Workin’ at the car wash (come on, sing it with me) requires, before anything else – cars.
And an influx of cars to an already-chaotic portion of swath of state highway in Brick Township has residents of one neighborhood concerned that traffic woes could eventually find their way to local streets. Brick Township’s Zoning Board of Adjustment last week adjourned a meeting on a proposal to build an “express” car wash on Route 88, opposite the newly-built Wawa and proposed Popeyes fast food restaurant, to November following an hours-long discussion on the would-be business.
While it is well-known that a car wash has existed for decades just west of the proposed site, the presence of a competing business carries no legal weight in terms of township jurisdiction. But state jurisdiction applies heavily due to the location of the proposed structure along Route 88, a state highway. The developer of the site – JAC Operating Corp, which also runs car washes in Staten Island – is proposing to utilize a dual-entry with a strip mall next door for access to the site from the highway. Vehicles would also exit the car wash onto Route 88.
While some residents who came to the meeting questioned whether this would endanger motorists, representatives of the developer said the state effectively gave them a choice – share a driveway, or route traffic onto residential streets.
“The challenge here is dealing with the NJDOT, and anything including the Route 88 right-of-way is going to require their approval,” said Justin Taylor, a traffic engineer representing the developer. “If we don’t share access, access would have to be from either Kenneth or Kaiser.”
Kenneth Place and Kieser Boulevard are both residential streets in the Midstreams section that are located behind the proposed car wash site and, as residents were quick to note, include multiple school bus stops and typical residential-style activity. For their part, the developers have said they have tried to avoid mixing car wash traffic with local streets any way they could.
“We’ve been totally focused on cross-access with the adjacent property,” said Taylor, referring to the strip mall. “Once we understood we could not get our own driveway on [Route] 88, we began focusing only on cross-access.”
A traffic study conducted by an engineering firm estimated about 30 percent of customers would access the car wash from the west, meaning about 30 percent would likely attempt to make a left turn onto Route 88 from the exit lane.
This caused some audible consternation among neighbors, who have long highlighted the issue of left turns being allowed out of the Wawa across the street. Almost immediately after the Wawa opened, Brick officials asked the state to prohibit left turns from the convenience store and gas station, though NJDOT has yet to place any signage there that would allow a ban to be enforced. The board also conditioned approval of the Popeyes restaurant on the prohibition of left turns out of the Wawa.
Residents fear the identical scenario could play out on the opposite side of the road if vehicles are allowed to make left turns out of the car was onto Route 88, though the developers said relief would likely emerge once left turns out of the Wawa are, indeed, banned.
“They (Wawa) were allowed to have an unrestricted access driveway, but then they went on to have 11 accidents in a few months,” said Township Planner Tara Paxton. “They ordered the sign but have not installed it yet because they’re working on the resolution of compliance with the Popeyes as of a few weeks ago.”
The proposed signage would ban left turns both into Wawa from Route 88 and turns onto the highway from Wawa. Taylor said his firm’s traffic engineers took into account the future ban on left turns both in and out of Wawa.
“We are east of Wawa at this point,” said Taylor. “If you were to gas up at Wawa, you would have to go either to Jack Martin or to the easternmost driveway.”
Residents were provided the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses in the quasi-judicial nature of the hearing.
“Are you aware of any property in town that must use a cross-access entrance because it doesn’t have its own entrance?” one neighboring resident asked Taylor.
He did not, though Paxton said she could not completely rule out that scenario existing at some other location in town.
Some neighbors also asked board members to ensure traffic would not be able to slip behind the strip mall and use local streets as a cut-through. Both residents and board members expressed interest in curbs and sidewalks being placed on both Route 88 and the residential streets. It is unknown, though probable, that the state would allow sidewalks to be built on Route 88, however the township would need to grant a waiver for sidewalks to be built on the side streets since that would mean removing trees which, representatives of the developer said, also form a natural buffer.
The hearing will continue Wednesday, Nov. 8 at 7 p.m. in the township municipal complex. Due to the township council meeting being delayed a day that week as a consequence of Election Day on Tuesday, the zoning board meeting will be held in the large meeting room across the hall from the usual council chambers.