During three more hours of testimony concerning the proposed redevelopment of the Mrs. G TV and Appliances property and adjacent vacant lots along Route 1 (Brunswick Pike) at Bakers Basin Road, members of the Lawrence Township Zoning Board of Adjustment Wednesday night (Oct. 10) heard details about the combined convenience store/gas station that Wawa wants to build on the site, as well as parking and traffic issues related to the overall redevelopment project.
No action was taken by the board, and testimony is expected continue during a special meeting to be held on Oct. 29.
As part of the proposal, 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 the Wawa, a new Mrs. G. store, a McDonald’s restaurant, a TD Bank branch, and a yet-to-be-determined tenant. The plan is before the zoning board because a number of conditional use and bulk variances are needed.
Michael Redel, employed by Wawa as a project engineer, offered testimony about and answered questions concerning the number of deliveries (both food and fuel) expected to be made to the store each week, the schedule for trash and recycling pickup, the number of workers expected to be employed there (45-60, many part-time), and the general layout and overall appearance of the store, parking lot, fuel pumps and the canopy over those pumps.
While Wawa stores with fuel pumps typically are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, this particular Wawa would be subject to Lawrence Township ordinances limiting its hours of operation.
“And you understand that Lawrence Township – not the zoning board but the township itself – has an ordinance limiting the hours of operation and that any approval by the board presumably would be subject to those hours of operation as specified by the township ordinance,” Wawa attorney Timothy Prime asked during Redel’s testimony.
“Yes, I understand that,” Redel answered. While the company dates back to 1803, the first Wawa convenience store wasn’t opened until 1964. The company currently operates over 600 stores in six states, he said, adding that the first Wawa with fuel pumps opened in 1996 and now about half of the stores sell gasoline.
Members of the board questioned a number of aesthetic elements of the proposed Wawa such as why bollards would be set around the building at 5-foot intervals and why the fuel pumps would be located in front of the store instead of behind it. Redel, in part, cited safety as the reasoning behind some of those decisions.
“Wawa’s had, in our history, a couple of bad accidents where people have jumped the curb and gone into the store and even one gentleman who happened to be standing outside was pinned and lost his legs. So these bollards are for safety – for the safety of our customers and our associates,” Redel explained.
“What we have done in the past, and what we can certainly do here, is change the look of the bollards. Some people don’t like white. We like white because it’s easy to see. So when a car comes up, it sees the white bollard. It’s very obvious,” he said. “Wawa made it a priority. We went back and retrofitted all of our stores; 600 stores in the chain all have bollards. And it’s all for safety. We went to tremendous expense to go back to existing stores [and install bollards].”
As much as Wawa wants its fuel pumps to be located in front of its stores for business reasons, the company also prefers the pumps to be out front for the visibility and safety of its fuel pump attendants, particularly during late night hours, Redel said.
“This store is not going to be 24 hours, so at night it’s going to be dark. At this location in particular, we’d be concerned about the fuel being hidden behind the store, from a safety standpoint, from a vandalism standpoint. Our associates, certainly, could be isolated back there. Right now, the associates at the fuel court are visible from the highway, they’re visible from the inside of the store. But if we put the [fuel] behind the store, they would be isolated, especially at non-peak times.” he said.
Redel said there would be 12 gasoline fueling positions and four diesel fueling positions. In response to questions from both the board and attorney Kevin Moore, who is representing the Shell gas station located on the opposite side of Route 1, Redel explained the rationale behind Wawa selling diesel fuel.
“Our fuel team did some research and found there was a segment of the motoring public that we weren’t serving, which was light trucks and automobiles that use diesel fuel,” he said. “At the time that we decided to do that, we were seeing a trend to cleaner fuels and more diesel sales. Now that’s kind of dropped off in the last couple years, but we’re committed to this and we’re finding there is a need out there for diesel for light trucks and automobiles and we want to offer that here.”
He noted that Wawa does not market its diesel to tractor-trailer drivers and, in fact, turns away tractor-trailer drivers in most cases. An exception, he said, would be if a tractor-trailer driver is “on fumes” and needs enough diesel to “get up the road” to a more-appropriate truck fueling location. He said the company would be willing – if the township so wished – to install signs discouraging tractor-trailers from stopping.
Furthermore, he said, Wawa uses slow-speed nozzles for both gasoline and diesel, something which serves to deter truckers who prefer pumps with a faster fueling capability. “This site is not made for tractor-trailer fueling. It’s not conducive to truck traffic,” he said. “We’re not going to fuel up tractor-trailers. As we see them pull in, our attendants will wave them off.”
Appearing after Redel was Charles Olivo, professional engineer for developer 2012 Lawrenceville Associates, who testified about a traffic impact study and parking analysis conducted for the project. He spoke about the current road layout, existing traffic conditions and jurisdictional issues, explaining that Route 1 is under the New Jersey Department of Transportation’s control, while Bakers Basin Road is a township roadway and Franklin Corner Road is the responsibility of Mercer County.
Adding to testimony given at previous meetings, Olivo spoke about how, as part of the redevelopment, the intersection itself would be redesigned and improved.
A “connector road” would be built behind the new buildings both to provide access to the new shopping center 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 queuing capacity of vehicles waiting for a red light.
To improve pedestrian safety in the area, new sidewalks will be installed along Route 1 and throughout the shopping center, and new safety features such as crosswalk countdown timers and ramps compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act will be put in at the intersection.
It was noted that all improvements to the area – including those involving the roadways and public rights of way – are being paid for by the developer and will not cost the township, county or state anything.
“Unfortunately, a lot of the capital improvement projects that we see on the docket for future construction have no funding, haven’t had funding for years. Most of the departments of transportation in the tri-state area are in a preservation mode, only repaving areas that are somewhat hazardous, and not looking to achieve a lot of the overall capital improvement plans. This particular project and the relocation of the jughandle – the impetus behind it is the redevelopment of this site. So this would be on the dime of the developer entirely,” Olivo said.
The Oct. 29 meeting is expected to begin with zoning board traffic consultant James Kochenour resuming his questioning of Olivo about traffic issues. Kochenour had only a few minutes to ask questions Wednesday night before the 10 p.m. meeting adjournment time was reached.
- Sept. 27: “Route 1 Redevelopment Testimony to Continue Oct. 10”
- Aug. 21: “Route 1 Redevelopment Testimony to Resume in Sept.”
- July 25: “Zoners Hear Proposal to Redevelop Area of Route 1”
- April 16: “Proposed New Mrs. G Retail Center Would Bring New Jobs and Excitement to Route 1 Corridor in Lawrence”