RED BANK — What worries Wallace Street resident John Garafalo is what having a convenience store with a 24-hour operation may mean for the neighborhood.
“This is the last pure neighborhood in Red Bank,” Garafalo said, “without doctors, lawyers everywhere. It’s residential.”
Garafalo was among a number of area residents who filled the council chambers to capacity Monday evening as the borough planning board began hearing an application to renovate the existing Welsh Farms convenience store, to convert it to a 24-hour 7-Eleven.
Dina Enterprises, Inc., 9-11 Spring Street, is seeking the board’s approval to expand the existing 1,722 square foot structure by 356 square feet, to accommodate a walk-in cooler and freezer space. “The rest of the site would get what I would say is a very nice upgrade,” including an extensive renovation to the store and grounds/parking lot, explained Robert Freud, the project’s engineer and professional planner.
Freud’s description notwithstanding, Board Attorney Michael Leckstein told the board there was “an extensive petition,” along with about nine letters, objecting to the application that had been submitted to the borough’s office of planning and zoning. That petition, which has more than 100 signatures collected by the Concerned Citizens of Red Bank, said a 24-hour operation “will create increased traffic and loitering, negatively impacting our right to privacy and quiet enjoyment of our individual properties.”
The location on the corner of East Front and Spring Streets is zoned appropriately to permit this use, according to the borough’s zoning officer and stated the project’s lawyer, Philip San Filippo.
The original zoning board of adjustment approvals date back to July 1975, when the property owner at that time sought to establish a gas station and grocery store. The owner at that point was Fairview Farms, Ocean Avenue, Long Branch.
The existing Welsh Farms operates from 7 a.m to 10 p.m.
“This is not a change in use,” Freud told the board. “It’s a change in name.”
And a change in operating hours. But, San Filippo stressed to the board and public, there was nothing in the original approvals that restricts the hours of operation. San Filippo argued that the Welsh Farms there now could open its doors all day and there is nothing that could prevent it.
“This is a business zone that permits 24-hour use,” offered Freud.
“We do things different in 2012 than we did in 1975,” countered Mayor Pasquale Menna, who is a planning board member.
Menna said he reviewed the original approval and “I was aghast.”
“I called it one of those ‘good ol’ boy variances,’” Menna told San Filippo.
Menna added he would like to see the borough planner review this plan, the borough master plan and the neighborhood’s history before the board makes its finding. “I think it’s an issue we have an obligation to look at,” Menna said, “to give us some legitimate advice.”
The location is just east of Riverview Medical Center and the borough’s downtown business district, but it backs up to what is largely a residential area.
John Hawthorn lives on Hubbard Park, located across River Road from this location. He told the board he checked to find out the store’s hours before he decided to purchase his home. “I would not have bought a house next door to a 24-hour convenience store,” he told the board.
Bill Maloney, River Road, recalled his younger days, heading toward late-night convenience stores after the bars closed. Now Maloney said, “I’m a little concerned about the clientele going in and out of there 2,3,4, in the morning.”
Gladys Bowden, Hubbard Park, expressed concern about the illuminated sign 7-Eleven was proposing for the site (the only variance this application would need).
But Freud indicated that the corporation wanted it.
“Oh, come on. Get creative,” shot back board member Daniel Mancuso.
Afterwards, Sharon Hawthorn, John Hawthorn’s wife, said, “We’re raising a family in this house,” and was opposed to “everything” about the plan. “Noise, traffic, the overall impact on the quality of life,” she said. “On the greater scale, I don’t think it’s good for Red Bank.”
The board will continue hearing the application on March 19, when a representative from 7-Eleven is expected to testify and take questions from the public regarding the business operation.
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