BRICK – The first Royal Farms gas station and convenience store is coming to Ocean County, and it will be located at the site of the former Jersey Paddler at the intersection of Route 70, Route 88 and Olden Road.
This is the third approval in recent months for similar projects. Wawa got approval to build a convenience store/gas station at the corner of Duquesne Boulevard and Route 70 and also at the site of the Laurelton Mobile Home Park on Route 88 and Jack Martin Boulevard.
Royal Farms got the nod at a special Board of Adjustment meeting held on Sept. 12. Oftentimes, there are multiple hearings over a period of months or years for similar applications, such as the two Wawa applications, but the Board voted unanimously in favor of the application after just one meeting. There were no comments or questions from the audience.
The chain, which is known for their fried chicken, has 180 stores in the mid-Atlantic region and 35 new ones near completion.
Attorney John Jackson introduced the professionals hired by Royal Farms to testify about the application and answer questions from Board members. The professionals included engineers, one who specializes in traffic, plus a city planner and a project manager.
Thirteen were needed for the project, which is located in a B-3 business zone, including variances for lot width requirements, side and rear setbacks, lot coverage, parking setbacks, signage size and height, and the width of parking spaces.
Jackson said that the variances were related to the “unique geography and peculiar shape” of the location. “There are very few commercial sites that can get through without variances,” he added.
The gas station and convenience store are allowed as a “conditional use” for the site if the project meets all conditions, explained Professional Planner Charles E. Lindstrom.
“The site is irregularly-shaped with three frontages on highways, which present hardships,” he said. “The bulk variances should not preclude this use. It’s a perfect location for it and it’s an upgrade for the existing site,” he said.
A gas station had previously been located there before it was the site of Jersey Paddlers, Lindstrom added, and added that the engineers had done a good job of addressing the variance issues.
Traffic engineer Nathan B. Mosley presented an analysis of the three access points for site, which include entrances fronting Route 70, an access point on Route 88 and a third on Olden Street.
Mosley had conducted peak hour traffic counts during morning and evening rush hours, and during midday Saturday, and studied the signals on either end of the site.
He had also looked at a database of accidents near the site, from 2015-2016 (the most recent data available), when there had been 21 accidents in the area, he said.
“It’s a crazy corner even without Royal Farms there,” noted Board Chair Harvey Langer.
Mosley said that there should be no significant increase in traffic at the intersection since a majority of their customers – about 75 percent – are cars already passing by and continuing on their way after fueling up.
Langer said the site could attract more than cars just passing by since he’d heard that Royal Farms was known for their fried chicken.
“There will be people who go there as a destination, specifically for their chicken. That’s a good thing for you,” he said.
Board engineer Brian Boccanfuso said he had concerns about cars getting backed up on Olden Street that are trying to make a left onto Route 70 east.
The NJ Department of Transportation (NJDOT) is planning to improve that intersection by adding a left-turn arrow, Mosley said. “That is separate from this application. It’s an existing issue,” he said.
Boccanfuso said there is no guarantee that construction on Royal Farms would be completed before the DOT had added the protected left turn.
“No one seems to know what that’s going to happen, so your [traffic] analysis would not be correct,” he said. “I have concerns with that.”
Mosley said he would reach out to the DOT to check on the timeframe and would provide that information to the Board.
He said that he had a pre-application meeting with the DOT, who was reviewing the traffic plan.
Before getting final approval from Board members, representatives of Royal Farms agreed to reduce the size and height of the signs, and to add more landscaping and stormwater management than what was in the original plan.
The developer would also be adding sidewalks and crosswalks on all three sides of the project, and a handicap ramp and pedestrian push-button for a countdown traffic light crossing Olden Street.
The plan calls for eight fuel pumps with 16 gas nozzles. Jackson said that any of the parking spaces against the 4,694 square-foot building could accommodate charging stations for electric cars if there is market need in the future.
Royal Farms will be leasing the land from Jersey Shore Paddler Realtors, LLC., who would be staying on as a landlord.
John Durrua, who ran Jersey Paddlers for 30 years, was at the hearing and said that the two-acre property had been in his family since the 1800s and was not for sale.
Royal Farms representative Chase Gunther said the chain doesn’t always lease the land for their stores.
“It’s site-dependent,” he said during a break in the meeting. “They will purchase the land if they can.”