BRIDGEWATER, NJ - The meeting room was filled to capacity and the public dialogue grew contentious when the Center of Excellence application continued at a Bridgewater Township Planning Board special meeting Nov. 26.

As the meeting opened, planning board attorney Thomas Collins explained that the board has a duty to resolve applications before the board within a certain time frame – that time frame for the Center of Excellence has passed. If the process is not completed within that time frame and the applicant does not agree to an extension, the applicant has the option of filing a default affidavit that could result in automatic approval.

The applicant, Advanced Realty, has granted extensions to allow the matter to be continued, but applicant attorney Kevin Coakley said Tuesday that they are willing to grant one more extension, and he would like the board to vote on the application at the next meeting.

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The application will continue Dec. 10 at 7 p.m. at the municipal complex. Because all testimony is complete, residents will have the chance to voice their concerns and opinions on the proposed development project, with testimony limited to five minutes per person.  

The center application, from Advance Realty, includes plans for 400 rental apartment units, plus on-site amenities such as retail shops, restaurants, a hotel and a supermarket.

Jay Troutman was hired by Bridgewater Township to review all traffic materials related to the application, including the traffic impact study prepared by Dolan and Dean. Troutman’s testimony, which was completed at the prior planning board meeting Nov. 18, was about his review of the traffic reports.

Throughout the evening, some questions from members of the public could not be answered because, according to objections from the attorney, they had been extensively covered at prior meetings through testimony and public questions of Gary Dean, the traffic engineer who conducted the studies and prepared the reports, or because Troutman was unable to comment as he did not author the traffic impact study and was only testifying on his review of the document and the methods.

Still, residents asked about the traffic impact on side streets off Route 202/206, such as on Old Farm Road, Brown Road, Foothill Road, Talamini Road and others near the proposed development site, as well as the impact of school buses for children residing in the proposed residential units. Coakley said these topics had already been thoroughly addressed in testimony by Dean over several prior meetings, and added that school bus stops would be contained within the site, not directly on Route 202/206.  

Resident Donald Doyle questioned why traffic impact assessments conducted during weekdays were limited to evening hours.

“Why was it not important to conduct traffic impact assessments during weekday mornings when additional traffic due to the high school students and staff at the high school would be present?” he asked.

Troutman said he believes the traffic studies were conducted at appropriate times.

“The weekday a.m. is not considered a critical peak hour,” he said. “The worst case analysis, and I verified this, would be the weekday p.m. peak hour. If you have improvements that provide adequate capacity during that hour, then you know you’re going to have adequate capacity during much lesser hours. This proposed change in use actually reduces a.m. peak hour impacts.”   

Troutman said the greatest traffic increase would be on Saturday. The proposed development includes a main street section with retail and dining and a ShopRite supermarket.

The traffic improvements proposed by the applicant include additional traffic lanes and installing new traffic signals at Foothill Road and Fourth Street, which Troutman said will create artificial gaps in the traffic to improve flow.

“We’ve been studying Route 202/206 since 1986,” he said. “I’m confident that the improvements that are being put forth will accommodate and improve the level of service.”

Troutman added that residents have been requesting a traffic light at Foothill Road and Route 202/206 for 30 years.

Resident Brian Hoffman questioned the assumptions of the report.

“Who verifies that the assumptions we made with traffic are correct and who is responsible for taking action and counter-measures if it is not?” he asked. “Is that the town or is that the applicant?”  

Hoffman also expressed concern about the age of the traffic data.

Troutman explained that it is the shared responsibility of the township and the Department of Transportation, and that both have the ability to make additional adjustments if that is determined to be a need.

“The applicant is going to issue an updated report when they file with NJDOT, so any concerns about the age of the data is going to be captured when the new data is updated,” he said.

Troutman said the NJDOT will have to approve all the specific improvement plans, and that the approval process takes approximately 12 months. Troutman was not able to estimate how long the road improvements would take to be completed once the plans are approved.

The meeting concluded at 10:40 pm when no further public questions were heard.

Through a roll call vote, the board determined that public comments will be limited to a maximum of five minutes per person at the next meeting Dec. 10, when public comment and a vote on the application are expected.