BRIDGEWATER, NJ - The application from Bridgewater Hills for two hotels, including a Courtyard by Marriott; a restaurant; a banquet hall; and an adult daycare center at Frontier Road and Route 22 has been put on hold until Thanksgiving.
The Bridgewater Township Planning Board held a preliminary discussion on the application at the Sept. 24 meeting, and it has now been continued until Nov. 26.

Applicant attorney Jeffrey Lehrer said his client was seeking site plan approval with variances for 17 acres in an LC zone district. He said the restaurant would be like a Cracker Barrel, while the banquet hall would be 37,000 square feet, with 30,000 feet situated on the first floor, and the adult daycare center would take up 10,000 square feet.

“The site is entirely undeveloped,” said Lehrer, who added that many of the requested variances for the project would be eliminated as the application progressed.

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Two of Lehrer’s seven projected witnesses spoke at the September meeting.

Project manager Jay Patel said he had worked or was working on several brand-new projects elsewhere in New Jersey, including a Hilton-brand hotel on the New Jersey Turnpike. He also said that he had been looking to do a project in Bridgewater for the last decade.

“We go out, get a piece of land, get approval and make a high-end, top-notch product,” he said.

Lehrer said there are a lot of blanks at present regarding signage for the Bridgewater Hills project, and that he and his client will come back before the board regarding that matter at a later date.

Planning board member James Franco said that one of his concerns about the application is that it is “architecturally lacking.” He said building elevation has only been provided for the proposed Marriott hotel, and he also cited the lack of floor plans, although Lehrer later said that one exists for the daycare.

Franco also touched upon requested height variances, and said there has been no indication of materials, finishes, parapet heights or other information for the proposed restaurant and daycare center.

Lehrer said there had been quite a bit of discussion beforehand, and that he had been instructed to integrate Courtyard by Marriott’s color palette with the other buildings.

Franco said there is a lot of information missing concerning the banquet hall, and added that giving the board such information during actual testimony was “not the way to go.”

Planning board chairman Ron Charles interjected that the board looked to have data readily available so it was able to ask content-based questions, and not have to be reactionary, or have to visualize items on its own.

“It didn’t seem ready for final approval,” Charles said about the application.

Township planning Scarlet Doyle said that information presented to the board, particularly changes, were usually required 10 days before a meeting.

“We should have time to look at what the changes are,” she added.

Lehrer asked the board to take a leap of faith regarding the project’s uses, and reiterated that a number of requested variances would be eliminated along the way. Councilman Howard Norgalis said he liked to see things put down on paper, and Lehrer admitted he had had concerns of his own.

“I can tell you there are holes in the application,” Lehrer said. “We’re aware of it, and whatever is not compatible, we’ll come back.”

Doyle also commented about what appeared to be an elevator shaft on the plans for the proposed Marriott hotel, and questioned if the case might instead be one for the zoning board, as a matter of jurisdiction. Lehrer countered that a height of 49.4 feet without a parapet was permitted, or else it would go before the zoning board.

Civil engineer Shrinath Kotdawala said a stair tower would also be removed from the Marriott, to bring it back down to parapet height in response to Doyle’s concern about jurisdiction. He said the 49.4 feet was the exposed height, and Doyle‘s report stated that parapets could not exceed 3 feet.

Kotdawala said the site is situated by the Bridgewater Sports Complex, and that there are no existing homes in the immediate area. The five proposed buildings encompass a total of 92,000 square feet, or 25.8 percent of the site.

Kotdawala said the Marriott would be a four-story building consisting of 134 rooms, while the second hotel would have 123 rooms. The banquet hall would feature two floors, with the first floor more than four times larger, while the restaurant and daycare center would both be single-story structures.

Asked by the board if there would be any impact on the water course in the area, Kotdawala said no. He added that the existing slope was 10 percent, as he wanted some “flatness” in the project.

Kotdawala also said he would work with Doyle regarding deforestation of the site, so it would be acceptable to her.

Regarding parking spaces, Kotdawala said there would be 1.2 spaces per hotel room, resulting in around 160 spaces for the Marriott and about 150 spaces for the second hotel. As for seating, the restaurant would seat about 350 patrons, and the banquet hall would seat a maximum of roughly 1,050 people.

All told, the site would feature a planned 805 parking spaces, more than the 727 spots that would be required. The daycare center would have the lowest allotment, of just 24 spaces, as Lehrer said some five vans would be used to shuttle seniors back and forth to the facility.

Regarding sidewalks, Lehrer said they would be less than 6.5 feet wide and would extend around each of the buildings, eliminating one variance. Setbacks for both the hotels and the banquet hall would also be eliminated, bringing the preliminary number of variances eliminated to three.

As for dedicated loading zones, Kotdawala said that there would only be one, at the banquet hall, as the other facilities would use box trucks to make deliveries at off-peak times. Board member Tricia Casamento cautioned that a Cracker Barrel-type restaurant might imply breakfast servings, which could interfere with delivery drop-off and loading schedules.

Impervious coverage on the site was about 56.9 percent planned, according to Kotdawala, which had been an attempt to achieve more parking spaces. Lehrer said his client would work with the board if it wanted less impervious coverage, or if it wanted pervious pavement installed.

Concerns were also raised about lighting on the site, and if the illumination might be too intense. Kotdawala said it would be brought down in some areas, to more resemble candlelight.

Doyle raised concerns about landscaping, and said the application mentioned just over 300 trees when 420 trees were required, half of which had to be deciduous. She later said that the east side of the property was very well-stabilized at present, and that the trees were “pretty substantial.”

Black-clad fencing was also requested for the complex, similar to that of the recently-opened Chimney Rock shopping center, and was slated to be fixed atop a retaining wall, with no fence greater than 6 feet in height.

There would also be two trash enclosures per building, one for refuse and one for recyclable materials. Each of the five buildings would also feature its own trash collection system, and each enclosure would be clad to resemble its respective building.

Lehrer later said he didn’t agree with Doyle’s contention that the proposed architecture appeared “institutional,” and he countered that current Generation 6 architecture was becoming more European in style.

Lehrer also said he believed the project complied with existing stormwater drainage, with a combined system located in one area.

“We do a lot of underdrains,” said township engineer David Battaglia.

Norgalis, a veteran firefighter, asked about hydrants on the site, and was told by Kotdawala that they would be fed by a local water company.

Charles inquired if there would be specific parking spaces set aside for buses/vans at the daycare center, which he believed would see significant numbers of drop-offs that would require handicapped spots, and Lehrer said it was being worked on. Lehrer also said the daycare was scheduled to operate on weekdays, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., while Charles mentioned that a number of employees on the site might choose to bike to work instead of drive there.

Doyle said the proposed square footage for the project was off by about 50 feet and needed to be corrected by the next meeting, and she also suggested the plans be revised so the board could see the changes. Mayor Dan Hayes called the layout of the application “underwhelming,” and added he didn’t see how it compared to the Chimney Rock shopping center at this time.

No one spoke during the public portion of the hearing, and it was decided to continue with the application at a later date.

“We have some work to do,” admitted Lehrer.