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  • Writer's pictureJoseph F. Berenato

Drive-thru expansion OK’d

courtesy photo

HAMMONTON—McDonald’s was approved for an expansion of their drive-thru at the May 17 meeting of the Hammonton Planning Board.

According to Application No. 02-23PB, the applicant was seeing approval in order to update and improve the parking area and drive-thru configuration of the existing fast food restaurant at 69 S. White Horse Pike.

The applicant was represented by attorney CherylLynn Walters. Engineer Michael Jeitner and planner Tiffany Morrissey also provided testimony. Owner Jack Scari was in attendance but did not offer testimony.

Councilman Jonathan Oliva recused himself from the discussion and vote, as he has worked with Morrissey in the past.

Jeitner described the property.

“The existing McDonald’s is approximately 3,900 square feet in area. There are 47 parking spaces around the perimeter of the site. Access is two and from the White Horse Pike in the form of a full access, and then Woodlawn Avenue in the form of a full access further to the northwest portion of the site,” Jeitner said.

Currently, Jeitner said, the drive-thru consists of a single lane with two menu boards, classified by McDonald’s as a tandem drive-thru operation. The proposed updates will result in no modifications to the building itself.

Jeitner said that drive-thru business constitutes between 80 and 90 percent of the sales at McDonald’s. As such, Jeitner said, McDonald’s is looking to upgrade some of their existing facilities by upgrading and providing for a more efficient drive-thru operation.

“This proposal before you will result in taking that single drive-thru lane and now proposing a two-lane—or side-by-side—configuration, and, as a result of that, increase the number of stacking vehicles, but more importantly, improve the efficiency of the drive-thru and have the cars get through the process quicker than a single drive-thru lane operation,” Jeitner said.

As a result, Jeitner said, four parking spots adjacent to the building will be removed, reducing the total number of parking spaces from 47 to 43.

“The ADA parking that’s located along the side of the building is relocated to the further east parking lot area, and the pedestrian connectivity shown within the plan itself is part of the relocation of parking,” Jeitner said.

Councilman Edward Wuillermin noted that the four spaces in question are frequently blocked by drive-thru traffic, and Jeitner concurred.

“We feel with this configuration, that will remove that prohibition,” Jeitner said.

Chairman William Olivo inquired about the location of the new ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) parking spaces.

“They’re walking across people entering the road; is that safer, or not safe? How do you configure it that you’re putting it on the other side?” Olivo said.

Jeitner conceded that the length of the route from the spaces to the building has increased.

“We’ve located those in a space we believe—and I believe—that has a clear line-of-sight coming in to the site itself. Once you come in off the road, the speed of vehicles within the site—specifically with the drive-thru configuration—the cars are slowing down in that area,” Jeitner said.

Jeitner said that the plan provides for a crosswalk six feet in width.

“The stacking that we anticipate for this site will really stack up beyond that crosswalk area,” Jeitner said.

Currently, Jeitner said, roughly nine vehicles can fit in the drive-thru lane before traffic begins to impede through traffic. The proposed configuration will allow for approximately 14 cars before the line crosses the ADA crosswalk.

“Now, you can max out to 150—almost 160—cars per hour, at peak. Do we anticipate that many vehicles? We do not, but the efficiency improvement from the tandem drive-thru configuration to the side-by-side will now move the cars from the menu board forward and get those cars moving through that portion,” Jeitner said.

Wuillermin asked Jeitner the anticipated length of the construction process, and Jeitner replied.

“Usually, for something like this, we’re talking maybe a couple weeks at most. The idea is to keep the inside of the restaurant open while the drive-thru is being reconfigured,” Jeitner said.

With drive-thru business constituting such a high percentage of the total sales, Jeitner said, the goal is to finish as quickly as possible.

“I said two weeks, and the owner/operator’s looking at me funny, so we’ll probably be a little bit sooner than two weeks,” Jeitner said.

The new configuration, Jeitner said, will involve the existing LED menu boards relocated to their new positions on the property. A smaller, updated gateway clearance bar will be added, as well smaller “order here” canopies, Jeitner said; none of these updated signs will have branding on them.

“We are adding one sign, and that’s on the front face of the gateway clearance bar, and that says ‘any lane, any time.’ That’s there for direction; no branding. Nonetheless, we’re still calling it a sign,” Jeitner said.

Jeitner said that he total area of the existing signs is 63.5 square feet; the total area of the proposed updated signs, including the addition of the directional sign, will be 58 square feet.

“The signage within the drive-thru area is getting less in area, and we’re only adding one more sign,” Jeitner said.

During her testimony, Morrissey discussed the benefits of the redesign of the property.

“The overall improvement to the property will result in improvement to onsite circulation. It will provide an improved parking layout; despite losing the four parking spaces, we’ll have an improvement of parking spaces that basically are not as usable now,” Morrissey said.

The relocation of the menu boards, Morrissey said, will facilitate the improved circulation.

“In general, the overall improvements to the site result in improved circulation, and promotion of the general health, safety and welfare, allow for the improvement of transportation and circulation onsite, and the operations to occur in a more effective and efficient manner,” Morrissey said.

