Route 31 Proposed CVS Hearing Continues in Hopewell Township

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    At well-attended special Hopewell Township Zoning Board of Adjustment hearing last night, CVS Pharmacy continued their application requesting a use variance and site plan approval for a new-construction free-standing pharmacy with drive-thru on at the property commonly known for Al’s Sunoco, along Route 31 at the border of Pennington and Hopewell Township. The property is zoned “residential” and the applicant is requesting a use variance to permit this commercial use. 

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    CVS Pharmacy continued presenting testimony from their project engineer, Douglas Grysko, who spoke about changes between the original proposed site plans from March 2016 and the ones presented at this meeting.

    Site plan revisions as of 8/18/16
    Site plan revisions as of 8/18/16

    Most notably, the changes include:

    • Decreasing square footage from the previously proposed to be 15000 square feet to 12000 square feet (Note: Al’s Sunoco existing building is 3491 square feet);
    • Reorienting the building so it is parallel to Route 31, bringing it closer to Route 31 and farther from the residential homes behind the property;
    • Reducing parking spaces from 60 to 50;
    • Moving the drive-thru window;
    • Moving the loading area from to from the northeast side to the south side of the building;
    • Sidewalk will be installed along Ingleside Avenue and provide pedestrian access to the building.

    Vegetation and Buffer:

    As part of the project, the applicant stated that it would be removing 47 existing trees from the property and replacing them with 52 new evergreen spruce and 4 cherry trees. Overall, CVS would be planting 64 new evergreens throughout the site and 17 cherry trees and shade trees along the eastern side and along the parking lot of the facility.

    “There are substantial trees being removed… The ones that are there were put in as a substantial buffer as they stand today and what you are proposing would be a substantial buffer in 10-15 years from now,” said Hopewell Township Zoning Board of Adjustment chair, Frank Klapinski.

    The concern about adequate buffering received lengthy discussion including existing tree heights, whether the replacement vegetation would be evergreen in the buffer area. The applicant conceded that the light pole and lights from the rear of the building would be visible from the surrounding residential properties and that the replacement vegetation would not be evergreen along that buffer.

    Stormwater:

    Grysko explained that the current station has no stormwater management and testified that they are proposing an underground system located under the parking lot with a detention basin “jelly fish” system that will not infiltrate groundwater into the subsurface soils but instead collects and stores run-off that to be released at a controlled rate.

    “We are satisfying 2 of the 3 components of a stormwater management design — quantity reduction and water quality,” said Grysko. “The third component would be ground water recharge however, the project is not subject to ground water recharge, as agreed upon by the Township engineer.”

    By reorienting and reducing the size of the building and decreasing the number of parking spaces, the impervious coverage will be reduced from 59.1% to 50.4%. The impervious surface can be no more than 20% within the current R-100 zone, however the applicant seeks to have the property treated as a commercial property which would permit up to 65% coverage.

    Full Size Rendering as of 8/18/16
    Full Size Rendering as of 8/18/16

    Signage:

    The applicant is requesting that a free-standing CVS sign be set back 10-feet off of the northwest corner of Route 31 with four other directional type signs, requiring wavier relief, on the property. Grysko testified that the following were the additional signs that require waivers: 1) drive thru clearance sign would be 6 square feet; 2) store hours plaque would be 2.5 square feet; 3) a sign identifying the doorway to the receiving entrance would be 3 square feet; and 4) a drive thru instruction sign with hours and pharmacist information near drive-thru would be 13.2 square feet.

    Traffic:

    The applicant prepared a traffic study dated January 2016 to illustrate the increased volume for the proposed project as well as identify the current traffic climate.

    “Traffic studies are conducted during peak hours during the week that traffic is highest and, by looking at long-term monitoring data from NJDOT and practical experience, we calculate between 7-9am and 4-6pm,” explained applicant’s traffic engineer, Gary Dean. “Recognizing the proximity to local schools, the traffic study for this project started at 3pm.”

    Dean explained that on the traffic rating scale, known as the “level of service,” the intersection of Route 31 and Ingleside Avenue scores poorly based on the time required to turn onto Route 31 during peak hours.

    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.

    “This is not particularly busy compared to the number of cars on Route 31,” said Dean.

    See MercerMe’s article “CVS and Traffic Light on RT 31? Pennington Residents Object” and “Pennington Borough Opposes Traffic Light, Hopewell Township in Favor.”

    Additionally, the project could be tied to a traffic light at the intersection. This full traffic light, which had been previously opposed by Pennington Borough but supported by Hopewell Township, has been ratified by NJDOT if the CVS project is approved. From a letter dated February 11, 2016, NJDOT provided, based on CVS’s warrant analysis and 12-hour traffic count.

    According to the letter, “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.”

    “The traffic light would result in a substantial improvement to the roadway system and in total it is a benefit,” said Dean.

    Further, applicant’s attorney, Henry Kent-Smith from Fox Rothschild LLP, spoke budget constraints with NJDOT and suggested that the only way that the increased safety feature of a light could be funded would be through approval of this project. “This board’s approval of the applicant is the triggering mechanism,” said Kent-Smith.

    James Kochenour, serving as engineer for the Hopewell Township Zoning Board, suggested that the traffic information presented could support that a signal even under the present conditions, without CVS’s additional traffic.

    The existing Al’s Sunoco traffic draw was not studied but the applicant provided the Zoning Board with figures for a more “typical” service station which would generate 40 customers per hour with a total of 80 in the morning and 95 in the evening. “I acknowledge that the station today is much less… I recognize that this is a residential zone but this is not all that could be on the property,” testified Dean, citing other potential uses for the property under the current zoning including a day care center.

    At the close of the hearing, the Board Chair said, “I want to thank the people in the audience for their consideration,” says Chairman Klapinski.

    The hearing will continue on Tuesday September 27 at 7PM and will resume with the opportunity for the public to present questions the traffic expert, based on his testimony, at the open of the hearing.

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    Mary Galioto
    Mary Galioto is the founder, publisher and editor of MercerMe. Originally from Brooklyn, Mary has progressively moved deeper and deeper into New Jersey, settling in the heart of the state: Mercer County. Formerly the author of an embarrassingly informal blog, Mary is a lifelong writer and asker of questions and was even mentioned, albeit briefly, in the New York Times and Washington Post. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English from SUNY Binghamton and a Juris Doctorate from Seton Hall Law School. In her free time, Mary fills her life with excessive self-reflection, creative endeavors, and photographing mushrooms. Mary also works as the PR Coordinator at the Hopewell Valley Arts Council, serves on the volunteer Board of Trustees of the Lawrence Hopewell Trail (LHT), holds a seat on the Hopewell Borough Board of Health, and is a member of the Hopewell Valley Municipal Alliance.

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