PLAINFIELD, NJ - Almost 100 residents and business owners turned out on Wednesday to voice their opposition to a proposal that was before Plainfield’s Planning Board for preliminary and final site plan approval to construct a Wawa food market that would include fueling stations. The meeting had been adjourned on March 7, and was moved to the larger venue at the high school.
Wawa counsel Joseph Paparo, a principal in the Real Estate Practice Group at Porzio, Bromberg & Newman P.C., introduced Nicholas Verderese, founder and Senior Principal at Dynamic Traffic, LLC, during the meeting. Verderese said he prepared and submitted a traffic study to the board that was dated Feb. 8, 2019. (Listen to his testimony here.)
Verderese said South Ave. is under municipal jurisdiction, and Terrill Rd. is under Union County. The traffic signal at that intersection is state operated. Manual turning counts were done at both South Ave. and Terrill Rd., and East 7th and Terrill Rd. Automatic traffic counters were also used to record additional spikes in traffic.
The highest traffic volumes in the area, he said, were recorded at 4:45 to 5:45 p.m., and 7:15 to 8:15 a.m. Verderese said a traffic study had been performed March 14-20 in 2018, and again on Dec. 5, 2018; the dates were confirmed by Verderese to Nancy Piwowar in public comment.
Let's talk timelines. At an Oct. 9 City Council meeting, Economic Development Director Valerie Jackson provided a timeline that started in August, saying, "For the record, the Council directed the Planning Board on Aug. 13 to do an area 'in need of' study, and if warranted, a redevelopment plan for South Ave. East. On Sept. 20, the Planning Board voted to recommend that Council adopt this as an area in need of redevelopment. On Oct. 4, it was memorialized by the Planning Board. So the vote for the action took place on Sept. 20."
At that Sept. 20 Planning Board meeting, members agreed to declare the area “in need of redevelopment” after Shawna Ebanks of Nishuane Group, LLC presented a detailed rationale for the “in need” designation. Nishuane also included fueling stations as a permitted use.
However, while the Planning Board approved the plan at its Oct. 4 meeting , the minority on the board unsuccessfully advocated to leave gas stations out.
Board member Sean McKenna had asked Chair Ron Scott Bey then, "While some cities do these plans to attract certain kinds of development to come in, sometimes these are backed into.” He asked, "Which one are we?”
Scott Bey said, "I don't know. This actually came from Economic Development. Do they have developers in mind? I would hope so."
The City Council voted 6-1 to adopt the redevelopment plan at its Dec. 11 meeting, with Second Ward Councilman Cory Storch voting no. He said, "Plainfield has become business friendly, and is attracting more developers than at any time in the city's recent history. This is a positive reflection on the work of city government, especially in the last five years. Have we reached the point where Plainfield doesn't have to accept every developer, every development proposal, and all requests for tax abatement?”
He added, "I believe that time has come for Plainfield. We have positioned the city with more negotiating leverage to have our developers give our residents what they want. In other words, development that is not just for the sake of development."
Fast forward to when the Planning Board was expected to hear the proposal for preliminary and final site plan approval for Wawa by the applicant, South Terrill Urban Renewal, LLC on March 7, but the meeting was adjourned. The property addresses in the proposal, 1444-1470 South Avenue and 512-516 Terrill Road, include the popular Giovanna's Restaurant. The lot at the south corner of Terrill Road that is occupied by a 7-Eleven is not part of the proposal.
What else we have learned: JMF Properties, the developer of the Quin Sleepy Hollow project, is also involved in this Wawa project, according to confirmation by Wawa counsel Paparo. Kevin Codey, Vice President of Land Acquisitions at JMF, was present at the meeting, but did not speak.
One property in the redevelopment plan has been purchased, and there are contracts on others.
Matthew Sharo, Principal at Dynamic Engineering Consultants, said the first Wawa opened in 1964, and approximately 30 years later, fueling stations were added. Today, he said, there are over 840 locations on the East Coast; 240 are in New Jersey, and of those, 140 locations sell fuel. He said Wawa is a privately held company owned by its founding family and employees, and each location is owned by Wawa; there are no franchises.
