Neighbors of a proposed auto storage and auction facility expressed concern about environmental damage, while the applicant, BHT Properties Group, pointed to the project’s environmental safeguards and economic benefits.
BHT is seeking a variance to buy a property owned by Public Service Electric & Gas at 248 Stickles Pond Road in Andover. Its project does not comply with the township’s Commercial Industrial Zone.
The Andover Township Land Use Board’s public hearing on the project, held Tuesday night on Zoom, ran out of time after three hours of testimony. The hearing will continue on Tuesday, Oct. 20.
Elizabeth Durkin represents some of the township residents opposing the project. She questioned Charles Eichman, regional manager for Copart Auto Auctions, which sells vehicles over the internet. Copart would operate the proposed facility in Andover, along with five of its other facilities in the region, to serve customers faster.
BHT plans to demolish three non-conforming dwellings, construct a 12,860-square-foot building, install a new well and septic system, and plant hundreds of trees and shrubs. Copart will employ from 15 to 30 people and beef up the township’s coffers, according to the application.
Residents who live near the site say the project will have a major negative environmental and societal effect on the neighborhood. Fluids could leak from the stored vehicles, they said.
Eichman said cars are drained of fluids before they are received at Copart facilities.
“I am not aware of any significant issues with spills or environmental issues,” said Eichman, who has worked for Copart for nine years. “I can tell you, to the best of my knowledge, we have not had any violations whatsoever in the state of New Jersey. I can tell you with personal experience, many of our locations have immaculate track records.”
In the event of a spill, there is a protocol in place to remedy the problem, Eichman said.
BHT attorney William Haggerty said BHT will beautify the land through landscaping. The property currently generates $30,500 per year for Andover Township and could generate up to $375,000 per year once the project is completed.
“The project would improve the appearance of a disused lot and ensure it doesn’t get used for a more impactful use,” Haggerty said. “The lot would be beautified, and the use would substantially benefit the people of Andover by increasing the tax base.”
Copart serves businesses that deal in automobiles, picking them up, storing them, and selling them wholesale through online auctions to buyers around the world.
Most of the cars on Copart lots are insurance losses, Eichman said. More cars these days are declared losses because electronic components are expensive to repair.
“A total loss vehicle in 2020 is a lot different than it was 15 years ago,” Eichman said. “It doesn’t necessarily take a lot of damage for a vehicle to be considered a total loss. All it takes is a hard-enough hit in a bad spot, where there are a lot of expensive electronics or sensors.”
Many vehicles on Copart lots are still operable, Eichman said.
The time limit for the public hearing expired before members of the public not represented by Durkin had an opportunity to ask questions. They will have that opportunity at the Oct. 20 meeting, scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at the Hillside Park Hall/Barn, located at 146 Lake Iliff Road in Newton.
“BHT Properties is committed to being a partner to the Andover community, and as such, we chose a use for this land that would produce less traffic, less pollution, and a lower environmental impact than a traditional industrial development permitted under current zoning,” Haggerty said in a statement to the paper. “Since the former Newton Airport is zoned for high-impact industrial uses such as warehousing, the usage for which BHT needs this variance will have a far lower impact than what is currently permitted.”
For more details about the project, please see sidebar.
Editor’s note: This story was corrected from the original, which erroneously stated that Elizabeth Durkin was attorney for the land use board. She only represents some of the township residents opposing the Copart Auto Auctions project, not the land use board. The Township Journal regrets the error.