At a well-attended Pennington Borough planning board meeting last night, Pennington residents appeared in opposition to a proposed project that would replace the current Al’s Sunoco with a newly constructed 24-hour CVS on Route 31N in Pennington/Hopewell Township. The property at issue is primarily in Hopewell Township, with a .1500 acre triangle of property in Pennington Borough.
With current zoning as residential, an application has been filed by CVS with the Hopewell Township Zoning Board of Adjustments to ask permission to change the zoning. The project would involve demolishing the existing 3491-square foot gas station and constructing a new 14,600-square foot 24-hour CVS pharmacy with a drive-thru.
The project would also include a full traffic light (which had been previously opposed by Pennington Borough but supported by Hopewell Township) at the intersection of Route 31 and Ingleside, which has already been proposed to New Jersey Department of Transportation, which issued a letter from John Jam, Project Engineer from Major Access Permits, dated February 11, 2016 that states that:
“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 Rt. 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.”
The attorney for CVS, Henry Kent-Smith from Fox Rothschild LLP, appeared before the Pennington Borough planning board to ask Pennington what the Borough would prefer for the triangle of property in Pennington, with options including designating the area as a conservation easement or gifting the property to Pennington.
The issue raises a procedural question about jurisdiction: which municipality has the decision-making power for the project.
“This is a unique situation where the development straddles two municipalities,” said Pennington planning board attorney, Ed Schmierer. “The strip of land is zoned residential but that strip also would contain no site improvements therefore [CVS] would not need site plan approval because there is no construction on that part of the property.”
One Pennington planning board member, Mark Blackwell, pointed out that the entire property would be served by Pennington’s water and sewer using the existing lateral line and there was some discussion with a conclusion that these utilities do not automatically result in jurisdiction over zoning.
Residents from neighboring streets of Vannoy, Ingleside, and Burd spoke against the project on the basis of effects on traffic, lighting, neighborhood character, and resulting declining property values, just to name a few objections.
“We are pressing for the full variance hearing because Pennington and Hopewell will consider different criteria,” said Pennington/Hopewell Township resident Mary Lou Ferrara, who serves on Hopewell Township zoning board and whose property is adjacent to the proposed project.
“The question is whether or not Pennington truly has the jurisdiction to take control over this,” said Councilwoman Deborah Gnatt, council representative on the planning board. “We are directing our attorney to do as much as we can to be involved.”
“For the most part, what you are proposing to do will directly impact Borough residents… I would personally like to see some formal role for the Borough in the application. I am not enamored by the idea of trailing behind the Hopewell Township zoning board — their priorities are different than our priorities,” said planning board chairperson, Winn Thompson.
Other planning board members were in agreement, including Jim Reilly who said, to rousing cheers from residents in attendance, “We have an obligation to protect Pennington residents as best we can.”
While it was clear that Pennington Borough would like to have decision-making participation in the project, there is no application before Pennington and it is a matter of legal interpretation, a task upon which the planning board has set its attorney, Ed Schmierer.
“We have to follow the law,” said planning board chair Thompson. “We have to follow what the law allows us to do and we cannot go beyond that. Schmierer also has marching orders to figure this out and, if Pennington does not have jurisdiction, then Hopewell Township will and Pennington residents will have the opportunity to be heard at that meeting.”
CVS filed its application with Hopewell Township which will be heard at a special zoning meeting on March 30, 2016 at 7PM at the Hopewell Township Municipal Building at 201 Washington Crossing – Pennington Road. To join the group of opposers on Facebook, check out Concerned Citizens Against CVS in Hopewell & Pennington.