After a couple hours of discussion, the Chester Borough Mayor and Council agreed Tuesday night that the next step in the Turkey Farm process would be a visit to the Larison’s site and a study on the build-out capacity of the property.
From there, the council said they would be better positioned to make an informed decision on zoning.
After the proposal presented to the council at the Sept. 18 meeting, Borough Mayor Bob Davis asked the council to come up with ideas for discussion and Planner David Banisch came before the council with a series of questions he said were designed to “elicit from the council a consensus.”
But council member Janet Hoven said the questions brought forth by Banisch were too in-depth for where the council was in the process.
“I think there are much bigger, broader concerns we need to address before we address our vision for what the site can be,” Hoven said. “We need to make sure what we decide to build can be supported by the population. This is a much bigger discussion.”
Considering what was best for Chester, was a theme council member Jennifer Cooper-Napolitano agreed with.
“Somebody came with a rezone request and he has had the property for 11 years. I would hope that he would want to do something to enhance the borough, not just make a move because he has a tenant ready,” Cooper-Napolitano said.
“Having more retail when we have empty stores already in town might not be what we want. I think we need to do what we can to make it special. We don’t want to be another town with a bank and a drug store on the corner.”
Banisch said the property owners might not share the same vision the council shares.
“I think he has one kind of vision and he lives in Morris Plains,” Banisch said. “I don’t think he is a community builder as much as he is a real estate developer.”
Councilman James Robshaw wanted to back the truck up even further.
“Sometimes the best way to go about these things is to look at all the constraints that we don’t control. Based on the Highlands, the DEP, the wetlands, the sewer,” Robshaw said. “I don’t think we could do nearly anything presented to us in those drawings. If all of this work was going to go back to those things we can’t control, lets address that now and see what we can do with the property. I don’t understand it. I don’t know if the builder understands it.”
Banisch said that the council seemed to be favoring a report on the buildout capacity on what the site could hold.
“We need to bring someone in to educate us,” Robshaw said. “Because we are going to talk about this for six hours and we can all say this should be a hotel on the property but the highlands says we can only have a bed and breakfast but then it’s a bed and breakfast.”
Davis suggested putting together a steering committee to guide the process but the council said they preferred to remain a part of the process as a whole.
“I think it is important for the council to remain a part of the process,” Cooper-Napolitano said. “How many people know Chester because of Larison’s?”
The name recognition was something that resonated with Hoven as well.
“I was in Thailand and someone said to me, ‘Chester? Oh, Larison’s,’” Hoven said.
Hoven also floated the idea of a site visit to the property, which the council decided was as crucial a next step as a buildout and capacity analysis.
“That would be helpful,” Cooper-Napolitano said. “I have no idea where the imaginary lines are from the map.”
Once the council has a better idea of the site constraints and are ready to move forward, Banisch offered an alternative to the steering committee.
“Your planning board isn’t particularly busy and could serve as the subcommittee,” Banisch said.