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Front Street Convenience Store Debate Continues

Written by The Two River Times. Posted in Front Page

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Published on April 06, 2012 with No Comments

Owners want a 24-hour operation, neighbors disagree

RED BANK — The owners of a convenience store expected to replace the Welsh Farms on East River Road and Spring Street want the store to remain open around-the-clock, but neighbors say the plan will disturb the peace.

The borough Planning Board on Monday continued to hear the application for Dina Enterprises, Inc., which is seeking the board’s approval to convert the Welsh Farms convenience store, 9-11 Spring Street, into a 7-Eleven, much to the consternation of area residents who have expressed strong opposition to the store remaining open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

When the lawyer and representatives for Dina first appeared before the board on March 5, the lawyer, Philip San Filippo, began making his case that the original approval, which the borough Zoning Board of Adjustment granted back in 1975, never limited the number of hours the location could operate, and given the provisions of the borough zoning, could not now prohibit 7-Eleven from staying open.

In response, Mayor and Planning Board member Pasquale Menna recommended that the borough planner evaluate the application, borough master plan and the nearly 40 year approval for the site and offer an opinion for the location and this use.

Richard Crammer, the borough planner said on Monday the original approval never intended to allow for an around-the-clock operation.

Crammer said the original approval did not specifically mention operating hours, either by the zoning board or the borough council. However, he continued, the original site plan the applicant submitted contained a notation indicating they intended to be open 7 a.m.-11 p.m. And that should “be construed as part of the conditions,” he said.

“If the mayor and council felt so strongly about the hours of operations couldn’t they have made it one of the conditions?” San Filippo asked.

“The board relies on the totality of what is presented,” including the notations on the site plan documents, Crammer responded.

San Filippo detailed that the approvals and those meetings’ minutes contained no specific mention of limiting when the business could operate. And he and his engineer and planner, Robert P. Freud, went on to argue that this zone, the BR-1 Zone, is the same as the section of Bridge Avenue and the NJ Transit commuter rail station, which has a WaWa convenience store, open all day. “A wholly permitted use,” according to Freud.

Menna suggested that borough council and zoning board members who served in 1975 offer insight as to what they were thinking in making their decision.

“That is for the board to decide if that is an important fundamental issue,” said Board Attorney Michael Leckstein.

The East Front Street site, “sits in a special place, between the downtown and the residential zone,” Crammer said. And the original approval was for a gas station and grocery store.

Asif Khalid, a senior real estate representative for the 7-Eleven Corporation, said the chain may have originally operated 7 a.m.-11 p.m. in the company’s nearly 80-year existence, but needs to expand hours to compete in the modern marketplace. “Every decision we make is in the best interest of the customer,” Khalid said, noting the company doesn’t call them customers, instead calling them “guests.”

“Honestly, customers’ needs have changed considerably,” he said.

The board is expected to again hear and very likely vote on this application on April 16.

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