Business & Finance

Bridgewater Planning Board Approves Wawa Application on Route 202

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Rendering of the application versus what is on the site now Credits: Courtesy of Jess Chang
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BRIDGEWATER, NJ - With a promise from the developer to eliminate one of the three driveways proposed off Route 202, the planning board unanimously approved an application for Wawa, retail buildings and a Charles Schwab building on the property next to Fisher Scientific.

The site of the proposal is bordered by Thermo Fisher Scientific on Route 202, and is in a newly rezoned commercial property. It is a total of 13.68 acres, and currently has 10 residential homes, including a group home.

As for the development being planned, the western most portion will be a proposed Wawa with a stacked eight fueling canopy for 16 fueling stations. Next to that will be a 13,580-square-foot retail building, then a 5,100-square-foot retail building, another retail building of more than 9,900 square feet and finally a Charles Schwab building of over 9,000 square feet.

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One change made to the application was the elimination of one of the three driveways planned for entering and exiting the property.

“We eliminated the driveway between retail buildings a and b,” engineer Mark Whitaker said. “The third driveway is still there.”

With regard to the eliminated driveway, Tim Prime, attorney for the applicant, said the applicant will need approval from the New Jersey Department of Transportation because the driveways are off a state highway.

DOT code for the area requires an acceleration lane off properties, which would be required normally for the easternmost access drive that is remaining on the property. Since that acceleration lane is not in the plans for the property, the applicant is required to get a waiver from the DOT.

Prime said they will be seeking the waiver and will return to the board if it is not granted.
Eliminating the driveway, Whitaker said, allowed the developer to consolidate the signs that were planned for the property.

“Previously we had two monument signs at each of the driveways,” he said. “We have consolidated them.”

Of concern to some board members was a variance being requested for an additional sign advertising an ATM in the Wawa.

“That is contractually required,” Prime said. “Wawa has to have it as part of the contract with PNC. We’re just indicating that there is a free ATM.”

Several board members said they would prefer that sign be eliminated.

“We’re trying to avoid it in terms of excessive signage,” Mayor Dan Hayes said. “It is more of an advertisement of services available, and does not add value. There doesn’t seem to be a planning justification for it.”

Planner Paul Phillips said it is a fairly small and discreet sign.
“I don’t know whether there is an ordinance prohibition on it,” he said.

The variance allowing for this extra sign on the property was approved.

Phillips discussed the other variances being requested, particularly focusing on the setback variances needed for the buildings and the parking lots. The most significant variance being requested, he said, is the combination of front yard building setback and parking setback.

Both the C7 zone, which houses the Wawa and retail buildings, and M1 zone, which houses the Schwab building, have 200-foot building setback requirements and 100-foot parking setback requirements.

The applicant, Phillips said, is seeking 105.5 feet in front of Wawa, 152.6 feet for one retail building, 167.1 feet for two others and 167.4 feet for the Schwab building.

As for parking, the setback for the Wawa is requested at 33.6 feet and 80.2 for the retail a building. The other three retail buildings are in compliance for parking and do not need variances.

“There are differences in depths on the property, which affects the setback,” Phillips said. “The average depth from the rear property line is about 320 feet.”

Accounting for the setback requirement for the building and for the parking, Phillips said, the developer is left with very little space for the building itself if they were in compliance.

“Given the limited depth, there is a clear basis to grant relief,” he said. “I don’t see substantial impairment to the zone.”

Phillips said the current M1 zone buffer is 100 feet, and there is a 75-foot setback. The applicant, he said, is actually providing a 237-foot setback.

“It is part of the M1 zone, and the property owners have a right to build within those zones as long as they comply with setback requirements,” he said. “But the applicant is going above and beyond what the zone allows. The combination of board concerns and applicant response is affording what I think is a more than adequate response.”

Charlotte Drive resident Elaine Schwarzkopf said the residents are concerned about the buffer zone and the number of trees being included. She said she is concerned that the applicant is taking down trees in front of the houses that are currently on Route 202.

“They are deciduous trees, and the ones you are putting in will take about 10 years to grow,” she said.

Phillips said the applicant is leaving the existing woods at the property, and the amount of buffer area including new vegetation to supplement the existing is about 180 feet.

“The actual distance from the rear lot line to the building is 237 feet, 62 feet more than what zoning requires,” he said. “We are maintaining what is there and supplementing.”

Charlotte Drive resident Brenda Esler said she disagrees that the developer is giving as much protection as possible.

“I disagree because I think downsizing the proposal to decrease the number of buildings is something reasonable that hasn’t been considered,” she said. “In doing so, the number of trees can be untouched.”

Councilwoman Christine Henderson Rose asked whether it would be possible to construct a building on the site that would not require as many variances for setback and more.

