Wawa, Chick-fil-A will be initial tenants at Route 9 development

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FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP – A Wawa convenience store and a Chick-fil-A restaurant are expected to be constructed on a vacant Route 9 parcel following a positive outcome at a meeting of the Freehold Township Planning Board.

During a Dec. 6 meeting, representatives of M&M Realty Partners at Freehold LLC testified about their proposed Elton Plaza development at 3301 Route 9 north, just north of Elton-Adelphia Road (Route 524). They said the project would include five retail buildings totaling 40,609 square feet, with 264 parking spaces, and driveway access from Route 9 and Elton-Adelphia Road.

The applicant was represented by attorney Salvatore Alfieri.

At the conclusion of testimony, a public hearing and questions from board members, a motion was made to direct the board’s attorney to prepare a positive resolution for Elton Plaza.

A unanimous voice vote from board Chairman Rich Gatto and board members Robert Shortmeyer, Mayor Anthony Ammiano, Township Committeeman Lester A. Preston Jr., Rob Kash, Margaret Jahn Leon Bruno Jr., Apryl Kurtz and Kevin Asadi approved the motion.

The resolution is expected to grant preliminary and final major site plan approval for Phase I, consisting of Building 2 (Wawa and gas station, 5,051 square feet); Building 3 (a multi-tenant retail center, 13,600 square feet); and Building 5 (Chick-fil-A with drive-up, 5,150 square feet).

The resolution is also expected to grant preliminary major site plan approval for Phase II, consisting of Building 1 (pharmacy with drive-up, 14,724 square feet); and Building 4 (fast food restaurant with drive-up, 2,084 square feet). The applicant will return at a future date to seek final approval for Phase II.

Reports read into the record by Gatto indicated the Board of Health and the Fire Bureau had no objections to the Elton Plaza application.

A report from Township Engineer Tim White indicated all of the uses being proposed at Elton Plaza are permitted on the 14.6-acre parcel and that there would be public water and sewer service at the location. Each of the five buildings has its own circulation plan.

White said during the past 18 months, he had several meetings with residents of a housing development behind the Elton Plaza property, specifically homeowners on Juniper Drive.

White said the applicant will construct a berm with a fence on top of it along the rear property line to address concerns expressed by residents. He said drainage, lighting and noise issues were addressed during the meetings. He said there will not be a path from the Elton Plaza property that fronts Route 9 to Juniper Drive.

“There has been a significant effort on the township’s behalf to work with the residents and address their concerns,” White said.

John Taikina, the director of real estate development for M&M Realty Partners at Freehold, said the applicant owns the property. He testified as a licensed professional planner. Taikina said 95 percent of water on the property will drain away from homes on Juniper Drive. A landscaped detention basin will be part of the project’s storm water management plan.

Taikina described the proposed buildings and the gas station and said the applicant complied with recommendations made by township representatives about certain aspects of the buildings’ appearance.

Freehold Township has an ordinance which sets forth criteria regarding the appearance of new buildings. The ordinance requires new construction to have what municipal officials and professionals generally describe as a Colonial appearance. Other criteria involve colors and logos that are/are not permitted on signs.

In keeping with the regulations, the Wawa sign will not include the company’s goose logo. Gatto said the applicant agreed to all of the conditions.

Taikina said residents who live east of the buildings (i.e., in the Juniper Drive development) will not see mechanical equipment at the site and he said light will not spill off the property.

Testifying on behalf of the applicant, Karl Pehnke discussed vehicle trips and said that at a commercial development such as Elton Point, “a substantial amount of traffic to the site would be vehicles that are passing by the site.”

Pehnke acknowledged some people would make trips to and from the commercial center specifically for the reason of patronizing the businesses at that location. He noted the access on Elton-Adelphia Road (Route 524) would be a right in, right out only movement.

Pehnke said a sidewalk will be installed on the Route 9 frontage and he said there will be a deceleration lane on Route 9 in front of Elton Plaza.

Following the completion of testimony, residents had an opportunity to question the professionals representing the applicant and to comment on the project.

Several residents addressed drainage concerns and thanked the applicant for promising to take steps that will alleviate drainage problems that occur in the backyards of their homes on Juniper Drive.

The residents sought assurances that the development of Elton Plaza would not make the drainage situation worse than it is now.

Taikina said the applicant would work with White, the township engineer, in the field to address drainage issues as the project is constructed.

Gatto noted that in regard to signs, the applicant had already agreed to reduce the height of several proposed signs on Route 9 and on Elton-Adelphia Road from 20 feet to 15 feet.

Concetta Lovella of Juniper Drive made note of a 15-foot-tall sign that is planned for Elton-Adelphia Road and spoke about how that sign would look in a residential area. She asked if the height of that sign could be reduced to 10 feet.

Gatto asked Taikina to take another look at the Elton-Adelphia Road sign and determine if an accommodation between 10 feet and 15 feet could be made.

After a moment, Taikina responded to Gatto and Lovella and offered to reduce the height of the sign on Elton-Adelphia Road from 15 feet to 12 feet. Lovella thanked Taikina for offering to make the change and accepted the accommodation.

After being asked to do so by several residents, the applicant also agreed to place screening in the jughandle at Route 9 north and Elton-Adelphia Road to keep headlights from shining into homes on Juniper Drive as vehicles move through the jughandle.

Board members had no significant issues with the project and Ammiano said, “I want to compliment the residents who came out to this meeting. They were very respectful. I also want to compliment the professionals for the applicant who compromised” on several issues.

The board directed its attorney to prepare a positive resolution which will permit the Elton Plaza project to advance.