Discussion about proposed Taco Bell in Manalapan expected to resume

MANALAPAN – Representatives of an applicant that is proposing to construct a Taco Bell restaurant at the corner of Route 9 south and Taylors Mills Road are expected back before the Manalapan Zoning Board of Adjustment on Oct. 15.

Yum & Chill TB Holdings, LLC, is proposing to demolish a Shell gas and service station at the corner and to construct a Taco Bell. The applicant is represented by attorney Peter G. Licata, of the firm Sonnenblick, Parker and Selvers, Freehold Township.

Initial testimony regarding the Taco Bell was presented during the board’s July 16 meeting. Testimony resumed on Aug. 20 before the application was carried once more.

Yum & Chill TB Holdings is seeking preliminary and final major site plan approval with bulk variances and use variance relief to permit the demolition of the Shell station and the construction of a 2,578-square-foot Taco Bell.

The Taco Bell is proposed to have dine-in and drive-up service. The 0.8-acre property isΒ  owned by PMG New Jersey, LLC, and is in the Office Park 3 zone. The construction of a fast food restaurant and drive-up is not permitted in the OP-3 zone, according to a legal notice published by Licata.

Access to the restaurant would be provided from one driveway on Taylors Mills Road and one driveway on Route 9 south.

During the Aug. 20 meeting, traffic consultant Jay Troutman presented information regarding the number of vehicles that could be in line at the drive-up window at any given time. He said he observed vehicles at a Taco Bell on Route 9 south in Howell for 135 minutes (noon to 2:15 p.m. on a Wednesday in July).

Troutman said that for 75 of the 135 minutes he observed the restaurant, there were between zero and three vehicles on line. For 52 minutes, there were between four and six vehicles on line. For eight minutes, there were between seven and 10 vehicles on line, he said.

“Once the line reaches a certain point, people will choose other options. People will not join a line where the wait is going to be too long,” he said.

Troutman said the peak times at the Taco Bell would be weekday lunch and weekday dinner. The lowest use would be on Sunday, he said.

Planner John Chadwick testified on behalf of the applicant and sought to make the case that the granting of the use variance would be a benefit to Manalapan.

He said, among other aspects of the plan, that the applicant is proposing to reduce the impervious coverage at the site from 90% to 70% (65% impervious coverage is permitted).

At present, there are two driveways at the site on Taylors Mills Road and two driveways at the site on Route 9. The applicant is proposing to close one driveway on Taylors Mills Road and one driveway on Route 9. Chadwick called that aspect of the plan an advancement of public safety.

“The proposed development is a good fit for the Route 9 corridor,” Chadwick said.

Jennifer Beahm, the board’s planner, did not take issue with the proposed reduction in lot coverage or the closing of the driveways, but did question certain aspects of Chadwick’s testimony regarding the advancement of the municipality’s zoning.

Previous testimony offered by project engineer Marc Leber, of East Point Engineering, Marlboro, indicated that left turns from the Taco Bell property to Taylors Mills Road would be prohibited.

During the Aug. 20 meeting, zoning board member Mollie Kamen said she was concerned some people would turn right out of Taco Bell onto Route 9 south, turn right into the neighboring Wendy’s restaurant, use an access road that connects Wendy’s to Taylors Mills Road and then turn left onto Taylors Mills Road where that movement is permitted.

Kamen expressed concern that people making the cut-through at Wendy’s after leaving Taco Bell would come into conflict with motorists waiting on the drive-up line at Wendy’s.

Concern was also raised that people who want to travel west on Taylors Mills Road upon leaving Taco Bell will turn right onto Route 9 south and then drive through a nearby residential area (Briar Hill Drive, Country Lane, Princeton Drive) to get back to Taylors Mills Road to turn left and head west.

Troutman said most of the vehicles entering the Taco Bell site will be pass-by traffic that will not drive through the neighborhood, but he said he reviewed the issue and estimated that during a peak hour, approximately five vehicles leaving Taco Bell would drive through the Briar Hill Drive neighborhood to return to Taylors Mills Road and head west.

When the Aug. 20 meeting was opened to public comment, many residents expressed concern about the application.

Some residents who addressed the zoning board said they live in the Briar Hill Drive neighborhood and were concerned about vehicles passing their homes; some speakers lamented the closing of the Shell service station; and some residents took issue with having a driveway on Taylors Mills Road.

Resident Salvatore Viscusi said, “We have more than we need with fast food restaurants. Keep Manalapan a beautiful little town and don’t turn it into a circus.”

Resident Rex Lazewski said, “I don’t think you should change the use of the property.”

Resident Karen Eastman said, “We don’t need two fast food restaurants (Wendy’s and Taco Bell) on top of each other. I do need a service station.”

After the residents finished speaking, the zoning board members took a straw poll to determine where the Taco Bell application stood.

Due to various concerns with the proposed use, the indication was that the application might not receive the five “yes” votes it needs for the use variance to be granted. The key concern for some board members was the traffic situation at the location.

Licata, who represents the applicant, acknowledged traffic at the site is the key issue, but said the consensus of the applicant’s professionals is that the project as designed would improve the situation.

Licata asked for the application to be carried to determine if there is a way forward, and the board carried the application to the Oct. 15 meeting.