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Eatontown Wawa Approved, Again, By Planning Board

EATONTOWN: The borough planning board has affirmed its previous decision to allow a developer to build a Wawa, gas station, Chick-Fil-A and another retail use at the corner of Route 35 and Wyckoff Road.

Nearly one year ago, the Eatontown Planning Board granted site plan approval and the variances required for the project to begin. However, three local gas station owners sued the board over its decision, stating they were not given enough time to have their public comments heard and saying that the variances should not have been granted. A judge remanded the case back to the board earlier this year and the application was heard a second time with testimony from the objector's witnesses.

The board unanimously voted to approve the application during its Dec. 8 meeting, but board attorney Mark Steinberg reminded the board that the court still has jurisdiction over the application and will ultimately either agree with the planning board's decision or rule in favor of the objectors. It is unclear when the court will reach its decision.

The court is also looking at whether or not the planning board or the zoning board of adjustment should have heard the case, because of the type of proximity variance needed by the developers. The borough's proximity ordinance states that no new gas station shall be located within 2,000 feet of an existing one or within 200 feet of a residence.

On Monday more testimony about how effectively a detention basin will remove ground water from the site was heard and Wawa's traffic expert Maurice Rached spoke about his latest findings concerning the amount of new traffic the site will bring to the area. Rached said his traffic study was confirmed by the New Jersey Department of Transportation, and that his numbers were lower than those compiled by the objectors' traffic expert, Gordon Meth.

Rached said the developers have not yet been granted approval to add either a left turn out of the facility to either Wyckoff Road or Route 35. The board reminded Wawa that its original approval stipulated that no left turns could be made out of the site onto Route 35 and that a left turn onto Wyckoff should be allowed because it will prevent people from using nearby streets as turnarounds or cut throughs.

Residents who would live near the development also were in attendance and all those who spoke objected to the plan.

Kevin Smith said he would be able to see the development every time he opens his back door and that he believes the traffic generated by the site will be dangerous.

"Are we developing the land with the right kind of business," Smith asked.

The objectors' attorney William Potter stated that he felt the new testimony given by his experts should have been enough to reverse the board's decision.

"The applicant has not carried its burden of proof," Potter said. "I've seen no public benefit created by the applicant."

The developer's attorney, Peter Falvo, said he felt the new construction would actually be a benefit to the area because it currently contains an empty trailer park and building that used to be the home of Lube It All.

"Right now to say its an eyesore is an understatement," Falvo said.

He agreed that the traffic in and out of the site is a "hot-button" issue but he feels that the amount of new traffic will be small.

"That traffic is going to be there whether this site is developed or remains vacant," he said. "It relies on pass-by traffic."


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