By Chris Rotolo |
ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS – A new 7-Eleven convenience store has been approved for the corner of First Avenue and Route 36, at the entrance to town.
The site plan for 188 First Ave., a corner lot next to Tom’s Atlantic Cyclery and Atlantic Highlands Auto Center, was given the green light by the planning board Aug. 9. A discussion about parking and traffic issues, continued from the prior meeting July 12, nearly pushed the meeting to midnight.
Among the attendees was Mayor Rhonda C. Le Grice. She said a traffic impact study by Dynamic Traffic of Lake Como failed to address a number of the safety issues broached by residents, including warm-weather weekend boating traffic – something she finds particularly troubling.
“I feel that our residents brought up valid concerns and thought-provoking questions while giving their testimony and a lot of them felt disappointed because those factors didn’t seem to be addressed in the traffic study,” Le Grice said. “It’s really frightening. Not all of the scenarios were addressed in their study.”
The developer’s attorney, Jason Tuvel of Rubin & Dombeck Law, LLC, did not respond to a request for comment on Le Grice’s claim.
The study designated 7 to 8 a.m. as the peak morning hour on First Avenue, when the roadway becomes a thoroughfare for hundreds of SeaStreak ferry commuters venturing to New York City on the popular 7 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. vessels.
According to the study, the 7-Eleven would draw an estimated 88 vehicles into the store’s parking lot during the peak morning hour and inject approximately 70 more vehicles into the flow during the peak evening hour of 4:45 to 5:45 p.m., which coincides with popular ferry arrival times.
The study also revealed an exit delay time of 22 seconds during the morning peak hour and 24 seconds in the evening.
Though it’s not in the purview of the planning board to consider traffic on roadways adjacent to the site, borough resident Erin Drew said she was dismayed the board acted unanimously when other on-site issues did fall under their jurisdiction.
“They could have considered traffic flow on the site itself, as well as the impact that has on parking,” Drew said. “If it’s 88 cars, with an average visit of three to five minutes, plus a 22-second exit delay, the site itself is going to be a safety and traffic nightmare. And that’s not even taking into account the parking deficiencies.”
The development group sought a variance for on-site parking spaces. For retail stores, a borough ordinance sets a parking requirement of one space per 200 square feet, which equates to 14 spaces for the proposed 2,800-square-foot 7-Eleven. The site plan provides only 11 parking spaces, two of which could be taken up by store employees, as well as another that must be designated as handicap parking.
The developers did offer to add an additional two spots on site in an area currently set aside for box truck and tractor trailer deliveries. However, should this area be transformed, it would force delivery trucks to unload directly on First Avenue less than 100 feet from the highway.
“We asked the planning board to use the parking situation as their power and to deny that parking variance for safety reasons and they chose not to,” borough resident Laurie Zydel said.
Some residents believe the additional traffic will cause an overflow, prompting ferry commuters to bypass the intersection by weaving through residential neighborhoods. Vehicles exiting the 7-Eleven are expected to be directed onto nearby East Garfield Avenue, as a way to reach Route 36 while bypassing First Avenue.
Atlantic Highlands Elementary School is located at 140 First Ave., just two blocks from the potential site of this convenience store. Zydel said he fears for the well-being of students.
“School is in session at 8:15 a.m. and there are children walking to school by themselves during that peak hour,” Zydel said. “East Garfield is a very well-traveled walking route to the school, which is where these cars will be forced to go. The safety issue was raised numerous times and it was not taken into account.”
Because Route 36 is a state roadway, some residents said they will appeal to the New Jersey Department of Transportation (DOT) for a ruling on the study and its implications.
“All one can hope for right now is that the state looks into the situation further and provides a more thorough and true depiction of what occurs within that short block,” La Grice said.
The New Jersey Department of Transportation (DOT) said Wednesday that it has reviewed the developer’s application and “sent a letter with comments to the applicant.”
According to DOT Public Information Officer Judith Drucker, the state organization is still awaiting a response from the developer.
This article first appeared in the August 16 – 23, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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