BRIDGEWATER, NJ - The Bridgewater Township Planning Board is still considering an application for a new hotel and Goddard School near the Houlihan's restaurant at Route 22 and Morgan Lane.
The application, which would add a Choice hotel and Goddard School to the property at 1228 to 1298 Route 22 East and Morgan Lane, adjacent to the existing Houlihan's restaurant, had previously been discussed in June, according to applicant attorney Henry L. Kent-Smith.
"We received a significant amount of feedback and made modifications," he said.
The Morgan Lane driveway would be maintained as it already is, while Lot 7.01 would encompass the Goddard School and would be folded into a nearby condominium. According to Kent-Smith, the properties would be treated as a single parcel.
The Goddard School, an early childhood development and daycare center, has several other locations throughout the state, including Princeton, Burlington, Hamilton and Ewing.
The first witness called was Susan Hoy, who has overseen the Goddard School in Hillsborough since 1999 and currently tends to the needs of 148 children, which would be about the same enrollment size as the proposed Bridgewater facility. Adults sign a contract for their children, some as young as several months old, to attend the current school.
Hoy said student drop-offs generally take place on mornings from 7 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., and pick-ups from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Deliveries to the school, which consists of about 8,700 square feet in its main building, are made about once a week, usually of paper products, by cargo vans.
Regarding security, Hoy said that the inner door of the school is locked 24 hours a day, and must be unlocked manually. Parents are required to sign their children into school, with biometric information also utilized, and the process only takes minutes.
Pick-ups, she said, occur on the school playground or in the classrooms, and take about 10 minutes. There are also security cameras in place, monitored from the main office.
Fencing around the proposed school would be open, composed of aluminum, colored black and standing 6 feet high.
"Every gate is locked and alarmed," said Hoy of the Hillsborough facility, with access provided to a sidewalk for emergency egress. The parking lot contains 17 spaces for visitors, which she said are rarely, if ever, all filled, with teachers' spaces located opposite.
Regarding safety barriers against vehicles, Hoy replied that there are bollards installed, along with concrete benches and landscaping that all provide "excellent protection." Bridgewater resident Bill Vreeland, of the nearby Finderne Heights condominiums, said that Route 22 is already inundated with traffic, and said he fears that the school will only add more.
The second witness called by Kent-Smith was architect Ben Horten, who discussed floor plans and color renderings of the proposed Goddard School facility in Bridgewater. The building would be one story, and be about 10,000 square feet in all, with the front facing the highway.
The entrance would consist of one door to the outside, plus another leading to an inner corridor.
“It’s a series of classrooms around the corridor,” said Horten.
The corridor would provide a secure zone for students and would wrap around the building on both sides, leading to the outdoors. The structure would also feature restrooms, a small kitchen/pantry and simple office space, but no basement, similar to a ranch-style home and essentially adhering to the Goddard School standard.
Bollards would be positioned around the perimeter of the building in the front, on the left and on the right for protection, with the back of the school by the playground shielded by landscaping. The maximum occupancy of the building would be 156 individuals.
An entry drop-off area would include an overhead canopy for protection from inclement weather. The roof of the school would slope upwards and flatten out at the top, where it would incorporate a fence-like structure 42 inches high (6 inches higher than town ordinance limits), primarily to aid workers who were servicing rooftop equipment.
Board member Stephen Rodzinak said the building supervisor wouldn’t approve the 42-inch height, while Horten countered that he didn’t think the fire official would be satisfied with just a 3-foot height, ostensibly for safety reasons.
The school would also feature a brick face all the way around.
“It will make the building look attractive,” said Horten, who added that dormers or roofed structures would also be installed in the back of the school, as a standard prototype feature, minus a canopy.
Signage for the school would fall within Bridgewater ordinance requirements, in the form of a monument sign that would be 8 feet wide and almost 3-and-a-half feet high, and it would also be externally lit. No audio equipment or loudspeakers would be placed outside the school.
Councilman Howard Norgalis asked if the school doors were self-locking. Horten said they were, and that teachers would also have keys.
Board member Evan Lerner asked why the perimeter bollards did not extend all the way into the back of the building, and said that an oncoming vehicle would be heavier than the landscaping and fencing in that area could probably withstand. Horten replied he was not a traffic expert, while Lerner believed that bollards would still be a deterrent.
Lerner also questioned the school’s multiple-door entry, in a time when he said schools are being built or retrofitted to have just a single-door entry. Horton said that codes have changed, and that the security fencing would extend around the perimeter doors to create a zone where outsiders could not get in.
Township planner Scarlett Doyle also questioned how the landscaping in the back of the school would serve as a deterrent, even with shrubs 30 inches high. Kent-Smith said the property had been consolidated with the nearby condominiums, and that there was no longer a constraint from the lot lines.
Norgalis asked about putting in bollards, and Horten said the matter would be discussed with the site engineer for the next meeting. He also said that Goddard had higher standards, derived from years of experience.
Bridgewater resident Robert Smith, who said he had 18 years experience working with fuels, asked if the Department of Environmental Protection had done a check on the site, and was told that it had. Smith added that there had been five wells of pollution which had accumulated by the Houlihan’s, and Kent-Smith said a report exists that had addresses that matter.
