Brick Township will be home to another Wawa convenience store and gas station – this time at the corner of Route 88 and Jack Martin Boulevard – as part of a scaled-down project by developer Jack Morris that was approved Wednesday night.
The Board of Adjustment voted 5-2 to approve the project after one board member, Dawn Marie White, changed her vote from “no” to “yes” after realizing hers was the decided vote on the project, and a denial would almost certainly plunge the township into litigation over the issue.
The Wawa store will be built on what was long home to the Laurelton Mobile Home Park. About eight trailer homes remain on the site, which will be improved with gravel roads as part of the Wawa construction. Morris’ company ditched plans for a day-care center to be part of the project, but kept three aspects: the Wawa and 16 fuel pumps, a 4,535 square foot bank and a 7,182 square foot commercial building, 3,000 square feet of which will be dedicated to a 124-seat restaurant. The new application also reduced the number of parking spaces from 135 to 110. Under the township’s zoning ordinance, 92 would have been required.
The proposal drew objects from residents of the neighboring Laurelton Heights neighborhood, which is located across the street from the plot to be developed.
“Do we really need another commercial concern in that location?” asked resident Roxanne Jones. “If you want to try and fill up some of the empty places, okay, that’s once thing, but now you’re going to slap a whole bunch of new places in an area that really doesn’t need any development. I don’t think that would enhance our town.”
Carol Renkel, a Barb Lane resident, said her home is one of the closest to the complex and she’s worried about both traffic and litter.
“I have concerns with the noise, the traffic, the fumes from the gas station, the lights and the garbage I know I’m going to get in my yard because of the junk people throw on the ground,” she told board members. “We also have three gas stations within a mile.”
A number of other residents voiced concern over the traffic that would be generated by the Wawa and neighboring stores. Specifically, a number of residents took aim at the fact that a left turn onto Route 88 would be allowed at one of the two exits from the Wawa.
Douglas Wolfson, the attorney for Morris’ company, JSM at Martin Boulevard, said the state Department of Transportation approved left turns from both exits, but after hearing concerns from the public, the company decided to only allow lefts from one side.
“We did it because we thought safety was important, and we listened to the public,” said Wolfson.
The board did not have much latitude to consider a denial of the project. The uses proposed for the lot complied with the zoning code of the township, the developer reduced the number of variances required from 17 to just two, and since the state and county both approved the use along their roadways (Route 88 is a state highway and Jack Martin Boulevard is a county road) the board could not base a denial on traffic concerns. None of the variances on a list to be considered by the board included anything having to do with traffic since the developer already received those approvals elsewhere.
“If the board denied it based on the traffic, a judge would look at that list and see it does not mention traffic,” said Ronald D. Cucchiaro, the board’s attorney.
Because a use variance was required in order to maintain the trailer homes in the rear of the lot, a super majority of board members would required to vote in favor of the project for it to pass. White cast the final “no” vote, but changed her mind after it became clear that the project would not be approved – and inevitably end up in a losing court battle – without her vote.
“I am not happy, and I believe the traffic is going to be horrendous in that area,” said White. “But the law tells me that I must approve it, because it’s going to be overturned if I do not.”