Answer this question: In what town is DCH Millburn Audi located? If you answered “Millburn,” you’re wrong.
Although the dealership has a Millburn Avenue address, it’s actually located in Maplewood (with a tiny sliver in Union).
General Manager Alfred Khouri explains that he long ago wanted the “Maplewood” name attached to the dealership, but because “Audi of Maplewood” was already taken by an outlet in Minnesota, it’s been a no go.
“We’re proud to be Maplewood,” said Khouri, who has decided to step up DCH Millburn Audi’s role in the community and get the word out through communications and sponsorships. (Look for more on that in coming months.)
The campaign to raise DCH Millburn Audi’s profile in Maplewood coincides with a decision to stay in Maplewood while expanding service at the Millburn Avenue location.
Last June, DCH Millburn Audi went before the Maplewood Planning Board to seek a “de minimis” bulk variance in connection with a renovation and expansion of the existing automobile dealership.
The business, which is a permitted conditional use in the highway business zone, will be constructing a raised service area on the second floor with first floor open surface parking underneath. Improvements will include increased office space and an expanded showroom with more visibility on Millburn Avenue, as well as new landscaping, signage and lighting.
Although a tiny sliver of the property is in Union, all improvements will be made on the Maplewood portion of the property.
Some additional good news: DCH will be reducing impervious surface on the property, adding 2,000 sf of landscaping to improve drainage on the site. There will be no ingress and egress added on Valley Street.
The variance was needed to overcome a requirement that any portion of the building which exceeds 30 ft in height be set back from the street line by 1 foot for each foot in excess of the 30 feet. With the new building at 31.17′ in its northwest corner, that would have required a 1.17′ set back above the 30-foot height in that corner. The variance was granted.
Back in June, Khouri told to the Planning Board that the expansion is mandated by the manufacturer.
“Audi mandates that the dealerships have the new look every 20 years. This is why we are proposing to expand on the building.”
Khouri noted that he had to fight to remain in Maplewood as “Audi wants us to move to the highway because this is where you have more visibility and you have more walk-in traffic.” But Khouri is committed to Maplewood: ” I’ve been at this dealership since 2005 — Feb. 25 2005, okay — and I love this place. I love the community.”
Audi Regional agreed to let DCH Millburn Audi stay in Maplewood “because of our outstanding customer service reviews and the way we conduct business. They said, ‘We will allow you to stay where you are provided you can meet the strict deadline [the end of 2019]. If we could not, they’d already picked a site for us on Route 22 in Union. … We’re proud of being a local dealership.”
DCH Millburn Audi is the only New Jersey Audi dealership undergoing the expansion on site, said Khouri. “We are the only Audi dealership in the great State of New Jersey with a new building that’s being built in a town instead of a highway.”
The changes expand the showroom floor by two additional vehicles. The service area will be expanded with more bays but the number of employees will not increase; Khouri noted that “because of the way the cars are serviced” much of the service is performed with software — a flash drive.
“So you have a computer, a robot, working on the car while the mechanic could be fixing another vehicle. One mechanic can be utilizing effectively and efficiently two bays. The expansion is to service our customers, to have a better flow, better in and out into the dealership.” Khouri said the dealership has between 60 to 65 employees and that number should remain static.
Last June, Mayor Vic DeLuca reminded the Planning Board that the expanded construction on the site had already been approved in 2003 and that it was important to retain the dealership at this location.
“When Mr. Khouri contacted me earlier this year and said what he said here, that they fought to keep this dealership in Maplewood and that was their plan, I brought them together with [Planning Board Consultant Robert] Bratt and [Building Official Len] Mendola and [Township Engineer Paul] Kittner to talk through how to make this work, and I think that they’ve met all the requirements.”
“They want to work with us, they want to stay here,” said DeLuca.
The Mayor also noted that DCH Millburn Audi would be making a contribution to the affordable housing fund as a commercial project. “I think this is a good project,” said DeLuca.
Planning Board member Tom Carlson agreed, “I think this is a worthy proposal. I’m very pleased with their trying hard to stay here in town.”
Khouri noted that the dealership will remain open through construction.
The site plan was unanimously approved by the Maplewood Planning Board.