NORTH BRUNSWICK – Residents who live on 13th and 14th streets in North Brunswick expressed frustration and disappointment in the approval of a Wawa gas station and convenience store in their neighborhood.
On April 17, the North Brunswick Zoning Board of Adjustment voted 6-1 in favor of the business that will replace a vacant lot and existing car wash that is bordered by Joyce Kilmer and Livingston avenues.
Chairman Mark McGrath; vice Chairman Tony Chedid; and members Amir Farhat, Jonathan Wright, Thomas Abode and Susan Malone voted “yes.” Member Candice Howard voted “no”.
“I believe in capitalism and I know everyone is saying this is the right place to do this, but I care about the residents of North Brunswick and I have to say no,” Howard said during her vote.
As per testimony by Keith Davis, attorney for the applicant, Livingston Avenue Partnership, LLC, the convenience store will be 5,585 square feet accompanied by 16 gasoline and diesel fueling stations in eight canopies.
According to licensed planner Matt Sharo, principal of Dynamic Engineering, the gas and fresh produce will be delivered as needed. Frozen and refrigerated foods will be delivered every other day, dairy will arrive three times per week and vendors such as chips and soda will unload six times a week, but those hours will be restricted from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. daily.
Of the 50 parking stalls on site, three will be handicap and three will be oversized along Joyce Kilmer Avenue, Sharo said.
Sharo also mentioned site improvements such as stamped concrete sidewalks and additional landscaping.
As for traffic, only 24 percent is expected to be new traffic, while 76 percent of visitors will already be driving on Livingston Avenue, Joyce Kilmer Avenue and Hermann Road, according to Nicholas Verderese, principal of Dynamic Traffic, part of Dynamic Engineering.
“This generates driveway traffic coming on and off the property but it’s not new to this area, primarily,” he said.
Verderese also noted that 13th Street and Livingston Avenue are at a good level of service per state standards.
“We’re confident that we’re within all parameters of the Department of Transportation,” he said.
However, several residents expressed concerns based on an influx of pedestrians and cars to the area who will frequent the store and gas station at all hours of the day and night.
“We want to improve the community but headlights pulling out 24 hours, 7 days … would any of you trade positions with us at this point?” 13th Street resident Vanessa Vitalino-Calle asked the board members. “Who’s going to buy my home? … Would this family-owned business of Wawa and their employees trade places with me now?”
Her husband Rafael Calle added that due to the surrounding businesses such as Burger King, a dental office and a laundromat, there are already issues such as odors and noise. He also alleged drug dealers and drivers of 18-wheelers hang out all night.
“That activity that currently is there is only going to get worse with something like this,” he said.
Fellow 13th Street resident Cynthia Czarda-Black likened the project to a “circus.” She said there are other shopping centers to buy groceries from, and mentioned several gas stations already in the area.
“How many do you need? How many facilities like this do you need?” she asked rhetorically.
She also mentioned “riff raff” and “undesirables” she fears will inhabit her neighborhood.
“I don’t think this belongs in our neighborhood. I don’t think this belongs on Livingston Avenue. I think the traffic is going to be horrible. I think it’s going to bring an influx of people we don’t want. There are already places to go,” she said.
Her daughter Jennifer added that as someone who is out at 3 a.m. to pick up her husband, she sees firsthand the illegal activity in the area.
She also said the current noise levels and light from existing properties keep her awake.
“You’re going to destroy everything that makes this area nice,” she said.
However, several zoning board members said the project fell within Livingston Avenue Partnership LLC’s legal rights because the zone is C-1 neighborhood and commercial; the convenience store is already a permitted use; there was a convenience store and fueling canopy approved by the board in 2002; and a gas station previously existed.
“Obviously this site will be well utilized where it is vacant and underutilized now,” licensed planner John Chadwick said.
“Compared to what is out there currently, a vacant lot and a car wash which is not open overnight is not as ideal a facility such as this, which will be open 24/7, and I submit this would discourage the kinds of activity that is being complained of because there will be more people on site keeping an eye on the neighborhood and reporting incidents,” Davis said.
Thus, the zoning board granted preliminary and site plan approval, a use variance and a bulk variance.
“Please be good neighbors to these people. Please be good neighbors,” Howard said as the meeting ended.
Contact Jennifer Amato at firstname.lastname@example.org.