An Open Letter to Millburn concerning Stop & Shop
Thursday, August 22, 2013 • 1:22pm
An Open Letter to Millburn concerning Stop & Shop:
On the evening of August 19, I attended a meeting of the Zoning Board which devoted its entire session to Stop & Shop.
Sworn testimony was provided by Joseph Staiger, an expert on traffic planning, who skewered Stop & Shop’s pending application for a conditional use which would allow the use of Millburn Avenue as the path of ingress and egress for both public and commercial delivery traffic to the former Saks Fifth Avenue site. On each and every compliance standard governing the issues surrounding the approvability of S&S’s application, Mr. Staiger rebutted the assumptions of, and misinformation anchoring, S&S’s application. What a relief.
On a personal level, I oppose the presence of this “Super Stop & Shop” massive volume supermarket in Millburn for many reasons but none more important than the issue of the quality of our lives. Has anyone in the entire state of New Jersey ever walked into a Stop & Shop located in any one of the top eight wealthiest communities in the state? No. Never. That is because there is not one single Stop & Shop with an address in any of those communities; a fact which, I submit, is not a matter of fortuity but rather of the desire by the public living within those communities not to ruin but rather to preserve a sense of exceptionalism. In Connecticut, Greenwich is Greenwich for a reason. So is Tavistock, Upper Saddle River, Alpine and the rest of the best communities in New Jersey, including Millburn. Having invested most of my adult life here on the premise that I was living in a community which had a sense of esprit de corps on matters of culture and education, I could not be more disappointed with those who would allow it to be compromised. S&S’s big pitch is “Low Everyday Price”. But every day that S&S is in Millburn would exact a very high price indeed for the Township. Take a drive over to the streets around the Stop & Shop in Union and think of Millburn looking this way. I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you. A simple “Dear God Please No” should say it all.
Putting these feelings entirely aside is difficult but necessary in considering the S&S application.
The principal problems I see with S&S include the following:
1. We already enjoy a plethora of supermarket shopping options and so S&S is a whole lot of nothing as a destination. Plus, if you believe S&S’s own website, there are already 8 Stop and Shops within a ten mile radius of zip code 07041 (It takes exactly 10 minutes to get from the S&S Union store to the corner of Main and Millburn). Plus, as I have been told, Springfield, not Millburn, would get all the tax revenue from this store.
2. Traffic moves at a snail’s pace throughout Millburn already. Thousands upon thousands of additional daily shopping trips for low price point goods, virtually 100% by car and on Millburn Avenue and the addition of yet another traffic light at a critical intersection which presently allows for relatively smooth, signal free traffic flow (corner of Baltusrol Way (BW) and Millburn Avenue) are not in the best interests of the Township. As to this point, the problems include traffic backing up on BW past many of the homes near the avenue, shoppers parking or stopping on BW itself to avoid the chaos of what will become the S&S parking lot, people cutting through the parking lot of Caldwell Banker (CB) just to avoid the light, more police presence required and consequent public expense to detain violators and the corresponding snarled traffic associated with enforcement, reduction in home values for homes near the store (and, I would argue, throughout Millburn/Short Hills), greater risk of harm to the public walking/running across the street to avoid delay, jog, walk their pets or get back to their parked cars on BW (perhaps even wheeling S&S or their own personal shopping carts across the street or back and forth up the hill to the train station), and the misuse of both parking lots at New Eyes for The Needy and CB by those with no business there. For his part, Mr. Staiger focused on what he knows is typical “path of least resistance” or “I’d rather ask forgiveness than permission” expedient thinking by truck drivers that might cause other enormous problems further down Millburn Avenue. But in truth you don’t need to be a traffic engineer to see the problems. A driver’s license will do the trick.
3. Any shopping done at S&S is shopping not done at existing Millburn supermarkets and specialty stores. Its not like by opening the S&S the Millburn supermarket shopping population will increase. People outside Millburn who spend discretionary income elsewhere anyway will come but there is nothing to suggest that S&S will drive customers toward the heart of Millburn. “Oh, after we pick up the Bounty Paper Towel special at the Real Deal Zone let’s go have dinner at Basilico.” is not a likely conversation. In fact it is precisely the opposite. We need to increase accessibility of Downtown Millburn for quality establishments, not restrict it with traffic snarls far from the center of town that will make the Millburn Avenue approach a barrier.
4. Serious public safety transportation problems if 18 wheelers block or slow down traffic flow adjacent to the property at any time of day or night as they enter or exit the S&S loading bays, thereby blocking police, fire or ambulance routes at critical times. I think we can agree that getting an 18 wheeler out of the roadway is a bit more difficult than pulling a Porsche to the side of the road. So when you are suffering your heart attack you can assuage your feelings with the knowledge that tomorrow someone will leave S&S not having to worry that their $15.00 check has been overdrawn.
5. If access to Millburn Avenue is provided exclusively to S&S giant trucks by eliminating a significant part of the Grease Monkey property at the corner of Morris Avenue, I am guessing as a former petroleum industry attorney that there are one or two regulations and statutes that might render such a disturbance of a property like the Grease Monkey a rather difficult proposition to say the very least. So has there been any EPA or DEP analysis so far? I am not aware of any.
6. Further to this point, if such access to Millburn Avenue is ultimately provided, it would seem to open the door for more and more 18 wheelers to use Millburn Avenue for yet more bulk store oriented shopping, thus further damaging the character of our community and exacerbating all the other problems already enumerated.
7. I am disturbed by what seems the S&S obsession with using a public road like Millburn Avenue, which our taxpayers are bound to pay for and maintain, to the exclusion or diminution of use of its own private road which intersects Morris Avenue and which I imagine S&S would have to pay for and maintain and assume responsibility for as to everything from safety to road conditions. While I haven’t yet looked at this carefully, it is easy to see how people may slip and fall on the occasional stray enchilada from the Taco Bell on that private road corner. That’s a problem that could rapidly eliminate your extra pennies off of the Shaq Soda 2 for $1 that S&S sells. People in Millburn don’t need to underwrite this ridiculous subsidization of Stop & Shop.
8. When Mr. Staiger delivered his coup de gras yesterday evening, it relied upon an analysis of the road configurations along Millburn Avenue under ideal weather conditions. The presence of plowed snow banks, large parked cars or trucks, active police vehicles and the like along the entry points to the property along Millburn Avenue would all make the insanity he described immeasurably worse.
OK that’s enough. I was left with the impression that most if not all of the problems that I have described have as yet gone unanswered by Stop & Shop. But believe me when I say that when it comes to breaking down the analysis of this mess, I am just getting started. And if there is any time left to stop this ridiculous thing from happening, every single Millburn and Short Hills resident needs to become engaged. Now.
Greg Smith, August 20, 2013