MONTVILLE, NJ – Testimony was heard by the Montville Township Planning Board for a second time on March 23 regarding the proposed Wawa to be built in the Pine Brook section of town.

Land owner Raymond Eshaghoff has entered into a long-term lease agreement with Wawa, pending board approval, according to attorney for the applicant Steven Schepis. The site, located at the corner of Changebridge and Bloomfield Roads and Route 46 East is a proposed redevelopment site that the township has stated interest in seeing improved. 

Read about the first hearing on the proposal here.

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Schepis opened by reducing the proposed variances, stating that the applicant is now proposing “monument” signage for the Bloomfield Avenue entrance. A “monument” sign is low and situated completely on the ground, a change from the “pylon” sign that was proposed.

Further, the company is proposing that exit onto Bloomfield Avenue, the rear of the property, be reduced to right-turn only, thus reducing the number of left turns onto the road.

First to speak on behalf of the applicant was Professional Planner Peter Steck, who described the site.

He said he read the township’s Master Plan regarding that area of Montville Township, which had goals of “a range of commercial uses that serve the traveling public.” The Master Plan was concerned with the visual impact of any business, aesthetics, and revitalization of the streetscape, Steck said. He called the proposed Wawa a “potent use” for the site, with “economic strength.” He said he thought the proposal met the criteria in the Master Plan.

Variances are sought for the proposal, including its proximity to other automobile businesses. Steck said that the others are a car wash and a service station, and said that a convenience store and fuel station have “different operational characteristics, different traffic and different hours.”

Steck described his research of 14 service stations in the township and stated that none complies with the rule that they must be 300 ft from a residential area or other automobile businesses.

Steck described the height variance sought for the Route 46 signage as necessary, because a rocky outcrop at the corner of the property represents a “handicap in terms of visibility.”

He said that the gas canopy over the fuel pumps shields light from the residences behind the property and represents a separation from the homes, especially since the business would be lower than the homes. Part of the construction plan is to lower the site and install a retaining wall at the corner of Bloomfield and Changebridge Roads. Board Chairman Gary Lewis argued that the ordinance requiring 350 feet of separation from a residential zone applies to the property line and not the canopy. Steck stated it’s the fueling use that requires the 350 feet, and the fuel pump area does meet that requirement.

“Maybe we should determine how much [variance from the ordinance] is enough,” said Lewis.

“We’re not dodging the fact that we need a variance for the separation distance,” Steck said later, “But we don’t have a lot of noise such as from pneumatic drills,” since the proposal is only for a filling station.

A driveway is proposed to run along the western, or left, side of the property in order to allow vehicle movement away from the parking area of the site, which the applicant’s professionals have stated is the reason for the impervious coverage amount being calculated at 79% where 75% is allowed. The site would have 10-foot wide parking spaces, allowing it to be “more customer friendly,” Steck said, considering the “number of door openings” that will occur, but this also contributes to the impervious coverage surplus.

“It’s an expensive site to develop,” Steck said. “We’re accomplishing the goal of redevelopment.”

During public portion, residents asked whether this property would affect redevelopment of the adjacent site, which is also in the redevelopment zone, and Steck said it would not.

Nicholas Verderese, Professional Engineer, then testified regarding the traffic study for the proposed site. He stated that the Wawa would not make additional traffic, because the majority of customers are already driving by.

He stated the project has “oversized aisles,” allowing for good circulation, but admitted that the site plan could work without the driveway along the left side of the site used to access the two different purposes of the property. He said it would “not be as clean of a site” because of the applicant’s preference that drivers not circulate through the parking spaces to reach the gas pumps or store.

“If someone is entering from Bloomfield Avenue, and they want to go to the pumps, [the driveway alongside] is a nice place to drive without intermingling with the cars backing out,” Verderese said.

He stated that there would be no through-drivers because of the proposed prohibition of a left turn onto Bloomfield Avenue. He also did not see a problem with traffic turning into the site from Bloomfield Avenue because of the number of lanes on that road. He said the traffic light changes every three minutes, so he didn’t expect a backup.

“There would essentially be no change in service, … a few seconds increase,” Verderese said. Service refers to the functionality of an intersection, as it relates to traffic backup.

Residents have questioned the need for a Wawa so close to the Parsippany store, and Verderese said that this site “would pick up a different market area.” This site would pick up customers from Route 46 and the east, he said.

He described deliveries to the store as one between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. with fresh items such as donuts, which would be there for five minutes. There would be two gas deliveries per day, he said. Small-truck deliveries would continue between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. He said the loudest noise would be pre-existing noise from Route 80, Route 46, and the existing large industrial and kitchen buildings, which are closer to residences.

Verderese stated the need of the 20-foot sign for the Route 46 side of the property, and said he prefers a 27-foot sign for safety’s sake.

Board members asked about removing the Bloomfield Avenue entrance and exit altogether, but Verderese said that would remove convenience, and when asked he said he didn’t want to make the driveway one-way because of driver errors.

Residents stated their concerns about traffic coming off of Route 80 to use the site, and the backup that accumulates on Bloomfield Avenue due to the New Road intersection in Parsippany.

Since the next meeting regarding this proposal is April 13, which falls during the Montville Township Public Schools’ spring break, and some residents stated they would not be able to attend due to travel plans, Lewis allowed limited comments on the proposal. Normally this occurs only after all testimony has occurred and the applicant’s attorney has made his or her closing statement.

Alysia Lew stated her concerns about traffic at the site and said that a 24/7 convenience store is not convenient for Montville.