Will Zoning Approve a Drive-Through at Dunkin'?


Image captured from the Clifton Cable TV broadcast.

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. In Clifton, the Zoning Board of Adjustment hears applications from individuals and companies who require exceptions to the rules in order to build and the commissioners listen carefully, weighing the potential benefits to the city against any negatives before making their decision.

Chairman Mark Zecchino started the September 6 meeting with the remanded hearing for 817-825 Clifton Avenue, where a Dunkin’ and the now-closed Mooney’s Garage now stand. This application was initially denied in 2021 and has undergone many revisions since that time. Daniel Steinhagen represented the applicant, who returned to the Board of Adjustment with revisions to the plans, following feedback from the board. A proposed second tenant was removed from the plans, leaving only the Dunkin’. This allows for more space for the two proposed drive-through lanes on the property while leaving space for parking and additional landscaping.

The angled parking spaces facing Cloverdale Road have been pulled back five feet, leaving room for privacy fencing where currently, parking goes right up to the sidewalk. The new plans include 16 parking spaces, which is three more than what is required, and two drive-through lanes with room for 18 cars to stack, or line up. A report from Neglia Engineering indicated a few areas of concern, which the applicant’s architect said would be addressed. To address concerns from the Boys and Girls Club across the street, the applicant is also proposing a crosswalk across Clifton Avenue. As this is a county road, that would need to be coordinated with county officials.

Zecchino expressed concern that a double-lane drive-through might be confusing to customers and Steinhagen confirmed that the applicant would be willing to eliminate the second lane in order to provide additional room for maneuvering in the rear of the building. Commissioner George Foukas was concerned about the noise from the intercom if people are pulling up to order at 1 am, given the proximity to the residential property line. The engineer said that the sound level of the speaker and also the lights could be turned down at certain hours.

Matthew Seckler, engineer for the applicant, testified to the traffic volume in the immediate area. His firm also studied transaction data at the Dunkin’ to ensure that his opinions from 2020 were still valid. Seckler testified that at other sites, there were no more than 11 vehicles queued up at one time. He said that this number would comfortably fit in a one-lane design, if that was preferable. Because Clifton Avenue is less traveled than stores located on highways, the drive-through traffic would be lighter and in his opinion, this 11-vehicle accommodation would be adequate. He confirmed that at peak, there would be no more than 60-65 cars per hour based on data from other stores and the proposed design would accommodate 90 an hour with a single lane. “There is more than enough space to support the maximum queue on the site,” Seckler said.

Zecchino shared a personal account of waiting for six or seven minutes at the Burger King on Route 46. “In a perfect world, it all works smoothly,” he said, “but lunchtime comes, it never runs smooth.” Seckler suggested that they could designate a parking spot for customers to pull into if an order is going to take longer but also said that the nature of what Dunkin’ serves is different and faster than a place like Burger King, which prepares orders with customization. Zecchino’s main concern was that they not exacerbate the existing congestion in the area and said that there is already an issue with traffic; the BOA does not want to make it worse. Seckler testified that 90% of the customers would be existing customers who are already contributing to traffic. He only anticipates an additional 10% of new customers.

The application was continued to October 4th where Zecchino expects to hear closing statements. No further notice will be required.

Kanoon Restaurant at 349 Hazel Street, represented by Dominic Iannarella, Esq., was next on the agenda. Michael Kapo is the architect and Sal Washah, the owner. The applicant is requesting several variances for this 12 to 10 pm operation. Washah testified that there was ample street parking in addition to their own parking lot. They also offer valet parking. The restaurant is a steakhouse and Washah testified that they use a filtration system to address odors. They have a shipping container on site which they use as cold storage and Washah said that they are in the process of decorating it to make it more visually appealing. Iannarella said that the Health Department has already inspected this container and confirmed that it was being used appropriately.

The applicant is asking for a variance to allow for an enclosed porch with limited seating, which would assist with reducing noise from outdoor diners during busy times. This area is already being used as outdoor seating and will not increase the total number of seats for the restaurant.