The proposed location would be open 24 hours, 7 days a week, and have up to 50 employees, including part-time employees. There would be 10 to 12 employees per shift, with three shifts per day. There would be video cameras throughout the store and the site, and videos are kept up to 30 days.
Deliveries to the market would vary. Fresh groceries would be delivered four to five times per week, and dairy items would be made three times per week, both via tractor trailer. Privately owned vendors would deliver things like soda. And baked goods would be delivered every day.
Trash pickup would occur three times per week, and cardboard would be collected twice a week; the area would include a trash compactor that “sounds like a fax machine." Fuel deliveries would be made to the underground storage tanks one to two times every 24 hours on demand.
The canopy over the fueling stations would be sloped up from South Ave. towards the building. “This canopy is buffered by the building behind it," Sharo said. Light fixtures would be flush to the roof, and Sharo said the light comes out but is all contained in the property.
Underneath there would be six multi-product dispensers, and each MPD would have two pumps.
The total square footage of the Wawa, Sharo said, is 5,100 square feet. Landscaping, trees, fencing and retaining walls would help with lighting glare and noise, it was noted.
Sharo said he was unaware of any when board member Horace Baldwin asked if he was aware of any statistics on police activity at other Wawa locations in Union County (in Rahway and Elizabeth).
William Toth said, “It just so happens this stretch of South Ave. was a part of a community vision study not that long ago, and the recommendation of the vision study was for that area from Terrill Rd. to Leland to be primarily residential and mixed use residential. And the particular lots we’re talking about, the recommendation was that they were residential only. And I’m concerned that this development is out of character for what the community wants.”
Toth continued, "Taking that into consideration, what kind of design changes can be made to make this more compatible? Zoning allows for a 6-story multi-use building, you’re proposing a one-story building. It allows mixed use residential, and it’s the desire of the community for a pedestrian-friendly environment, and this couldn’t be farther away from that.”
Toth said, “No one’s going to want to live next to a 24-hour auto fueling plaza like this." He said he is afraid it will discourage residential development around it.
See findings from the 2010 NJIT Charrette conducted with Plainfield resident input.
Resident Timothy Priano asked about a comparison in size of the locations in Rahway, Maplewood and Elizabeth, and the one being built on Route 22 in North Plainfield. Sharo said the Rahway location is the same size as the one being proposed for Plainfield.
Priano questioned Sharo saying, “What type of street does it sit on? Does it sit on a 2-lane road or a 4-way lane road in Rahway?” Sharo said it was 2-lane in each direction, so four lanes.
Priano said, "So we’re putting the same size Wawa in a 4-lane in a 2-lane area?” Sharo responded in the affirmative.
Nancy Piwowar said, “Wawa, come to the West End of Plainfield.”
Concerned residents speak out
Business owners located near the area were on hand to hear more how they might be impacted. Jeff Spelman from The Coffee Box referenced a planners report in his comments. Freppe's and 7-11 owners were also in attendance.
Resident Allen Ashby said, “I came here discouraged. I’m leaving here even more discouraged.”
Neighbor Andrea Greenspan addressed Chairman Scott Bey, saying “I’ve heard everything you said about the land use," adding that the project would be his legacy. She said, "I don’t really see how other businesses or restaurants are going to come in to be near a gas station.”
Greenspan said people will not be inclined to go to restaurants to sit outside near a fueling station while gas pumps are being filled, and trucks are driving in and out. "I just don’t see that in the community.”
The Wawa representatives would not consider reducing the number of gas pumps, nor would they consider closing the establishment overnight.
In the end, the Planning Board voted 6-2 in favor of preliminary approval, with McKenna and Toth voting no. Siddeeq El-Amin did not vote as he had to leave early. Carmencita Pile and Anthony Howard were not in attendance.
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