BRIDGEWATER, NJ - With hundreds of people in attendance at the Bridgewater-Raritan High School, representatives from Quick Chek presented a continuation of its application for a 24-hour convenience store and gas station at the former Tectonic building off Route 22 and Route 28.
The application was heard for the first time in June.
Since then, the applicant has made a number of changes to the application, the biggest of which being the elimination of a second entrance into the property from Route 28. This would leave the only entrance in and out of the property on Route 22.
Engineer Keith Cahill said the application is for a Quick Chek in the C-3 zone at the corner of the intersection of routes 22 and 28.
The proposed building, Cahill said, is 5,700 square feet, with a canopy covering 16 fueling stations and 57 parking spots around the property. There will also, he said, be underground storage tanks.
Originally, Cahill said, the application included a full movement driveway on Route 28.
“At the last meeting, there was a concern from board members about the driveway on Route 28, and an extensive concern raised by neighbors,” he said. “Since the last meeting, we have revised the plans and resubmitted them.”
What the applicant had anticipated doing, Cahill said, was removing the asphalt at the entrance from Route 28, and re-vegetating it with trees.
Now, Cahill said, they have eliminated the driveway, which reduces the amount of impervious coverage by 6,000 feet.
In addition, Cahill said, they have a solid fence proposed along the western perimeter that screens the parking lot area.
“It provides additional screening toward the Route 28 frontage of the property,” he said. “The closest space to Route 28 is 85 feet, and we have re-vegetated along the area.”
“We feel this is a significant enhancement with concerns relevant to maintaining the character on Route 28 and not introducing more traffic,” he added. “We are providing more landscaping and screening.”
Cahill said they are providing as much vegetation as possible in the area, particularly to account for grade changes on the property, and providing a solid barrier to minimize the visual impact from the Route 28 corridor.
“The site is geared all toward Route 22, and we have worked with the professionals on this,” he said. “We are providing screening with the natural grade changes, and adding landscaping and screening.”
“We’ve minimized the visual, and pushed it as far as possible to Route 22,” he said. “And we’re supplementing with year-round vegetation to help.”
Board member Alan Fross questioned, to loud applause from the audience, what the applicant is planning to do to protect nearby residents from the illumination of lights on the property all night long.
Cahill said there will be evergreen trees year-round, which will provide greater screening for the property.
“You’re catching the top side of the canopy, which has down-side lighting, you are not going to see the fixtures,” he said. “You don’t see the light unless it hits something, so you won’t see it coming off the ground.”
In response to a question from township planner Scarlett Doyle, Cahill said the trees they are planning to plant as screening will reach their highest height to cover the property within five years.
But for many residents, one of the biggest concerns was the fact of the previously proposed second entrance onto the property off Route 28. One resident asked if there is a requirement that would mandate a second exit, particularly with regard to emergency access.
Cahill said he received a letter on the day of the hearing from the fire official concerning a potential need for a second emergency entrance on the property, and the applicant will be reviewing that.
“We need to work directly with the fire official,” he said. “But there will be no public access through it. It would be screened off with a gate to prevent public access.”
Another Shields Lane resident questioned whether, in a number of years, the applicant could simply decide to put a second entrance on the property, namely on Route 28.
Cahill said they would have to come back to the zoning board to get another variance if they ever chose to request another entrance. But, he said, the applicant could not just open the second entrance without permission first.
A Reinhart Way resident questioned the 22 variances the applicant is going for, including ones for setback from Route 22. He said the zoning ordinance requires 200 feet of setback, and the application is only for 88 feet, in addition to similar setback requests for the canopy and parking lot.
All the setbacks proposed by the applicant, the resident said, are less than half of what the zoning ordinance requires.
Cahill said the variances are being requested as part of an attempt to move the building as far from Route 28 as possible.
“Pushing all the activity from Route 28 and toward Route 22 requires us to request these variances,” he said. “The intent of the setback is to keep parking and activity away from travel areas.”
