the first floor, with office space and storage in each contractor unit. The second building will be for commercial use with garage space, office space and storage, board filings said. The five contractor units will each have their own small driveway, space to store a work vehicle, pallet racks and room for a small office. While a small portion of the proposed complex backs up to Drum Point Road, a major thoroughfare, the driveways and frontage of the property will face Old Silverton Road.
“It will run like a normal business, 8 or 9 o’clock in the morning to 5 o’clock at night,” said Pica. “It’s a small operation; this isn’t for big companies.”
Officials said the township is already planning work on Old Silverton Road with drainage improvements, repaving and “speed tables,” small bumps in the road that slow down traffic and discourage the use of the road as a cut-through.
Neighbors said they fear the businesses will bring traffic to their street and commercial activity early in the morning or late at night. Pica’s representatives said the spaces will primarily be used as a base for storage, and local ordinances already preclude construction work from occurring in the early morning hours.
“I think you’re simply trying to put too much stuff on this lot,” said Andrew Flora, who lives on Old Silverton Road. “We know what this block is like – it’s generally quiet and now you’re introducing this.”
Another resident said he recently purchased a home on the street because it was quiet, and was told by his real estate agent and attorney that surrounding properties would remain residential – the new proposal could negatively affect property values, he predicted. The board, however, could not consider such an argument since all of the uses Pica has proposed are permitted in the Village Zone. His project requires variances from the board, but not use variances which carry a high bar for passage. One variance references the position of the township’s right-of-way. Another variance asks for relief from the township’s 20-foot setback regulation, with 11.5 feet being proposed, while another asks to waive the usual requirement of 44 parking spaces in favor of 15. The remainder of the variance requests and waivers mainly concern the layout of the parking area as it related to various boundaries and setbacks.
David Eareckson, an engineer at Matrix New World Engineering hired by Pica, said traffic will be minimal, and large vehicles such as heavy trucks will not be able to fit on the property. Pica will voluntarily stipulate an allowance for Brick Township police to enforce parking regulations on the property to avoid improper parking.
“We are not proposing the driveways as parking spaces – they are just that, driveways,” said Eareckson. “Not even panel trucks will be pulling up here.”
The only large vehicles that will access the property are garbage trucks for pickup and those that deliver packages, he added.
The developer has proposed a number of improvements to help mitigate flooding, Eareckson said, including the creation of a detention basin that collects water and rapidly drains it into the ground, plus an emergency spillway that will catch water in the unlikely event that the basin overflows.
“It is located at the furthest point from neighboring residential properties,” said Eareckson.
Pica said he has turned down previous offers on the property, including some that would have proposed high-density apartments.
“We want to give people an opportunity to get a start in life,” he told board members. “That’s our intention, and we’ve had some pretty good responses when we’ve talked to people. We want to give people encouragement to stay on the job with all the negativity in the world.”
The board will take up the hearing again at its next meeting, currently scheduled for Jan. 8. Public comments and testimony from objectors are expected at the meeting, to be followed by a vote on whether to approve the project.