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Zoning Board Finishes Hearing Testimony, Prepares to Decide on Stop & Shop Supermarket Application

Patricia Harris

Tuesday, November 19, 2013 • 8:54pm

MILLBURN, NJ - Members of the Zoning Board of Adjustment are gearing up to render a decision at their Dec. 16 meeting on whether to grant variances needed for the proposed Stop & Shop supermarket on Millburn Avenue.

The board heard Monday night from its traffic engineer and planner, as well as members of the public. Now that all testimony has been given, the board will hear final summations and deliberate on Dec. 16.

Stop & Shop plans to build a 70,000-square-foot store on the site of the former Saks Fifth Avenue and has already received site plan approval from Springfield, in which the bulk of the property lies. Millburn has jurisdiction over a 20-foot strip of land along Millburn Avenue, through which two driveways provide access to the site.

At Monday night’s standing-room-only session, residents voiced their opposition to the proposed plan in no uncertain terms. A steady stream of approximately 15 speakers came forward to make their cases in the two minutes allotted to each.

Some spoke extemporaneously, while others read prepared statements. They cited concerns about additional traffic that would be generated and spill into neighborhoods, endanger students and other pedestrian traffic and hamper access for emergency vehicles.

Several spoke of the possible degradation of the neighborhoods’ character, and others claimed the proposed store is out of scale for its surroundings and will not benefit other local businesses.

Another theme was that all the benefits of the development would go to others while nearby residents would be left with all the headaches.

A number of speakers said they have been expressing their opposition to the proposed store for the nearly 20 years the parent company, Royal Ahold, has been seeking approvals from the two townships in which it would be located.

Among those was former Millburn mayor Elaine Becker, who now serves as co-chairperson of Residents for Traffic Safety, a grassroots group opposing the proposed supermarket.

Becker drew applause from members of the audience when she asked for more time to complete her statement.

She pointed out the township’s 1984 development regulations and zoning ordinance state the purpose of the B-3 zone in which the property lies is “to provide for small scale commercial activities serving the needs of residents of the surrounding area.”

“This language remains unchanged today,” Becker noted.

“Millburn has been clear and consistent for 35 years that the township wants to remain a suburban town with a superior quality of life,” she concluded. “We have a right to protect that quality of life to the extent possible, and I trust that will be uppermost in the minds of board members.”

Peter Quinn of Baltusrol Way in Springfield, another longtime critic, challenged the board to reject the Stop & Shop application.

“Springfield recognized the problem (of increased traffic) and they did say no,” he said, referring to that township’s initial decision. “The question now is, does this township have the guts?”

The zoning board’s traffic engineer, Hal Simoff, endorsed a previously suggested condition that truck traffic be required to enter and exit the site through an existing driveway off Morris Avenue in Springfield, rather than through a driveway on Millburn Avenue.

The Morris Avenue driveway could be widened to accommodate all truck traffic if easements are obtained from two bordering businesses, he said. A traffic light on Morris Avenue would require approval from the state’s Department of Transportation.

The board’s planner, John Madden, recommended denying Stop & Shop’s application on the basis that it fails to meet five conditional use requirements in the township’s land use ordinance and to demonstrate that the exceptions are warranted.

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