Drug store supplants shop, homes

By Ron Leir
Observer Correspondent


Developers had reason to cheer but also jeer in the wake of separate decisions by two of the town’s regulatory boards last week.

Kearny will be getting a new chain drug store on its main business district but the proposed conversion of a vacant box factory to residential lofts won’t be happening.

Last Tuesday, the Kearny Zoning Board of Adjustment voted 5-2 to approve an application filed by Mark Development Co., of New York and Massachusetts, to build a Walgreens Pharmacy at 453-467 Kearny Ave., partly on the site of the old Lynn Chevrolet property.

To make way for the 12,670 square foot, one-story building, including a drive-thru, and 41-space parking lot, the contractor will be tearing down the old auto showroom/ service center, the Irish Quality Gift Shop and the old Teddy’s bar, all on Kearny Ave., along with two houses on Quincy Ave.

Testimony by the applicant’s experts indicated that once building permits are issued and work begins, final build-out is projected for 12 to 14 months, unless an appeal of the zoning board’s decision is filed by an objector.

Local attorney Gary Bennett, who represented the applicant at public hearings that stretched over March 4 and April 1, said that the new pharmacy represented a “multi-million” dollar project but declined to be more specific.

This will be Kearny’s first Walgreens. Oddly, there is another Walgreens only a six-minute drive north on Ridge Road (an extension of Kearny Ave. in Bergen County) in neighboring North Arlington.

And that’s one reason why zoning board member Cecilia Lindenfelser opposed the application, which mandated the applicant to get five votes for a “D” or use variance to consolidate residential and commercial lots at the project site. (The board also granted subdivision and site plan approvals.)

Lindenfelser told The Observer that she felt the applicant didn’t show, as required under what she characterized as a “strict reading” of the D variance law, “that the land was particularly suited to the proposed use. I didn’t hear any testimony about that. … I felt other uses could be accommodated.”

“In general,” Lindenfelser said, “the proposal was a decent one,” but not at the cost of “destroying Kearny’s small town flavor by putting a big box store there. We already have two CVS [stores] and a RiteAid.”

Business at two nearby mom-and-pop Kearny Ave. pharmacies, Arlington Pharmacy & Surgical, just a half block away, and Midtown Pharmacy, about four blocks north of the site, are likely to be impacted by the chain, some observers believe.

Board member James Hill, disturbed by what he perceived as a disruption to the neighborhood’s character, also dissented.

Some neighbors voiced concerns about the prospect of noise from overhead air-conditioning units at the store and unpleasant visual aesthetics that, they said, exposed HVAC units would pose while others worried whether delivery trucks would block traffic in and out of the parking lot.

Among a list of conditions to which the board attached its approval of the application were these:

• Redesign the store’s façade to reflect more of an historic red brick look to blend into the neighborhood.

• Modify the drive-thru canopy to allow access by emergency vehicles.

• Reconfigure a retaining wall on the north side of the property to insert masonry infills.

• For egress to and from the site, restrict vehicles exiting the south driveway to right turns only onto Kearny Ave.

• Restrict deliveries via the Kearny Ave. entrance, not via Quincy Ave.

• Screen off HVAC roof units for benefit of neighbors.

• Coordinate any removal and/or replanting of trees with town and neighbors.

Board attorney Michael Pichowicz told The Observer that the board “wrestled” with the notion of a “larger anchor store” impacting local small businesses but that the majority was persuaded that a property now standing fallow would be “put to viable use,” that the project would “contribute to the town’s tax base and create new jobs.”

According to testimony, Walgreens expects to hire between 25 to 30 employees to staff the store from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. during the week, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays. It anticipates extended hours on holidays.

Meanwhile, at last Wednesday night’s meeting of the Kearny Planning Board, the issue debated by the board was whether to approve an application by 300 Hoyt St. Associates of Newark to convert an old box factory at the foot of Hoyt St., east of Schuyler Ave., to 37 loft-style rental apartments with surface-level parking.

The same applicant had come before the board in 2007 and had sought approvals for 42 condomium apartments with underground parking but never proceeded with the project.

This time around, the applicant revised the plans with fewer and smaller apartments and ground-level parking but several board members, including Mayor Alberto Santos, had concerns about flooding of the parking area. If that happens, the mayor said, then those tenants are “going to be competing for spaces with residents up the hill.”

Aside from excess water during high-tide events, neighbors told the board that they have seen raw sewage flowing, as well.

Town officials being well aware of flooding conditions in the area during “high tide events” and downpours have applied to FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) for funding to secure and install upgraded pump equipment to try and remedy the situation, Santos said. So far, however, FEMA has been silent, he added.

Board member Jonathan Giordano said that he felt the property could be put to better use by, for example, converting it to a self-storage facility rather than studio apartments which, in his view, would tend to attract transients unlikely to take much interest in the town.

In the end, the application was defeated by a 5-4 vote, with Giordano, Ann Farrell, Dan McNamara and Fred Esteves joining Santos in opposing it while Town Administrator/ Construction Code Official Michael Martello, James Doran, Lynne Schantz and James Capobianco voted for it.

Attorney John Johnson, who serves as counsel to the Harrison Redevelopment Agency, represented the applicant. Johnson couldn’t be reached last week to learn if he planned to appeal the board’s ruling.

In other action, the board voted to approve an application by AT&T and Singular Wireless to install a cellular phone tower at 48 Third St. in South Kearny to expand coverage in that area and along the Pulaski Skyway.

The Observer Staff