Resident’s Concerns Addressed in Bridgewater, NJ Wawa Application
By AUDREY BLUMBERG | August 23, 2016 at 11:00 AM
BRIDGEWATER, NJ – Increased traffic impeding Charlotte Drive residents and a tree buffer were the highlight of concerns during a planning board meeting Aug. 22 with a continued application for a Wawa and four other retail buildings next to Fisher Scientific on Route 202.
The site of the proposal is bordered by Thermo Fisher Scientific, on Route 202, and is in a newly rezoned commercial property. It is a total of 13.68 acres, and currently has 10 residential homes, including a group home.
As for the development being planned, the western most portion will be a proposed Wawa with a stacked eight fueling canopy for 16 fueling stations. Next to that will be a 13,580-square-foot retail building, then a 5,100-square-foot retail building, another retail building of more than 9,900 square feet and finally a Charles Schwab building of over 9,000 square feet.
Testimony began with comments from site engineer Mark Whitaker, who said the applicant has made some changes to the original plans for the development, which reduces some of the variances being requested. Most of the changes came in setback for the buildings, although they still require variances because of ordinance requirements of 200-foot setbacks.
“We have shifted the retail buildings and the setback is now larger, so we have lessened both variances for setbacks,” he said.
For example, Whitaker said, the Wawa is set back 105 feet, and the first retail building is set back 152.6 feet, where previously it was 111 feet.
In addition, Whitaker said, they have reduced the number of parking stalls on the lot, by about 37 in total.
“We have also increased the parking setback along the residential side from 155.5 feet to 181.1 feet,” he said.
Whitaker said they have also reduced the height of the light poles closest to the residences, from 25 feet to 15 feet, and there will be a mechanism on the light so it stays parallel to the ground and people cannot see the illumination from the sides.
With regard to the signs on the property, which also required variances, they have reduced the size of the Wawa monument sign, as well as the mounted sign on the Charles Schwab building. The only variances remaining for signage, Whitaker said, are for the number of monument signs and building signs.
Timothy Prime, attorney for the applicant, said they are doing three monument signs, instead of the allowed one, to put one at each of the three driveways on the property, with the retail buildings sharing, two per sign. Then, he said, there is a separate one for the Wawa.
“We are complying with the ordinance size requirements for all the signs,” Whitaker said. “We are just asking for a variance because we want a sign at the front of Wawa and back.”
There are also allowed signs on the property, Whitaker said, directing traffic out to Route 202.
In total, parts of the variances are being eliminated, but there are still 14 variances being requested.
As for landscaping, which caused the most concern from residents wanting to remain shielded from the development, Whitaker said the applicant has added 219 trees in addition to the ones that were already proposed, allowing them to comply with the township ordinance. They have also added shrubs and 76 shade trees in addition to the 73 already proposed.
Whitaker said they are proposing a tiered wall to shield the development from the residences on Charlotte Drive, with an additional 67 evergreen trees, doubling the number in that location.
Whitaker said they originally had a staggered row of evergreen trees, but they have basically doubled the number since the original.
Township planner Scarlett Doyle said the applicant has provided for three rows of trees, first at the base of the wall that is closest to Charlotte Drive, and then vertically up to another row of trees, followed by a third row where the wall hits the curb heading up to the development.
In addition, Doyle said, she recommended that the proposed arborvitae trees at the solid waste enclosure on the site be eliminated and moved to create a fourth layer of the wall at Charlotte Drive.
Whitaker said these trees should be enough to prevent a line of sight to the development.
“The visual of our development is going to be impeded by the existing buffer and the proposed evergreens,” he said. “We have proposed trees that are 8 feet in height, and they grow about 2 feet in height per year.”
Doyle said there will not be substantial growth of the trees when they are first planted.
“So there is going to be a period of time where the neighborhood will have an impact from the development when the leaves fall off the trees,” councilwoman Christine Henderson Rose said. “We don’t really know of the trees that are currently there and ones to be replaced what the neighbors will see once the Charles Schwab building is up and running.”
Whitaker said he can’t say exactly what the residents will see at the beginning, but that the applicant is meeting and exceeding the buffer requirement with its proposal.
“There is a substantial woodland buffer,” he said.
In addition, Whitaker said, they have agreed to work with the township for additional buffering if requested.
Several residents expressed concerns that the developer is eliminating trees that are currently at 60 feet and replacing them with ones that are only 8 feet high.
“They will only be about a third of the height eventually,” said Charlotte Drive resident Sharon Barnes with regard to the trees replacing the 156 trees that are being taken down. “So not only are we losing the buffer, it’s not going to be as effective with the new buffer.”
Other residents expressed concerns about added noise pollution and more with the loss of the current buffer and addition of the development.
Prime said the buffer between the properties is not actually being impacted, there are some trees being impacted like with any development, but the area of woods that exists right now is not all the buffer area.
“The buffer area is not being disturbed, there is an additional area being disturbed and that’s what we’re discussing,” said planning board chair Ron Charles.
But, Charlotte Drive resident Brenda Esler said, they consider it a buffer.
“When the amount of trees is being reduced, it is hard to see it as an enhancement,” she said.
Charlotte Drive resident Mark Grace asked about a gully that exists near the back of his property and whether it would be filled in to prevent future flooding.
