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Quick Chek Plan Pushed to Zoning Board

Township committee rejects drafting ordinance to allow gas stations at Route 202, Changebridge Road intersection.

After more than two hours of public discussion on the topic Tuesday, the voted 3 to 2 against creating an ordinance that would amend the permitted land use at the intersection of Changebridge Road and Route 202.

If passed, the purpose to allow gas stations to be developed on the property would have benefitted property owner William O'Dowd's intentions to develop a Quick Chek mega gas station and convenience store at the site. If O'Dowd wishes to proceed with the project, he will have to face the Zoning Board of Adjustment to discuss conditional uses or variances for the property.

While a few residents who spoke were in favor of a Quick Chek at that location, the majority of those who spoke were against the development for fear of traffic congestion and danger of placing a gas station close to power lines. The majority of residents who spoke live in the Changebridge at Montville association.

O'Dowd's attorney, George Kroculick, prepared a presentation for the township committee and invited licensed planning consultant Peter Steck to speak to O'Dowd's intentions and how he felt the development would benefit the township. Steck spoke about the township's Master Plan, which was re-developed over the course of two years, and said that while there was pressure to complete the document, the township should consider making some changes.

In the Master Plan, Steck said, there are several suggested and allowed uses for the zone in question, including galleries, antique shops, clothing stores, shoe stores, cleaners and hardware stores. Some of the bigger allowances are for drugstores and even grocery stores, depending on the size. But what is not permitted, according to the Master Plan as written, are gas stations-a land use allowance imperative to O'Dowd's development plan moving forward.

O'Dowd owns 4.7 acres of land where Changebridge Road and Route 202 meet. Admittedly, O'Dowd knew gas stations were not permitted in the zone when he purchased the land, but, according to his representatives, he has been seeking to have the land use permissions changed for several years.

Steck argued that the way the Master Plan is written, there are not many incentives included for a developer in the zone and there are, in fact, deterrants. One of which is that a developer would need to build a road that would provide rear access to all of the lots in the section, which include the . Steck said this is a condition that cannot be met by developers who cannot afford to complete the road. 

But O'Dowd believes Quick Chek would fund the roadway, which Steck estimated would be worth $1 million, as the company sees potential in creating a store at that location. Additionally, Steck said Quick Chek may fund a traffic light at the intersection. Some residents considered the project a gift to the township.

"I see this as a $1 million gift and a safety factor that's well-deserved for the residents of Montville," one said.

Steck said the Master Plan should encourage development, like this, in the township.

"The whole purpose of this is to create mechanisms to get something constructed," he said.

Other benefits of the development of the project, he said, include adding a ratable to the township's tax base and creating competition amongst gas stations offering the cheapest gas. But competition became an issue of contention with the project after Steck implied that the cheaper Quick Chek gas could affect , located across the street, business.

"This is America, you get to compete," he said.

One resident noted that the competition could drive Exxon away from Changebridge Road, causing the township to then lose a ratable.

Steve Sammit, a Changebridge at Montville resident, was concerned about the potential for increased traffic at the intersection that could come with cheaper gas.

"You're selling cheap gas on an exit of (Route) 287 where you have a north and south exit to come into. It's like a goldmine," he said.

Marcia Lederman called Quick Chek a "monstrosity" and opposed the project because she said the mega gas station and convenience store would take away from the character of the community.

"I think to bring in the monstrosity like the Quick Chek would not only do a disservice to the people of Changebridge at Montville, but a disservice to the people of the township itself," she said.

But, in responding to the comments, O'Dowd said he does not feel a Quick Chek would cause more traffic probelms.

"I contend that our development is not going to change (traffic) in a meaningful manner," he said, adding later, "I don't believe the traffic on (Route) 202 is as bad as you're making it."

Residents were also concerned about the power lines that run adjacent to both sides of the property. Sammit referenced an explosion in 1994 in Edison where a gas station was developed over power lines.

"You're putting in a match that's going to the light the bomb," he said.

Planning Board Vice Chairman Gary Lewis said the board denied O'Dowd's application for the Quick Chek development three times and that the township committee should not amend the land use in the zone to conform to his development plans as there are other appropriate uses on the property.

"A service station and convenience store is not the only option for this site. Do not be fooled," he said.

He also asked that the township committee not weigh their decision entirely on the prospect of the road being funded.

"Don't sell this community out for a road for $1 million," he said.

In her remarks, Township Committeewoman Deborah Nielson said she has already had conversations with county representatives who have said they will work to help the township receive funding to aid with the construction of the road, regardless of what is developed there. Nielson said she felt that O'Dowd's presentation before the township committee was an effort to receive more support before returning to the Planning Board.

"He lobbied us individually and collectively," she said.

