Red Bank resident Tracy Khonstam implores the zoning board to reject the planned convenience store on Newman Springs Road. (Photo by Sarah Klepner. Click to enlarge)
By SARAH KLEPNER
All the evidence is finally before the Red Bank zoning board in the matter of a proposed 7-Eleven that would replace a self-serve car wash at Wasseem Chaudhary’s Shell gas station at Shrewsbury Avenue and Newman Springs Road.
But after eight months of hearings, including one Thursday night, there’s been no up-or-down vote on whether to allow the store. The full board is expected to consider the application on August 1.
In the interim, two board members who were not present for concluding testimony and comments are expected to listen to a recording of Thursday’s hearing, said board chair Lauren Nicosia.
If approved, the store would be the second 7-Eleven to be greenlighted in town in a year; back in January, the planning board approved the conversion of the Welsh Farms store on East Front Street to the brand, a change that has not yet taken place. There’s also an existing 7-Eleven on Maple Avenue, at the corner of West Front Street.
The owner of the Exxon station across Shrewsbury Avenue from the Shell station, Gulssham Chaabra, mounted a serious challenge to the application, which began hearings last December.
The proceeding was hard-fought on both sides, with arguments drawing widely on zoning case law, the Red Bank Master Plan and a 1984 zoning board resolution passed to allow the then-Texaco gas station at the spot in question to add a mini-convenience store to the location.
Thursday’s hearing picked up with testimony from civil engineer Andrew Janiw, principal with Beacon Planning and Consulting Services, on behalf of Chaabra, who argued that the zoning board approved a retail kiosk, not a full-size retail outlet on the site, and that the board should consider the application a change of use rather than an expansion of existing use.
Janiw reminded the board of the language in the 1984 resolution, which described the “exceptional narrowness and shallowness of the property, which preclude the addition of a free-standing building” for retail, while allowing the separate self-serve car wash, Janiw said.
“What’s being proposed tonight isn’t a benign, ‘We’re leaving the service-station alone under the canopy,'” Janiw said. “There is also an intensification of use also because of the introduction of diesel fuel.”
Responding to Janiw’s 40-minute presentation, 7-Eleven attorney Phillip San Filippo said several of Janiw’s points were nullified by modifications to the proposal, made in the wake of earlier appearances before the zoning board, including the addition of a 15-foot buffer between the site and the adjoining property, which is a private home.
Summarizing the applicant’s argument, attorney John Anderson of Foss, San Filippo, and Milne countered Janiw’s position that the wrong variance is being requested.
“We’re dramatically different from the case law cited,” Anderson said. “Objector’s argument is flawed because what we’re proposing to do is the same [use].”
Tracy Khonstam, of Shrewsbury Avenue, was the only member of the public to address the board one of three onlookers present, including Councilman Ed Zipprich.
“Does Red Bank really need another traffic nightmare?” Khonstam asked the board. “These things should be thought about and anticipated.”
“Measure twice, cut once,” she said. “Once you give it up, you can’t get it back.”