LITTLE FALLS, NJ - The Little Falls Board of Adjustment denied an application allowing the owner of a Dunkin Donuts to utillize a drive-thru for his store located on Route 23 in the township during their meeting and public hearing on July 6.
The zoning ordinance for the site, called a B1 zoning, has been in place for 50 years. A B1 zone refers to a section of a municipal zoning ordinance that places restrictions on how real estate may be used in a particular area. The owner presented information in the hopes that the board would grant a variance to him to permit the usage.
The building was built in 2002 and was formerly a Valley National Bank branch. It began as a Great Falls Bank branch and then became a Greater Community Bank branch, which was eventually was bought out by Valley National Bank. The owner of the Great Falls Bank branch previously installed a two lane drive-thru on the building, located at 126 Newark Pompton Turnpike. The property was acquired and turned into a Dunkin Donuts store in 2016.
A B1 zoning ordinance strictly prohibits the use of a drive-thru but it is easier for a bank owner to obtain one by way of a conditional permit, according to John Veteri, local attorney representing the Dunkin Donuts store owner Mohammad Hague. The bank owner then was granted permission to utilize the drive-thru on the property.
With five board members present, a motion was made by board member Rich Greco to deny the application. Four members were in favor of denying the application and one was against it. Greco cited traffic concerns that would arise, noting the traffic line could spill onto Route 23. Throughout the meeting, several board members agreed with the premise that it would generate more traffic than the traffic stemming from a bank drive-thru and shared concerns that the volume of customers for the Dunkin Donuts drive-thru would've garnered problems for parking and traffic circulation.
Veteri presented findings on how the addition of the drive-thru at the location would impact traffic and other concerns. Also representing Hague was Charles Olivo, civil engineer, and Patrick McClellan, traffic engineer, who gave their testimonies on the benefit of having a drive-thru at that location.
Hague expressed his motivation to increase his business and to stay in town to the board, stating that he has owned a business in town for 15 years. Veteri spoke of Hague's challenges over the years and how the addition of the drive-thru would positively impact his business. Additionally, he said Hague would be willing to cooperate with any concerns brought that were brought up by the planning board members and would make any modifications that were necessary.
"Mr. Hague was met with fierce competition with with a competitor's drive-thru right up the street. His numbers are hardly impressive but he's hoping to garner another 400 to 500 customers per week. It's going to be difficult but having the drive-thru will be beneficial," he explained, adding that he felt it's economically wasteful not allowing a business owner to adapt a site.
Veteri also added some adjustments that Hague would incorporate after receiving a variance, which included eliminating of 53 foot trailers and instead allowing 22 foot trailers, the removal of a 6-foot fence at Second Street and the replacement of a decorative 3-foot fence for the site issue. Hague would also comply with the elimination of a concrete island and install a canopy tin order to provide the passing of larger vehicles and a further gesture on the hours of operation for the drive thru cutting it off at 8 p.m. The left turn from the property going out onto Route 23 would also be eliminated.
"He's willing to impose the reasonable conditions at some considerable expense," Veteri said. "It's to help him thrive and to be a part of the business community here in Little Falls. He wants to succeed and he likes being in Little Falls. It was tough finding another location and identifying a site on Route 23."
Veteri further added that using an existing building structure is also beneficial.
"It's always advantageous to use historic building through creative development. We're adaptively reusing the building that was here previously and I believe this site is suited for this type of variance application."
Olivo also commented on the benefits of having a drive-thru at the location during his testimony.
"It would promote the public's welfare and safety," Olivo stated. "We are reducing conflict along the major state arterial roadway, creating a more effective pattern in and out of the site as a result of modifying this rear portion of the site by utilizing the drive-thru traffic in that area."
Olivo added that creating a one way traffic pattern on the property would be beneficial.
"Right now, everyone pulls in and backs out and that's general the flow pattern you have today," he added. "Creating a one way site reduces the backing out in a tighter area, and opens up the circulation and maneuverability into the whole site. I believe we're improving a site's circulation by processing by having more efficiency by making it one-way traffic."
Olivo also responded to concerns of idling but said the positive impact would outweigh any negative impact.
"We do understand there there is some idling that will occur due to transactions, but banking transactions would take much longer,," he noted. "I agree we have more traffic that would be traveling through this area but the majority of traffic is already coming through on this state highway."