BERKELEY – A convenience store might be built across the street from Central Regional High School.
The Zoning Board approved a request by a homeowner to allow a commercial application in a residential area. The house was recently demolished. The construction would be at the corner of Grand Central Parkway and Forest Hills Parkway (which later becomes Veterans Boulevard.
The application was made by Walter Holm to construct a convenience store in a R-150 residential zone. He was also seeking approval to put up signs that convenience stores have.
In December, the zoning board heard from experts in traffic and engineering, and neighbors.
The experts said that there would not be a significant increase in traffic. Rather, the current amount of traffic is closer to that of a commercial area, the board found.
“The existing volume of traffic does not make the site conducive to family living as it poses a hazard to pets and small children,” a resolution from the board read. The traffic expert noted that the convenience store would increase traffic by 3 percent, or 71 cars.
The board ultimately allowed a variance that would allow the property owner to have a convenience store on the residential property.
The actual layout of the store was not planned yet. That will come with a future application.
The applicant argued that the area is not all that residential.
“The character of the subject site has changed dramatically in the 30-40 years since the existing dwelling on the site was constructed,” the resolution reads. “Central Regional High School was constructed directly across the street from the subject site, thereby altering the area dramatically by increasing the traffic flow on Grand Central. A (Garden State) Parkway ramp and entrance was constructed and opened within the last 10 years, within 150 yards of the subject property, thereby again increasing the traffic volume massively.”
The applicant also cited the Cedar Creek Golf Course, and its restaurant, Cedar Creek Bar and Grill. It even mentions that there was a hotel built 100 years ago, which is now Crystal Lake Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center.
Additionally, he said the electronic sign in front of Central Regional that points in the direction of the property has also diminished his quality of life. The home has been for sale for more than a year with no buyers.
Two neighbors, Ursula Donat and David Moen, stated that the neighborhood is commercial even if it is not zoned that way, and did not have an objection to the project.
Two other neighbors, Kate Rizzo and a woman referred to only as Mrs. Ledoux, stated that it would hamper their quality of life since there would be 24-hour traffic, and the noise, garbage and undesirable people that a convenience store would attract.
The board announced that the proposed store fits the nature and demographics of that area, which is becoming more busy. They found that there would not be a substantial detriment to the neighborhood.
Central Superintendent Triantafillos Parlapanides said via email that he welcomes the development.
“Our Forest Hills Parkway should be like Lacey Road so I encourage businesses into the town to provide rateables for the taxpayers and jobs to my students,” he said.
Students have never been allowed to leave for lunch, he said, responding to a question about student safety in crossing the busy road to go to the convenience store. There’s only a 25 minute lunch period.
However, just because they’re not allowed to go doesn’t mean they don’t sneak out, he said. Vice principals will be checking the local establishments during lunch time to make sure the kids stay in. Those caught leaving during lunch will have their driving privilege revoked, and they’ll have to get to school by bus or be dropped off by their parents.
The issue was discussed at the most recent Township Council meeting, with Councilwoman Judith Noonan saying she hoped a convenience store wouldn’t go in that spot.
“It shouldn’t be there. The neighbors aren’t happy,” she said.
Business administrator John Camera said that the only decision made so far was to allow commercial development there. The developer would still have to make an application and have that approved by the Planning Board. He also noted that the zoning of the area has not changed. The property is still residential, but the Zoning Board allowed an exception to this property.