When project engineer Charles Olivo testified before the Lawrence Township Zoning Board last week, the public got its first look at the layout of the that form the southeastern corner of the intersection of Route 1 (Brunswick Pike) and Bakers Basin Road.
As part of the plan, existing buildings on the properties – the current Mrs. G showroom, a vacant business, an abandoned diner, and three unoccupied homes – would be demolished. Constructed in their place would be five stand-alone buildings that would house a new Mrs. G. store, a McDonald’s restaurant, a Wawa convenience store with fuel pumps and a TD Bank branch. A tenant has yet to be secured for the fifth – and largest – of the new structures.
A “connector road” would be built behind the new buildings both to provide access to the new shopping center – which has tentatively been given the name Lawrence Commons – and to give motorists traveling north on Route 1 the ability to turn left (westbound) or right (eastbound) onto Bakers Basin Road. Another new access road running parallel to Route 1, behind the existing Lawrence Ford Lincoln Mercury auto dealership, would link that new “connector road” with Litho Road.
The existing jughandle onto Bakers Basin Road from Route 1 North – at which left turns to go westbound were outlawed a few years ago – would be removed entirely. Bakers Basin Road, itself, would be widened into three westbound lanes and two eastbound lanes between Route 1 and the Delaware and Raritan Canal to allow vehicles to safely enter/exit the new shopping center, improve overall traffic flow in the area and increase the cuing capacity of vehicles waiting for a red light.
The plan is before the zoning board because a number of conditional use and bulk variances are needed with regard to the presence of gasoline and diesel pumps at the Wawa, the number of buildings to be built, the amount of parking that would be available, the types of signs the businesses would like to erect, the luminosity levels of some lights that would be on at night, how the sidewalks would be laid out, what types of trees would be used for landscaping, and other design elements.
Olivo, as the professional engineer for the project’s developer, Ferber Construction Management LLC, testified for nearly three hours at the July 18 zoning board meeting.
He gave board members and the public an overview of the layout of the shopping center and discussed the size, appearance and miscellaneous features of the proposed buildings and surrounding landscaping. He explained how traffic would flow in and around the shopping center. And he talked at length about the steps that would be taken to prevent future flooding and manage storm water runoff, both on the main property along Route 1 and on a connecting parcel on Litho Road.
The McDonald’s would be the southernmost of the five new buildings on the site. Occupying 3,911 square feet, it would feature two drive-thru lanes, Olivo said. Adjacent to that would be the 5,067-square-foot Wawa and its 16 fuel pumps.
Moving north along Route 1, next would stand a 15,000-square-foot retail building for which, Olivo said, a tenant has not yet been signed. Closest to Bakers Basin Road would be the 2,873-square-foot TD Bank branch and then, finally, the new Mrs. G building which, according to Olivo, would be two stories tall and total 12,000 square feet.
Separating the McDonald’s and Wawa from the other buildings would be the main access for traffic to enter the shopping center from Route 1 or to exit the center directly onto Route 1. This “spine” road, as it was called, would run perpendicular to Route 1 and connect – at a roundabout capable of accommodating tractor-trailers making deliveries to the rears of the businesses – with the “connector road” that would run from Route 1 to Bakers Basin Road behind the buildings.
A total of 239 parking spaces are currently proposed, Olivo said, adding that building exteriors and adjacent landscaping would be similar so as to create a uniform appearance for the entire shopping center.
Proposed hours of operation for the businesses were not discussed.
Debbie Shaeffer, owner of Mrs. G TV and appliances and the driving force behind the redevelopment, has said that the Mrs. G business will temporarily relocate while construction of the new store takes place.
It was noted during the meeting that efforts were being made, with the assistance of Lawrence Township Historian Dennis Waters, to find someone to salvage the old diner, which has been vacant for decades but previously was operated under various names – Ben’s Diner, Cass Diner and Calhoun Diner. But thus far, no one has expressed interest.
Zoning board members and board professionals asked questions of Olivo, but the meeting was adjourned before members of the public were allowed to pose their own questions.
The hearing is scheduled to resume at the next zoning board meeting on Aug. 15 beginning at 8 p.m.
That’s when Olivo will be questioned by an attorney representing the owners of the Shell service station at the corner of Route 1 and Franklin Corner Road who, at the start of last week’s meeting, unsuccessfully challenged whether all the required paperwork had been properly filed in order for the board to begin hearing the redevelopment application.
In other zoning board business, the board during last week’s meeting voted to retain attorney George Dougherty as special counsel to represent the board in their to open in a building on Federal City Road.
Special counsel is needed to avoid a potential conflict of interest involving zoning board attorney Edwin Schmierer. No date has yet been scheduled as to when the board will reconsider the application submitted by developer John Simone and Sunrise Detox, the Florida-based that wants to run a 38-bed inpatient facility in a building owned by Simone.