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Wawa coming to Newtown Twp. despite opposition


After several years and a protracted legal battle, a Wawa with gasoline pumps is finally coming to Newtown Township.

On June 14, Newtown supervisors voted 3-2 to approve a settlement agreement with Wawa's developer, Provco Pinegood Newtown LLC, to construct a 5,585-square-foot Wawa on a 4.95-acre parcel of land at the Newtown Bypass and Lower Silver Lake Road.

It ends all current and pending litigation with Provco and allows the store to be built in accordance with the agreement. Township solicitor David Sander explained that many supervisors valued renewable energy aspects of the project and would be more inclined to support a proposal that included these elements.

As such, the agreement stipulates that Wawa will install six EV charging stations as well as solar panels on the store's canopy. Wawa will also designate a liaison who will be responsible for interacting with the community and addressing any issues that may arise. The settlement limits the number of fuel dispensers Wawa can install to six and the number of signs it can display to four.

The plan to bring Wawa to Newtown Township dates back seven years, with the company being granted a zoning exception in 2020 to develop the property. But when a new leadership slate was elected to the board of supervisors in 2021, the proposal received strong pushback resulting in an October 2022 plan denial. As a result, Provco filed litigation against Newtown the following month.

Provco was also previously waging multiple suits against the township over signage and gas pumps. Had the board not settled, a zoning hearing board (ZHB) meeting would have been held on June 27 to address Provco's validity challenge arguing that Wawa should be allowed to install eight fuel dispensers.

Voting in favor of the settlement agreement were board chairman Dennis Fisher and supervisors Phil Calabro and Elen Snyder. Supervisors John Mack and Kyle Davis voted “no” and have consistently opposed the Wawa plan as well as several other commercial developments in Newtown, arguing they constitute overdevelopment.

Snyder, who last fall voted with Mack and Davis to deny Wawa's plan, said she wanted to "stop the bleeding" of township money going to fight Provco and settle while the township still had some say over what the development would look like.

"A Wawa is coming to Newtown and a vote against this settlement will not stop that. They already own the land and as such, they are entitled to build. Ending this litigation now, we can impose limits on the gas pumps and signage. But to be clear, there's no amount of solar panels or electric charging stations that are good enough to make me vote for this in the first place."

Sander added that the township is in a "less-than-favorable legal position" with the current lawsuits Provco has waged and that Wawa coming to Newtown is a "forgone conclusion."

Mack, one of the most outspoken critics of the plan, likened the decision to approve the settlement agreement to the beginning of a "Zoning Armageddon" in Newtown Township.

"It's good to know that our attorney thinks he can't win a case, and that's a message that's going to be sent to all developers. They are going to claim that our ordinances are unconstitutional. Already we have a validity challenge from the Kushner Real Estate Group to build an apartment building with 245 units. So there's a slippery slope happening here and it's really unfortunate."

In response to Mack's comments, Fisher stated, "Some of what you said is pure speculation and some of it is issues that we'll be fighting together. But at the end of the day, there is going to be a Wawa there because the ZHB allowed for this use. It's a matter of if we get some of the things we want or they get it all their way."

Davis disagreed. "I thought it was worth it to fight this battle. I would have liked the public to see this settlement before voting on it tonight and I think there's going to be problems there with kids crossing the bypass. I think it's dangerous, and probably just a matter of time before something horrible happens. I really didn't want to see a gas station put on the bypass in Newtown."

Planning commission member Terry Christiansen brought up similar concerns during public comment.

Resident Tom Crawford, who owns a property on Lower Silver Lake Road, said, “Newtown Township is special, people love this place, and what you are doing is taking the first step to turn Newtown into a Route 1 corridor."

Some residents spoke in favor of Wawa coming to Newtown. "You could never make the bypass look like Route 1 or Street Road. There's too many buildings and houses along there already. I know a lot of people who want the Wawa and have wanted it for years," said planning commission member John D'Aprile.

Resident Peter Jaggert added, "(I)f Newtown wants to attract businesses, they got to put places where people can go to have lunch and get gas for their car. We're not living in a little bubble here in Newtown."

With the board's approval in hand, Wawa will be permitted to begin construction as soon as a final plan in accordance with the settlement agreement is reviewed by the township engineer and solicitor.

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