Planning Board Re-Zoning
On May 22, the West Windsor Township Planning Board heard a concept plan to rezone a parcel of land on U.S. Route 1 in order to develop new storefronts, including a restaurant, agricultural supply store, and extended stay hotel.
This property of 12.49 acres, situated at 3496-3500 U.S. Route 1 North and adjacent to the Lowe’s Home Improvement store at the Square of West Windsor, is currently zoned as ROM-1 (Research, Office, and Limited Manufacturing), though the plot has been largely vacant since 2006. The applicants, HSC West Windsor, LLC, is requesting for a rezoning to B-2, which allows commercial and neighborhood center business use.
The planned restaurant, potentially BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse, will be near the front of the property and closer to Route 1, at 9,585 square feet. Farther from Route 1 will be a Tractor Supply Company, at 19,097 feet. The Tractor Supply Company has over 1,700 outlets around the country, and supplies equipment such as tractor and trailer parts, fencing, and power tools. Lastly, farthest from the entrance will be the Woodsprings Suites, an extended stay hotel which would have a 128 rooms in four stories, and a 13,355 square foot property.
At the meeting, this concept plan was presented by Joshua Sewald, PE, from Dynamic Engineering Consultants, who emphasizes how this concept plan fits in with West Windsor’s goals and needs. As detailed by the 2018 Reexamination Report of the Master Plan, there are over 2.1 million square feet of approved office space that has yet to be constructed, and over half a million square feet entirely vacant. As Sewald noted, due to the decreased demand for office space in the West Windsor area, the rezoning towards commercial use would be appropriate.
Before presenting to the Planning Board, the applicant had met with the Township Technical Review Committee, who helped refine the plan and provide comments for future improvements. At the meeting, members of the Planning Board and Technical Review Committee shared their comments, concerns, and suggested areas for improvement.
Though this development is not predicted to increase traffic during rush hour due to the tenants’ times of operation, there are still concern about road configuration. Currently, those looking to enter the Square at West Windsor have to take an access lane, which then merges back into Route 1. However, drivers exiting this new property may attempt to go to Route 1 directly, instead of using the access lane, and this weaving could cause traffic concerns. Since Route 1 is a state road, any decision regarding road reconfiguration would be made by the New Jersey Department of Transportation.
Another concern is how this development will affect nearby stores. Aaron Brotman, representing the Square at West Windsor Tenant’s Association, noted that the currently proposed road linking the two properties may cause restaurant parking to overflow into their property. Furthermore, Brotman noted that Lowe’s and the Tractor Supply Company have a 60% overlap in product offerings, though Mayor Marathe stated that having a marketplace of goods may actually be beneficial to both stores.
In regards to the specific property, one issue was B-2 zoning allowances for a hotel. Specifically, B-2 zoning only allows hotels conditionally, based on the fulfillment of certain requirements. While the Technical Review Committee indicated many of these requirements had been met, one of the few that had not been fulfilled was of impervious coverage, which indicates the percentage of land covered by manmade surfaces. The current plan has 53.5% of impervious coverage on the land, though B-2 requirements only allow a maximum of 50%, to prevent water runoff and drainage problems.
Since the Board hopes to stay away from spot zoning, a looked-down upon rezoning of small parcels of land within a larger zoned area, members affirmed that the applicant should revisit their plan to ensure it can fit the B-2 conditional uses.
Another issue in regards to the extended stay hotel, initially brought up by Board member Curtis Hoberman and echoed in public comments by Council President Alison Miller, was that of hotel saturation. Extended Stay America, another long stay hotel, is just a few minutes away from the proposed location, with Homewood Suites also in the area, and other hotels already in planning. Therefore, Miller noted she did not want to see a race of who can built a hotel first.
Board member Linda Geevers brought up the concern of this property potentially creating any schoolchildren for the already-overcrowded WW-P school district. However, since the average stay at Woodsprings Suites is 22 days, this seems unlikely.
Township Landscape Architect Daniel Dobrimilsky noted that the location currently has some forestry which is part of the township’s preservation plan. However, the larger area of this preservation is nearby Duck Pond Park, so this rezoning was not deemed a critical loss to the township’s preservation and wildlife space. Furthermore, the area in the property farthest from Route 1 is shown to be wetlands, and so may be left alone.
Traffic engineer James Kochenaur also hopes to see real-time traffic data from the tenants’ other locations, in order to allot the right amount of parking space and leave the rest as greenspace.
Overall, the Board and Technical Review Committee believed the plan was substantially complicant of the necessary regulations, though the few issue areas that required further addressing from the applicant was how drivers would access nearby properties, the B-2 conditional uses of a hotel, and any traffic concerns. If approved, the rezoning would occur as part of West Windsor’s Master Plan review in the upcoming year.
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