The Planning Board approved the White Castle application by a vote of 7-1 Monday night.
“I feel that it would have a significant effect on traffic, impact the quality of life in Lacey and contribute to safety problems,” said Vice Chairman Charles Wood, the lone vote in opposition.
The application was approved with cross access to Sunrise Plaza, and the store only will be open from 6 a.m. until 1 a.m. rather than 24 hours.
While an entrance and exit to Sunrise Boulevard remains, an ingress to Sunrise Plaza will be on the west side of the property and an egress lane will be on the east. The applicant was unable to get approval from the state Department of Transportation for its own entrance and exit on Route 9.
An application has been submitted to the DOT to widen Sunrise Boulevard on the White Castle frontage to increase access to the right turn lane. The middle lane would be converted to a dual through lane and a left turn lane. The application also seeks to change the timing of the traffic signal.
The applicant also agreed to investigate, along with the DOT, the possibility of widening the right corner of the intersection to make turning easier.
A presentation was made on a new traffic study that was conducted on Friday and Saturday of Memorial Day weekend from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“We substantiated the prior analysis,” the applicant’s traffic planner Elizabeth Dollan said.
The original traffic impact analysis was done during the winter of 2009, when White Castle originally came to the Planning Board. The study takes into account the restaurant’s busiest hours and peak season periods, including a potential 20 percent traffic increase during the summer, Dollan said.
“We counted continuously from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.,” she said. “The Route 9 volumes that were recorded Memorial Day Weekend were actually lower than those that had been calculated with the 20 percent seasonal adjustment factor.”
Committeeman Gary Quinn referred to the 2009 findings, although they were not seasonally adjusted, according to Dollan. During Memorial Day Weekend on Friday, 720 cars were counted going through the southbound side of Route 9 opposed to 249 in December 2009. The figures used in the traffic study were seasonally adjusted and upward of 800 cars, Dollan said.
On Friday, more cars were able to make it through the intersection, she said. Nine to 10 vehicles made it through the light from Sunrise Boulevard on Friday compared to seven to eight vehicles on Saturday. But 12 to 13 cars will be able to be stacked on Sunrise before the White Castles proposed driveway location.
With cross access to Sunrise Plaza, turners onto Sunrise will be reduced, she said. Dollan predicted more customers would enter through Sunrise Plaza on Route 9 than on Sunrise Boulevard.
“White Castle isn’t a very high generator,” she said, adding that there will be no changes to traffic as a result of White Castle activity.
Forked River resident Camillo Papa questioned why the applicant would not consider a less restrictive site, such as at the shopping center across the street.
“We’re going through a lot to squeeze in White Castle,” he said. “I’m not against White Castle.”
The site was “appropriately designed,” Dollan said. “The problem is that the intersection was blown out to accommodate the shopping center across the street.”
With 30 to 36 cars per hour projected to turn out of White Castle onto Sunrise Boulevard to then make a left onto Route 9 South, Papa sees this as the real issue.
“So we have this traffic problem that exists with less than what’s even projected,” he said. “It’s not your problem but you’re adding to our problem.”
The site plan includes 1.71 acres and is currently developed as an abandoned one-story building. The application was approved with four variances — lot width, minimum side yard setback from Sunrise, two freestanding signs and freestanding clearance sign.
The major variance the applicant sought was minimum side yard setback because of the site's small rectangular shape, which was one any developer would face on this property, planner Michael Kauker said.
“The site otherwise complies with the township's ordinances,” he said. "Although we don't meet the letter of the law, I believe the setback is sufficient."
The site will have 24 parking spaces in addition to the drive through, which is expected to accommodate 50 to 60 percent of the customers. The site has crosswalks and the building will have the typical white stone with the blue and white awnings.
“I’m fully aware of the restrictions and problems they presented,” Forked River resident David Menold said. “I think if there is any hardship involved in approval for variances, it solely rests on their shoulders and not on the residents of Sunrise.”
The application was approved with the following conditions: the applicant must satisfy all requirements in its June 8 letter to the board engineer; install a 6-foot white vinyl fence on the east side of the lot; investigate widening the turn on the southeast corner of the lot; request to push back the northbound lanes going into Home Depot; all DOT issues must be approved; deliveries are only between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.; trash containers will be placed throughout the site; policing of the area will be done daily; the cross access agreement stays in place; the Sunrise Beach sign will be preserved; and the store will be open between 6 a.m. and 1 a.m.
“We want to minimize the impact it’s going to have,” Quinn said. “We unfortunately have to have a balance because it is a commercial zone. You have to try to find as good as a situation for the residents as you possibly can… We don’t know if this applicant wasn’t to build there, who else would be coming in.”
The decision was a difficult one that was not taken lightly, he said.