WEST ORANGE, NJ - On Thursday night, the West Orange Zoning Board voted yes to deny Quick Chek’s 22 variances and application to open a convenience store and gas station on Northfield Avenue. After almost an hour, in a packed Town Hall meeting room, the board announced their final decision.
Before the meeting began, public advocate Harvey Grossman said that “the consensus is: the town is opposed to approving the application, especially because of safety and traffic. The development of the Turtle Back Zoo and recreation complex has generated so much traffic that this will only exacerbate the problem. West Orange derives nothing from it and Pleasant Valley Way has turned into a busy thoroughfare. This application is more like a rest stop on a major highway.”
Quick Chek’s legal representatives and West Orange Township officials had been discussing and considering the application for almost a year. Quick Chek proposed to open a six-pump gas station (that could service twelve cars at a time) and a 4,900 sq. ft., 24-hour convenience store. In addition to the retail application, Quick Chek’s representatives requested 22 variances to local law; for example, they motioned to amend a law that restricts gas stations from existing within 500 feet of a school.
As the Zoning Board sat down to begin the meeting, Robert Rashkes, town resident and frequent Quick Chek meeting attendee said, “Hopefully they will turn it down because of the traffic and pollution.”
After opening ceremonies, the Zoning Board took a preliminary vote in which six members said they would deny the application and one member abstained. Each board member then expounded his/her rationale for the decision. Philip Neuer, Zoning Board member, motioned to deny the application and 22 variances, which other members seconded. Diane Nash and Gregory Bullock, also Zoning Board members, made brief statements denying Quick Chek’s application before Neuer made an extended statement. In the middle of a comprehensive explanation for denying the application, Neuer proverbially quipped, “For this location, on this property, you can’t make chicken salad out of chicken feathers.” Neuer said he was particularly disappointed with Quick Chek’s planner and commissioned experts’ contributions to the case.
Board member William Steinhart followed Neuer’s statement, commenting that the added traffic would pose a danger to adolescents crossing Northfield on weekend nights. He also said, “Quick Chek’s hired traffic engineer did not share his found data because it ‘was proprietary.’ I understand that it is proprietary information, but it would have likely been made public if it was good news.”
Afterwards, board member Mark Sussman said, “My main concerns are the traffic and congestion. I vote to deny the application and 22 variances.”
The meeting concluded with a final Zoning Board vote of yes to deny the application. Despite the decision, not all neighborhood residents were happy with the board’s decision. One local resident, Kevin Brady, wrote on Facebook, “People in my town are celebrating because Quick Chek was denied zoning variances to open on a property that’s been vacant since at least when I moved here in 2010. Would have been a nice place to get stuff late at night, in a high traffic area, but people showed up to voice their opposition. It’s good in a sense that if that’s what most people wanted, then the city zoning board listened. It’s bad in the sense that a lot of people will also complain about taxes, while blocking a business from coming in.”
Charlotte Wescott, a leader of the movement against opening the Quick Chek, was overjoyed with the board’s decision: “I am delighted that so many people worked hard to raise awareness. The St. Cloud community is a wonderful place to live and raise kids; it is a safe and congenial neighborhood where families gather to play basketball and baseball on the street. The prospect of endangering that atmosphere was something for which we had to fight.”