A three hour-long Board of Adjustment meeting on a developer’s application to build a Wawa and quick-serve restaurant near the corner of Route 70 and Duquesne Boulevard included arguing, shouts from the audience and a sign being taken from a protester.
The developer, Paramount Realty Services, made its third appearance before the board Wednesday night, with a planner and engineers hired by the developer testifying to the merits of the project. But before all was said and done, an opposing attorney would stir the room into an uproar and draw nonstop rebukes from the board’s own attorney.
“I would submit to the board that the proposed program of development is exactly what Brick envisions in its master plan for the Route 70 corridor,” said project planner Christine Cofone, responding to questions by the developer’s attorney, John Jackson.
Residents of the Lake Riviera neighborhood have come out against the project, voicing concern that traffic and noise from the Wawa and restaurant – potentially a Panera Bread – could increase, and draw more transients to local streets. Delivery trucks have become a particularly important issue for many of the residents.
“I would see the truck traffic having no impact on the residential neighborhood,” said Cofone, testifying that both buildings in the project – the Wawa and restaurant – are squarely located in the business zone. Only parking areas and entranceways, she said, are located on its fringes, on a residential lot and an office-professional lot.
“Many of the residents have said that one of their chief concerns was traffic going through their neighborhood,” said Board Chairman Harvey Langer, requesting the developer make an access point near the intersection of Duquesne Boulevard and Lake Shore Drive an “in” only, so traffic could not be routed out into the neighborhood.
Ultimately, the developer agreed to make the change to the project’s plans.
But it was after that agreement was struck, and testimony ended, that the meeting turned contentious.
Vincent Sanzone, a North Jersey attorney who is representing the interests of his parent’s estate – their home sits adjacent to the proposed development area – began aggressively cross-examining the developer’s experts, often drawing shouts of “objection” from John P. Miller, the board’s own attorney, who ruled many, if not most, of Sanzone’s questions were “irrelevant.”
“Did you have an opportunity to listen to the noise that the Costco gas station generates?” he asked one engineer representing the developer. “Did you make any observations whatsoever or did you not bother?”
“Don’t you think they’ll be playing all kinds of crazy music, like rap music?” he asked another witness, later using a piece of paper and the board dais as analogy for the thickness of a proposed eight foot-high sound wall that will be located behind the restaurant portion of the site.
The project engineer conceded he did not know how thick the sound wall would be, but Miller eventually cut Sanzone off, saying he did not allow the witness to answer the question at hand.
At one point, Jackson told board members that Sanzone’s interest was not for the good of the neighborhood, but to profit from selling the land to the developer. Sanzone said he offered Paramount a price of $400,000, which was turned down.
“Of course I have a vested interest” in the property he said, motioning to the few dozen residents who came to hear the proceedings. “So do all of these people.”
With that, yelling overcame the room with cheers for the attorney and jeers for board members trying to maintain control. At one point, Langer ordered a protest sign be taken from a woman who had been frequently waving it in the air through much of the meeting. Another man stormed out of the room, shouting, “Quality of life is down!” in a loud voice. “Quality of life is down and taxes are up!”
After the room calmed down, Sanzone’s cross-examinations continued until no more witnesses remained. A previous witness who was no longer in the room was called by Sanzone, who then asked the proceedings be delayed until they could provide testimony on what they previously said. It was then that Maurice Zekaria, president of Paramount, told board members that he believes Sanzone was trying to “extort” money.
“I feel like he’s extorting us, he’s wasting our time,” said Zekaria, adding that he believed Sanzone was “rude” in an earlier meeting where a sale of the property was briefly discussed.
Sanzone, in a powerful voice, responded to Zekaria.
“As an officer of the court and an attorney … whether or not I’m asking for $150,000 or $1 million for the property doesn’t have to do with anything,” said Sanzone. “The property isn’t for sale. I’m buying the property myself. That property has been in my family since 1964. He’s trying to discredit me because he doesn’t want to be held to his proofs. He doesn’t want to be cross-examined.”
Because cross-examinations have yet to end, there was no public comment period at the meeting. Members of the public are allowed to voice concerns and question witnesses only after the applicant and any opposing attorneys have completed their cases.
The hearing will resume March 8 at 7 p.m. at the township municipal complex.