Nielson also said that while allowing the Quick Check development to move forward would bring a new ratable to the township, the township needed "the right ratables." She referenced the land use allowances on Route 46, where gas stations and adult book stores are both permitted.

"If we're chasing ratables, we should put an adult book store there. I'm sure we'll get a lot of customers," she said.

Committeeman Scott Gallopo said before the presentation that he did not feel it was right that the committee was presented the information without time to review materials in advance before being asked to make a decision. He did, however, comment on the current traffic conditions in that area.

"This intersection, currently, is a nightmare for traffic," he said.

Gallopo said he was interested in hearing about the potential traffic effects from experts before the committee made a decision either way on amending the ordinance. He recommended a separate public hearing be held after traffic studies are conducted.

However, Mayor Tim Braden questioned Township Attorney James Bryce on whether the committee could allow traffic studies on a development project that does not currently have an application in with one of the township's land use boards. Bryce advised that the township committee would need to approve a motion to draft an ordinance that would ammend the land use permissions in the zone and then hold a public hearing where the traffic studies could be discussed. Committeeman Jim Sandham made that motion.

"I'd like to understand what the traffic impact is," he said.

Sandham also said that while he respects the opinions of the residents, he felt that O'Dowd's interests should also be considered.

"I think that a person's entitled to develop their property," he said.

Braden felt that the issue would be better handled by the land use boards becasue they are "a-political."

"We are a political body," he said. "Sometimes, some people in our position may put their fingers up to the wind and see which way it's blowing."

Braden, Nielson and Gallopo voted against drafting the ordinance while Sandham and Committeeman Don Kostka voted for it.

