Planners approve drugstore on Route 36

Original application for business was denied by board two years ago

By Sherry conohan
Staff Writer

By Sherry conohan
Staff Writer

WEST LONG BRANCH — There’s a Walgreens in the borough’s future.

The Planning Board approved the site plan and needed variances to build a Walgreens drugstore on the southeast corner of the intersection of routes 36 and 71 Monday night, but not until after receiving a tongue-lashing from two opponents of the project.

The 2.46-acre, 107,000-square-foot site also will have a bank on it.

Adam Schneider, the lawyer representing the applicant, Edgewood Properties Inc., of Piscataway, pointed out in his appeal for approval that the lefthand turn out of the Walgreens parking lot to go south on Route 71, which had been a major point of contention when the plan first came before the board, had been taken out.

The initial application was rejected by the Planning Board over a year ago.

"We have addressed the safety concerns so that people can enter this property and leave this property without creating a hazard," Schneider said.

"We’re not looking to pack the site," he added. "We’ve tried to keep the design consistent with the area."

The board’s vote was unanimous, 7-0, and came after four persons spoke out on the application. Two of them, Kathy Elfner, of Parker Road, and Mary Lynch, of Locust Avenue, were vehement in their opposition and charged the board was not taking into consideration the best interests of residents.

Elfner said there was no way the board members could in good conscience vote to approve the project, since it would create major traffic snarls.

"You have to get in and out of the same entrances and exits of this town that I do," she said. "You can’t move on Route 71 now with a vacant lot and two businesses that used to exist (but no longer do) on that site."

Lynch said there had been two horrific accidents at that intersection just this past Saturday and she can’t imagine what it will be like with the addition of a Walgreens store.

Turning to Mayor Paul Zambrano, a member of the Planning Board, she said she read where he had said the drugstore would be a welcome ratable for the town but told him the taxes it pays would have an infinitesimal impact on the tax rate.

"I think it’s about time somebody stepped up to the plate," she said heatedly. "You (Zambrano) should consider appointing different people to the board who care about this town…and think of us."

Lynch also complained about the increased traffic Walgreens would bring.

"I grew up here and moved back 11 years ago, and you’re destroying my quality of life," she told the board. "Their hardship is nothing compared to that of residents. It’s impossible to get through the traffic."

Lynch said the borough doesn’t need a new drug store and doesn’t need a new bank.

"We don’t need the traffic," she said. "I think the very least you can do is stop them from entering and exiting Route 71."

Frank Scatuorchio, of Lloyd Street, also urged the board to vote no. He said the plan was too dense.

"You seem to be making mincemeat out of the zoning regulations," he said.

Randy Yelton, of Summers Avenue, just off Route 71, asked for some sort of buffer to help protect his property. He said when cars stack now on Route 71, people throw rocks and bottles onto his property.

"I just want protection for my own family," he said.

Zambrano responded to Elfner’s criticism of the board by saying that, contrary to her assertion, the members do care. He said he does believe Walgreens will be a good ratable. "I think it’s going to be a great benefit to the town," he said.

Joseph Henry, chairman of the Planning Board, said he was caught in the traffic at the time of the morning accident on Saturday at the Route 36 and 71 intersection and told Elfner the cause was a driver suffering a seizure and not the fault of traffic in the area. He also defended the board, saying it does an excellent job. "I’m proud of the members," he said.

Henry also noted that no zoning variances were required; the planning board could grant the variances being requested.

The property lies in an IC — or industrial commercial — zone.

Before the board voted, it heard from the engineer for the project, a traffic engineer and a planner.

Julius Szalay, the engineer for the applicant, said the variances being sought were for minimum lot width — 255 feet instead of 300 feet required, front yard set back — 82.7 feet front Route 36 and 74.3 feet from Route 71 instead of the 150 feet required; an entrance driveway 45 feet wide off Route 71 and another of 40 feet off Route 36 when only 30 feet is allowed and for signage, including a large sign closer than permitted to the road at the corner.

Szalay contended the bank building is a second building and not an accessory building, but even if deemed an accessory building, at 2,475 square feet, it is only 25 feet under the 2,500 square feet required for an accessory building.

The main drug store building is 14,490 square feet in size.

The site plan showed 85 parking spaces in compliance with the minimum required, but Szalay asked the board to consider reducing the number by four to seven spaces to create more of a land bank, which the board agreed to do.