By JOHN T. WARD
Fair Haven residents steamed over the possibility of a Dunkin’ Donuts opening in town had to keep a lid on it Tuesday night.
Instead, a three-hour planning board hearing that required a change of venue to accommodate a spillover crowd was dominated by occasionally hostile cross-examination of a traffic consultant by lawyers representing two objectors.
The 1,800-square-foot store would be operated by a family-owned company headed by Dominic Sequeira that also owns Dunkin’ Donuts shops in Red Bank, Shrewsbury and Lincroft. It would also be called just “Dunkin’,” reflecting a branding change by the Massachusetts-based chain of more than 12,600 restaurants in 46 countries.
A crowd of about 120 people assembled in the gym of Sickles School after meeting was moved from borough hall, where it was to have been held.
Under borough zoning ordinances, the store is a permitted use in the space, but needs approval for a change of use from retail to restaurant, board attorney Douglas Kovats told the audience.
That means the business has to demonstrate that it “fits within this location” in terms of trash collection, signage, traffic circulation and related safety considerations, Kovats said.
Ron Gasiorowski, a Red Bank lawyer with a reputation for derailing development projects, represented Battin Road homeowner Andrew Reger. Another lawyer, Michael Convery, is representing Grange Avenue homeowner Tracy Cole.
After an extended dispute initiated by Gasiorowski over whether the board had jurisdiction to hear the matter, board chairman Todd Lehder allowed the hearing to go forward.
“This is one of those things where the objectors will make as many arguments as they can to see if they can get something to stick,” attorney Michael Bruno, who represents the shopping center, told the board. “They’re trying to create an objection so they can delay, hinder, try to convince you that there is some position to deny this application. We’re simply trying to put a new tenant into a permitted use.”
Sequeira, of Lincroft, told the board that the store would operate from 5 a.m. until 10 p.m. and, with no baking onsite, get a daily delivery of products through a rear door before it opens.
The shop will not have either drive-thru or window service for walk-up customers, he said.
The bulk of the hearing concerned parking, and whether the 250-space parking lot in the River Road center would be sufficient. Seventy of those spaces are located in the area nearest the shop, and would also have to accommodate supermarket shoppers and customers of a post office, a liquor store and a handful of other businesses.
According to traffic consultant Karl Pehnke, the center typically has about 120 of its 250 parking spaces available during the Acme supermarket’s peak business hours of 4 to 6 p.m. The peak hours for Dunkin’ Donuts is 7 to 10 a.m., before most other stores in the center bring in customers, with 70 to 80 vehicles per hour at peak, he said in a report filed last year.
Dunkin’, he said, would be “highly complimentary” to the other businesses in the center. But Lehder, noting that several of the stores spaces remain vacant, wondered if the coffee shop would “dominate” the nearest lot “and create a problem once they’re leased, if not now.”
Pehnke reiterated that the demand times would differ, so that there would not be a conflict.
The plan has lit up a Fair Haven community page on Facebook with hundreds of comments, but the meeting concluded at 10:45 p.m. without a vote or any opportunity for public comment.
The hearing was scheduled to resume March 19, tentatively at the school, when the public comment is expected to be heard.