The variances necessary for the signs, Morrissey said, are technical in nature.

“Your planner took some time to go through your ordinance and tried to classify the drive-thru signs—the menu boards—as one of the items that you have in your ordinance, and you have a lot of classifications,” Morrissey said.

Morrissey said that many municipalities do not provide classifications for drive-thru signage.

“I consider them accessory to a drive-thru, and therefore not so much signage, because they’re not providing identification and calling people to the site from the roadway; they’re providing information onsite, and the drive-thru can’t function without it,” Morrissey said.

Additionally, Morrissey said, the new configuration will move the menu boards closer to the White Horse Pike and commercial components and further away from residences on Woodlawn Ave.

“Instead of having the menu board on the back, it’s off to the side,” Morrissey said.

After Morrissey’s report, Wuillermin asked town engineer Mark Hermann—of Adams, Rehmann and Heggan Associates (ARH) about the proposal.

“Are you satisfied that the submission that the applicant made with respect to the variances, waivers and existing non-conformities, is comprehensive in terms of everything that would be required?” Wuillermin said.

Herrmann answered in the affirmative.

During the public comment portion, Kenneth Brown of 805 Woodlawn Ave.—directly adjacent to McDonald’s—expressed concerns.

“They’re adding more drive-thrus, more volume; I think it’s a hindrance now without adding it.

Where they have that entrance coming out, it’s bad placement and causes a lot of chaos.

Many times, my daughter, my family, almost had accidents,” Brown said.

According to Brown, cars frequently run the stop sign making the exit onto Woodlawn Avenue.

“They just roll right through without even looking. We’re pulling out of our driveway, so many times we almost got hit. I just don’t know what it’s going to take for that to be addressed, because, honestly, it makes me nervous,” Brown said.

Olivo reminded Brown that Scari was in attendance.

“The owner/operator did hear you. I saw his concerns, listening to you. Valid point; he heard you. He understands,” Olivo said.

Olivo said that requests for additional traffic patrols will be made to the Hammonton Police Department, and Jeitner commented further.

“We’ll make sure that the stop sign is up out there. I took some pictures; the tree is hanging over a little bit, so maybe we’ll take a look at that and make sure that that is readily readable,” Jeitner said.

Brown expressed additional concern that the vinyl fence between his property and McDonald’s was impacting visibility.

“There is a little gap there, but it’s not enough,” Brown said.

After conferring with her client, Walters said that the applicant would be amenable to removing the first eight-foot length of fence to improve visibility.

Wuillermin made a motion to approve the application. Board member Jonathan Baske seconded the motion, which was approved unanimously by all present.

Board members Bill Brinkerhoff, Michael Hozik, Chris Kalani, Gordon Pherribo and Ray Scipione were absent from the meeting.

The planning board also heard two other applications.

The first was submitted by Tindaro Catania of 1100 Bel Air Properties, LLC. That application, No. 13-23PB, sought an extension of the timeframe to obtain construction permits for a previously approved resolution granting a subdivision.

The resolution in question, adopted on August 7, 2019 in regards to Application No. 8-19PB, granted a three-lot subdivision of 219 Lincoln St. to allow for the construction of two duplexes and a single-family home.

Catania was represented by Frederick J. DeClement, who provided testimony.

“In 2020, we hit COVID; everything shut down. We couldn’t do any contract work; the whole country shut down,” DeClement said.

DeClement said that the applicant has had difficulty finding willing contractors. Consequently, DeClement said that the applicant received notice that a permit with the Pinelands Commission expired on July 17, 2021.

“I think that letter was dated March 22 of this year. In that letter, they requested we come before the board to ask the board to approve us receiving three retroactive one-year extensions,” DeClement said.

DeClement said that municipal land use law allows such extensions.

“If that was approved tonight, that would get us to July of 2024 ... Mr. Catania is in a position right now; he has contractors lined up. He’s able to put the roads in. He’s ready to go provided we get the extension tonight that we request,” DeClement said.

After discussion, Baske made a motion to approve the application, which board member Michael Messina seconded. The application was approved.

The next matter Application No. 05-23PB, submitted by Amy Lanza Hunter of 849 S. First Rd. The applicant sought approval for a minor subdivision that consolidates a portion of Lot 10 and Lot 10.01 to form new lot 10.03.

Planner James Sassano represented the applicant and provided testimony, describing the existing lots, which were owned by the applicant’s late mother.

“Amy and her family have since moved into the dwelling on Lot 10.01. They would like to eliminate this property line; we created a lot that conforms to the acre-and-a-half minimum.

They would like to convey the remainder of that lot over to their property to allow more room alongside their pool,” Sassano said.

Sassano said that moving the lot lines would also remove an existing encroachment by an asphalt driveway that is over the property line by approximately 30 feet.

“It’s never been an issue because it was the same owner for both properties. However, now they’re going to be selling off the house up in the front on Lot 10,” Sassano said.

After discussion, board member Ralph Capaccio made a motion to approve the application. Messina seconded the motion, and the application was approved.

