By John Burton
RED BANK – After much sound and fury over plans to convert the Welsh Farms convenience store on East Front Street into a 7-Eleven, those plans are now off.
Following objections last year from area residents, a change in borough ordinance and threats of legal retaliation over the initial plan to run a 24-hour store there, Atul Patel, co-owner of the Welsh Farms at 110 E. Front St., said he has recently been notified by 7-Eleven’s corporate offices that the company is backing out of working with Patel to renovate the site and operate it as a franchised location.
According to Patel, the reason the company gave for the change was that “the cost was too much for the new building,” because of the work needed to remodel and expand the structure. Patel said he learned about the decision during a phone call and is still awaiting formal written notification from 7-Eleven.
Margaret Chabris, director of 7-Eleven corporate communications in Dallas, Texas, said: “7-Eleven, Inc. has many locations in our new-store development pipeline for key geographic growth areas. We decided to not pursue the Welsh Farms site because other locations present more opportunities and make better financial sense for investment for our finite dollars.”
Chabris could not speak to, and Patel said he was unaware, if the opposition the company faced locally to the initial plan to operate 24 hours a day, was a factor in 7-Eleven’s decision.
“I don’t know about that,” Patel said.
The 24-hour plan was what sparked controversy over the proposal when the application came before the borough planning board last year and early this year. The plan called for owners to expand the business’ footprint, upgrade the site and operate it as an around-the-clock shop. Welsh Farms, which is open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., is located at the eastern end of the borough’s downtown business district and just east of Riverview Medical Center. However, the location backs up to a mostly residential area; when the plan with expanded hours was first floated, area homeowners voiced objections to what they said would be a negative impact on their quality of life.
While denying it was the motivating factor, the borough council changed an existing noise ordinance when the 7-Eleven application came before the planning board, a change that would prohibit any new businesses located 100 feet or less from a residential zone from operating past 11 p.m. In response, the lawyer representing the developer looking to build the 7-Eleven on East Front Street threatened to sue, challenging the law.
The lawyer and developer never followed through on that threat and the planning board ultimately denied the plan because of the proposed hours. In response, the plan was amended to curtail the hours from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., and was approved by the planning board in January.
Patel said he doesn’t hold a grudge against the borough, saying, “I understand their position. What are you going to do?” and said he plans to remodel the store’s interior in the near future and continue to run the store at the same hours.
That location has been home to a convenience store, one originally with a gas station, dating back to 1975.
Mayor Pasquale Menna, when told of the change in plans, seemed surprised, responding, “After all that?”
“If they’ve backed out, they’ve backed out. That’s their pleasure,” Menna added. “There’s already a 7-Eleven in town.”
And there is, located less than a mile west on Front Street, at the Maple Avenue intersection. And that appears to be enough for Red Bank at this point, as the borough Zoning Board of Adjustment denied an application this summer that would have allowed another one at a Shell gas station at the Shrewsbury Avenue/Newman Springs Road intersection, on the borough’s west side.