Millburn's Stop & Shop Hearings To Conclude by Year's End

Traffic engineer Joseph Staigar testifies during the hearing on a proposed Stop & Shop supermarket on Millburn Avenue. Credits: Patricia Harris

MILLBURN, NJ - A decision on a proposed Stop & Shop supermarket on Millburn Avenue will be reached by the end of the year, the acting chairperson of the Zoning Board of Adjustment pledged Monday night.

Hearings before the board have dragged on for more than a year, with various delays in scheduling witnesses and the resignation of one member.

“We want to get this finished in 2013,” said Cheryl Burstein. “I don’t want to go past November.”

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She indicated the board will render its decision on whether to grant the necessary variances to the applicant in December.

Upcoming hearings are scheduled for Sept. 16, Oct. 7 and Nov. 18.

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, on 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.

At Monday’s session, the board heard testimony from Joseph Staigar, a traffic engineer hired by Village Super Market, parent company of ShopRite. The company, which has a nearby store in Springfield, is objecting to Stop & Shop’s application.

Over the course of two hours, Staigar contended the application does not meet five conditional use standards set by the township for traffic at retail sites.

In the first place, he suggested an existing driveway located on Morris Avenue in Springfield be used for truck traffic entering the site. In plans presented by Stop & Shop, delivery trucks are to enter and leave the site through a driveway off Millburn Avenue.

The driveway from Morris Avenue would have to be widened to accommodate the trucks and might require the applicant to acquire easements from nearby property owners Taco Bell and TD Bank, the engineer noted. Loading docks would be moved closer to the driveway to eliminate the need for trucks to make sharp turns.

Staigar also showed a diagram of the turning path of trucks entering Millburn Avenue from Morris Avenue. Because of the acute angle, he said, tractor trailers would be forced to cross into oncoming lanes of traffic on Millburn Avenue.

Staigar repeatedly stressed the enhanced safety that using the Morris Avenue driveway would provide.

The engineer also addressed the additional traffic the supermarket would generate. According to township ordinance, the percent increase from the previous user—in this case, a department store—must not exceed 10 percent.

Figures generated by Staigar show that for peak hours during the week and on Saturdays, the volume of traffic would violate the standard. That would be the case if both Millburn Avenue and Morris Avenue access are used and even if only Millburn Avenue access is used.

Other figures show that projected vehicular movements in and out of the site would exceed the standard, whether one or both access points are used. By contrast, the former department store complied with the standard.

Staigar also analyzed the level of service, or the wait time in seconds for a vehicle at an intersection, building the supermarkets would create. Violations of standards would occur at five intersections along Millburn and Morris avenues, he projected.

Finally, the engineer found that trucks using Millburn Avenue would not be able to enter the driveway in a single maneuver without crossing the center line of the driveway, as required by township standards. Staigar showed “kinks” in the turning path where the trucks would be required to stop or travel at a slow speed so the driver could turn the steering wheel.

Such actions would be dangerous for other drivers, who are expecting a certain traffic flow, he indicated.

Furthermore, the engineer took issue with a red light Stop & Shop plans to install by the loading docks to alert truck drivers on Millburn Avenue when the bays are full. Drivers would be expected to leave the site and return later.

“If a truck driver sees a red light, he won’t know what it means,” Staigar said. He added that if he were a driver, even if he saw a red light, “I’d take my chance and pull in.”

If indeed the bays were full, the driver would have to back out, since there is not enough room to turn around, he continued. Alternately, trucks would have to circle through neighborhood streets to return to the site.

When asked what route they might take, Staigar said, “It hasn’t been explained to me and I can’t figure it out.”

About a dozen members of the public attended the session and many came forward to question the engineer. For the most part, their questions sought to elicit agreement about the traffic that would be generated or diverted into nearby neighborhoods.

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