Old Bridge takes hard look at 24-hour business facilities

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OLD BRIDGE – With more and more 24-hour businesses popping up, township officials in Old Bridge are taking steps to make sure there is a balance between business friendly and quality of life for residents.

“Our current ordinance, we feel, does not guarantee the same quality of life that our residential residents experience when a 24-hour facility is constructed near a residential neighborhood,” Mayor Owen Henry said. “It’s important for residents to have that separation. It’s not the same living next to a business that is open for so many hours during day. [The residents] get no relief from the facility that is open 24 hours a day so we think there should be certain language in the ordinance making sure that buffer has increased between 24 hour facility and residential area.”

The current ordinance includes a 50-foot buffer.

“Residents should not be able to hear or see [a business] after a certain hour, period of time at night or morning,” Henry said.

The mayor, along with Veena Sawant, township planner; and Business Administrator Himanshu Shah, discussed the balance at a Township Council meeting on March 2.

Sawant said as they continue to review the township code and land development ordinances, the issue of the buffer between a 24-hour business facility and residential areas came to her attention.

The only requirements as it relates to 24-hour operating businesses are having two employees at the facility during business hours and/or have a security system on the premises and the 50 foot buffer.

Sawant said her office took an inventory of 24-hour businesses in the township.

“There are 30 such businesses in Old Bridge that operate 24 hours,” she said. “Most are gas stations with convenience stores, fast food restaurants, medical uses, gyms and funeral homes. We mapped the sites to see where the businesses are located. Most 24-hour facilities are [located along] highly traversed routes – Route 18, Route 9, Route 516, and Route 34.”

Sawant said the most interesting part is when officials superimposed the zoning requirements with [the map], they noticed the 24-hour facilities are usually located in highway commercial zones in nonresidential zones directly abutting residential zones.

The Planning Department has fielded many questions on how the township allowed 24-hour facilities such as gas stations so close to particular neighborhoods.

That’s when officials, Sawant said, weighed pros and cons of a 24-hour pharmacy, urgent care for a community and a gas station, convenience store that may bring in outside traffic.

Officials are proposing to set conditions for 24-hour business facilities other than medical uses – hospitals pharmacies urgent cares, local gyms and funeral homes. The conditions include a 250-foot buffer between a business and a residential line or zone and similar 24-hour facility uses will not be permitted 1,000-feet from one another.

Township Attorney Mark Roselli said the idea behind the 1,000-feet condition is the township does not want two Wawas 1,000 feet from each other. Two different 24-hour facilities will be allowed.

The Township Council is expected to introduce the amendments at the next council meeting.

In September 2019, the Township Council approved changes to two economic development opportunity (EDO) zones through amended ordinances, making them more flexible and creating a more friendly-business atmosphere.