After a few questions from the BOA commissioners, Iannarella offered a closing statement and reminded the board of the site’s former occupant, Dillinger’s Pub. Dillinger’s hosted live rock music and Iannarella pointed out that Kanoon’s, by comparison, is a quieter and more upscale neighbor to the area.

Following a reminder of the various stipulations discussed, the board voted to approve the application.

Lawrence Cutalo, Esq., representing Lord and Shepherd Properties LLC, next addressed the board regarding 1500 Main Avenue. The applicant would like to refit the existing first-floor furniture store with an 82-seat restaurant and a self-storage space and additional self-storage on the vacant fourth floor. Matthew Seckler testified as the engineer for this mixed–use building. He said that there would be minimal changes to the exterior and that the parking lot had recently been restriped.

The restaurant would be a fine dining establishment with tablecloths and reservations and not a casual or fast food business. An additional 4,000 square feet on the first floor would be self-storage. The vacant fourth floor would be retrofitted for 11,000 square feet of self-storage use. Seckler said that the other existing uses in the building brought little traffic or parking demands and that the proposed new businesses would work well on that site.

Zecchino said that currently, the parking lot is full during the day and Seckler testified that when the restaurant gets busy around dinnertime, the parking lot opens up as the second and third-floor businesses close up for the day. There was also speculation that many of the spots are currently being used by other nearby businesses and that would need to be addressed in order to provide the needed parking. Seckler said that the self-storage was ideal in terms of parking because it would generate only very minimal need for spaces. He added that he saw no negative impact to the area and said that the proposed uses fit with the master plan to rehab and reoccupy older buildings and would add to the tax base.

Commissioner Michael Molner motioned to approve the application with a few stipulations related to the Neglia Engineering report. Foukas seconded it and the application was approved by unanimous vote.

The next new application was for Cheder Inc., represented by Jason Tuvel, Esq. This application, for 213-224 Barkley Avenue, is for a Jewish day school for girls. The school has been in Clifton for many years but their building was destroyed by fire and they have been sharing space with the boys’ school since then. The Jewish Community Center, currently at that location, has been downsizing and does not need all of the space it has. A variance is required to allow for the school and the existing house of worship to coexist for the next four years. The house of worship will be moving out after that time, leaving only the school. It is a kindergarten through eighth-grade school for girls, offering both secular and Jewish studies as part of the school day.

Rabbi Isaac Kagan, who is the school’s administrator, was the first witness to testify. He said that the Cheder serves girls in grades K-7 currently but will expand to include 8th grade next year. Classes begin at 8:45 am and for grades K-5 they end at 3:45, Monday through Thursday and at 4:45 for grades 6-8. On Fridays dismissal is at 12:30 for all students. They are closed on Saturdays, Sundays, and all Jewish holidays. Staff arrive at 8:15 and drop-off for students begins at 8:30. There are three outdoor areas for recess between 10-11 am and between 2-3 pm. There are no sports teams or evening events affiliated with the school. There will never be more than 20 staff members on site at one time, he said.

The school operates on a schedule similar to the public schools, from early September until late June and has a staggered pick-up time on Delaware between 3:45 and 4:45. The building is expected to be empty by 5 pm.

Joe Staigar, the site and traffic engineer for this applicant, reviewed details of the plan. He said that there would be minimal changes but the school would be brought up to ADA compliance standards. He indicated that a grassy area on Delaware would be fenced in to create a safe play area for recess. He prepared a traffic report based on the affiliate school on Broad Street and prorating for the lower enrollment numbers expected in the proposed school. Almost ⅔ of the cars at Broad Street come with two or three students, he said, which will reduce the number of vehicles arriving for drop-off and pick-up. Staigar said that each vehicle would be idling for far less than a minute, allowing for a quick-moving queue of cars.

Staigar testified that there were more parking spaces than what would be needed for the staff on the site. The parking lot will not be used for recess or for any other purpose.

This application was continued to September 20 due to the late hour and no further notice will be given.

Also of note was the first resolution, which acknowledged the approval of six townhouses at 522 Valley Road, a site which had generated a lot of controversy. The initial plan to build 20 townhouses on that site met with considerable resistance and was scaled back to include just six units. The new plan was approved at the last meeting.

You can see the agenda HERE and watch the meeting HERE.

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