In other business, the board recalled Mark and Kimberly Visco of 604 N. Egg Harbor Rd. At the board’s March 15 meeting, the applicants were approved for a waiver of curb and sidewalk. After additional findings, the board requested that the applicants appear before the board once more.

Olivo explained the rationale for the second appearance by the applicants.

“There are a couple of things that I discovered after the meeting. You basically testified that you did not know that you needed to install curb and sidewalk; is that what you had said?” Olivo said.

Mark Visco answered in the affirmative, and Olivo continued.

“I do have information—emails that were between the town of Hammonton and to you—back in November and December that talked about you having to put a curb and sidewalk in,” Olivo said.

Olivo referenced an email from November 14, 2022.

“It says all new construction is to provide curb and sidewalk. If you have a valid reason not wanting to put the curb and sidewalk in your residence, you would have to apply for a waiver with the joint use board—which is this—and it says who you could contact,” Olivo said.

Olivo said that, according to the email, a certificate of occupancy (CO) cannot be granted without either the installation of curb and sidewalk or a waiver from said installation. Olivo said that a follow-up email was sent on November 19, 2022.

“One email that you had sent back to the town said that, ‘What will be needed to put curbs and sidewalks in? I think we have to go that route,’” Olivo said.

Olivo asked for clarification from the applicants, and Kimberly Visco said that the email from November 14, 2022 was the first time they were informed of the need for curb and sidewalk.

She said that Public Works Manager Robert Vettese directed her to contact county officials—as North Egg Harbor Road is a county road—for additional information, which she did.

“That seemed too complicated with the fees, and we don’t have $20,000 extra to put curb and sidewalk in, so we were going to go back to get a waiver,” she said.

Kimberly Visco said that, during that time, her father-in-law became ill; he died on November 28.

“We were in charge of taking care of everything, so I was a little overwhelmed,” she said.

Olivo recalled the testimony of the applicants from the March 15 meeting.

“I kind of felt pressured into making a decision that night because you wanted to go to closing that week,” Olivo said.

Kimberly Visco said that there was a problem with the closing.

“We were supposed to go to closing on St. Patrick’s Day, which was Friday. We have solar panels on the old house. It was through Trinity; we had that nine years through Trinity. Spruce Power bought them out, and it was a nightmare trying to get it transferred over,” she said.

Wuillermin concurred with Olivo.

“The board felt that it was a predicament, and we did not necessarily want to see you lose the opportunity to settle—and the complications that would have ensued,” Wuillermin said.

Baske asked the applicants when construction on the home began.

“August,” Mark Visco said.

Board member Michael Pullia addressed the applicants.

“But you were notified in November. This email; clearly you answered the email in November saying you’d have to follow the procedure and put curb and sidewalk—or not,” Pullia said.

Kimberly Visco said that she was communicating with county and town officials regarding how next to proceed, and McGroarty commented further.

“Just for clarity, the application was filed in January—January 10—so it’s been with the board for a majority of that time,” McGroarty said.

Olivo said that there was a memo from ARH dated February 28, 2022.

“It talks about curbs, sidewalk, restored pavement and driveway locations and grades. That’s back February 28, 2022—before they broke ground,” Olivo said.

Oliva asked Olivo to confirm the date, which Olivo did. Mark Visco inquired as to the origins of the letter, and Olivo replied.

“There was a copy of it that went from ARH to our code enforcement officer, and you were copied on it the letter—so you would have gotten a copy of that letter,” Olivo said.

Kimberly Visco responded.

“I’m pretty organized, and I don’t believe I got that letter. I don’t even think I put the application in yet,” she said.

During discussion, McGroarty said that there was a resolution up for adoption based upon the approval of the application from the March 15 meeting, and that the board could choose to rescind that approval.

McGroarty said that the board could vote to rescind the approval.

“If you think that the information they provided was inaccurate or dishonest—and it was material—then you have the authority to rescind that, because every decision is based on the truth and accuracy of what’s provided by the applicant,” McGroarty said.

Olivo commented further.

“Based upon the additional information, I’d like not adopt this resolution and go back to the fact where I think they need to put the curb and sidewalk in,” Olivo said.

McGroarty said that a motion would be needed.

“It would have to be based on the fact that you believe the applicants misled the board at the last meeting and provided false or inaccurate information, upon which was material to your decision. If you find that, then you would vote to rescind the approval,” McGroarty.

Olivo made that motion, which Baske seconded. The motion was approved, and the previous decision of the board was reversed.

The planning board also adopted the following resolutions:

• Shore Management, Application No. 22-15ZB—Applicant was approved to turn an office building back into a single-family home.

• Mike Gallagher, Application No. 22-18PB—Applicant was approved to reverse the zoning officer’s decision regarding the newly constructed deck.

• Matthew and Angela Gentile, Application No. 22-14ZB—Applicant was approved for a bulk variance for three accessory structures. Applicant was denied for the following two variances:

1., the large shed is six feet from the property line where 15 feet is required; 2., the small shed is only four feet from the property line where 15 feet is required.

The Hammonton Planning Board regularly meets on the first and third Wednesdays of the month. The next meeting is scheduled for June 7 at 7 p.m.


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