By Mark Rosman
MANALAPAN – Testimony is expected to resume on April 20 on an applicant’s plan to construct a Quick Chek convenience store with gasoline service at the corner of Route 537 and Smithburg Road in Manalapan.
The location is at the border of Manalapan, Freehold Township and Millstone Township.
Smithburg Road, north of Route 537, is also known as Route 527. Route 527 and Route 537 are under the jurisdiction of Monmouth County. South of Route 537, Smithburg Road becomes Siloam Road in Freehold Township.
The applicant, PRC Development Co. Inc., is seeking a use variance from the Manalapan Zoning Board of Adjustment because a gas station is not a permitted use in the Limited Business Smithburg (LBS) zone. A convenience store is a permitted use in the zone.
The board’s professionals said a variance will also be required in order for the convenience store to operate 24 hours a day as the applicant seeks approval to do.
During a Feb. 16 meeting of the zoning board, attorney Peter Wersinger called several witnesses to testify on behalf of the applicant. Board members and the public heard from Quick Chek real estate representative Robert Vallario, engineer Keith Cahill, transportation planner John Jahr and planner Christine Cofone.
According to testimony offered, the location for the convenience store and fuel pumps will be a 3.2-acre tract at the corner of Route 537 and Smithburg Road. Water will be provided by a well and waste will be contained in a septic system. The business would employ between 35 and 50 people; Quick Chek employees who dispense gasoline do not work in the convenience store.
Testimony indicated there will be between five and seven deliveries each day by box trucks, and between three and four deliveries each week by tractor-trailers. Gas will be delivered as required by that operation, Vallario said.
He said the gas station attendants undergo training to properly operate the fueling equipment and he said the firm is “conscious of the environment.” Quick Chek has been dispensing gas at its locations since 2000.
The application calls for the installation of four underground double-walled storage tanks for fuel. The professionals representing the applicant said the tanks would exceed New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) standards and regulations.
The convenience store would be 5,496 square feet and have 13 seats inside the store and eight seats outside. Cahill said some customers have indicated to Quick Chek management that they prefer to eat the food they have just purchased at the store at the site.
No zoning board member and none of the board’s professionals objected to the proposed indoor or outdoor seating.
The gas operation is proposed to have 10 fueling stations. Landscaping at the site will include 15 species and more than 700 plants, according to Cahill. A total of 53 parking spaces will be provided. Cahill said the site’s drainage infrastructure will comply with DEP standards.
The proposed driveways at the site were presented and were the subject of discussion among board Chairman Stephen Leviton, board member Butch Budai and the applicant’s representatives.
The application proposes two driveways on Route 537: one driveway would permit right turns in and right turns out (generally putting motorists close to the convenience store) and the second driveway would only permit a right turn in (generally putting motorists close to the gas pumps). There is one driveway proposed on Smithburg Road which would permit right and left turns in and right and left turns out.
Leviton and Budai expressed concern about the driveways on Route 537. They said some drivers heading west on Route 537 who want to turn right onto Smithburg Road might come into conflict with drivers who want to turn right into Quick Chek and are slowing down in that lane of travel.
They also expressed concern about motorists turning left out of the Smithburg Road driveway who may not have space to enter the lanes of travel that move toward Route 537 and that are backed up with vehicles at certain times of the day.
Jahr testified that county officials are going to use traffic data the applicant has compiled in order to adjust the timing of the traffic light at Route 537 and Smithburg Road with the goal of improving the flow of traffic and eliminating the backups on Smithburg Road that Leviton and Budai noted.
Jahr said the plan will be subject to New Jersey Department of Transportation (DOT) approval.
Neither Route 537 or Smithburg Road is under municipal jurisdiction, but Wersinger and Jahr acknowledged the concerns that were raised by the board members as they relate to Manalapan residents who drive through the intersection each day.
“The potential for back-ups exists,” Leviton said.
Andrew Leimbach, the zoning board’s attorney, said the application “is still subject to DOT approval and the DOT will not approve the plan if they do not believe the site will work. These are valid concerns (expressed by Leviton and Budai), but there are still checks and balances.”
Cahill said, “I think we can provide safe and efficient access to the site.”
Jahr said most of the vehicles that enter and exit Quick Chek will be passing the site en route to another destination.
He explained that some motorists may adjust their daily route in order to visit Quick Chek and he said some people will make the store and/or the gas station a destination; both of those scenarios will add some vehicles to the intersection.
Cofone discussed why, in her opinion, the use variance for the gas station should be granted. Specifically, she said the site is at the corner of two county roads, there is a minimum amount of lot coverage proposed by the applicant and the site will primarily serve vehicles that are already passing the site.
“I would submit that this site is particularly suitable for the retail sale of gas. I see no substantial detriment to Manalapan’s zone plan or the public good” in allowing the sale of gasoline, Cofone said. “The LBS zone is a commercial district. The current uses at that corner are residential and are not consistent with the current zone plan.”
By way of background, Vallario informed the board that Quick Chek dates back to 1888 and is based in Whitehouse Station, Hunterdon County. The company began as a dairy operation.
Following World War II and with the coming of suburbia, home delivery of dairy products ceased and the company opened its first convenience store in Dunellen, Middlesex County, in 1967, he said.
Wersinger said the municipalities of Freehold Township and Millstone Township were notified of the development proposal at their border. No one spoke when Leviton asked if anyone from the public wished to address the board.
Two-and-a-half hours of testimony were heard on Feb. 16 and additional discussion about the application is expected to take place on April 20.