A controversial development near the traffic congested area of 89th Street and Tonnelle Avenue was the subject of even more controversy at a Zoning Board of Adjustment meeting last Wednesday.
Residents and concerned citizens groups have attended previous meetings in droves to oppose a new liquor store planned for near the Wal-Mart in uptown North Bergen. Residents say that the liquor store, Somsovino’s, will only worsen traffic congestion in the area.
During past hearings, however, an attorney for the liquor store challenged the residents, charging that they were paid to oppose the project on behalf of Tonnelle Wine & Liquors, a nearby liquor store.
Developer Jim Ipex has converted the back of his Ipex Home Supply and created 30,309 square feet of retail space as NHB Enterprises, LLC. Once approved, Somsovinos’ liquor store will occupy one of the six stores. The strip mall would abut the mall along 89th Street and Tonnelle Avenue containing a Walmart, BJ’s Wholesale, Staples, and other stores.
The retail space requires several variances from the board because it encroaches in a public right of way and intersects two zoning districts.
The matter has been ongoing since the North Bergen Planning Board approved the plan, with numerous stipulations, in April of 2010. However, Ipex has not yet received a certificate of occupancy for his site, according to attorneys.
At the meeting, Ira Weiner, an attorney for the nearby Tonnelle Wine and Liquors’ owner Larry Wainstein, complained that the zoning board hearing was rescheduled without sufficient notice, and a spokesman for a concerned citizens group charged that the meeting was intentionally concealed to prevent residents from attending the meeting to oppose the project.
Board attorney John Deneen said that he had accidentally given Weiner the wrong information, and that a notice had been placed on the door informing the public of the new time.
“This notice is no good,” said Weiner, who added that the board failed to reschedule the hearing to a date of a regularly scheduled meeting.
“I would appreciate that somebody call me and make sure the date is O.K. for me,” added Weiner. “Nobody called me.”
The board responded that there had been a miscommunication and that Weiner would be notified in the future.
‘I don’t see why we’re here’
During the meeting Alvaro Alonso, an attorney for the developer, said that the Planning Board permission received in 2010 was still valid because the application had hardly changed since.
Weiner said that if the board had agreed that the application did not change much since it was approved by the Planning Board in 2010, he saw no reason for a Board of Adjustment hearing.
“I want to be clear whether or not the board considers the old application viable,” said Weiner. “If it is, and those approvals are good, than why are we here in front of this board? I don’t see why we’re here.”
“We don’t have the same authority that the Planning Board has,” said Deneen. “Correspondingly, they don’t have the same authority we have.”
Deneen also said that the Board of Adjustment has jurisdiction due to the variances and changes in the application.
According to Demetrios Kaltsis, an expert architect for Alonso, the developer is asking the board to allow the building to encroach on a public right of way, and include an additional 12 parking spaces as well as a handicapped space.
When asked about the encroachment, Kaltsis said that the impact was minimal.
“The [building] does encroach into the right of way, but we do allow enough space for someone to walk on the sidewalk,” said Kaltsis.
‘No negative impact’
Traffic expert and engineer Joseph Staiger testified on behalf of the developer that the development would cause a minimal increase in traffic.
“The net increase of traffic vehicles would be about 50 trips during the p.m. peak hour,” said Staiger, “and 56 trips during the Saturday peak hour.”
“When you have an increase of 100 trips per hour at any particular section, you have potential for an impact,” continued Staiger. “An increase of  would not cause a negative impact to that intersection. It would still operate at good levels of service.”
The state is currently installing a new left turn lane into the shopping center to ease traffic, which has only one entrance and exit. The project, however, has been ongoing for years, and residents have attended Board of Commissioners meetings to complain about the construction’s worsening of the traffic situation (see our Feb. 19 story).
Weiner contested the data relied upon in Staiger’s traffic reports.
“Part of your opinion is based on some other study that was not submitted to anybody or the board,” said Weiner. “Did you use data for peak hours, or just [data] from an average hour during the day?”
Staiger said he used data from an average hour to make a projection and compared it to official studies prepared by the Department of Transportation and other traffic study organizations.
The matter will continue before the Zoning Board of Adjustment, and is currently scheduled for the regular meeting on May 2.
Stephen LaMarca may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.