MONTVILLE, NJ – A fourth hearing regarding an application to build a Wawa on Route 46 in Pine Brook was held June 13 with more changes to the plans and a professional planner for Wawa testifying regarding whether or not the company should be held to the township’s “motor vehicle service station” ordinance regarding distances to residences.
Matthew Bersch of Dynamic Engineering, who is the engineer for the project, showed the newest version of the plans, which now included:
- A small sidewalk with a bench and trash can at the corner of Bloomfield and Changebridge, per the wishes of Planner Joseph Burgis
- Modifications to the retaining wall and grading
- Modifications to the lighting to reduce the foot candle amount of the lighting
- Modifications to the signage at the corner of Bloomfield and Changebridge to be a “monument,” or wide/low sign
Professional Planner Peter Steck then took the stand. He described the site and said the building was built in 1950 but developed in 1995 to the way it was used until its closure. The township declared it “blighted” in 2015, he said.
As far as the variances that Wawa is seeking, he said that the nearby car wash and plaza both have signs on Route 46 and Bloomfield, “so it’s clear that variances have been granted in the past,” he said.
He then went over the town’s master plan, and said that goal seven in the document states a desire to enhance the aesthetic appearance of the municipality, which is the desire of this application.
As far as the ordinance regarding motor vehicle service stations, the definition of such businesses involves selling oil and fuel, he said, which does not fit the Wawa. The Wawa will only sell fuel and have a 24-hour quick mart, according to testimony at prior hearings. He went over the distances between residential zones, the nearby Sandol Church, and made distinctions between the distance from property line to property line for those areas – as stated in the ordinance – versus the distance to those areas using the fueling canopies as the starting measurement point. Then he used infra-red camera photos to differentiate distances between the canopies and actual buildings.
“Is that the way the ordinance says to measure it?” Planning Board Professional Planner Joseph Burgis questioned him, clearly unimpressed with his reasoning.
Steck also argued that the two-acre size of the lot makes a separation for the residences and the church.
The company is seeking a variance for disturbing steep slopes – the property is on an extreme hill – but Steck argued that the slopes are man-made due to the way the property was developed and they pre-date steep slope ordinances.
“To not disturb these sleep slopes that are man-made means that we can’t demolish the building and improve the site,” he argued.
Steck then described 13 motor vehicle service stations in the township and compared them to their distances to houses of worship, residential zones and other motor vehicle service stations. He said all but two, the Exxon at the corner of Route 202/Main Rd. and Changebridge and of course the car wash on Route 46, have overhead garage doors. Of the 13, only one complies with the distance requirements, Steck said.
In his final summation, Steck stated that strictly applying the separation distance ordinance presents a “hardship and practical difficulty.” He said the closest home is technically 300 feet away and is not purely residential as there is a landscaping business on the site; there should be relief from the ordinance because it’s illogical and does not apply since there is no permitted use as a result of the way the ordinance is written.
“There’s a hardship because [the ordinance] prohibits the permitted use,” he said.
The Wawa would not be an old style service station with the noise or hazards of an old style station, he said.
Due to the late hour, the public will ask questions of Steck at the next hearing, which will be July 11.
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