Dunkin' Denied - No Drive-Through for You, Says a Concerned Board
Wednesday’s meeting of the Zoning Board of Adjustment started with a letter read into the record. Geeland LLC’s controversial application for 811-813 Route 46 has been postponed, by request of the applicant, until February 7, 2024. This application seeks to build a self-storage facility on the property where the Aerodyne building currently sits and has already attracted the attention of residents who object to the proposal, which abuts City Green’s property.
Attorney Daniel Steinhagen returned before the Board of Adjustment to conclude their years-long case for a drive-through at the Clifton Avenue Dunkin’. Denied two years ago and sent back to Zoning by the courts, this applicant made one final plea before a vote, including several changes to the original plan in an attempt to satisfy the commissioners.
Architect Gary Kliesch testified that they had removed the second drive-through lane from the original plan to remove the need for a setback variance, moved the landscaping to the residential side, and included a sound-buffering fence to help contain any noise from the drive-through. There is room, he said, for 14 cars to stack (line up) on the premises. He added that a striped walkway was included to increase safety between the handicapped parking area and the store. There is also a proposed walkway to assist in crossing Clifton Avenue. These changes resulted in a 20% reduction in impervious coverage, Kliesch said, although this was not a requirement for the site.
The ordinance requires 50% open fencing but Kliesch proposed a non-complying solid wood fence to help protect the neighborhood from light and sound from the premises. This would require a variance but, Kliesch said, would benefit the neighborhood. The application is for 24-hour drive-through service but Steinhagen said that the applicant was open to closing the drive-through from 11 pm - 5 am as a condition of approval. The store itself will remain open for 24 hours.
Matt Seckler was recalled as a witness to testify as a traffic engineer. He said that this design would work without cars backing up onto Clifton Avenue, based on industry standards and his study of the area. During public testimony, Dr.Timothy Kowal, on the next corner on Clifton Avenue, opposed the application and criticized Seckler’s findings. Kowal said that a one-hour traffic study, completed during non-peak hours, was inadequate. “Traffic is horrendous,” he said. “It’s unbearable, especially at peak times.” He said that a traffic study was needed during these high-stress times to get a true picture of the situation.
The drive-through would exacerbate the noise and loitering on the property, he said, saying that it was a quality-of-life issue for the nearby residents. Kowal also said that the original reason given for a drive-through had to do with Covid-19 precautions, which should no longer be considered as a reason for approval.
Dominic Iannarella, an attorney representing the Boys and Girls Club across the street, addressed safety concerns. The Club, the high school, and the many two-family houses in that area mean that many children will be in proximity. “The law,” he said, “is on your side” to deny the application on conditional use issues. He spoke about the dangers of having cars backing out of spaces and potentially into the drive-through lane and pedestrians on the property being in harm’s way.
Steinhagen made concluding statements and reminded the BOA that this is a permitted, conditional use. The deviations, he said, have to do with existing non-conformities on the site regarding lot size and depth. Those things are not being changed. The applicant proposed several modifications that would mitigate the concerns raised by this board, he added. The applicant has shown a willingness to address the concerns of the board and the public, he said, and closed with his hope that the board would look favorably upon the application.
Following an uncomfortably long pause with no one making a motion, Commissioner George Foukas spoke up. Foukas said that it was important to listen to the people who live in the area, pointing out that none of the testifying experts are residents and do not have to live with the impact on the neighborhood. “Cloverdale is a narrow street,” he said, citing a concern about increased traffic to that specific road, and he made a motion to deny the application, saying that it was not appropriate for the site. During the vote, nobody was willing to approve this application and it was denied by unanimous vote. Chairman Mark Zecchino echoed other commissioners’ concerns and said that pedestrian traffic was being underestimated and that for safety reasons, he had to deny.
If the applicant believes this decision to be unlawful, he could again petition the court to overturn the decision. If that happens there are three possible outcomes - a judge could uphold the decision of the BOA, remand the hearing and send it back to the BOA for consideration again, or a judge could simply overturn the decision and approve the application.