Construction should begin "any day now" on a new 7-Eleven store located at the corner of Valley Street and Parker Avenue across from Columbia High School, according to the developer's attorney.
"We are ready to go, as soon as permits are pulled," said Louis Rago, attorney for Ali Enterprises, LLC.
Rago recently appeared before the Maplewood Zoning Board of Adjustment to clarify whether a provision in the developer's agreement that stipulated that construction could only take place in summer, to minimize disruption during the school year, was a condition of approval. At its meeting on Sept. 5, the board said it was not, clearing the way for the project to begin.
The convenience store has a lengthy and complicated history.
The 1,800-square-foot store was first proposed by Ali, which owns the Shell Station currently on the site, in January of 2010. Residents expressed concern about proximity of the new building to nearby houses and to the high school, among other issues.
At meetings in the spring of 2011, experts for the developer asked the Board of Adjustment to grant a use variance, asserting that the current location would be more than adequate for both uses -- convenience store and gas station -- if it were subdivided.
The developer made adjustments to the original site plan, which included creating a raised sidewalk at the east side of the property for the safety of high school students, adding a chain link fence and curb cuts to ease traffic flow.
However, a group of residents countered with their own experts who testified that those changes would not compensate for the added congestion of more vehicles and foot traffic. Residents also circulated a petition against the variance.
The South Orange - Maplewood Board of Education and Maplewood's Mayor Vic DeLuca both opposed the project, citing safety concerns.
Still, at its meeting in May 2011, the Zoning Board voted 5-2 to allow the variance, with one caveat: the store would not be open 24 hours a day, but rather from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. In June 2011, Patch reported that 7-Eleven would not move ahead with the project because of that restriction.
According to Rago, that sticking point was the main cause of the delay in the project's commencement. "We were attempting to get something palatable for both 7-Eleven and my client," he said. That issue was settled in the spring.