FRANKLIN, NJ – The Franklin Zoning Board met for the third part of the Walgreen’s application, on Wednesday, March 6, 2013.
Eden Franklin, LLC, the developer of the proposed store, is hoping to get approval to build a new store on Rt. 23 South, between Washington Avenue and Auche Drive. At the present, there is a vacant Gulf Station and a home belonging to Ann Elekes on that property. The proposal has drawn a great deal of resistance from residents of that neighborhood, due to the proximity of the Franklin Elementary School, and the residential neighborhood, which borders the property. This meeting also drew some supporters.
At the last meeting, due to the overwhelming response from the public, the board decided to eliminate a driveway to Auche Drive, and limit the store’s driveway entrances to Washington Ave and Rt. 23, to lessen the impact on the adjoining neighborhood.
During the first part of Wednesday’s meeting, Ahmed El-Mubashur, Community Leader of a group of nearby Walgreens Stores, testified about daily operations, and the relationship with the neighbors. The proposed Franklin store would be included in his territory, should it be approved.
El-Mubashur explained that he would be involved in the hiring and operations of the proposed store. He is planning to hire between 15 to 25 employees to work three eight, or ten hour shifts per day. During the overnight hours, two to three employees are planned.
El-Mubashur explained that there are about twelve customers per night on the overnight shift. The busy times are from 10 p.m. to midnight and from 6 a.m to 8 a.m. He said Walgreens provides the drive-thru as a convenience to its customers, for example, a mother with a sick child.
Debra Nicholson, attorney for Eden Franklin, LLC, asked El-Mubashur if he was aware of any violent robberies occurring in any of the Walgreen’s stores.
He responded, “Not in my career,” which began in 2001.
Nicholson then asked him to speak to one of the public’s concerns, whether employees would be smoking out back, within sight of the school.
“The smoking policy is to smoke in front of the store,” said El-Mubashur. “Those doors at the rear of the store are emergency doors, they have alarms which go off if the door is opened. Employees are not allowed to leave through those doors.”
He then was asked about the LED lighted sign, which he calls a “reader board.”
He said, “The frequency of change is dictated by what the town will allow, it could be every 5 minutes, or 15 seconds. If the [zoning] board determines it can change no more than one message per 24 hours, that’s what it will be.”
El-Mubashur explained, “It’s really the town’s reader board. We put town events on it, for example, the Waldwick 5K Walk was up, and there is a mother whose son has leukemia, and she has brain cancer. Their fundraiser went up on the board.”
Nicholson asked, “If the school was having a Tricky Tray that they wanted to advertise, could that be arranged?”
El-Mubashur agreed, saying someone would only have to call the store, or come in to speak with him to arrange it.
El-Mubashur explained that his job is to maintain good relations with the community. Kevin Lermond, zoning board member, questioned him about the situation in Waldwick, which has one home on either side of it.
“I believe our relationship is great,” said El-Mubashur. “They don’t want trash pick-up or deliveries on weekends, we honor their requests, we do what they ask us to.”
Joseph Martinez, zoning board member, commented that he observed two 18-wheeler trucks blocking the intersection at the Rockaway store. El-Mubashur detailed the deliveries: one 18-wheeler Walgreen’s truck weekly, one 18-wheeler MacLean delivery truck, and one single unit truck each for Coke, Pepsi, and milk. He explained that they do have control over scheduling deliveries, but there could be extenuating circumstances that cause them to coincide.
Lermond then questioned whether all Walgreens Stores sport the reader board. El-Mubashur answered that not all do, since some stores were acquired from Drug Fair.
He said “We are going through a transformation as a community pharmacy. As Walgreens builds new stores, they conform with the prototype.”
John McDermott, attorney hired by former mayor Dick Durina and his wife, who oppose the store, asked if all Walgreens were the same size, and whether he had any complaints about a store that was smaller.
“Yes,” said El-Mubashur. “People say ‘I can’t find anything here, everything is different.’ Having a smaller store would change the way Walgreens wants to serve the community.”
Next, Dan Dougherty, the engineer hired by Eden Franklin, LLC, showed amended artists’ renderings, which included the changes requested by the board and public at the last meeting. Reduced signage now brings the number of requested waivers from thirteen to three. Additional drawings showed a six-foot high white vinyl fence to surround the store on three sides, which prevents entrance from the neighborhood to its rear. There will be six-foot high Norway and Colorado Spruce trees outside of that.
The setback from Route 23 is 14 feet, which comes within one foot of the ordinance.
McDermott began to question at great length. The crowd became testy, with some residents in strong opposition, and some strongly in favor. The meeting lasted until 11:30 p.m.; the public opinion became quite heated at times.
Franklin Planning Board member Stephan Zydon was in attendance.
He said, “The Walgreen’s people do seem to be taking steps to meet the demands [of the public]. They’ve cut it back some.”
After the meeting, Franklin resident David Fanale said, “I think it’s going to be an asset to the community. It has the potential to bring 15 to 25 jobs to the county. It’s not eminent domain, it’s not a Highlands issue, it’s a growing pain. I think they should take it.”
No action was taken at the meeting, the next meeting will be on April 3, 2013, at 7:30 p.m. at the Franklin Municipal Building.
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