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Newtown Township considers fate of proposed Wawa

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To Wawa, or not to Wawa – that is the question.

But does the Newtown Township Board of Supervisors have an answer for residents concerned with a proposed amendment to the Joint Municipal Zoning Ordinance (JMZO) that would allow the convenience store and gas station to set up shop at the corner of the Newtown Bypass and Lower Silver Lake Road?

Citing increased traffic, pedestrian safety and environmental concerns, Summit Avenue resident Alan Hathaway voiced his trepidation over the proposal at the most recent meeting held Oct. 24.

“If they get a variance, it will open the door for every other fast-food, gas station, Chuck-E-Cheese, Arby’s,” exclaimed Hathaway. “Every other company will come in and say ‘Since you have allowed that variance, we are getting our cut of it.’

“All I can see down the road are all these junk businesses coming in. Take a ride down Route 1 and you’ll see what I’m talking about.”

Some, including Hathaway are reminding Supervisor Phil Calabro that, years ago, he was against Stockburger (Chevrolet) moving its dealership to the same location on the Bypass.

“At that time, you said the township is putting the interest of businesses ahead of residents by allowing development on the bypass.

“Why have you changed your mind?,” asked Hathaway. “You seem to be in favor of allowing a variance.”

“No decision has been made yet,” retorted Calabro. “The process is ongoing. And until it comes before us, that’s when this board will make a decision.”

Presently, the parcel is zoned for office research. Additionally, regulations for a retail store do not permit the sale of gasoline within the JMZO.

For that reason, the Joint Zoning Council – that includes Upper Makefield and Wrightstown townships – is in the process of discussing the creation of a new use that would allow gas sales at a retail outlet and exactly in what spaces that use would be allowed.

An amendment to the ordinance that allows Wawa to build its 5,500-plus-square-foot food market and 16 fuel pumps while also laying to rest any fears anyone from the Tri-Township area may have regarding the change in zoning.

Instead of the supervisors, Hathway would like to see voters make the decision on whether or not Wawa is permitted to open on the Bypass.

But according to state law, a zoning amendment is not a permitted line-item on a referendum ballot.

“I know there’s a clamor for cheap gas and yummy coffee but there’s a lot more at risk here,” added Hathaway.

According to Calabro, however, there are not enough available parcels along Route 332 for the Bypass to ever begin to look like Route 1. But if the amendment is brought before the board and subsequently ratified, Hathaway doesn’t believe that Wawa would be the only business dotting the bypass.

“I don’t believe that Wawa would stand alone,” said Hathaway. “I have never seen that happen before.”

“What do the following stores have in common with each other – Burger King, Baskin Robbins, Dunkin Donuts, Hooters, Jack-in-the-Box, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Sunoco convenience stores, CVS Pharmacies? asked Michael Horbal, of Newtown Grant.

“All of these companies have site-planning criteria that would fit on the same size parcel that you’re currently discussing a proposed text amendment for.”

Horbal proposed the idea that Calabro recuse himself from the decision on the current amendment being considered because he and former Supervisor Jenn Dix had previously weighed in on a proposal to place a Wawa on some township-owned property near Silver Lake Park.

“It’s apples and oranges,” said Calabro. “In that case, we’re talking about an idea that was thrown out there so that the township could derive some revenue by leasing the property to Wawa.

“This is property owned by an individual person or corporation that Wawa wants to purchase.

“The only common denominator is Wawa.”

Horbal didn’t see the issue quite the same way.

“I disagree,” said Horbal. “The common denominator is that a proposed text amendment would be required for either location.

While the amendment is needed to allow the sale of gasoline at a retail store, there is some precedent for the allowance of a convenience store as there is already a Dunkin’ Donuts in place near the Yardley-Newtown entrance to I-295 and a Rite-Aid pharmacy near State Street and the Bypass.

Some area residents are concerned about the effect on quality of life.

Wawa wants the township to allow digital signage, which is presently not permitted in Newtown. It also wants to stay open 24 hours a day.


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