Vreeland questioned the notion of having children attending a school near a restaurant and a hotel, where adult drinking occurs.
After testimony regarding the Goddard School had concluded, attention shifted to the potential Choice hotel that would be built on the site, with Moorestown-based architect Nehal Jhaveri stepping up first. He said the building would be four stories in height, would feature 121 guest rooms and would be over 70,000 square feet.
The hotel would feature two exits on either side of the building, along with a rear entrance for patrons who parked their vehicles in the back. The building would also contain an indoor pool, mechanical and electrical rooms and a welcome lobby that would serve as place to hang out or eat, although those schematics are still being worked out.
Jhaveri said the floor plans are “fairly simple."
The building would rise 44 feet from the first floor to the roof, with a 3-foot-high parapet, as permitted by ordinance. The key element of the structure would be a front-facing tower, extending 10 feet above the roof level, which would be colored differently from the side wings of the hotel and could also be seen from a distance.
“It breaks up the monotony,” said Jhaveri, adding that the facade would also include a 62-square-foot hotel name sign that would be internally illuminated and would face Route 22.
Doyle asked about what would be the common design theme among the Choice hotel, Goddard school and the Houlihan’s, to which Jhaveri replied that each building would have its own identity. Mayor Dan Hayes reiterated Doyle’s stance and said that the board has to consider how structures “fit” or “look good,” and Kent-Smith said it was a valid point and that he would speak to his client.
Bridgewater resident Constance Smith asked about the hotel’s exterior signage lighting, and was told that there would be nothing in back which faces her home. She also inquired about hotel dumpsters and trash removal, and was told the site engineer would address those issues.
Vreeland questioned the height of the tower, and was told it was only a part of the building. He added that Finderne Heights residents didn’t want the hotel or the school, and that he could return with a signed petition.
Planning board attorney Thomas Collins responded that petitions are inadmissible in New Jersey with planning and zoning boards, and that live testimony is required instead, by statute, to protect everyone involved in an application.
Professional traffic engineer Gary Dean took the stand as the final witness of the evening, and said he had submitted a traffic analysis and impact assessment of the property in January for the board, and that he had begun his own involvement with the property 22 years ago.
Previous site uses had included a palm teller and an ice cream parlor, along with a nearby gift shop. The properties had been consolidated in the late 1990s and early 2000s, although a proposed furniture store, office building and drive-thru bank had all never materialized.
Dean also said a hotel had been approved for the site, but never built, although he had served as project engineer for the Hampton Inn and Suites that was ultimately constructed across Route 22.
Dean said he had performed ingress and egress traffic counts on the site, including the respective driveways, along with where Route 22 intersects with Morgan Lane. The counts had been done during peak commuter times, in May and October 2018 when schools were in session, and had included each lane of Route 22.
Dean said Houlihan’s has little morning traffic, with vehicles entering or exiting the property in the single digits, although nearly 40 vehicles entered that part of the site between 4:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. He also said there had been a desire to lift a directional restriction on Morgan Lane, to potentially avoid the highway, but that had concerned neighbors who instead wanted to retain the current driveway configuration, with cars not being allowed to exit to the right and then onto the street.
“Every car must address Route 22 in some capacity,” said Dean.
He added that some 5,000 vehicles traverse Route 22 during peak hours, with about 85 cars traveling on Morgan Lane where old driveways leading from and to the highway would be closed.
“There will be fewer driveways, and fewer points of conflict,” said Dean.
An alternative route is Adamsville Road, with more site traffic still expected to occur on Route 22. Concerning the proposed Goddard School, traffic is expected to be concentrated in the mornings, and more relaxed and consistent in the evenings.
Dean also said the site will be a model for shared parking, as parking spots at Houlihan’s and the Choice hotel would tend to be available in the mornings, with the situation reversed in the evenings, as motorists park at the school, and the hotel and restaurant ratchet up their respective businesses.
There would also be full two-way circulation throughout the whole of the site, around all three buildings, with no angled parking spots and no one-way avenues. Dean added that he didn’t want to put down lines on the site, but that he would defer to the board and could possibly place a double stop from the hotel lot to Route 22.
“We can always add a stop sign later,” he said.
Casamento asked about school buses in regards to the site study. Dean said he had based his calculations on fire trucks, which have wider wheelbases, and added that if fire trucks fit the site, then school buses will too.
Robert Smith said that Route 28 and Morgan Lane traffic is “horrendous” in the mornings, and that the traffic flow is not good, with parked vehicles also creating problems. He said that Morgan Lane is too small, and that weight restrictions on Adamsville Road cause heavier vehicles to also overflow Morgan Lane.
Vreeland added that Route 22 is overloaded during rush hour, and that Route 287 would also become overloaded, in addition to Morgan Lane and Route 28.
Dean admitted that Route 22 is busy, although there are safe opportunities to merge, and that development has consequences. Constance Smith told Dean that high-volume traffic in the area occurrs between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., after he said that his studies had been conducted between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m., and between 4 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
The application is scheduled to continue at the next planning board meeting Aug. 13 at 7 p.m., when the planner and engineer are both expected to be available. Kent-Smith said that the presentation is expected to be concluded on that date.