Pilot gives a little, gets a little in plan to reopen New Jersey truck stop

| 9/4/2008

Nearly three years into a battle to upgrade an old truck stop in Hunterdon County, NJ, the Pilot Travel Center chain received some good news from the Union Township Planning Board on Tuesday, Sept. 2.

It hasn’t been an easy fight.

Pilot officials have been trying to upgrade the former Johnny’s Truck Stop at Exit 12 on state Route 78, but were met with fierce opposition from the community and the planning board. However, recent compromises made by both sides of the truck stop issue have brought the project a little closer to fruition.

Union Township Planning Board Secretary Grace Kocher told Land Line Magazine on Thursday, Sept. 4, that the planning board unanimously approved Pilot’s plan to open a Subway restaurant, renovations to its convenience store, and other upgrades after receiving several use variances from the planning board, but that it’s not a done deal yet.

Kocher said Pilot must present their preliminary site plan for approval before construction can begin at an upcoming planning board hearing scheduled for 7 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 25.

“There are some conditions attached to it as there always are, but we are working to resolve some of those issues here,” she said. “This has been a result of some real negotiating here.”

One of the main conditions Pilot must address is the resolution of some groundwater contamination at the site. Kocher said Pilot has to work with the township environmental consultant until the consultant is satisfied that the issue has been resolved.

Pilot will also have to reduce the number of truck and car spaces they initially planned to offer at the site to allow for more grassy areas that the planning board requested. Only 54 truck parking spaces and between 36 and 46 car spaces will be allowed, according to Kocher. Plans originally called for a total of about 200 spaces.

“Pilot has made concessions, but we think it will be an improved site and will be better for the township,” she said.

The truck stop chain filed a lawsuit against the Union Township Planning Board in January 2008 in response to the planning board’s 2007 rejection of the truck stop chain’s plan to raze the site and construct a new complex.

Although the suit filed by Pilot has not been dropped yet, according to Kocher, both sides are working on a workable resolution.

“I have not received anything as far as a complete dismissal of the lawsuit,” she said.

She said there is also concern regarding the amount of water Pilot plans to use at the site, which will also need to be reviewed as well.

“There are some issues that still need to be resolved, but we all need things that trucks bring our way and that’s a reality,” Kocher said. “It’s just that when something disturbs us here, we get a little up in arms.”

– By Clarissa Kell-Holland, staff writer