Thursday, August 28, 2008

"WaaaaWaaaa" and "Fight The Blight"

If you've read the worst newspaper in the world recently, you might have come across many articles covering the proposal to build a WaWa gas station at the site of the old Eatontown Roller Rink in Eatontown on Rt 35, a state highway.

In the most recent story, the APP published a nice picture of the skating rink looking somewhat usable and almost presentable. Unfortunately, the press has it all wrong as my morning photos of the site show (see left).

The building is abandoned, has been for at least a few years now, and has been covered in graffiti for most of that time. The front columns have all been marked with a "B" (I don't know much about gangs, might this be a "B"loods tag? I'm asking, not implying. I don't know.) The glass above the door is broken and the front door is boarded closed with some flimsy plywood; the other doors aren't "secured" much better and I suspect that with little effort, I could be inside the building within seconds, not even minutes. The sides of the building are also marked with "B"s, along with a "DJK" and some other marks including something that looks like it reads "the flu?" Whatever.

With the photo and description of the site corrected, let us review the story. WaWa, a convenience store and gas station chain, wants to open a 24/7 store/station with 12 pumps where this blight currently exists. "Local Residents", specifically those on Clinton Ave immediately behind the old Roller Rink, contend that a gas station somehow "puts them in danger", "creates blight", "creates noise pollution", "creates traffic", etc and suggest that Eatontown Zoning regulations need to prohibit WaWa from opening a new store; a classic, "the little people" vs "big bad corporation" with the press lining up behind the people and local government seeming to lean toward business.

My first observation, obviously, is that the site currently is a disgrace. Rt 35 is a heavily traveled state highway and anyone who drives by the site sees this abandoned building, covered in graffiti. And it's not JUST this one building, as my pictures show, the building (an old All Tune & Lube) next door is equally in disrepair. If I were a tourist coming down to "the Shore" and passed this area, I'd think the area was "blighted" and if I were looking to purchase a home, I probably wouldn't be motivated to purchase a home near a building that is (poorly) boarded up and covered in graffiti, which leads me to my next observation.

When I purchased my first home in Long Branch almost 4 years ago, I knowingly purchased a home that is within 500ft of not one but two gas stations AND a 7-11 convenience store. Additionally, my single family home is in a residential area on the border of an Industrial/Commercial use zone - in fact, my house backs to a self-storage business and I have a state highway (36) a block over. I knowingly purchased my residential property on the border of such things - business and highways - just as residents of Clinton Ave knowingly purchased property bordering Industrial/Commercial zones and near a state highway, which leads me to my next observation.

Living near a state highway, I expect traffic. One of the complaints that the local residents voice is that WaWa means traffic and so "a more suitable location should be selected". More suitable location? The location is along a BUSY state highway. WaWa is not looking to open on Clinton Ave, they are looking to open on State Highway 35. Also, we're talking about a gas station, not a roller skating rink. Back in the day, when I was just a young boy (last week), my mother used to drop my friends and I off from Keansburg to Eatontown, essentially her trip, like the hundreds of others, was traffic going to that very location that otherwise wouldn't have been going to that location. If a WaWa existed where the roller rink existed, I highly doubt that my mother would have been "traffic" driving all of the way from Keansburg to Eatontown, just for WaWa. In other words, the "added traffic" is just not reasonable and would have been more of a problem with the roller rink than a gas station, not to mention the whole argument is even more unreasonable since we're talking about a state highway.

Another observation is that "local residents" cite "safety" in their arguments. Specifically, they claim there will be fuel spills that pollute the environment and explosions that would level the neighborhood. Really? While I don't doubt that there are fuel spills at gas stations and I don't doubt that there has been an explosion or two at gas stations in the past, I have trouble finding stories of "100,000 gallons of diesel spilled at gas station" nor can I find daily incidents of exploding gas stations. Again, in my nearly 4 years of living within 500ft of *2* gas stations, I've yet to see, hear or feel an explosion and I can't recall a single incident that involved the fire department. Not to mention, at $4/gal for fuel, I don't think WaWa's business plan is to spill fuel all over the ground; which reminds me that I also haven't seen a river of spilled fuel flowing down my street.

