Architects, engineers, and corporate representatives from Walgreens faced a battery of questions at last night’s meeting of the planning board, as the Springfield Avenue location appears to be only slightly closer to becoming a reality.
Members of the Maplewood Township’s planning board, as well as residents, were primarily concerned about increased traffic from customers and delivery trucks, lighting issues and security. Walgreens architects have changed the site plan on issues ranging from door appearances to the distance the building will be from the bordering residential properties.
“It has been a very complicated project, but in the end it paid off. I’m very comfortable with the site plan and very happy with the aesthetic,” said Conrad Roncati, Walgreens’ architect.
The store plans to run a 24-hour drive-through pharmacy operation that was not stated in earlier plans. The proposal emerged in early July as the Township was considering legislation to prohibit around-the-clock businesses in the redevelopment zone. The drugstore warned that they wouldn’t open if the law passed. A newer version of the ordinance passed at the last Township Committee meeting included an exception for pharmacies and emergency medical facilities.
Still, members of the board and the public were not convinced a 24-hour drive-through was necessary. Planning Board member Nancy Adams pointed out that similar 24-hour pharmacies were in the area and another one would be redundant. Meanwhile, residents from adjacent properties were irked by the possibility of increased nighttime traffic.
James O’Malley, Walgreens’ district manager for New Jersey East, argued that the proposal is a service to its clientele and gives an important competitive advantage.
“We have a lot of prescriptions," he said. "We have disabled clientele. We have elderly clientele. It’s a big advantage for them not to exit their car to pick up the prescriptions."
Residents believe the store could find an alternative to serve those customers.
“Delivery. Pharmacies used to deliver. If you’re worried about the elderly and the sick, deliver,” said Alan Kass, who manages two adjacent properties.
Though the company has promised to press on with plans to operate the 24-hour drive-through, they have already made changes to accommodate concerns about daytime traffic.
According to O’Malley, the store is estimated to receive 82 deliveries a week. The company has agreed to restrict delivery hours to between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Facing concerns from the board and public about increased traffic, including children walking home from nearby Seth Boyden Elementary School, the company has agreed to schedule deliveries during non-school arrival or dismissal hours only.
The company also went on the record with the Township to assume responsibility for the area surrounding the property. In addition to garbage pickups several times a week—during business hours—officials stated that no waste materials, crates, or other items would be left outdoors and that they would clean and maintain the lots and sidewalks around the property.
Several residents were uncomfortable about lights and signage from the area lighting up bedrooms and disturbing their sleep. The Walgreens sign is estimated to sit about the level of a second floor window. It will be internally lit LED lights, and from a distance of 10 feet will illuminate at very low levels, testified Brett Skapinetz, the site engineer. At 70 feet—the distance to the nearest house— he said “It is not only negligible, it’s zero.”
Walgreens representatives noted that the daytime and evening shifts would be staffed by 10 to 12 workers each, and the overnight shift, running from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., would have about four people and an armed guard or police officer. The company hasn’t yet determined if an evening guard would be required.
Walgreens still has one witness remaining to testify at the August 11th meeting. Following that presentation, residents will be allowed to offer their own testimony for or against the proposal. The Springfield Avenue Partnership has not yet seen the latest versions of the plans, and any vote by the Township planning board would be conditional on acceptance from the neighborhood partnership.