Les Le Gear March 28, 2012 at 12:35 PM
I'm sure the overpriced Exxon station would not like the competition.
James P. Page March 28, 2012 at 01:37 PM
It's one township resident versus another and who has the most political pull. Funny when one complains at Exxon about the price of fuel, they blame it on the HIGH rent they pay....
cverrone March 28, 2012 at 04:27 PM
Does Committeeman Sandham have his hands in O'Dowds pocket...his statement that "a person is entitled to develop their property" was laughable. No one seeks to deny O'Dowd from developing his property; he just must conform to the zoning criteria established by the planning board and Master Plan. Using Sandham's same logic, I should be able to raze my home and build a 20 story high rise on my property...why can't I as a property owner develop my property the way I want? to my best financial interests? He must think the Montville residents are idiots...no wonder Sandham was given a vote of no-confidence as Mayor in 2011.
Scott Gallopo March 28, 2012 at 05:11 PM
I rarely comment on Patch articles, but I feel compelled to provide additional information to add some clarity. To be clear, we did NOT reject Mr. O'Dowd's Quick Chek project last night. The proposal is very much alive, and we decided that it would be more appropriate for his argument to be heard by the Zoning Board, and not the TC at this time. If the ZBA rejects his request for a use variance, he has the right to come before the TC for an ordinance change. At that point, ALL of the facts will have been presented to both land use boards (Planning and ZBA), and the material will be available for our review in advance, and in a more official capacity. Additional material could also be presented to the TC to support the argument – in advance of the meeting. Mr. O'Dowd's presentation was not on our agenda as a discussion item - he made his presentation from the floor during the public portion of the meeting. The TC was not given any of his presentation material prior to the meeting. It is standard practice to present in advance all supporting documents pertaining to a discussion item on our agenda, especially if that discussion could result in an action item for the TC (such as an ordinance introduction). Bottom line – there was no new information presented to the TC last night that would support a “fast-track route” leading to an immediate ordinance introduction during the same meeting.
Scott Gallopo March 28, 2012 at 05:13 PM
I would like to also reiterate what I said last evening – “I am not interested in what you "believe", what you "think", or speculation on what could or could not happen if this project is approved - I am only interested in the facts backed by unbiased studies and hard data”. This is the only way for me to develop an informed and objective opinion. The final decision should be based on the merits of the project, not public opinion or "politics". This statement was directed towards everyone attending the meeting - the property owner, the residents, and the Planning Board. I WILL NOT RESPOND TO COMMENTS OR QUESTIONS ON THIS SITE. If anyone would like to have a follow-up discussion with me, my contact info is on the Municipal Website. As an aside, whoever advised Mr. O'Dowd to give his presentation from the floor and not as a discussion item on our agenda did him a huge disservice.
Dan Grant March 28, 2012 at 10:20 PM
Scott, To be fair property owners/ developers who want a zone change have come to the Township Committee in the past to test the waters before spending a lot of money on experts that would be required to achieve the zone change. In the past if the Township wanted to consider the zone change they would refer it to the Planning Board for a recomendation.one way or another as was done on the GI Auto Property. I believe that is also required by Land Use Law. If the Planning Board thought the zoning change was benefitial to the Township they would then recomend it. The Township can either accept it or not as they choose. In busier times the Township Committee would at least give a sense of the Committee out of courtesy to a property owner. There is nothing wrong with that. If there is no hope of a zone change then the Township should say that. If the change has potential then send it to the Planning Board. It still comes back to the Township Committee anyway. Any person always has the option of going to the Board of Adjustment if a zone change is not in the cards and get a use variance.
Tina B March 29, 2012 at 11:24 AM
The Quick Chek propoposal really isn't new and traffic studies have already been done and a solution to the traffic patter had been presented years ago. I remember in the past people were more concerned about the riff raff coming off 287 into Montville to get gas. The Quick Chek assured them that they would not be advertising on Rt 287 -however the Exxon already does. At one point Quick Chek withdrew it's plans. Now they are trying again. Stop wasting time on it, either approve it or reject it. However as all townships do, we are working in reverse. Why doesn't some board just decide and present a list of what the property owner CAN have their (short of more housing units!) so time isn't wasted with multiple proposals only to be rejected or passed to the next committee and then rejected again. Mr. O'Dowd has been trying to develope this eye sore piece of property for years, tell him what he can put there so he can search for the appropriate tenant.
Gary Lewis March 29, 2012 at 12:32 PM
Tina....already done! The new Montville zoning ordinance adopted last November greatly expanded the list of permitted uses for this site in Section 230-171(i)....I tried to cut and paste them here, but there are too many for this window! Also provides for development incentives for the owner to install the access road. Anyone can see the list of uses on the Montville website, under the 'Latest News' column on the right, the bottom link where it says Committee Introduces Land Use Amendment. Something good will happen at this location...it's just too valuable! Gary Lewis
Diane Black March 29, 2012 at 05:59 PM
Whatever use is decided on, I hope the town does consider the traffic impact. In the morning it is very hard to make a left turn out of the townhouse development. It will be interesting to see what the traffic study brings but it's hard to believe that it would not adversely affect the exit from Changebridge even more. Yesterday I saw a young womanl almost get hit because there is no visiblity on the left right as it is.
Ted March 30, 2012 at 12:43 PM
"Committeeman Jim Sandham made that motion." Wow, that's a surprise! One has to wonder if "lobbying" includes having lunch in a Montville restaurant with this applicant while he was still Mayor? Hmmm.....
Tina B April 02, 2012 at 09:20 PM
Diane, the traffic situation you are talking about would exist whether there was a new business on Mr. O'Dowd's property or not. I used to live in that developement and making a left during rush our was always dangerous. The fault simply lies with the fact that the exit/entrance is just too close to the corner of a busy intersection.
art daughtry April 02, 2012 at 11:39 PM
Ted A - You sound bitter - you are better than that! Everyone - In 2007 there was an extensive traffic stuidy of RT 202 to the Lincoln Park line. That was the trigger for the new traffic lights in Towaco. The RT 202 and Changebridge Road intersection is rated an "F" by the County. Now the county did not address any new specific development but empty commercial lots were counted in future traffic for the area. I'm going to skip the ugly history that caused all of this (funny its the same condo/townhouse project that caused the mess). What the TC was looking for was a 4 way intersection to pull the traffic from the O'dowd property, PD, Senior house, and those medical buildings off seperate exits onto RT 202 and into the bypass road up to the light at 202/Changebridge. The other bypass would come off 287 and cross 202 and go behind my building and thru JCP&L property and come in opposite Kanous Lane. Presto no traffic crossing 202 from all the properties on one side of 202 and easy in/out for Changebridge condos via the Kanous Lane extension. Odowd was going to pay for his piece but the sticking point was funding for the other road.