Whitaker said they are going to fill in some of it.
“We are reducing the amount of stormwater that is flowing to the gully, and a portion of our development fills in the western portion of it,” he said. “There should not be flooding concerns, we are decreasing the amount of water.”
A few residents living on Route 202 spoke out in favor of the application.
“I appreciate people are talking about trees, but we have congestion, pollution and more, it’s very dangerous,” said resident Bernadette Benda. “I would beseech the board to consider letting this project go through. We have Fisher to the left and a lot of commercial activity across the street. We are isolated residential homes with few families, and we don’t know that any of you would want to live across the street to that.”
Traffic engineer Nicholas Verderese also continued his testimony after initially speaking about the improvements being proposed on Route 202 at the June meeting. The improvements have not yet been submitted to the New Jersey Department of Transportation, and must be approved by them before they can move forward.
Currently, vehicles coming out of Thermo Fisher Scientific have to drive to Ortho Drive in order to turn around and travel south on Route 202. The applicant has proposed a dedicated left turn lane, and another lane from Bridgewater Town Centre to allow traffic to drive straight across into Fisher Scientific.
So at the Town Centre, Verderese said, there will be a left turn lane, a left turn or straight lane and a right turn lane to leave the development.
Verderese said there will also be improvements to the Route 202 southbound lanes, with a left turn into Thermo Fisher Scientific.
Verderese said they are proposing a right turn out of the Bridgewater Town Centre on Route 202, where there is currently only a right turn in to the shopping center.
In addition, Verderese said, they are also proposing a right turn into the Bridgewater Town Centre before the traffic light on Route 202 south.
Verderese said they are also planning to provide a third lane traveling in the eastbound direction, which will be significant in length.
The project also includes three driveways into and out of it, one at the Wawa and two more at the other retail buildings.
“The spacing of the driveways is well done and evenly spaced throughout the property,” Verderese said. “There is a lot of interaction between the driveways because we have spaced them far enough apart.”
But residents were concerned about the additional traffic coming from those three driveways.
“One of the really difficult things is the ability to keep traffic flowing at a reasonable speed,” Craig Hepworth, of Edgewood Terrace, said. “Once traffic starts moving as it gets over the top of the hill, adding more will impede the flow of traffic. I don’t believe there should be any other exits or entrances onto Route 202.”
Hepworth said he would like to see all the traffic diverted simply to a traffic light, or the one proposed at Fisher Place.
In addition, Hepworth said, on the southbound side of Route 202, there is currently a u-turn that allows six or seven vehicles to enter before backing up onto Route 202.
“I have not seen how that is going to be eliminated in the plans, and now you are adding plans on the other side and more people will want to use that u-turn,” he said.
Verderese said they are adding lanes and reducing turnaround time, while also adding length to the lanes.
“But if you put one tractor trailer going into Fisher Scientific or delivering fuel or goods to Wawa, it is going to eliminate four of those alleged spots,” Hepworth said. “You are putting everyone coming down Route 202 in jeopardy because there is not going to be enough space to go around the tractor trailers.”
Verderese said they are extending the lanes from the intersection to accommodate the project and any truck traffic.
“There will be a full width of 12 feet, and then there is a transition down to 0 feet,” he said. “We’re extending it significantly to accommodate the project and any other traffic going to Fisher.”
As for people coming off Charlotte Drive, Verderese said there is a new phase of the light cycle at the Wegmans for those coming off Fisher Place, which will provide additional opportunity for those coming off Charlotte.
“There are 18 to 20 seconds of time where you are not going to have northbound traffic or Wegmans, it will just be our smaller development,” he said. “At that time you will only be sharing traffic with our project, and we only send about 100 cars in an hour.”
“We put five cars on the road each cycle versus 2,000 cars in the other 150 seconds,” he added. “There will be more gaps in the traffic stream for Charlotte Drive.”
But residents were still concerned about the three driveways on the project adding more traffic as Charlotte Drive residents are leaving their street.
“In the wintertime, one of the things we have to contend with is the state pushing snow into the intersections and exits,” Charlotte Drive resident Tom Horvath said. “By putting in three driveways, that’s going to make it tougher for us to get out.”
But Verderese said having multiple driveways will actually spread out the number of people entering the roadway, making it easier for Charlotte Drive residents.
Barnes questioned whether there is anything to prevent drivers from Fisher Place going through the parking lot of the Wawa to avoid the traffic light and coming out onto Route 202 at any of the three driveways.
“There are still going to be 60 cars in an hour that are coming out that are totally separate from the light,” she said. “Is there anything that prevents the people from going behind Fisher Place and going through the parking lot and coming out so they don’t have to wait for the light, and which ups the 60 count?”
Verderese emphasized that it doesn’t matter how many are coming out of the driveways because there is still the gap from the traffic light in which fewer cars will be coming down Route 202 and Charlotte Drive residents will have an easier time pulling onto the highway.
“We have one-third of the traffic coming in that direction,” he said. “We have 20 seconds in the cycle and it is only 100 cars heading in your direction. “The other 150 seconds, it’s 2,500 cars heading in your direction.”
But Barnes said the fact is that the cars coming out of the driveways are nonstop because there is no light.
Testimony will continue Sept. 26 in the municipal building courtroom as the applicant presents planner testimony.