RED BANK: SPEED BUMP FOR WALGREEN’S?

Walgreen’s proposes to build a 14,200-square-foot pharmacy with a drive-thru window on the former site of the Rassas auto dealership. (Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

With hearings on a proposed Walgreen’s pharmacy at the southernmost entry to town scheduled to begin next month, Red Bank’s governing body is moving swiftly to limit drive-thru businesses in town.

The move is not part of an effort to alter or kill the Walgreen’s plan, say both Mayor Pasquale Menna and borough Attorney Dan O’Hern, who serves as a councilman in Little Silver, just yards away from the site. Rather, a proposed change to the zoning law, Menna said, is all about “quality of life.”

Town officials last week introduced an amendment to the borough zoning law that would require any property with a drive-thru be at least 100 feet from a residential zone.

The proposed Walgreen’s, which would be built in a highway business zone at the former Rassas auto dealership lot on Broad Street between Garfield and Rumson places, abuts a residential zone.

The amendment also adds types of establishments covered by existing limits on drive-thrus to include banks, fast-food restaurants and pharmacies.

Menna told redbankgreen that the amendment was not inspired by the Walgreen’s proposal. “It’s inspired by quality of life,”┬áhe said, “whether it’s on Shrewsbury Avenue, whether it’s on Broad Street.”

“It would apply to any potential drive-thru use that would be in any zone throughout the town,” said O’Hern. “I’ve looked at this issue. A lot of other towns have similar ordinances.”

Experts hired by Walgreen’s, however, are expected to testify that the presence of a drive-thru makes the pharmacy a better neighbor, not a worse one.

A study for the company by Atlantic Traffic & Design Engineers says that allowing the drive-thru would reduce the need for parking and make use of the store more convenient for customers, particularly for less-ambulatory ones.

Moreover, the maximum peak-hour use of drive-thrus at other stores in the Walgreen’s chain is eight to 10 cars per hour, “which equates to only 1 vehicle using the drive-through window every 6 to 7 minutes,” the study says.

The drive-thru is just one front on which the Walgreen’s is expected to face resistance from nearby residents, who have organized in opposition to the plan. Traffic, and particularly turns into and out of the site from Broad Street, has already been identified as problematic. In June, Councilman Mike DuPont said at a council meeting that the proposal was a “terrible application for traffic reasons.”

Under the proposal, Walgreen’s would have entry-only driveway access on Broad Street and entry and exits on Garfield Place. Curb cuts along Rumson Place would be eliminated.

The company’s traffic study found only five vehicular accidents on Broad Street in the vicinity of the site over the last three years: three rear-enders and one that was a result of a left turn either into or out of Garfield. That record is not significant, and “given the limited additional traffic generated” by the pharmacy, that’s not expected to change,” the authors conclude.

A public hearing and possible vote on the proposed ordinance change is scheduled for Wednesday, August 28. Here’s the amendment: RB 2013-18

The zoning board hearings on the Walgreen’s application are slated to begin September 19.