STAFFORD – Many residents will be happy to see two new popular eateries in Stafford Township. At the March 6 meeting, the township planning board approved Parsi Investments, LLC’s application to construct a Chick-Fil-A and Panera Bread at the location at 434 Route 72 West. The resolution for approval will wrap up the process at the next meeting on March 20.
After much time, preparation, and rescheduled meetings, representatives from Parsi Investments and both restaurants came before the planning board to address the officials’ concerns or inquiries about their plan for the site at Block 70 Lot 13.
The meeting dragged on for a few hours but the applicant and the board managed to compromise on all fronts.
Parsi Investments brought along professionals Thomas Dase, engineer and planner with Arthur W. Ponzio Co. & Associates; John Martinez, development manager with Chick-Fil-A; and Scott Loiselle, professional architect.
A lot of the board’s concerns with the application circulated around the buffers between the lot and adjacent properties, and the drainage basin work to be done.
“We’re constrained by state regulations and the existing conditions of the site,” Dase told the board, noting that while things might be “tight,” their plan will work for the site.
The future site of the two restaurants is located on Route 72 approaching the Garden State Parkway from the east. It is sandwiched by Manahawkin Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram and KFC. The property formerly housed a bank and medical office, according to the applicant.
The property is surrounded by lots of trees on the back end and Dase emphasized that they are doing whatever they can to maintain as much green space on the site as possible, which the board commended.
The new structures to be built on the property will be set back 42.6 feet from the property line, Dase explained. There will be a 3-5 foot tall retaining wall bordering the adjacent properties.
Chick-Fil-A’s side of the property will have 63 parking spaces, satisfying the required amount for the area. Panera’s side will have 74 parking spaces, which is actually 37 more that they are required to have.
This excess parking for Panera was a concern to the board, which asked whether the space could be utilized for something else. Board member Sherry Roth spoke of concerns with the “tightness” of the site’s structure and whether it will allow for safe and proper circulation.
To this, the applicant said that whether they keep the spaces or get rid of them in favor of another addition to the site, “it wouldn’t change the buffer” or circulation.
Chick-Fil-A will have a double drive in that allows for a duel ordering system. Customers will branch off from one line into one of two drive-thru lanes to order, and then merge back together into one line to pick up food from the window. The professionals noted that this system keeps lines shorter around the restaurant and increases efficiency.
Chick-Fil-A’s hours will be Monday to Saturday, 6 a.m.-10 p.m., closed Sunday. Panera will be open 6 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday to Saturday, 7 a.m.-9 p.m. on Sunday. All 2,000 of Chick-Fil-A’s locations throughout the country are closed on Sundays due to the company’s strict business model. However, Martinez noted that the company does make exceptions in the event of emergencies, such as natural disasters.
Another issue the board focused in on was the signage on the property. Board chairperson Thomas Kuenzler was not in favor of the site having two separate signs for each restaurant. Roth added that someone driving by at 60 mph might confuse which entrance was which.
The applicant compromised by agreeing to plan for one sign for both restaurants.
Roth was especially concerned about the work that the applicant plans to do on the drainage basin located on the property.
“You will need a wetlands permit,” said Roth, which the applicant doesn’t have but agreed to work on.
Despite a few hurdles, the board finally gave the applicant the go ahead for the project.
Kuenzler noted that the application required as much scrutiny as they gave it because the applicant was asking for quite a few variances.
“We don’t want to set a precedent,” for other applicants in the future, said board vice chairperson Marie-Elena Sodiekes.