MILLBURN, NJ - A new sense of urgency is propelling the Zoning Board of Adjustment as it strives to render a decision before the end of the year on a proposed Stop & Shop supermarket on Millburn Avenue.
Future meetings have been scheduled for Oct. 7, Nov. 18 and Dec. 16. The board currently has seven members eligible to vote, although the composition of the board could change at the beginning of 2014.
“I’m a little concerned about the timing,” said Gail Fraser, the board’s attorney. She noted the board needs to hear additional testimony from a planner brought in by Village Supermarkets, the parent company of ShopRite, an objector to the application, as well as its own planner. Stop & Shop may also want to bring back some of its own witnesses.
Stop & Shop is seeking to build a nearly 70,000-square-foot store on the site of the former Saks Fifth Avenue. Through hearings and legal battles over nearly two decades, the company has won approval from the township of Springfield, in which the bulk of the property lies.
The applicant is now before the Millburn zoning board because the township owns a 20-foot strip of land along Millburn Avenue through which traffic will enter the site. To build driveways through the strip, the applicant would need the board to grant variances from its land use ordinance.
At Monday’s meeting, Joseph Staigar, the traffic engineer hired by Village Supermarkets, returned for cross-examination by Stop & Shop’s attorney. Also, attorneys for Village Supermarkets brought in Andrew Janiw, a planner, to discuss the impact of Stop & Shop’s application.
In his testimony, Janiw characterized the business zone in which the proposed store would be located as having small-scale commercial activity serving residents of local neighborhoods and being pedestrian-friendly.
In considering the impact of Stop & Shop’s application, the planner found the applicant fails to demonstrate that the site is still suitable for the proposed use despite problems associated with directing all truck traffic and some car traffic onto Millburn Avenue. Specifically, he said trucks create safety hazards for residents and pedestrians visiting the small businesses in the area. In addition, he noted rerouting traffic to Millburn driveways adversely impacts Millburn Avenue, with increased congestion, truck centerline violations and traffic stacking at Baltusrol Way and/or Glenwood Drive. Trucks also create safety hazards for customers using on-street parallel parking along Millburn Avenue.
Furthermore, he said the proposed method of controlling access to the loading area by using a signal will confuse truck drivers unfamiliar with the system, creating hesitation along Millburn Avenue that will be detrimental to the free flow of traffic, creating safety hazards as drivers determine the appropriate maneuver, and impeding access to on-street parking.
Forcing trucks onto Millburn Avenue with the uncertainty of whether the loading docks will be available increases the likelihood of trucks entering residential areas, school zones and local roads, Janiw also said.
He endorsed a plan presented by Staigar requiring trucks to enter the site through a driveway off Morris Avenue. In that case, no signal would be required to control truck access to the loading area and a larger loading and maneuvering area would be available.
Janiw also said the applicant fails to demonstrate that the site is still suitable for the proposed use despite problems associated with the significant increase in traffic movements along Millburn Avenue. He cited figures prepared by Staigar that the proposed development will generate 12,300 trips when only 2,500 trips are permitted. On a weekday, the site will generate 7,080 trips over a 24-hour period when only 2,500 are permitted.
In addition, the planner said the increased trip generation confers no benefit on the surrounding area as the applicant’s use is a regional destination, and it is unlikely customers will visit other retailers along Millburn Avenue.
“In fact, (the) applicant orients the building access to the rear parking area, making it less likely that patrons of the Stop & Shop will circulate along Millburn Avenue,” he said in his report.
Thirdly, Janiw said the applicant fails to demonstrate that the site is still suitable for the proposed use despite the problems associated with diminished levels of service along Millburn Avenue and all impacted intersections. Additional traffic increases the delay at traffic signals and is a disincentive for residents to use Millburn Avenue and the businesses along it. Traffic, congestion and delays lead to unexpected and unsafe maneuvers and accidents and makes parallel parking difficult.
In addition, he said, the proposed supermarket will generate additional traffic at the same time other businesses are busy and neighboring schools are transporting students along Millburn Avenue. Congestion also creates safety issues for pedestrians and children.
Finally, Janiw said the applicant fails to demonstrate that the site is still suitable for the proposed use despite the problems associated with the inability for some delivery trucks to enter or leave the site from Millburn Avenue in a single maneuver. He referred to Staigar’s testimony that the stops, kinks and unexpected slowing of trucks may cause other traffic to slow or stop unexpectedly.
Also, he cited Staigar as saying tractor-trailers entering the site in a single maneuver would cross the center line of the roadway, jump the curb and encroach on a parking space. Again, he cited the traffic engineer’s assessment that when the loading docks are full, trucks may back out onto Millburn Avenue, raising serious safety issues.