art daughtry April 02, 2012 at 11:49 PM
To Deb Nielson's credit (yes I said it) she worked on ideas with the county and came up with a better plan than I had. I wanted to work with the one property owner that owns the property opposite the 287 ramp and McCulugh Lane. I figured if the TC worked with the guy to develop that property and we got the free road we could finaly clean the mess as best we could. Deb's idea of using the power company property and aligning with Kanous was much better. By the way, according to the county, 44% of the traffic could be moved off the corner of 202 and Changebridge with those two improvements. The gas station is not a problem at all with proper traffic flow. By the way that wonderfull new zoning ordinance. Lets have a survey of the public and let the public guess how the property that is next to the on ramp to 287 south and next to the kennels is zoned. You have three choices - commercial, industrial, or residential?
spooky April 03, 2012 at 01:39 AM
Ted Adams - you do sound bitter. You sound like something else too. Maybe your name should be Ted Adams Henry.
Dan Grant April 03, 2012 at 05:41 PM
Art, Most of this was a rehash, (new people on the Committee won't ever look back to learn anything) of plans that involved the developer as well as a County Contibution to the new road from the same buildings you are talking about. Traffic studies were done before that 2007 study and the County developed plans for a 4 way intersection. It fell apart unfortunately in a dispute between two property owners and the loss of a suitable applicant.
Dan Grant April 03, 2012 at 05:48 PM
If you are going to post as spooky and insult people maybe you ought to man up. (Or woman up if appropriate).
art daughtry April 03, 2012 at 06:55 PM
Hi Dan Above are you talking about McClough Road being the "new" 202? I'm lost - The prior study to 2007 was about 25 years prior around 1986. As you say its all a rehash, however its always good to look back and recognize mistakes and learn from them.
Dan Grant April 03, 2012 at 07:23 PM
No Art, We had a traffic study done when the Lahue property was done. It wasn't as extensive as going all the way to Lincoln Park but it did cover the intersection in question and nothing much has changed since then. The County was also involved because their property behind the Senior Center and Public Safety Building was involved. You remember when I negotiated the purchase of the land for the public safety building AT .60 on the Appraised Dollar (unlike the Townships most recent purchase at 100 percent) and then got the County to by half for their use. LOL of course you and the gang had no justification for being in office if you ever admitted we did a good job. You have to believe in your own BS.
Ted April 04, 2012 at 04:21 AM
Art, I'm surprised (I think) that you would consider my comment is from bitterness. This applicant, who is a respectable businessman, has attempted to get this zoning change done many times & many different ways. It appears that the plan isn't a favorite to many different groups, both in & out of government & this last move was an attempt (failed) to circumvent the process, & and was led by Mr. Sandham & company. I won't even go into your issues with your property & the realignment of 202. My comment was to remind that there are folks watching what happens in town, and contrary to the thoughts of many elected officials, people notice these things. Jim has every right to have lunch with Mr. O'Dowd, but it looks suspect when Jim moves a motion that would benefit the applicant/friend. He should have recused himself in the matter. Oh, and Mr. Kostka's campaign rec'd $550 from him, so there's another committeeman that should have recused himself!
art daughtry April 04, 2012 at 11:58 AM
Hi Ted - I'm glad you responded and you state there was no bitterness on your part and that your views are based on your understanding of what the citizens do not want on that site. I'll offer you some counter points to consider. The only group of voters that are against the gas station are the voters in ChangeBridge at Montville. The crazy part to this is they stand to benefit the most if both bypass roads could be built. So please enlighten us if there are other groups that believe a gas station on that site, with proper roads, is not in the citizen's best interests and add tax dollars. As far as the friends point Mr. Sandham, Mayor Braden, and myself all are in Kiwanis and have worked side by side with Bill and Joe O'Dowd for over 30 years. As far as myself of course he is a good friend but when the man is right he is just that. The games about this gas station have very little to do with reality. Bill, in my opinion, shouldn't have tried the end around with the TC as you say. It might be a legal move. If you want to talk about TC members recusing themselves there is a much larger one that should come out soon with the marketplace open space land sale. Do you still need the water bug? I'm back in NJ late April. Regards, Your token friend, Art
art daughtry April 04, 2012 at 12:14 PM
Hi Dan I never consider at face value any traffic study done for a developer and paid for by a developer. Please tell me just one case where a traffic study indicated the applicant that paid for the study couldn't build? I was referring to unbiased complete traffic studys by the county on their road. It was back in the mid 80's and there is plenty of good info in that one and the 2007 study. Mike Lahue did a great job with that site cleaning it up and he did the best he could with the traffic flow but I wonder what the citizens would think if you asked them about getting into and out of his property (2 Changebridge Road). No Dan you and JR didn't do everything wrong and, like all of us, we gravitate to our accomplishments like your example of the public safety building property. However that TC spent money like drunkin sailors with unbeilevable cost overruns of 300% and doubled township debt. We both know all of this is old news. As you say "you have to believe in your own BS". How's the digging going? Regards, Art
Dan Grant April 04, 2012 at 03:01 PM
Art, If memory serves the County was involved in that traffic study and infact developed the plan for the Roadway and planned to contribute to it. The property owner had an interested party which as I remember was a CVS or some kind of Drug Store but that fell through. I really don't want to go back into the history of our debt because we were coming from a place of no progress on either rec facilities, a library, a public safety building, a senior house and hundreds of acres of open-space that stopped 350 homes from being built which would have created the need for an additional school. This Township would not have gotten a AAA bond rating if A) the people where not able to pay the taxes and we didn't have a workable method of paying down the debt which the Rating Companies did NOT see as excessive. If anything your "Former" team had nothing to do with it except take the credit for other peoples work. Some of my digging is in the hands of Patch and we will see what they do with it. I have now also learned that the Township Lawyer and the County Lawyer had private discussions about how Montville could avoid paying the 25 percent that they were supposed to pay on this grant. Interesting.
Ted April 06, 2012 at 02:26 AM
Art: Yes. C U then.

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