Conshohocken debates Wawa plan

Posted: March 29, 2013

About 200 Conshohocken residents packed the Washington Fire House on Wednesday night to speak for and against a proposed Wawa store on Fayette Street between 11th and 12th Avenues.

It was the third and final public hearing on the proposal, which opponents say would exacerbate traffic and ruin the small-town character of Conshohocken. At issue is a proposed amendment to the borough charter to allow the Wawa at a site zoned for office and residential uses.

The Borough Council will vote on the proposed amendment April 17. Planners for the borough and Montgomery County have recommended rejecting the plan. It was difficult to tell Wednesday which way most of the council members were leaning.

Members appeared agitated as the developers from Provco Pineville Fayette spent more than 90 minutes presenting slides and detailed information on traffic, parking, lighting, and noise levels.

Afterward, Council President Paul McConnell asked pointed questions about the traffic study's methodology. McConnell, an engineer, said the developer's assertion that traffic would only increase 3.5 percent in the peak morning hours defied common sense.

"You might call it irresponsible, you might just call it the easy thing to do," he said of the traffic study. "I've got serious reservations about your numbers."

Casey Moore, the engineer who conducted the study for the developer, countered that he used the state Department of Transportation's accepted calculations and said PennDot had approved the study.

Gary DeVito, a leader of the Conshohocken Revitalization Alliance, created to fight construction of the Wawa, argued that a convenience store and gas station would not match the borough's vision and said Wawa should have to go through the full zoning process like any other business.

"I like Wawa. But Wawa is much worse than any chain retailer we can imagine," DeVito said. "It's going to make Conshohocken a thoroughfare for people coming to get gas."

The developers have made some changes to the proposal in response to residents' concerns - for example, providing a crossing guard on days when the Conshohocken Bears play at the stadium adjacent to the proposed Wawa site.

But getting rid of the gas pumps is not an option. "Since 1997, Wawa has never done a facility without gas," said Joseph Botta, president of development at Pineville.

Some residents said gas was the major reason they support the proposal.

"We travel to Wawa in East Norriton and Blue Bell to buy gas," said Chester Dugas, 68, who lives on West Sixth Avenue. He said Wawa is consistently 10 to 20 cents a gallon less than the gas stations in Conshohocken - and with a Ford 4x4 truck, gas costs add up fast.

Antoinette Poluch, who owns a clothing boutique on Fayette Street, said a Wawa would change the small-town atmosphere that brought her to Conshohocken.

"My fear is that if this goes through, it's not going to attract more business owners like me. More retail is not going to want to come in. More restaurants, coffee shops are not going to want to come in."

Anita Rossi, 54, of West Fourth Avenue, said she stopped at the Wawa on Butler Pike every morning for coffee and cigarettes. "The people there know me, and they're really nice."

Although the Wawa she currently uses is only a half-mile from work, she said she'd rather have one closer to home.

Other residents said they supported the proposal because the site - a former car dealership - would be too large and costly for most businesses to develop. The developer's land-use consultant said reclaiming the site would cost $800,000 to $1,000,000 before any construction begins.

"I see it becoming an eyesore - not for days, not for weeks, but for years. What other business is going to commit the funds to clean that up?" asked Robert Bonham of Fifth Avenue.

Residents can view the proposed plan and submit comments to the Borough Council up until the April 17 vote.


Contact Jessica Parks at 610-313-8117, jparks@philly.com, or on Twitter @JS - Parks.

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