HATBORO >> The zoning hearing board is expected to announce its decision on a controversial proposal for a new Wawa superstore in the borough on Aug. 29.
The board May 31 heard the last in a slate of witnesses called to testify as part of The Verrichia Co.’s plans to build a 24-hour Wawa with fueling stations at the corner of York and Horsham roads.
The project has garnered considerable public attention since it was first brought before the zoning hearing board in May of last year. Those opposed to the store, many of whom are residents who live near the targeted site, say the store would increase traffic and noise in the area and pose potential environmental risks due to its fuel pumps, among other concerns.
Public interest in the project was so high at one point over the summer of last year that board meetings had to be moved to nearby Keith Valley Middle to accommodate the sizable public turnout.
In recent months, the meetings have moved back to borough hall as turnout has diminished, no doubt due to the proposal’s seemingly endless review process, which crossed the one-year mark last month.
In total, the board has heard six expert witnesses on behalf of the developer and three for the borough, which itself has come out against the project and has formally challenged it before the board. Zoning hearing board meetings are typically held once a month near the end of the month.
The reason the proposal came before the zoning board at all has to do with the nature of the land itself at York and Horsham roads identified for the store.
Zoning at the site allows for a convenience store like Wawa but does not allow gas pumps — a restriction that has been the basis for the borough’s opposition to the store. The developer is seeking a variance from the zoning hearing board to allow for the pumps.
In making its decision, the board must decide whether fuels sales are considered an “accessory” or incidental feature of the Wawa. Accessory uses are allowed in that zone but only on the second floor of permitted structures. The developer’s legal team has argued that if the board deems the fuel stations as accessories and not primary drivers of Wawa’s business, the pumps could be permitted with a variance granted by the board.
The zoning hearing board gave the attending public at its May 31 meeting a final opportunity to express its support or opposition to the project. All of those who spoke were against it.
“I’m not a [not-in-my-backyard] person,” said John Teets, who lives near the site on South York Road. “But I don’t believe this is an appropriate location at all, and I don’t think that the borough should be forced to set aside its rules and basically the same rules that almost every place has regarding fuel stations.”
Resident Leslie Jones said that the developer has not proven that zoning at the site presents a fundamental hardship requiring variances. She said the site already allows for “reasonable” uses that the developer could have pursued but didn’t.
“The purposes and uses of RC-1 and RC-2 [retail commercial] zoning are clear. Fuel sales are not permitted in these areas for a reason, as set forth by our government,” Jones said. “[The developer’s] only basis for the challenge to our zoning on that property is that it limits the amount of money that could make by developing the property as they would like.”