Morristown zoning board hears pitches for convenience store at Washington & Mills, and apartments in Turtle Road parking lot

Renderings of convenience store proposed for gas station at Washington and Mills streets in Morristown, July 2021.
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By Marion Filler

 

The Morristown zoning board heard a pair of variance requests this week–for apartments in a parking lot, and for a convenience store at a gas station where a similar application was rejected a few years ago.

Operators of a Delta station on the busy corner of Washington and Mills streets, near Morristown High School and the Alexander Hamilton Elementary School, seeks permission to convert service bays into a store.

A Dunkin Donuts pitched for the same location was shot down in 2015 amidst vigorous local opposition and concerns about pedestrian safety and motorist access.

“Improvements are the key to the proposal,” Tyler Vandervalk, the engineer for applicant Bajwa (Nirankar Fuel Corp.) said at Wednesday’s virtual meeting.

Morristown zoning board virtual meeting, July 7, 2021. Screenshot by Marion Filler

The MX1 zone allows markets–think butcher shops–but not convenience stores. So a use variance is required for this project.  The discussion focused mostly on parking and traffic flow.

Vandervalk did not belabor the distinction between markets and convenience stores. Rather, he contrasted the latter with restaurants.

The engineer emphasized that no food preparation would occur at this location. Everything would be pre-packaged snacks. Board member James Bednarz observed it still would be possible to get a cup of coffee and a doughnut — just not a fresh one.

The service bays currently are leased to another business. The footprint of the existing structure would remain the same. Customers would park in spaces now used by vehicles awaiting repairs.

Both the store and the gas station would be open from 5:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. The opening is an hour earlier than at present. Two employees would be there at all times, according to the testimony.

Three entrances/exits would be reduced to two: One on Washington and one on Mills. The third access point, on Washington Street closest to the corner, would be eliminated. Plans call for directional arrows and a small planted area as a divider, to manage traffic flow in and out.

Ambitious landscaping promises to reduce impervious coverage of the property by 10 percent. Vinyl fencing would extend around the perimeter and enclose refuse containers. A generator would operate the pumps during power failures.

Existing signage would stay the same, except for recessed fixtures replacing lights under the canopy described by Vandervalk as “probably a bit obnoxious.”

No diesel fuel would be sold. Underground tanks would remain as is. There won’t be enough space for an electric vehicle charging station, or for an air pump. All utilities and wiring would be underground. No sidewalk improvements are planned.

Board members viewed proposed parking spaces on the north, east and west sides of the building as potential problems for pedestrians, as well as for vehicles.

Noting the property “is kind of a mess,” town Planner Phil Abramson expressed concerns that the added spaces would generate more turnover, and difficulties among cars pulling in and backing out.

A traffic expert is scheduled to testify on July 21, and Vandervalk will return as needed, according to project attorney Larry Calli.

Only two residents called in. One, who inquired about any roofline changes, was told none were planned. Another wondered if vaping products would be sold at the convenience store. A hasty “yes” was replaced by a “no” explaining such sales were prohibited by state law.

TURTLE ROAD REDUX

Concerns about parking, traffic flow and security dominated discussion about Turtle Road Commons 2,  a proposed three-story, 28-unit apartment development behind offices at 161-163 Madison Ave. owned by the Silverman Group.  Silverman built a similar complex in the parking lot a few years ago.

A June 12, 2021 site visit by zoning board members raised questions that will get further scrutiny on Aug. 18.

Rendering of proposed Turtle 2 apartments, July 2021.

Of particular interest is a block of 11 parking spots intended for a loading zone but not specifically designated as such. So residents could use them at any time.

Project Engineer Kyle McKenna on Wednesday acknowledged that moving vans and delivery vehicles could block cars, and turnarounds could pose problems.

Proposed apartment site on Turtle Road, June 12, 2021. Photo by Bill Lescohier

“How do you foresee maneuvering in that tight space? ” asked board member Barbara McNally.

McKenna said move-ins would have to be scheduled, and “handled operationally.” When asked if a new design was possible, McKenna quashed the idea, describing the existing plan as “adequate.”

Rendering of proposed Turtle 2 apartments, July 2021.

Another issue involves elevation: Some apartments which would be on street level. Abramson asked about security measures for windows that are just a few feet above ground. There are none so far. He suggested terraces might be a good idea.

Sidewalks and and vehicle flow await further clarification by a traffic engineer, scheduled to address the next meeting.

Rendering of proposed Turtle 2 apartments, July 2021.

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