Dunkin' Returns for Permission to Build Drive-Through; No Decision Tonight
The Clifton Zoning Board of Adjustment (BOA) met for a regularly scheduled meeting on Wednesday, February 15. As per the city website, the Board of Adjustment (BOA) “Exercises the power to review and make decisions on appeals relating to interpretation of the Zoning Ordinances (Per NJSA 40:55D-69).” Zoning ordinances dictate how different properties within the city may be used - for residential or commercial building, for instance - and put limitations on things like fence height, how much of the property’s area is covered by impervious material, and how tall a structure may be.
Two applications previously before this Board had been continued over to tonight’s meeting but are being further continued to June. 522 Valley Estates, seeking to build townhouses on Valley Road, requested to be carried to the June 21st meeting. 833 Clifton Ave. Partners, LLC, who is looking to build a three-story apartment building on the corner of Cloverdale Road and Clifton Avenue requested that their application be carried to the June 21st meeting, also. Main Foot and Ankle also requested to be carried to the June 21st meeting. All three applications were added to the agenda for that date.
An application for 817-825 Clifton Avenue, where Mooney’s Garage and Dunkin’ now stand, had been denied on December 2, 2021 but is back before the BOA due to a court-ordered remand. A remand indicates that a higher court found that the BOA unfairly denied an application and is sending it back for further review following an appeal from the applicant.
The attorney for the applicant, Daniel Steinhagen, said that they made revisions to the plans and would be open to removing the second building from the proposal in order to bring them closer to being in compliance. They require variances for lot size in order to create two drive-through lanes and vestibules for the exiting Dunkin’. Other non-conformities are pre-existing and do not require variances. The Traffic Division of the Clifton Police Department, he said, provided a letter indicating no objections, as did the Fire Department.
Site plans indicate revisions to the layout of the lot and landscaping to use as a buffer between the roads and the lot. The setback in the front was increased to meet the requirement of a 33’ setback. The attorney also indicated that parking space sizes would be increased as per feedback, which would be possible with the removal of Mooney’s Garage and the elimination of the originally proposed second tenant.
Commissioner Molner expressed concerns about the stacking of cars that would be queued up at the two drive-through windows and how that might interfere with parked cars being able to pull out. The engineering consultant for the applicant, Mr. Kliesh, said that they could shift the lanes over to allow for more space for cars to move in and out of the stalls.
Chairman Mark Zecchino said that the drive-through was the main concern of the Board, due to the potential for traffic back-up and blocking the driveway. Steinhagen said that their studies did not indicate that this would be an issue, based on the number of cars the double lanes could handle and comparative congestion numbers from existing Dunkin’ stores with drive-throughs. Molner questioned the ability for cars to leave the Dunkin’ during the morning peak hour when children would be walking to school. Kliesh said that the exit onto Clifton Avenue would be right turn only, which would help to keep traffic moving. Commissioner Scorziello pointed out that the traffic study on which the applicant is depending was completed during Covid, when traffic was likely not as dense as it is now.
The issue for this property is that the lot is approximately 3,500 square feet smaller than is required for a fast food restaurant, although Dunkin’ is considered fast food and is already there on the site. Zoning laws allow for drive-throughs in fast food locations but the BOA is questioning whether that will be feasible here given the lot size.
Commissioner Foukas said that they (the Board) are there to protect the quality of life for the neighborhood. Steinhagen said that this was not the Board’s concern; they were only allowed to rule on the objective feasibility of the project.
Former candidate for City Council Dominic Iannerella is representing the Boys and Girls Club, which is across the street from the property in question. Iannerella asked if the applicant had considered painting a crosswalk on Clifton Avenue, leading to the Dunkin’. He also questioned whether there had been a line of sight study from the lot, given the proposed fencing that would be erected along Cloverdale Road.
After more than 90 minutes of testimony and questions from the BOA and from two residents, the applicant was asked to complete a new traffic study and to return on June 7th, 2023.
The Board of Adjustment will next meet on Wednesday, May 17 at 7 pm at City Hall.