“I think not,” Phillips said. “There is a practical difficulty because we only have just over three feet of depth. We propose a certain amount of setback, and we are taking up a large majority of the building envelope.”

Several people questioned whether the applicant would actually be able to comply with setback requirements on the property if they eliminated one of the planned buildings.

But Phillips said it wouldn’t make a difference.

“It would not get rid of the variances because we are still dealing with a limited depth on the property,” he said. “The zoning encourages multiple uses in buildings, and the key is they be integrated in terms of parking and more, which this achieves.”

“It’s the physical standard of the site,” he added, in response to a question about moving the buildings to increase the setback especially for the Wawa. “On the easterly side, we are meeting the standard for parking, the problem is on the westerly side. There is a practical difficulty in meeting both building and parking setbacks with the shallow property.”

From an intensity standpoint in the M1 zone, which is where the Charles Schwab building will be located, Phillips said this proposal is better for the residents than what could be there.

“I think this is better for the residential areas to have office space in the M1 zone than other things,” he said, noting that the zone allows for more industrial uses as well, which would be more intense on the property. “There is no weekend use, there are shorter hours than retail.”

Overall, Phillips said, he believes the project as proposed is the best for the property.

“This is as good as it gets, no changes could be made within reason,” he said. “The applicant is going above and beyond on buffers for what the zoning provides, and that is helping quality of life. We cannot improve this application in any way that would be considered beyond what is reasonable.”

A number of residents of the Route 202 homes, which are part of the buyout for the application, spoke in favor of the project.

One resident said they live with a chain link fence separating them from Fisher Scientific, tractor trailers from Fisher all night long and more. She said the quality of their lives has decreased, and they are pleased with the application presented by the developer.

“The developer has gone above and beyond what is being asked of him,” said Anthony Guide, who spoke for his mother living at 727 Route 202. “The developer is making this tract of land into something that is useful in the long run.”

Route 202 resident Aurea Higgins said that although the township may refer to the nine homes there as residential, the area is not.

“There is a commercial building next to me, a group home behind me, Fisher Scientific directly over from me and then the Wegmans shopping center across the street,” she said. “We bought our house in 1973 as a starter home, thinking that in a few years I would be able to sell it and buy a better home. But we came to find that the home was completely unmarketable and unsellable.”

“We were stuck in a no win situation to better ourselves,” she added. ‘The way this section is is not an asset to the people of Bridgewater, or the township. When the deal goes through, this will be a win win for everyone.”

Schwarzkopf said she does not believe it should be about the Charlotte Drive residents versus those on Route 202.

“We’re living under the same conditions, but accept that we’re staying,” she said. “There is not one thing in the proposal that is positive for the people on Charlotte Drive.”

Charlotte Drive resident Ann Marie Grace said she has never seen the traffic as bad on Route 202 as it is now, causing school buses to be stuck on the highway while trying to drop of students and more. This development, she said, will only make it worse.

“Children shouldn’t have to sit on a hot bus after sitting in school all day,” she said. “In addition to the new development that will have cars, new drivers are going to be coming to that area at risk.”

Holmes Court resident Andrew Leven said he believes two changes could be made to the project that would make it more beneficial for the township and the residents of Charlotte Drive. The first, he said, would be to reduce the hours of the Wawa so it is not a 24/7 operation.

The second, he said, would be to expand the tree coverage or require a berm between the development and Charlotte Drive.

“You have the power to make it better not just for the 10 people whose houses are being bought,” Leven said. “You have the power because variances are being sought for 40 people left holding the bag.”

Other residents said they are concerned about the additional traffic being added to the road. Even with the extra traffic light being proposed at Fisher Scientific and Route 202, traffic still backs up between First Avenue and Milltown Road, and the addition of more cars there into the Wawa and development will just make it worse.

Charlotte Drive resident Sharon Barnes said there has to be a happy medium with the development.

“Value of homes will go down, and the community feeling will be decimated,” she said. “Instead of a wonderful place to feel safe in, we will refer to the property as a house off the highway. There is a happy medium that would still protect Charlotte Drive and have the residents on the highway be bought out.”
“The developer is looking for all these variances, but is not willing to listen when we propose just eliminating a building,” she added. “When you consider a final plan, maybe ask them to go back and reconsider shaving one of the buildings off or something so we can save the existing trees.”

Prime said the applicant is not trying to destroy anything.

“The variances are not meant to overdevelop the site, they are meant to accomplish with what the retail requires, and we have backed off some,” he said. “We ask you to approve this, we believe it is a good solid development.”

Several members of the board said they are in favor of the application, and understand especially that the traffic has to be considered.

“I think the improvements they are proposing on Route 202 in conjunction with Wegmans should significantly improve the traffic,” board member Steve Rodzinak said. “It’s a disaster. The current proposal with two driveways I think is better than having four entrances and exits.”

The application was approved unanimously.

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