The Vernon Township Council on Feb. 8. changed the zoning of a property in the Town Center to allow a gas station/convenience store on the old D&S Mall site.
The ordinance passed 4-0 over numerous objections from the public and surrounding property owners. Council vice president John Auberger abstained.
Attorney William Askien of the Askien and Hooker law firm represents the Shotmeyer family, which owns the Lukoil station and Mini-Mart at the corner of Route 94 and County Highway 515. The ordinance was “fundamentally unfair,” he said, calling it “spot zoning disguised as a master plan” reimagined.
He said the proposed Circle K gas station and convenience store would cripple Shotmeyer family’s business. “Nobody is against or opposed to new development,” Askien said, “but people do oppose it when it’s likely to negatively oppose existing businesses that have been around all these years.”
Chuck Shotmeyer said his family also owns 541 Route 515 and has owned property in the township adjoining the Lukoil station, which he hopes to redevelop. The family worked with the township’s historical group and paid for moving the Mixing Bowl Restaurant.
“We’ve done all this knowing there is a master plan in place,” Shotmeyer said. “We understand there were no more gas stations permitted in that zone. We continued to do our part and our best as a business citizen in the community.”
Residents surrounding the site, especially on Guthrie Road, which runs behind the D&S Mall, complained the township gave no advanced warning of the meeting and no notification about the proposed the Circle K gas station.
Township attorney Josh Zielinski said the requirement to adopt the redevelopment ordinance has the same notification requirements as any other ordinance the township adopts.
With the ordinance now approved, the property owners will send a site plan application to the Vernon Township Land Use Board. At that point, all the notification requirements would apply under the law, including notifications to anyone close to the site. “There’s nothing deficient about this ordinance,” Zielinski said.
Jasvinder Arjani of Bertin Engineering, the project manager for the proposed Circle K, said the plan is now just a concept, and that notices will be sent out when it goes before the Land Use Board. He said the project is a commercial and retail use, which is the property’s current use, and the only addition will be the gas station.
Residents also expressed concern about apartments to be located above the store, which Arjani said were for the people who will work at the business.
Others at a previous meeting said gas stations may become obsolete in ten years. But Arjani said the station will provide at least two charging stations for electric cars.
“There is no guarantee the Land Use Board will approve everything they present,” Mayor Howard Burrell said. “We have standards in this town.”
Councilwoman Toni Cilli said the Circle K isn’t anyone’s first choice for that property.
“We need something,” she said. “That’s what came to us. That’s what wants to build here. We all want restaurants. We all want little shops. That’s what I want. But we have to be business friendly to those who want to come here. We have to start somewhere.”