Concerns also centered on the proposed sign for the Quick Chek, which would not be located on the property in question, but on an adjacent right of way, requiring permission from the New Jersey Department of Transportation.
“The intent of the design is to place the sign and build a safe area,” Cahill said. “We have to go to the DOT to get permission for the sign, and, in regard to safety, that would be the safest place for the sign.”
Huntley Way resident Quian Dong asked whether the applicant is planning to create a deceleration lane on Route 22 to allow drivers to safely pull into the Quick Chek.
Cahill said there is no plan for that right now, but the line of sight for the sign is in excess of 1,000 feet.
“From the point of the overpass (on Route 22) to the sign, there is more than adequate time to see the sign, recognize that there is a gas station and go into the shoulder to pull in,” he said.
Cahill said there are 196 feet of new curb proposed, but no deceleration lane.
“Have you looked at other commercial properties, like the TD Bank?” Dong asked to loud applause from the audience. “They have designed a safety deceleration lane for people to be safe to enter that property.”
To a chorus of boos from the audience, Cahill said there is enough width in the shoulder to get into the property.
“It is the DOT’s final decision whether we put that in or not,” he said. “The jurisdiction of whether we do that is up to the DOT. We have adequate lane width.”
But Dong said the residents are concerned about safety.
“We are all residents of this neighborhood, and we do not care how you design things out of this neighborhood,” she said. “We have to put in a deceleration lane.”
Route 28 resident Anthony Casale questioned the images Cahill presented of the views of the proposed Quick Chek once the landscaping is put in. Casale said the homes in the area are two-story and ranches, many of which are the same height as the proposed canopy.
“You will view the lights of the canopy,” he said. “We’re not getting a picture of what that would look like.”
Casale requested that photos be presented of what the property would look like in the evening to show how the lights might affect nearby residents.
Cahill said he is not sure he would be able to get those.
“With our proposal, we are leaving existing vegetation as much as possible, taking advantage of existing topography and supplementing with year-round trees,” he said. “We are sensitive to the Route 28 corridor.”
Kaiser Lane resident Philip Eng questioned whether the applicant will be doing foundation inspections on nearby homes if any blasting is required when they dig underground for fuel tanks.
Cahill said they would be doing monitoring on their property lines to show they are in compliance with safety standards, and would do those inspections on homes only if they felt it was absolutely necessary. But, he said, he does not anticipate any blasting needed at this point.
And Glen Eyre Drive resident Louisa Kwan-Au-Yang questioned how the applicant would protect the community from a fire if the 64,000-gallon tank they are using were to explode.
“The 64,000-grallon tank would destroy our community if there was a fire,” she said. “It only takes one stupid person. How will you guarantee there will not be a fire affecting our community?”
Cahill said he can’t do anything about human error, but the applicant is relying on its responsible designers, meeting all required codes and its record of success.
“We have no records of explosions, and we have professionals who deliver fuel and service vehicles,” he said. “We design above and beyond the codes of the state of New Jersey, and we have a great track record. No one wants to create a problem for this community.”
Buena Parkway resident Henry Wang asked what the applicant will do to prevent teenagers and other kids from crossing Route 28 to enter the Quick Chek on foot, whether or not there is a real entrance there.
“How do you prevent some kids who don’t know much but want to hang out on the site, and who will cross the dangerous Route 28 with a speed limit of 45 miles per hour?” he asked. “How do you provide security to those residents?”
Simply, Cahill said, it is bad for business.
“We don’t want people hanging out in the lot because it is uncomfortable for customers,” he said. “We have surveillance cameras around the facility and have people working inside and out. If it’s visually observed, we are going to ask the customer to move on.”
Questioning of Cahill will continue at the next meeting scheduled for Dec. 1 at 7:30 p.m. in the auditorium of the Somerset County Vocational & Technical School, on Vogt Drive.