The Hopewell Township Zoning Board of Adjustment continued hearing CVS’s application last night for zoning variances to erect a new construction pharmacy with drive-through at the intersection of Route 31 N and Ingleside Avenue, currently Al’s Sunoco, just north of the Pennington Circle. This was the third hearing for the application, with two prior hearing dates in March and August.
The application has gone through some iterations with the applicant making changes based on feedback from the Zoning Board. Mostly notably, at the last hearing, the Board was presented with a proposed decreased sized building — from 15,000 square feet to 12,000 square feet. For a point of comparison, the existing building is 3,491 square feet.
The hearing resumed last night with testimony from CVS’s traffic engineer from Dolan & Dean, Gary Dean, who reviewed the findings of his traffic study illustrating the increased volume for the proposed project as well as the current traffic climate. According to Dean’s report, the estimate is that there are 1670 vechiles in one hour passing the property. The project would add 43 peak hour trips with a total of 120 traffic movements (60 coming and 60 leaving) per minute during the peak.
Additionally, the project would likely be tied to a full traffic light at the intersection, replacing the existing blinking light. This full traffic light, which had been previously opposed by Pennington Borough but supported by Hopewell Township, has been ratified by New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) if the CVS project is approved. NJDOT indicated, by letter dated February 11, 2016, that based on CVS’s warrant analysis and 12-hour traffic count, “the Department has completed the review of the Traffic Signal Warrant Analysis… and this office concurs with the warranting of a full traffic signal at Route 31 and Ingleside. We also concur that design and installation will be a permit condition of the redevelopment of the southeast corner by the construction of the proposed CVS pharmacy…. Left turn egress … and ingress from Route 31 to the proposed CVS Pharmacy will be prohibit.”
“We have approval to proceed with the design but we need the board to say whether the use variance will be granted,” explained Dean. “If the board says yes, then we will proceed with the design of the light which is a technical analysis… To get a traffic light approved, one makes a request, which requires a warrant study, and DOT says yes or no. And if they say yes, it is a binding authorization on both parties that gives the petitioner the understanding that DOT will approve the light.”
With a packed house of Hopewell Township and Pennington Borough residents, members of the public expressed concern about traffic impacts not just to the two abutting roads but also on Pennington Borough overall. Pennington Councilman Joseph Lawver spoke during public comment inquiring whether the applicant had studied the traffic impacts of motorists using the traffic light intersection as a means to attempt to bypass the Pennington Circle. Lawver also requested that traffic be observed beyond the narrow intersection, particularly in the area of surrounding schools including The Pennington School.
“We didn’t really look into that but the light is support by DOT. If people find it [the bypass] to be safer to avoid the traffic circle, then maybe that is a good driving habit… There will be traffic impacts where there is none today,” said Dean.
“Ingleside has low volume because of the flashing light,” says Zoning Board acting Chairman Frank Klapinski, who inquired about the impact for this avenue, especially with the signalization and with a CVS on the corner.
Dean explained that the CVS is replacing the service station, which is not doing the business that a more robust service station would be doing on RT31 and so there will be traffic changes however he is not realistically able to identify the specific driving preferences being made by motorist who would or would not avoid the flashing traffic light.
Other members of the public cross-examined Dean at length regarding his methodology and calculations, to which he explained the basis of his findings.
The applicant also began testimony from its architect, Robert Gehr, who presented site plan renderings from a variety of vantage points as well as the floor plan.
The building would be 12,000 square feet, just under the threshold for needing fire suppression sprinklers, explained Gehr. “The materials used are ‘non-combustible materials’ including steel framed building with light gauge metal framing for wallls… It is rated 2B, non-combustible construction.”
While the building might be non-combustible, Chairman Klapinski pointed out, the contents of the store could and would be combustible. Furthermore, based on a review of the Township Fire Official, the Township is recommending a fully suppressed building with a sprinkler fire suppression system. Based on the applicant’s calculations, the building would need “120-minutes of full sprinkler activation requiring a water tank holding 40,000 gallows of water to push through the sprinkler heads in that two hour period,” testified Gehr.
Exterior lighting was also reviewed briefly with the applicant explaining that there would be a 86-square foot LED internally-illuminated “CVS Pharmacy” sign facing Route 31 on the facade of the building that would automatically turn off when the building closes for the day. Other lighting would include recessed LEDs both at the entrance and along the exterior wall/walk to “wash” the building in light. All lighting would be set on timers to stay on only a half an hour after closing.
The hearing will continue at another special meeting on Tuesday October 25, 2016 at 7PM.