The local residents also cite "loitering". I'll leave this one alone other than to say that when I was just a kid, I used to hang out outside of the roller rink with my friends waiting for mom to show up in her minivan to pick us up. My friends and I would just cruise the parking lot/local streets on our kick'n skates until she arrived. I don't recall ever hanging out at a gas station as a kid however, I have held and attended car club events, approved by station management, at gas stations. Us car enthusiast folk don't cause too much trouble, honestly.

Which all leads me to my final observation - I shop at my local gas station and local 7-11, it's GREAT! When I need gas for my lawn mower - I walk, yes, one foot in front of the other, with my gas can down to the corner and fill my little red gas jug. Before I started having the worst newspaper in the world delivered to my front door, I used to walk to 7-11 EVERY morning to buy the paper and a cup of coffee, I still walk to 7-11 most nights for coffee, I bring my puppy - she begs for pets out front. And when it comes to "crime" I, again, haven't had any issues. I believe 7-11 has been robbed all of *2* times in the 4 years I've been at my house - each time I hear nothing, see nothing and just go about my day or night, my alarm system happily monitoring the house and my weapons loaded and ready, within reach at all times.

And with all of these observations noted, I should stress, it's NOT that I'm against private property rights, far from it really. I'm against zoning boards entirely - I find them to be an over extension of government - well intended but as corrupt and deficient as most other government work. Just as I don't want to have to pay the city zoning board for a permit to build a deck, or having pay the local zoning board to replace my crumbling sidewalk, I don't want the zoning board telling anyone what they can or can't build on their property. If my neighbor wanted to build a garbage dump on his property, well that kind of sucks for me, but it's his property, do what you want. If I was really so worried about this happening, I wouldn't purchase a house that has all of 10 feet buffer space between homes.

All of this on the same day, and same page, as "Long Branch appeals blight case" news, which is what I found ironic - the "nice" view of the roller rink, vs the blight that really exists.

My opinion? Stop the complaining already. You purchased a home near a highway, bordering an industrial zone, deal with it. Gas stations are safe, they bring in a lot of money/taxes/jobs and the rest of us like that WaWa seems to have "cheap" prices for gas and food - far "cheaper" than the LukOil station (which was $3.99 for 93 this AM vs Hess's $3.75 - WaWa would probably be a cent or two CHEAPER than Hess). At the same time that Ft. Monmouth is closing and business is leaving NJ, here is one, WaWa, that actually WANTS to spend money to improve the neighborhood (because that eyesore of a roller rink would get knocked down) and bring some money and jobs into town.

My pictures are below:
The app "PRESS FILE PHOTO" - how nice.... right?
As close as I could get to recreating the "PRESS FILE PHOTO" - not the "B"s... wonderful

The back/side of the building. Note the plywood door.

some more artwork and more unsafe doors.

a bullseye? target? The Flu? Huh?
A shot of the front/side... Maybe the artist meant to write "BRB" like Be Right Back but accidentally closed his R into a B? Yeah...

The broken glass above the door and another secure door... B for Bro!

All Tune & Lube next door, also looking like it's seen better days.

And one of my puppy of course, because we need a picture of something nice!

To be fair - I won't complain about Frank Pallone in this blog entry and I have no idea who the mayor is in Eatontown or if it's an "R" town or a "D" town, nor do I care, the issue is something different/bigger than that that I can't put a finger on just who/what I think the problem is just yet but you hopefully see what I'm getting at here.

UPDATE - 2:07PM - A reader emailed me to tell me that Barnes & Noble will be opening a store in Eatontown and closing their West Long Branch store. "Hopefully the mall is far enough away from those local residents on Clinton Ave!" was the quote. Classic, thanks! :-)

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