MONTVILLE, NJ – The Montville Township Planning Board met on March 9 and heard testimony regarding a proposed Wawa food market and fueling station to be built on what has been named a redevelopment site by the town, at the corners of Changebridge Road, Bloomfield Road and Route 46 West in the Pine Brook section of town. 

Board Planner Joseph Burgis, Professional Planner of Burgis Associates explained that the application was filed before the site had been officially deemed a redevelopment site.

Attorney Steven Schepis described the site, which currently contains an abandoned restaurant and dry cleaner, but stated these buildings have been condemned. He said land owner Raymond Eshaghoff has entered into a long-term lease agreement with Wawa, pending board approval. Schepis said the application is for “full site disturbance,” meaning, tearing out all buildings and parking lots. Further, the site will be lowered eight to ten feet in the back near Bloomfield Avenue, he said.

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“When I first met with the folks from Wawa about two years ago, the proposal was the run-of-the-mill Wawa like you would see on New Road [in Parsippany],” Schepis said. “I expressed your advanced consternation, and I pointed out that the township was envisioning a redevelopment of the area; […] they had to capture that redevelopment feel. They’ve come up with something that is unlike any other Wawa. [Upon seeing it,] the chairman of the Montville Design Review Committee stated, ‘this is not a Wawa, it’s a Wow-wow.’”

Eshaghoff stated he had looked for viable uses for the property but because of the steep drop, it was difficult to find any that “made economic sense.” Eshaghoff said he thinks Wawa is a “great tenant, who treats their employees well, and are great neighbors in the communities they go into.”

Schepis then brought Professional Engineer Mark Whitaker of Dynamic Engineering, who testified on the proposed site and signage to the board.

Whitaker described the site as being two acres. The proposed construction would be a Wawa market and a separate, canopy structure under which would be gas pumps. The site would be accessed from all three roads, but the 46 and Bloomfield Ave. access would be from a driveway alongside the site. (See the site plan in the photo gallery.) Parking would be on the north, west and south sides of the store. The market would have 5,585 square feet and two 33-foot high towers on the façade, at the front and rear doors. It would be a single-story brick building with a manufactured-stone veneer.

Because of the 25.5 feet of grade change across the site, a retaining wall is proposed for the north and west borders of the site (the Changebridge and Bloomfield corner). Whitaker said the driveway along the western side of the site is due to the grade, and the impervious coverage variance is due to that driveway. Further, the market building floor will be set into the ground by about 12 feet, he said.

The “fueling canopy” would have pumps with diesel, but be designed for passenger vehicles only. The canopy is A-frame shaped. When asked, Whitaker said the height had to accommodate a tractor-trailer in order to refill the holding tanks, but he stated that tractor-trailer drivers would be turned away if they intended to fill their own fuel tanks.

The market and fuel pumps would be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“That’s Wawa’s motto, so to speak,” Whitaker said.

He said the store would employ 40 to 50 workers, and during a peak shift, 12 would be working.

Discussing the access, Whitaker said the driveways on Bloomfield and 46 would be moved. The Bloomfield Ave. driveway would be moved 35 feet, away from the traffic signal. The 46 driveway would be moved 68 feet. He said he considered the driveways to be safe in width and said they had been designed with adequate sight distance in mind.

Whitaker discussed deliveries, which would be throughout the week during daylight hours and every day between 4 and 5 a.m., and he said fuel would be delivered twice a day as demand required. Employees are trained in spill response, he said.

A 32-square-foot sign is permitted on Bloomfield Ave., while a pricing sign is over the permitted allotment. However, pricing is required by law for fueling stations. On Route 46, a 32-square-foot sign is permitted, but a 40.44-square-foot sign is proposed, not including the pricing sign. Height and setback variances are sought as well. On Bloomfield Ave. a 12-foot high sign is allowed; a 20-foot high sign is proposed. On Route 46, a 12-foot high sign is permitted; a 27-high sign is proposed. On Changebridge Rd., a four-foot sign is allowed; an eight-foot sign is proposed.

“It’s my opinion that the signs we’re proposing, the height, the size and the location are warranted for safe identification for someone to identify the sign, make a decision to enter the Wawa, decelerate, change lanes, and enter the driveway,” Whitaker testified. “We have various site obstructions on the approach on Route 46 and Bloomfield Avenue.”

Whitaker mentioned the motel adjacent to the site and the grade as examples of obstructions; board members later mentioned that the motel may not be around when the market is built.

Board Member Paul Mudd stated his concern that if the applicant proposed a sign that was one-third higher than the stated requirement, the next applicant down the street would request an even higher sign and so on.

The board and public were then shown a type of interactive video mockup of the site and surrounding areas. A screen was set up and the site plus the roads were shown almost in a video game-type fashion. The controller could approach the site from the road, back up, continue along Bloomfield Avenue or the other roads, and show the façade of the buildings and the signage. (See the photos in the gallery.) Mayor Jim Sandham stated his concern that the fence on Bloomfield Road was not accurately portrayed.

Neighbors to the property John Sharratt, Scott Van Koppen and David Justnes were in attendance and stated their dismay at the lack of notice that had been given to neighbors. They asked the board to consider very carefully the 29 variances requested.

The next meeting regarding this proposal will be on March 23 at 7:30 p.m.