SOMERVILLE, NJ – The venerable Red Tower III restaurant on Route 22 East, home of the World’s Greatest Texas Weiner and the Original Fat Boy Hamburger since 1936, will shut down its grill and turn off the lights before summer comes to an end.
The borough’s Planning Board Wednesday night signed off on a developer’s plans to renovate the building at 950 Route 22 East and open a Taco Bell restaurant.
All those late-night/early morning pork roll and egg sandwiches, bowls of homemade chili, mashed potatoes with gravy, plates full of fries, homemade rice pudding and pastries savored by several generations of locals will be replaced by nachos, tacos, burritos and quesadilla.
The applicant, Finomus Somerville RE Holdings – based in Warren - had to overcome several hurdles to gain approval.
Nerav Mehta, a restaurateur who owns and operates several other Taco Bells in New Jersey including East Brunswick, Irvington and Jersey City, as well as several Dunkin’ Donuts franchises in Florida, agreed to relocate the drive-up and pick-up windows from the south side of the building to the east side.
All of the required changes Mehta agreed to mimic those required by the Planning Board when the neighboring McDonald’s was going through the site plan approval process in 2009, according to Larry Cleveland, a member of the Planning Board.
Planning Board members were insistent that the drive-up windows be relocated to face Route 22, concerned that noise from idling engines and the speaker at the order window would intrude on residents of Ivanhoe Avenue. Their backyards butt up against the property line of the restaurant on the southern side of the property, which is located next to a McDonald’s at 950 Route 22 East, according to Bernard Navatto, Planning Board chairman.
The speaker will now face towards the Exxon station on the adjoining Route 22 property, nullifying the noise concerns.
“We were unanimous on not wanting to yield on that issue,” Navatto said. “Getting them to agree to move the speakers to the other side of the building and pointed in an easterly direction is really huge.
“Now, noise is not an issue. It won’t reflect off the fence, the wall of the building, it will just go down range; it’s the same way at McDonald’s; you can barely hear the next car when you’re waiting in line.”
No one spoke in opposition to the application when Navatto opened the meeting to the public.
The Planning Board also required an eight-foot, sound-absorbent fence be installed along the rear property line; it will tie in to the McDonald’s fence, ensuring a continuous sound barrier.
The Planning Board also waived the required 39 parking spaces required by the borough’s zoning ordinance because the applicant said 70 percent of Taco Bell’s business is done at the drive-up window. Instead, there will be 21 parking spaces, with much of the parking surface given over to the “queue” – the line of cars waiting to place and then pick up their orders, according to Navatto.
The agreement between the borough and the applicant requires the restaurant to close by 11 p.m., with the drive-up window closing at midnight. Mehta had wanted the drive-up to remain open until 2:30 p.m.
Vinay Mavinkurve, attorney for the applicant, said renovations will begin after the architect submits revised plans to the borough engineer for review and final approvals. Once approved, Mavinkurve said it will take between 3-4 months to renovate and ready the new Taco Bell for its grand opening.
Renovations also hinge on the closing and final sale of the property from current owner Andrea Adams, according to Mavinkurve.
“There is no firm closing date at this point, but we are working towards getting that done within the next month or so,” he said.