LOWER MAKEFIELD >> The Board of Supervisors on June 11 tabled a motion to advertise an overlay district that could open the doors to the development of a Wegman’s Supermarket in the township’s office research zone.
The supervisors met virtually for more than three hours to review a proposed overlay district that would allow two parcels of land in the office research zone to be developed with a mix of commercial and residential uses. The 37 acre site is located on Stony Hill Road between Township Line and the Newtown Bypass across from Shady Brook Farm.
If the overlay is ultimately approved by the board of supervisors, DeLuca Homes and Equus Capital Partners (Shady Brook Investors LP) are expected to submit development plans to the township for Prickett Preserve at Edgewood, a mixed use development anchored by a Wegman’s, 200 luxury apartments and clubhouse and 55,000 square feet of commercial space, including restaurant and retail uses.
In addition, the plan envisions repurposing an historic farmhouse and barn as part of the retail development of the site, preservation of a number of old growth trees, public spaces and walking and bicycle trails.
The plan, said the development group’s Attorney Steve Harris, is in keeping with an update to the township’s comprehensive plan, which identified additional uses, including mixed use projects, in the office research zone either as permitted uses or under an overlay district. The township made the changes in response to a shift in the marketplace away from office parks.
After hearing from the developer and from the public, the board voted to table discussion to allow time for the developer to update and revise the proposed ordinance based on the outcome of Thursday’s discussion. The board did not set a date for its next meeting on the ordinance.
“We’re looking to approve an overlay district only. We’re not looking to completely change the zoning,” explained supervisor Dan Grenier. “An overlay district provides additional development options. It does not replace the existing OR zone.”
Leading off the discussion was a presentation by the development group’s traffic engineer, Chris Williams from McMahan Associates, who outlined $6.5 million worth of recommended off site road improvements being proposed by the developer.
Under the Municipalities Planning Code, the township can’t require a developer to make offsite improvements. But Harris said when the project’s prime tenant, Wegman’s, reviewed the recommendations, it insisted that as a condition of their participation in the project the development group pay for the installation of the improvements.
“We understand that traffic is an important consideration,” said Harris. “And we believe this will improve the traffic situation over what it is there today and this will be a true advantage to the township.”
The recommended changes, said Williams, are designed to improve traffic conditions post development at three major intersections - Stony Hill Road and the Newtown Bypass, Stony Hill and Township Line roads and at the I-295 westbound off ramp at Route 332.
The improvements include:
Widening and improving the Route 332 and Stony Hill Road intersection to include a second westbound left turn lane for a total of two left turn lanes onto southbound Stony Hill Road.
A third eastbound through lane along the bypass that will terminate at the I-295 ramp.
Reconfiguring the I-295 West off ramp at Route 332 to provide a separate left turn lane and a second right turn lane to ease traffic backups on the ramp.
Modifying the traffic signal operations at Stony Hill and Township Line Roads to provide a right turn signal phase to more easily accommodate the turn movement from west bound Stony Hill onto north bound Stony Hill Road.
“We know traffic is an issue in the area today. We have seen first hand and we have heard from the community just how congested these roads can be,” said Williams. “Over time, whether this site is developed or not, traffic conditions will get worse without traffic improvements, which really those traffic improvements are needed today.
“With the improvements,” said Williams, “traffic conditions will dramatically improve and even with the added traffic from a mixed use development on this property conditions will improve and for the critical locations along the bypass traffic conditions will be better than they are today.”
According to Williams, without any improvements, the Route 332 and Stony Hill Road intersection and the I-295 off ramp would operate at a level of service E and F based on an A to F scale.
With the improvements and the mixed use development, Williams said the level of service would increase to a C and D at Stony Hill and the bypass and to a Level D at the offramp, both of which he said are “highly effective traffic conditions at a high volume intersection.
“In the future with normal traffic growth and traffic from the development of the property and the estimated $6.5 million in traffic improvements we can improve traffic conditions dramatically,” said Williams. “And the critical bypass intersections will operate better than they do today solving what we know today is a real traffic problem.”
The township’s traffic engineer agreed with the assessment after reading the developer’s traffic study.
“Those intersections that are experiencing delays today will all be better. There will be significant improvements if the developer makes these improvements that they have identified.”
In addition, Willians recommended a number of on site traffic improvements including the creation of a new signalized full intersection at Shady Brook Farm, two right in and right out access driveways into the site and the realignment of Stony Hill Road over I-295 to provide room for a new bike lane connecting Edgewood Village with Prickets Preserve.
During the meeting, the supervisors also went step by step through the proposed ordinance, asking the developer to reduce the woodlands disturbance from 60 to 50 percent, to require that drive-throughs be considered as a conditional versus a permitted use, limiting the size of big box uses at the site, allowing input on the aesthetics of the buildings and paring back on the number of bonus provisions in the ordinance.
One bonus provision that Grenier said he’d like to keep is the one encouraging connectivity of the site. “That’s one thing this ordinance commits to and maintains and emphasizes. It’s a key aspect,” he said.