SCOTCH PLAINS — Citing concerns about traffic congestion on and off the property, the zoning board of adjustment last week rejected, by a 6-to-1 vote, an application to add a drive-thru window at a Dunkin’ outlet on North Avenue.
Plainfield Gas Realty LLC, which owns the gasoline station and Dunkin’ store at 2246 North Avenue, sought to add the drive-thru window at the building’s rear that faces the railroad tracks. The proposed window, to be situated at the southeast corner of the building, would have been served by a drive-thru lane that could accommodate up to 10 vehicles.
Over the course of four earlier hearings since the start of this year, the testimony of the applicant’s witnesses — a traffic expert, noise specialist, engineer, planner and landscape architect — was challenged repeatedly by attorney Marc Rogoff, representing Richard and Peggy de Martino, who live in a North Avenue home that abuts the Dunkin’ site. Mr. Rogoff and the de Martinos challenged claims that vehicular traffic on the site would not be adversely affected by the drive-thru. Concerns also were raised repeatedly about the potential for overflow from the drive-thru lane backing out onto Hetfield Avenue and causing major congestion at its intersection with North Avenue.
The de Martinos also complained that, contrary to conditions included in the zoning board’s 2016 approval of development of the gas station and convenience store, deliveries of fuel and goods have taken place during hours specifically forbidden in the earlier resolution of approval. There additionally were concerns that the promised tree buffer shielding the de Martino property from the gas station property had not been lived up to.
At last Thursday’s hearing, board members agreed, with most saying that traffic and safety were their primary concerns. Board Vice-Chairman Craig Peskin said that, even without the drive-thru window, “it’s a pretty busy site, to say the least,” particularly during the morning commuting hours. He said he has witnessed unsafe driving by people entering and exiting the property. Mr. Peskin said he saw a great risk that traffic from the drive-thru would back out onto Hetfield Avenue and further snarl what is already a busy intersection.
Other board members noted that if the board gave its approval, it would not be able to control what eventually would happen with traffic on the site. Chairman Ken Anderson said that to have to depend on the township building and police departments to constantly monitor activity on the property “is not the right formula.”
Several board members also criticized the lack of an adequate buffer between the property and the de Martino property. Chris Thompson said it “disturbed” her that so many trees had been cut down earlier, exposing the de Martino house to the gas station property and the associated noise. Fellow board member Dan Sullivan said the replacement trees could have been bigger and more mature. At present, he said, the small trees provide little barrier between the two properties.
The one board member who voted in favor of the application, Frank Cruz, said a condition should be added to the approval resolution to mandate an upgrade of the tree buffer. He stated his belief that the site could handle the additional traffic.