By Mark Rosman
MANALAPAN – The construction of a Quick Chek convenience store with gas pumps at the corner of Route 537 and Smithburg Road in Manalapan has been approved in a 7-0 vote of the Zoning Board of Adjustment.
Board members made their decision on April 20 after listening to final testimony regarding road conditions at and near the site, and after residents had a chance to ask questions of the applicant and state their views about the project.
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., sought a use variance from the board 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 store will operate 24 hours a day.
As a condition of approval, the applicant agreed to prohibit deliveries from tractor-trailers between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Deliveries by box trucks will be permitted during those hours. Deliveries of gasoline are on demand and may be made during those hours, according to the applicant’s representatives.
Zoning board members indicated their satisfaction with the applicant’s willingness to prohibit tractor-trailer deliveries between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.
Peak hours for congested traffic conditions at the intersection of Route 537 and Route 527 are from 7-9 a.m. and from 4-6 p.m., according to transportation planner John Jahr, who represented the applicant.
Jahr acknowledged that traffic can also be an issue at the intersection during times when the Six Flags Great Adventure theme park several miles west on Route 537 in Jackson is open.
Initial testimony on the application was heard on Feb. 16.
According to testimony offered, the location for the Quick Chek 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 will employ between 35 and 50 people; employees who dispense gasoline will not work in the convenience store.
In concluding his presentation on April 20, Jahr said timing adjustments will be made to the traffic signal at the intersection that will be expected to improve service during peak hours, or not worsen conditions.
Striping changes will be made on Smithburg Road to accommodate vehicles leaving the convenience store, he said.
Jahr reiterated a point he made on Feb. 16, that most of the vehicles entering and exiting Quick Chek will be passing the site en route to another destination.
He said 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.
The application proposed two driveways on Route 537: one driveway will permit right turns in and right turns out and the second driveway will only permit a right turn in. There is one driveway proposed on Smithburg Road which will permit right and left turns in and right and left turns out, according to previous testimony.
Residents who live in the vicinity addressed the board and implored the members not to approve the application.
“The use of fuel (service) is inconsistent with what Route 537 has been, a farming community. We do not want (Route 537) to be Route 9 or Route 1. We do not want a gas station on this corner; environmentally, financially and for our quality of life,” resident Steve Barthel said.
“We made a conscious choice when we bought our homes” in this part of Manalapan. “We knew we would have to drive farther for modern conveniences,” resident Alison Zawatski said.
Attorney Peter S. Wersinger III, who represented the applicant, summed up the application by saying, “I understand the frustration (that residents) expressed tonight. I have represented all sides in development applications. … These are two county roads, not buggy paths from 100 years ago.
“The proposed (convenience store), aside from the gas service, is a matter of right” in the township’s master plan. “Manalapan officials changed the zone to allow it,” Wersinger said. “We perceived the need for gasoline service and most of the traffic to the store, although not all, will be pass-by traffic.”
Board members then discussed the application and generally agreed that the applicant was doing what it could to address the existing conditions at the intersection.
Board members noted that development may occur on the other corners of the intersection, but said Manalapan will have no control if that occurs because the other corners are not in Manalapan.
Board member Butch Budai told the residents that during the February meeting, the panel asked the applicant to provide additional information regarding traffic and that was done. He said some development applications can improve traffic conditions at a specific location.
Board member Eve Strauss said that with the exception of the gas service, Quick Chek complies with the master plan, provides increased convenience to the area, is on a main road and is not immediately in a neighborhood.
Board member Larry Cooper made a motion to grant the use variance for the gas service and to approve the Quick Chek. Budai, Strauss, Cooper, Chairman Stephen Leviton, Barry Fisher, Terry Rosenthal and Joanna Siminerio voted to approve the application.