Kevin Riordan: Cherry Hill neighbors bemoan plan for jumbo Wawa

"We're talking about our quality of life," says Maureen Romero (right), scanning a map showing the proposed site in Cherry Hill. She and next-door neighbor Sharon Appalucci (left) have been in the forefront of the opposition.
"We're talking about our quality of life," says Maureen Romero (right), scanning a map showing the proposed site in Cherry Hill. She and next-door neighbor Sharon Appalucci (left) have been in the forefront of the opposition. (ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 19, 2012

Neighbors of a proposed mega-Wawa in Cherry Hill say the store will be far from super - and far too close to their homes.

"It's going to be ugly," says Mark Burckley, 50, whose house backs up on a strip of Haddonfield Road where Wawa intends to build a $6 million food market/gas station combination.

A public hearing on the final plan is set to continue before the township Planning Board on March 5. The project does not require a zoning variance.

Company officials say the store will feature 6,000 square feet of space, six two-sided gas pumps, and 50 parking spots. It also will create about 20 jobs.

All within less than two acres.

"The neighborhood will have 24 hours a day, seven days a week of traffic, noise, and bright lights," says Sharon Appalucci, 61, who lives less than 200 feet from what will be the main entrance to the Wawa parking lot.

Maureen Romero, 36, who with Appalucci has helped organize neighborhood opposition, puts it this way: "We're talking about our quality of life."

It's also a fact of life in older suburbs throughout South Jersey and the Philadelphia area. Wawa, drugstore chains such as CVS, and other retail chains are propelling the transformation of many outmoded, relatively low-density commercial areas adjacent to neighborhoods.

"Haddonfield Road is a significant economic-development corridor . . . and these redevelopment projects are going to continue," says longtime professional planner Ed Fox.

"Cherry Hill should be and has been preparing for that," adds Fox, who lives in Collingswood. "It's been this way since the racetrack was built in 1942."

In the last five years, the track site has been reborn as an enormous residential and shopping complex, much of it along Haddonfield Road. And a mile and a half north is the former Cherry Hill Toyota complex, where Wawa wants to build.

"It's a good redevelopment of a site that would have sat there," says Peter Gilligan, vice president of real estate for Wawa.

Tracing its roots to South Jersey and headquartered in Media, the chain operates nearly 600 stores in five states, including New Jersey.

Wawa, Gilligan says, has "a long practice, and history, of listening to people. . . . They're going to be our neighbors and we hope to have them as our customers."

He notes the company already has revised the proposed parking lot to prevent customers from turning left onto Yale Avenue. Lights also will be shielded and landscaping increased to mitigate the impact on neighboring homes.

Residents say they're accustomed to living close to commerce, and point out that even the neighborhood's onetime name, "Rice and Holman" was taken from a car dealership that had been on adjacent Maple Avenue in Pennsauken.

"We know a business is going to be there," says Romero, whose two sons' bedrooms would overlook the Wawa parking lot. "Just not a 24-7 business."

Residents are also concerned about public safety, including that of pedestrians. They're worried about property values. And they're also doing their homework, requesting records, inspecting plans, circulating petitions.

But they simply don't want Wawa to build on the Toyota site. "Ninety-nine percent of the neighborhood does not want to compromise," Romero says.

And though clearly willing to work with them on some issues, the company reserves the right to make its own decisions about hours of operation.

"Being open 24 x 7 is part of our commitment to simplifying the lives of our customers," a Wawa spokeswoman said via e-mail.

"We want our customers to know that they can count on us any time."

I'd say a battle is the one thing both parties can count on: There's not going to be an easy compromise here.

I understand why the residents don't want Wawa as a neighbor.

I also understand the company has a right to be there.


Kevin Riordan:

It's not the proposed Wawa's location, it's the 24/7 hours, foes say. www.philly.com/wawa


Contact staff writer Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845, kriordan@phillynews.com, or @inqkriordan on Twitter. Read the metro columnists' blog, "Blinq," at http://www.philly.com/blinq.

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