Planning Board OKs Metem Corp. Expansion Plan

Longtime Parsippany Road energy manufacturer says its growth will bring new jobs to town.

The proposed expansion of a longtime Parsippany manufacturing firm was the main item on Monday night's agenda for the final meeting of 2011. After more than two hours of testimony, the board decided to give unanimous preiiminary and final approval to a plan to expand the . 

Attorney Thomas J. Malman, representing Metem, asked the board to approve its plan for an extensive expansion of its site at 700 Parsippany Road.

Malman first called for testimony from Steven Goldthwaite, the firm's president and CEO. Goldthwaite noted that the company has two buildings on approximately 10.3 acres, one on Parsippany Road and the other on Eastmans Road. The site encompasses a corner lot at the intersection of the roads.

"Next year is an exciting year, our 50th anniversary operating as a manufacturing company in Parsippany, and 47 years at our present location," the CEO said. "Our business has done very, very well over the past few years. We expect to continue to do well and grow."

Goldthwaite explained that Metem is in the energy business, creating "cooling holes" in turbines for power generation.

"Twenty percent of power comes from gas turbine engines," he said. "Every plane in the U.S. uses them, so we play a vital role in the [clean] energy solution."

Goldthwaite said the expansion is needed to allow the company to increase its workforce from 170 to between 200 and 225 employees over time. Though the company has branches in Budapest, Hungary, and Allentown, Penn., he said Parsippany is Metem's headquarters.

"We see tremendous opportunities right here in New Jersey," he said, noting the firm's blue-collar, non-union workforce, which is split between day and night shifts. "Business is good, and we need more space."

Metem asked the board to waive the usually required traffic study. 

"A traffic study report is not applicable," said engineer Alfred Coco, of Menlo Engineering in Highland Park. 

Board Engineer Gordon Meth agreed with the idea.

"One building expansion will trigger the need for a traffic study, but the only real traffic that will be impacted is at Eastmans and Parsippany roads, so I believe we can waive it," he said.

Coco said the company also requested a waiver of an environmental assessment, given the unusual characteristics of the property itself, which includes between three and four acres of woods and a wetlands buffered area. The site also features Eastmans Brook, a stream regulated by the state Department of Environmental Protection. 

According to Coco, a permit is already pending with the DEP, making an environmental assessment redundant.

"They seem to be moving in a favorable direction, so we suspect the permits will be issued in mid-January," the engineer said. "That will cover the three general permits the DEP requests."

Among the improvements the company wants are additions to its buildings, expanded parking to provide additional parking for new employees, a pedestrian sidewalk and a driveway to connect its two separate parking lots, Coco testified. Additionally, Metem wishes to remove a rear parking lot and replace it with parking in the front of the site.

The ordinance in place has a provision that prohibits parking between the font and the street. Coco pointed out that because Metem Corporation covers a corner lot and copes with an "environmentally constrained area" (due to the wetlands area of the site), the front parking lot is necessary to provide easy access.

"This will allow us to develop the site and stay in Parsippany at this location," he said.

The company is dealing with the property's environmental quirks as well, the engineer noted.

"One of the other things being done is restoring and managing some of the wetland buffer area by moving some of the parking away from the stream," Coco said, adding that drainage issues in this flood plain area are also being addressed. "We're putting in three basins to control runoff and discharge it into the stream."

He said the company will also plant additional trees to provide more buffer in the wetlands section.

Several board members unquired about Metem's plans regarding lights and signs.

Coco said the lighting proposal would provide for metal halite lights that would make the site "adequately lit, but not over lit."

Architect Frank Jeff Rawding of Morristown testified any new signs will comply with the ordinance and that existing ones would require a variance.

Meth mentioned the issue of putting a sidewalk along Parsippany Road.

"As engineer to engineer, we can work that out," Coco said.

The board's engineer seemed amenable to that.

"The requirement for sidewalks had more to do with the area nearer to Lake Parsippany," said Meth. "In an ideal world, there would be some sidewalk near Eastmans and near the bus stop, plus curb ramps at the Eastmans and Parsippany intersection, at signals where pedestrians would be crossing. But there are no school children walking in this area."

Another potential matter of concern to the board was Metem's handling of potentially hazardous materials.

CEO Goldthwaite sought to reassure the members.

"There are best practices in place to be sure we are in full compliance with handling acids and other materials," he said.

Architect Rawding testified about the aesthetic nature of the site upgrade. With new, larger windows and more modern signage, he said, "It will appear like a brand-new building."

Board President Kaushik "Casey" Parikh mentioned that he was impressed with the building plans.

"It's a big improvement compared to what it is now," Parikh said. "Very nice looking."

Board Attorney Anne Marie Rizzuto reminded the Metem representatives that even with an approval from the board, the company would still have to gain approval from all governing entities.

"You can't proceed with construction until you comply with what the DEP and the county want," she said.

Board Planner Ed Snieckus said that he believed the project passed the "public benefits test."

"Landscaping and improvements to the building and redevelopment of property are a benefit to the community and a mitigation for the environmental makeup of the site," he said.

After a quick roll call polling, the board approved Metem's preliminary and final site plans unanimously.

Of course, this was good news for CEO Goldthwaite.

"We're very excited about our workforce going forward," he said. "We expect to grow and hire and we hope to start construction in spring of next year."


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