ROXBURY TWP. – Some 20 years ago, then-Mayor Drew Cullen said he expected the Howard Boulevard corridor in Roxbury Township to one day be the proverbial goose that laid the golden egg.
If that’s true, and following what became more than two decades of clean-up and remediation on the 1,200 acre Hercules tract on Howard Boulevard, where gunpowder was manufactured for more than 100 years, the first goose may have just stepped up to the plate.
The Parsippany-based Hartz Mountain Industries, Inc. has submitted an application to the Planning Board, proposing to redevelop the former Hercules manufacturing site into a five-building 2.5 million square foot commercial warehouse property.
Over half of the property will be made available to the public in the form of trails, parks, and sport fields – with large portions of the property undeveloped. The project is a spec project with no particular prospective tenants, according to a release issued by Hartz Mountain Industries Wednesday.
Of the 820-acre site, only about 213 acres will be developed for commercial use. About 500 acres will be preserved as open space. An additional 13 acres will be used to satisfy Roxbury’s required affordable housing obligation, based on the township’s 2020 legal settlement with the Fair Share Housing Center.
The five commercial buildings will measure 45-feet high and will not be visible from surrounding roads due to the unique topography of the site. In addition, the project won’t have significant traffic impacts to Howard Boulevard based on its design. All traffic will access the site via Howard Boulevard, but trucks will only be able to exit by right turns onto the northbound lanes toward Route 80. The project also complies with guidelines recently published by the State Planning Commission for warehouse development.
“Hartz is proud to put this proposal forward. It’s a unique opportunity to redevelop a former manufacturing site, bring significant new economic benefit to the area, add new open spaces for public use, and have very little negative community impact,” said James Rhatican, Hartz vice president of Land Use and Assistant General Counsel.
“In fact, our expert study estimates over 1,100 jobs created during the construction phase, 1,200 ongoing permanent jobs during operation, and over $4 million in new property tax revenues each year. Most of that will benefit Roxbury public schools.”
Among the 500 acres of preserved open space include 250 acres dedicated to the state Department of Environmental Protection for permanent preservation, 75 acres across Berkshire Valley Road to potentially include a full-size football, soccer and baseball field and several acres along Route 46 for up to three soccer fields.
“Part of our mission is to collect community feedback on how best to design these open spaces, parks and fields to provide a product that is useful to the residents. We look forward to that dialogue. In fact, Hartz’s design of the project already integrates elements intended to address community concerns such as traffic and noise,” added Rhatican.
Hartz announced the launch of a website, www.RoxburyCommerceCenter.com, where residents can review the full application, examine the proposed renders and site plans, explore the community benefits, and learn more about the proposal.
Roxbury Mayor Jim Rilee, who sits on the Planning Board, said he has not seen the plans yet, but said there are some obvious concerns.
“I haven’t seen the plan yet, but heard it was a lot of warehouses. I assume they are worried about the plan because they started an advertising campaign before the project was presented to the board,” he said.
“The obvious concern without seeing the plan yet is the potential impact on quality of life issues with the significant increase in truck traffic. I will hold any further comment until I get a chance to review the plan,” Rilee said.
The Kenvil Works Facility previously occupied the property dating back to 1871, manufacturing dynamite and other explosives. Upon closing in 1996, Hercules spent several years demolishing more than 325 buildings and more than 1 million square feet of foundations. Given its history, New Jersey regulators have identified it as a Tier 1 Contaminated Site for which brownfield redevelopment is encouraged.
The 1,200 now-vacant tract has also become home to numerous forms of wildlife.
In October, the long-delayed cleanup of contaminated soil at the former Hercules Powder Works site, was approved by the Planning Board.
The cleanup project involves on-site treatment of 100,000 tons of dirt tainted with trinitrotoluene (TNT) and the removal of 10,000 tons of soil contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
The work started with site preparation and will last about six years, according to representatives of site owner Hercules LLC, a subsidiary of Ashland Global Holdings.
The application was submitted to the Planning Board on Aug. 18.
The application will eventually be heard by the Planning Board at a public hearing. Members of the public will have the opportunity to comment on the application.
In February, Mayor Jim Rilee spoke before the Roxbury Area Chamber of Commerce, and the topic of Hercules was addressed.
For more than 100 years, Hercules Powder Company produced explosives and gunpowder which fueled- literally- several wars, dating back to World War I. Some 20 years ago, however, it ceased operations, and began what was expected to be a 10-year remedial clean up of the property.
“There has been a lot of talk,” Rilee said. “We’ve heard everything from a Nascar racetrack to warehousing for that property,” he said in February, before the application was filed with the Planning Board.
“We’ve heard a lot of talk. The biggest talk we’ve heard is warehousing,” he said, adding that Hercules still owns the property, or a subsidiary called Ashland Global Holdings, Inc. “The truth is we just don’t know,” he said.
Every building that used to exist on the 1,000 mostly-wooded tract has been removed, but Rilee said the soil remediation and the ground clean-up was going to be a long process. Last October, Roxbury’s Planning Board granted approvals for the removal of soil and trees from the site.
“We are certainly open to entertaining ideas. It could be a warehouse development, with a housing element as well. We already have lots of warehousing in Roxbury, but this is what we are hearing,” he said.
Another rumor: an amusement park.