20 Aug 2014
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White Castle Sliding onto 36 or Crawling?

As planning board testimony continues, applicant's attorney seeks waiver from 50-foot-buffer requirements. Nearby residents press for board to enforce zoning laws.

White Castle Sliding onto 36 or Crawling? White Castle Sliding onto 36 or Crawling? White Castle Sliding onto 36 or Crawling?

representatives are finding themselves on a slippery slope as they try to persuade township officials to let them build one of their fast-food restaurants on Route 36 in the  section of Middletown.

When or if the Columbus, Ohio-based fast-food chain will be allowed to construct a new sit-down and drive-in location east of the state highway's intersection with is up to the

Right now, shoehorning White Castle's building, its 36-stall parking lot, buffers and a shed for dumpsters onto the selected 1.5 acre site are all obstacles for the applicant.

Meanwhile, nine property owners living on Chestnut Street, which runs directly behind the proposed eatery site are concerned about noise, traffic, lighting and smells emanating from the restaurant disrupting the quality of life in their neighborhood.

That's all the more reason for the board to insist upon the 50-foot-buffer, according to Chestnut Street resident Shannon Ecklof, whose backyard backs up to the White Castle property line.

A 50-foot-buffer, not the 24-foot-buffer proposed by the applicant, is needed to shield the homes and yards that back up to the site's property line, Ecklof said on Wednesday.

However, in a Jan. 17 letter to board members and township officials, White Castle's attorney, Reginald Jenkins, Jr. asked for a waiver from requiring the 50-foot-high buffer at the rear property line.

A 24-foot-high buffer consisting of landscaping and a solid fence, is the best that White Castle can provide without crowding out the area needed for traffic flow around its main 1,952-square-foot building, wrote Jenkins, of Woodcliff Lake, Bergen County.

White Castle cannot move its building closer to Route 36 or decrease the size of its parking area or traffic lanes without violating local zoning laws, Jenkins wrote.

"The site cannot provide a 50-foot buffer against the abutting residential uses while simultaneously remaining in compliance with the zoning ordinances and the front setback requirement," Jenkins wrote.

Jenkins also argued that four of the Chestnut Street properties, including Ecklof's, are non-conforming uses in the B-3 business zones where White Castle is looking to build.

However, the four Chestnut Street properties are effectively grandfathered into the business zone courtesy of a that allows them to continue existing as homes in a business zone, said Ecklof, who has hired an attorney to represent him at board hearings on the application.

"Funny how [Jenkins] fails to mention Ordinance 16-701 that clearly states that [our homes] are a permitted, lawful use of the land or a building existing at the time that ordinance was adopted," Ecklof said.

Many of the Chestnut Street houses, some of which are over 60 years old, stood long before the current B-3 zone was in place, Ecklof pointed out.

"I had a title search done and my house is 79 or 80 years old," said Ecklof, who purchased and moved into his residence in 1998.

During forthcoming hearings, Ecklof said he and his Chestnut Street neighbors expect to have their own planner and a traffic expert testify and present their issues to the board.

In particular, Ecklof said he and other nearby residents fear for the safety of children coming from the situated at Route 36 and Main Street.

Because the entrance to White Castle would be located just several feet east of the one-lane turnoff leading from northbound Main Street to eastbound Route 36, Ecklof worries that motorists entering the restaurant's parking lot might not see vehicles coming onto the highway from the turnoff.

Plans for the restaurant, as filed in township offices, show a single entrance and exit to the site from Route 36. The entrance and exit would be separated by a triangular concrete island.

"The highway entrance and exit location is just dangerous for motorists and pedestrians alike," Ecklof said.

Although Ecklof and his neighbors would prefer that the proposed White Castle not be constructed at all, they believe the board will be fair to both the applicant and the residents of surrounding areas.

"So far, we're happy that the planning board is showing concern about overdevelopment and the impact on the local community," Ecklof said. "We're happy that they're focused on that."

Hearings on the pending application began on Nov. 3 and continued at the board's Jan. 4 meeting according to . Testimony from White Castle's planner was expected to resume at Wednesday night's board meeting.

Known for its signature, square hamburger known as "The Original Slider," White Castle has one relatively nearby location on Route 35 in Eatontown across from Monmouth Mall. That White Castle operates its sit-down and drive-thru business 24 hours, seven days a week.

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