Chick-fil-A, Panera Bread Plans Expected to Be Heard Before New Year

Nov 21, 2018
File Photo by: Ryan Morrill Stafford Township Building

A lot can happen in a year, but not for those individuals waiting for the arrival of Chick-fil-A and Panera Bread, expected to take over the vacant bank/medical office space on the north side of Route 72.

In the more than 12 months since Stafford Township Administrator James Moran gave a report saying the two national-chain fast-food businesses were coming to town, almost nothing has happened at the site. That was until almost a month ago, when the state Department of Transportation began clearing trees as part of an upcoming interchange project at East Road. The movement had many speculating about the timing of Chick-fil-A and Panera’s arrival in town.

The bad news: Neither will be here before the end of the year. The good news: The Stafford Township Planning Board is expected to hear an application on the project Dec. 19 – if revised plans are submitted to the planning office by Dec. 5. That would allow township officials and professionals enough time to review the application.

At the planning board’s caucus meeting earlier this month, John Hess, board engineer, addressed some of the outstanding issues with the application.

“We’re not interested in the buildings,” Hess said, “but site improvements and whether it will all be done at once.”

Without an answer to that question, it’s hard to determine how other elements of the project are going to work out, including hours of operation, traffic flow into and off the site as well as traffic flow for drive-thru windows. Panera has yet to provide any information to the board regarding number of seats, either interior or exterior. Those numbers help determine the appropriate number of allotted parking spaces.

As the plans currently stand, Chick-fil-A is asking for 114 seats indoors and some outdoor seating as well. That outdoor seating figure needs to be clarified for Chick-fil-A, according to township professionals. The proposal calls for providing 63 parking spaces. Plans for its three drive-thru lanes is “weird,” according to Charlie Cunliffe, the board’s traffic engineer. It’s a quick left, then a right coupled with motorists going to the south exit.

Cunliffe said he is interested in seeing the circulation plans for emergency vehicles, trash pickup, delivery and loading – “Things of that nature,” he told the applicant while also saying they should be prepared to discuss traffic flow for alternate ordering at the drive-thru windows and how other vehicles would get where they need to go.

The applicant is responsible for the construction of two building pads on site. After that, the pads would be turned over to Chick-fil-A and Panera Bread for construction of the buildings as they meet corporate, franchise requirements.

The board has already received the architectural plans for Chick-fil-A, but not for Panera Bread. Representatives for the applicant admitted it's been slower going obtaining information from Panera’s corporate offices. Since the businesses are franchises, corporate could make some smaller tweaks of the individual buildings. To do so, they would have to come back before the planning board.

Additionally, township officials, especially Mayor John Spodofora, had questions about stormwater management and retention basins on the site. Other concerns include the applicant using the incorrect figures for determining drainage. For the pre-build calculation, the figures were based off Atlantic County; for the post-build calculation, Ocean County numbers were used.

Representatives for the applicant said during the caucus the Coastal Area Facilities Review Act permit process was near completion. They erroneously believe the application also needs to be seen by the Pinelands Commission. While the property does overlap between the two entities, CAFRA has, and officials must merely let the Pinelands Commission know about the application.

If revised plans are not submitted to the planning office by Dec. 5, the application would be pushed until the New Year. In the meantime, the state DOT is moving ahead with the $8.6-million, federally funded project to provide highway and signal intersection improvements to address congestion as well as safety concerns.

The improvements are scheduled to include the addition of a 10-foot shoulder in each direction on Route 72 between the Garden State Parkway and the Stafford Square Shopping Center, median widening and new barrier curbs, plus new traffic signals and roadway improvements at two Route 72 intersections – Roosevelt Boulevard and Doc Cramer Boulevard.

On Oct. 1, the state began clearing trees along Route 72 just to the west of KFC, as it prepared to create a new culvert and a revised jughandle circling a water basin from Route 72 westbound to a relocated East Road – slated to move approximately 200 feet east from its current location.

“The East Road project has been in the works for more than 14 years,” Moran said recently. “And now we’re seeing it finally getting done. The DOT is starting its work on the eastbound side, in the right-of-way, clearing trees and so forth, and now it should be continuous work through the end of next year.”

Additionally, two new stormwater basins will be constructed farther down on Route 72 westbound, and West Road will be relocated east from its current location between McDonald’s and Mr. Tire to a new location between Element restaurant and Starboard Plaza. Washington Road, located parallel to Route 72, will end at the new West Road.

— Gina G. Scala

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