BRIDGEWATER, NJ - The application for a Goddard School and Cambria hotel next to Houlihan’s, off Route 22 East, was continued at the Aug. 13 planning board meeting, with discussions over access to the property and the safety of a school near two alcohol-selling establishments.
The application would add the hotel and Goddard School to the property at 1228 to 1298 Route 22 East and Morgan Lane, adjacent to the existing Houlihan's restaurant.
Henry Kent-Smith, attorney for the applicant, said his client has made several changes to the plan based on feedback from the board and the public at prior meetings.
Robert C. Moschello, director of engineering at Gladstone Design Inc., explained the site plan changes and presented updated renderings. The plan now proposes to consolidate the lots into one lot of 6.78 acres, encompassing the entire development.
The consolidation eliminates the need for some previously requested setback and parking variances, as parking can now be shared across all three of the businesses.
Proposed improvements to the Morgan Lane access to the lot have been removed from the plan.
“Originally we were proposing to have a right and left turn at that entry point,” Moschello said. “That’s all been removed from the plan. It will remain as existing, the way it is today without any modifications to that access point.”
Fencing along the southern property line bordering residential homes in the Finderne Heights development will now remain as is instead of being replaced as previously proposed. Moschello said the existing 8-foot wooden fence is in good condition and will remain as it is today.
Moschello also said that lighting levels have been adjusted to comply with the town’s ordinance requirements. Four lights at the rear of the hotel building, which faces the southern property line, have been removed from the plan and the directional throw of other lights has been changed to cover more of the parking lot area.
Two charging stations for electric vehicles have been added to the plan, one by the hotel and one by the school, in response to a request from a prior meeting.
Updates were made to the proposed landscaping for the site including 54 deciduous, 96 evergreen, 33 ornamental and 1152 shrubs. Shrubs have been added along the front of the hotel and the Goddard School, as well as double rows of shrubs along Route 22 and Morgan Lane frontage where single rows had been previously proposed.
“One of the concerns this board had raised at the last meeting related to the ingress and egress movements from the main access drive that exists by Houlihans,” Kent-Smith said. “We have reviewed our plans, and in light of the comments the board raised we believe we can propose a solution that would actually enhance the circulation to this property significantly.”
Because curb cuts exist, an application can be filed with the New Jersey Department of Transportation to reactivate a driveway that will serve as an entrance designated to Goddard School, separating school and restaurant traffic. It would require an occupancy and maintenance permit from the Department of Transportation.
“I appreciate the change,” board member James Franco said. “I have zero doubt it’s safer. I’m totally in favor of it.”
Stanford Drive resident Tim Vreeland said he is concerned about safety with a school in close proximity to two liquor-licensed establishments.
“I don’t get it,” he said. “It just doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Kent-Smith said that all of the proposed uses are permitted.
“By putting that separate driveway in, we really do address that issue,” he said.
Vreeland also said that the only access to Finderne Heights is Morgan Lane from either Route 22 or Route 28. Morgan Lane has no traffic lights or speed bumps, and he suggested a speed bump on Morgan Lane as a safety precaution.
Kent-Smith said that traffic expert Gary Dean, who testified at a previous hearing, has analyzed the projected traffic growth and classified it as background growth to general growth in traffic.
Bill Vreeland, of Stanford Drive, asked about the distance between Houlihan’s and the proposed location of Goddard School, which is 55 feet.
“Would you build a school 55 feet from a bar?” He asked.
Michael Tobia, a community planning consultant, said the application meets the permitted uses for the Highway Interchange Commercial, or HIC, zone. Tobia reviewed a list of 11 variances and eight waivers that are requested in the proposal, and said that consolidating the lots reduces the number of variances originally requested.
“The site right now is neglected,” he said. “This is an underutilized property and we can turn it into a tremendous asset for the town. This will have economic benefits.”
He saidthe development advances Bridgewater Master Plan goals, including promoting the general welfare, more efficient use of land and promoting a desirable visual market.
Franco asked if the proposed hotel dumpster location could be moved away from the southern property line bordering Finderne Heights residents. It was agreed that location will be moved.
Franco said he is also concerned about the institutional look of the hotel architecture. The board discussed providing preliminary site plan approval with variance relief with the terms that they would approve the final architectural design.
“In good faith, we will work in terms of modifications to the architecture as a condition of the preliminary [approval],” Kent-Smith said. “We will return to the board for its full review of the final set of plans before final approval is granted.”
The board will continue to hear this matter Sept. 10 at 7 p.m.