HAZLET – Costco Wholesale got the green light from the Land Use Board Thursday night to proceed with its plans to build a 9-pump canopied fuel station at the site of the vacant Bertucci’s restaurant building.
Prior to winning the unanimous vote of approval, a planner for Costco asked to the board to consider the fueling station’s appropriateness for the commercially zoned site, Costco’s service to the public, its contemporary aesthetic design and ultimately the plan’s contribution to Hazlet’s economic development goals.
“Certainly, the image of the site now, in its dormant, stagnant state is not adding to the community,” said licensed planner, John McDonough of Morris Plains, testifying on behalf of Costco. “This is going to add life. This is going to give a fresh look. It certainly showcases your community as a positive place to invest for national brands, that attracts other national brands as well.”
Nationwide, Costco is adding fuel stations to its successful wholesale shopping centers. The 25-acre location in Hazlet is among the last 20 percent of Costco stores without one, said John-Paul Andrews, who oversees Costco commercial development on the East Coast, Canada and Puerto Rico. It’s not because it wasn’t considered, though. He explained the company had been working with Rave Cinema to situate a fueling station in the rear of Rave’s property but then paused when Bertucci’s Restaurant, Costco’s subtenant, suddenly closed its doors. That meant their prime highway location was available, a sunken lot behind a grassy berm but with valuable highway visibility. So they pivoted.
Throughout the nation, Costco’s coveted discounted gas is only accessible to Costco membership card holders. Membership starts at $60 annually. But in New Jersey, Costco must serve gas to any driver that rolls up to the pump. It’s not something Costco publicizes, said Andrews.
Costco only accepts Visa and cash cards, but does not accept cash.
The fuel station on State Highway 35 will open at 6 a.m. It will close one hour after Costco Wholesale closes. According to licensed engineer Jerred Dinnen of Atlantic Traffic, testifying on behalf of Costco, about 41 percent of the fueling station’s customers are expected to combine their fill-ups with shopping at Costco Wholesale. Another 50 percent will come from the state highway. In a peak hour, typically “Only about 11 to 15 trips of the site will be brand new vehicles on the roadway,” he said.
Vehicles will approach the station from Route 35 North, turn left and travel around the spacious complex to line up in a one-way direction at the pumps –their headlights –facing east (in the direction of the nearby cinema.) As many as 52 cars can be accommodated at the pumps at in line before back-ups occur, Dinnen said.
There is a dedicated fueling zone for tankers, which will also face east. Tankers are expected to visit the site three times a day to keep the stations’s three 30,000 gallon tanks replenished.
Costco’s new “9-pack” fueling station design can efficiently serve 18 vehicles at the same time. “This will be the first one in New Jersey, it will be our prototype,” said Andrews. There will be six lanes, and each pump has a bypass lane. Extra long hoses will reach either the left or right side of the vehicle. Attendants will work out of a kiosk, but there are no plans for any services or sales except fueling up. Diesel will not be available.
The station will be separated from residences on Fleetwood Drive by an existing wooded buffer zone. One resident, who only learned of Costco’s plans a few days ago by certified letter, came to the meeting to express fear that pollution could affect her child’s health. Another worried that it would become difficult to exit Fleetwood Drive to join Route 35, once traffic starts streaming out of the plaza. Another was critical of Costco’s care of the buffer area, saying the trees have thinned and water runoff has become a problem in his yard.
In response, it was decided that the township code inspector will visit on Monday and will cite any violations. The planning board engineer will walk the property with a Costco representative to discuss potential remediation. Additional landscaping, along the buffer area and near the T-Mobile store, will also be provided.