NORTH BRUNSWICK – The power of the people has been quite evident in North Brunswick.
After several meetings and dozens of hours of testimony and public comment, an application to add a gas station to the existing Wawa convenience store at the intersection of Cozzens Lane and Route 27 in North Brunswick was unanimously denied by members of the township’s Zoning Board of Adjustment on Sept. 19.
“I think, to me, this application is very simple: Wawa has not demonstrated the need for the use of gas pumps, and the on site traffic and congestion issues are major concerns,” board member Tony Chedid as he cast his vote to deny the application. “Drivers routinely – I repeat, routinely – violate traffic safety rules. … Traffic studies mean very little to me, I’m going to tell you that right now. Have you ever seen a traffic engineer go against the application they’re representing? We have a multitude of traffic engineers: they all live on Delta Court. You want a traffic expert? Ask a neighbor.”
Chedid was referring to the dozens of residents who attended and spoke at each meeting over the past several months, citing traffic, health, space and safety concerns.
Prior to the board’s vote, Timothy Prime, the attorney for applicant North Brunswick Partners, LLC, said that 17 changes had been made to the site plan since its initial denial on Nov. 8, 2016, including reducing the gas pumps from 12 to 10; reducing the size of the new store from 5,000 square feet to 4,736 square feet; eliminating oversized parking stalls that were going to be added to the site; reducing the number of parking spaces overall; keeping the storage tanks underground; restricting delivery times from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. and keeping deliveries on the Route 27 driveway; and increasing the setbacks.
Prime said extensive traffic studies were done and redone, and that the site would service existing customers while trying to capture the traffic that already exists in the area.
“There is nothing in the record to indicate that Wawa is doing anything substantial to impact the traffic that’s already there,” he said.
However, board members and residents vehemently disagreed.
Board member Tom Abode said the site, at 1.9 acres, is too small to add five fueling stations of 10 gas pumps.
“The site is ill-suited for the change of use,” board Chairman Mark McGrath added.
Resident Judith Delanoy showed a picture of a woman walking with a baby stroller in a no passing zone – with no sidewalk – where a car carrier was in front of her house on Cozzens Lane.
“I am very, very concerned that there is no room to make road improvements in that area to accommodate the gas station and that, I feel, is the biggest problem with the gas station coming in,” she said. “You have no room. You have a county road that is adjacent to a cemetery. You can’t take the land from there. You can’t take the land from Suydam Farms. That’s farmland. What do we become when we take land from a farm? When we take land from our cemeteries? We are taking this little tiny parcel of land and we are trying to make it into something it’s not.”
In addition, resident Paul Corkery noted that Route 27 is a major thoroughfare for emergency vehicles traveling to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, and that living off the corner of Cozzens Lane, he hears every accident that takes place, especially those involving ambulances.
Robin Suydam, who lives nearby in Somerset, also cautioned against professionals making wrong decisions.
“Everybody in North Brunswick knows about that warehouse fire that burned for days [in July 2015]. Somebody gave testimony a long time ago, and in intermediate points between then and now. I ask all of you, please don’t bend the rules for something that is potentially dangerous and will disturb the quality of life for so many people,” she said.
Contact Jennifer Amato at email@example.com.
Chedid also addressed Wawa representatives repeatedly stating that if the gas station is denied, Wawa would not be interested in renovating the existing convenience store and would consider closing the Route 27 location.
“Really? So you’re deserting the very people who made you prosperous? This is your business model? … Be careful. You need the customers, the customers don’t need you,” he said.