Walgreens approved in Franklin

Drive-through nixed, but 24-hour pharmacy gets nod

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BY SCOTT BAKER
After nearly six months of expert testimony, pleas from the public and hours of legal counsel from each side, Franklin’s Zoning Board of Adjustment voted 4-3 to approve Eden Franklin, LLC’s proposal for a 24-hour Walgreens on Route 23 South and Washington Avenue.

The drive-through portion of the proposal didn’t fare as well, however, as a super-majority of five votes was required due to the difference in the type of variance sought by the developer. Here, the four acceding votes supplied by acting chairwoman Liz Bonis, RichardGardell, Mark Correal and Joseph Martinez were not enough to outweigh the three protesting votes of Kevin Lermond, John Kopcso and Martin Swiss.

Regular board chairman Richard Kell and vice-chair Louise Murphy both had to recuse themselves from the matter due to their service on the Franklin School Board, whose elementary school abuts the property in question. First alternate Ethel Alexander also recused herself due to her living in the immediate area. Lermond, normally a planning board member, was able to step in and serve with Second alternate Martinez to fill the board.

The arguments
Attorney John McDermott, representing the Save Our Neighborhood group - which is opposed to the plan - was the first to offer his summary of testimony. “The first basis of why you should deny [the proposal],” he told the board, “is the site is too small for what they are trying to do.”

The 1.59 acre plot of land, which is now home to an unused Gulf station and residence at 30 Auche Drive, will be a tight fit for the 14,500 square-foot pharmacy, which Franklin’s master plan states would need a minimum lot size of five acres. The fact that the lot size is so much smaller and directly connected to a residential development on three sides raised the hackles of those in the neighborhood, leading to the formation of Save Our Neighborhood.

McDermott added that Eden Franklin’s claim that the property is “undevelopable” is invalid because the property is already developed.

Debra Nicholson, attorney for Eden Franklin, said the property's commercial value is obsolete. “The gas station there is no longer the model of what a gas station is today,” she said.

Other arguments for the Walgreens project include the revenue it will contribute to the borough and the convenience it will offer to its residents.

Opponents contested that Walgreens’ estimated 700 daily customers would worsen traffic and create a safety hazard, especially for residents and children living in the immediate area.

What’s next?
While both sides had something to cheer about after the May 1 meeting, the fight is likely not over. Each side brought up the possibility of legal challenges.

For Walgreens, whose layouts are “a tried and true plan for them,” according to Eden Franklin architect Kenneth Mihalik, losing the drive-through pharmacy could “significantly compromise” the project.

McDermott argued that the store, even without the drive through, would violate Franklin’s master plan and would severely impact the character of the residential neighborhood.

If the decision to approve the store gets overturned, it would be the second blow to Franklin’s future ratable base in the last few months as Walmart recently decided to pull out of their construction of a Super Walmart store on Route 23.

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