By JOHN T. WARD
A traffic consultant argued for reviving a controversial highway alteration to accommodate a proposed cannabis shop at Red Bank’s northern gateway Monday night.
The suggestion carried echoes of an approved-but-never-built hotel for the same location, at the foot of the Route 35 Cooper’s Bridge across the Navesink River.
On deck was an application by the Garden at Red Bank LLC, angling to become the borough’s fourth approved marijuana seller. None has yet opened.
A January filing with the New Jersey Secretary of State identifies the management of Garden at Red Bank LLC as Jamie Dinar, of “Long Beach, NJ,” though the zip code included is for Long Branch.
The Garden’s one-story shop would be built on the site of a long-closed Exxon gas station, at the juncture of Route 35, Rector Place, North Bridge Avenue and Riverside Avenue.
In 2017, after seven contentious years, the planning board approved the site for a six-story, 72-room Hampton Inn.
The OK was granted only after developer Larry Cohen agreed not to utilize a New Jersey Department of Transportation approval to create a turning lane to allow vehicles heading northbound on Route 35 to make a left into the hotel property.
During the hotel hearing, then-member Guy Maratta proclaimed that “somebody is going to die, mark my words,” if the lane were created, and he vowed to vote against it.
Appearing for the pot shop Monday was traffic engineer Gary Dean, who served the same role on the Hampton Inn project.
“The application we’ve submitted to the state is for full movement,” Dean told the board. “I will once again advocate for the left turn lane.”
His rationale, he said, was that no matter how well the project might be designed to prohibit left turns in, “if someone perceives it’s safe to make a left turn, they’ll do it. And I would rather have that controlled in a sanctioned, dedicated left-turn lane where it’s safe to do so, rather than someone disregarding the regulation and prohibition and try to do it anyway.”
The alternative route to the site from the south is to cross Cooper’s Bridge and loop back from Navesink River Road in Middletown through a jughandle, he noted.
“Can it be done? Yes. Do I think people will do it? Human nature, probably not,” Dean said.
“We’ve designed it, [and] the DOT previously approved the dedicated turn lane,” he continued. “I urge you to revisit it.”
While the Garden’s principals are “amenable to” going ahead without the lane, “I would just once again advocate for safety for acknowledging what in my opinion will occur anyway,” Dean said. “I would rather see it done in a proper manner.”
The gas station had three driveways, all unrestricted, meaning exiting vehicles could turn left or right. Under a plan approved by the New Jersey Department of Transportation, which controls Route 35, the hotel would have closed the southernmost of the three, emptying onto Rector Place.
The Garden’s plan is to have a single driveway toward the northern portion of the one-acre site, Dean said. That would benefit pedestrians, giving them one driveway fewer to cross, and “provides the least amount of ingress and egress to the site,” he said.
The single driveway also is “fine for a low-volume use,” he said. It would service a parking lot for 31 vehicles, more than required by ordinance.
Left turns out of the site are another story, Dean acknowledged. In fact, that idea was a “non-starter,” he said.
“That’s a hard movement to make,” he said. “That left turn would be really tough.”
The Garden’s owners would agree to a right-turn-only exit, he said. The driveway design would include a channelized island to impede left-turn exits, he said.
That would force motorists who need to head back north to find a turnaround solution.
The eight-pump Exxon generated about 120 in-or-out vehicle movements per hour at its daily peak, Dean estimated. The hotel would have peaked at 110 per hour, he said.
The dispensary, he said, would generate half or less than those hourly totals: about a dozen in the morning; 25 in the evening; and 35 on a Saturday.
Waits to exit the site could be up to five minutes long, Dean acknowledged. “It could be lengthy,” he said.
Architect Jessie Moberg said the building can accommodate up to 34 customers and seven staff members simultaneously.
A request by board Chairman Dan Mancuso that the applicant “shave a few feet” off the southern tip of the property to “facilitate a better turning radius” onto Rector Place appeared to gain no traction.
Dean said the change would require replacing all the traffic signals at the intersection and moving a high-voltage utility pole and, at a possible cost to his client of about $430,000.
“It just is a bit much for one corner property owner to bear,” he said.
The board is scheduled to resume the hearing December 18.
Do you value the news coverage provided by redbankgreen? Please become a financial supporter if you haven’t already. Click here to set your own level of monthly or annual contribution.