A request for zoning variances Tuesday night turned into a broad discussion by the Cherry Hill Planning Board of ways to rein in Route 70 auto dealerships that flout ordinances and other regulations.
Board members heard testimony from residents of the Locustwood neighborhood on the town's west side urging the denial of a request by Cherry Hill Dodge to demolish two homes and add to its parking lot. The dealership, part of the Cherry Hill Triplex of new car showrooms, is owned by Charles W. Foulke Jr. and his son Charles "Charlie" Foulke III, who now runs the enterprise.
The meeting was ended after midnight and was continued to October 5.
Testimony by neighbors dominated the Zoom virtual meeting — as it did at the August 3 meeting — with photographs, videos, and other evidence such as the unloading of new cars from carriers on public roads, lighting spillover, dealership employees driving at fast speeds to test drive cars in the neighborhood and photographs of delivery vans parked in the road or on the curb of the Route 70/Fulton Street jug handle.
"I am in this community. I want to be a good neighbor," a conciliatory Charlie Foulke told the board after the public testimony. "I don't want people having issues."
Foulke said evidence of alleged abuse presented by the neighborhood included some by his dealership employees, but much of it was committed by other dealerships around Route 70 and Haddonfield Road.
Kevin D. Sheehan, of the Parker McCay law firm representing Cherry Hill Dodge, told board members that the issues raised by neighbors "are serious, they're valid concerns and they need to be addressed."
"We're a neighborhood with families and children and we're at a point where we just can't take any more," Colleen Sullivan of Wynnwood Avenue told the board.
Earthen Johnson of Mercer Street testified the car dealers believe they are above the law and "better than the residents around them."
The Locustwood neighbors were joined in their testimony Tuesday by two homeowners from Park Boulevard on the other side of Route 70 whose property abuts Cherry Hill Mitsubishi and Kia of Cherry Hill, which also are owned by the Foulkes. They told of noisy middle-of-the-night car deliveries and other alleged abuses.
Planning Board solicitor James W. Burns several times during the meeting noted the need for better township enforcement of traffic and zoning ordinances in the area dominated by car dealers. "You can't have people afraid to call the cops" because of fear that nothing will get done or from retaliation by the dealers, Burns said.
Residents testified that zoning variances are granted with conditions and, over the years, the conditions are ignored.
Cherry Hill Dodge's plan for a 75-car employee parking lot turned into an in-depth exploration of new-car-dealer management practices and how abuses of township ordinances could be avoided.
Foulke, and his lawyer Sheehan, presented a list of new policies for the dealership they promised would address the frustrations of the neighbors. "I will do everything in my power to earn their trust," Foulke told the board.
The dealership proposed a monthly, regularly scheduled meeting between neighbors and executives at the dealership to discuss any issues. The board suggested a representative of the Cherry Hill Police Department should attend the meetings.
Foulke said he could invite other dealers not associated with his company to the meetings for a more universal approach to the problems. "I don't think we're all of the problem," he said of the evidence presented by Locustwood neighbors.
New rules will be posted at Cherry Hill Dodge and any employee breaking them will get a warning the first time, a three-day unpaid suspension the second time and discipline that could include termination of employment the third time, Foulke said.
Other rules, in response to the neighborhood's complaints, included:
- "Cherry Hill Dodge employees shall act like they live next to the dealership and treat our neighbors the way we would want to be treated."
- "Cherry Hill Dodge employees shall not be disrespectful to the neighbors in any manner."
- "Test drives are to use the approved route only. Test drives shall not go through the Locustwood neighborhood."
- "Employees shall not use horns or alarms to locate vehicles."
- "Employees are to avoid driving through the Locustwood neighborhood if possible. If an employee must drive through the neighborhood, they must drive carefully and comply with all laws regarding speed limits, stop signs, etc."
Foulke said he had no control over vendors who park their trucks on the Fulton Street exit from Route 70 or other neighborhood streets. However, board members told him he should have control because he is the customer. He was told to provide space on his lot for delivery vehicles to use.
Neighbors and the board also addressed the proposed buffers between the parking lot and the neighborhood. Cherry Hill Dodge is asking for narrower buffers than required.
"Why can't we give them (neighbors) a better buffer?" asked board chair John S. Osorio. Cherry Hill Dodge representatives at the meeting said a larger buffer would mean fewer parking spots on the new lot.
Although the board will not vote until the next meeting, several members expressed concern about what they had heard. "I don't believe the burden of proof has been justified," member Marlyn Kalitan said of the dealer's application.
The level of lighting on the existing parking lot continues to be a problem, board engineer Stacey Arcari told board members at the caucus before the meeting began. "Our objective is to make sure that it's not exceeding the ordinance level at the property line and generally creating a nuisance for the neighborhood," Arcari said.
When the dealership's lot lighting is on the dim setting after 10 p.m., all of the lights are in compliance except one at the corner of the lot, Arcari said. However, before dimming, some lights near residential properties exceed what is permitted, she explained.
Evidence was presented at the August 3 meeting that showed lights pointed to the neighborhood and what neighbors said was an unacceptable level of lighting spillover.