Wawa

A rendering showing the Wawa proposed for the Newtown Bypass.

NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP >> The Newtown Township Zoning Hearing Board will continue its hearing on the Provco Pineville LLC/Wawa appeal on Thursday, July 8 beginning at 7:30 p.m.

The Provco Group, a commercial real estate agency based in Villanova and the equitable owner of the property, is seeking to build a 5,585 square foot Wawa with gas pumps on a 4.9 acre site across from Crossing Community Church at Lower Silver Lake Road and the Newtown Bypass.

Provco’s plan for the site depicts the convenience store facing the Bypass with eight fueling dispensers (16 fueling positions), front and rear store access, pedestrian walkways, bike racks, one electric vehicle charging station, two air pump stations and 60 parking spaces, including three designated for ADA.

Access to the store would be off of Lower Silver Lake Road via a right in entrance and a full intersection at the entrance to the store across from Crossing Community Church.

Provco is seeking variance relief for the number of fueling dispensers allowed and the location, type and number of signs permitted under the township’s E30 ordinance.

Specifically, Provco is seeking relief for eight fueling dispensers on 4.9 acres where six are permitted by right and seven would require at least five acres. Provco is arguing the seventh would require only de minimis relief and should be granted and that eight dispenser would create better traffic flow through the site.

Provco also is requesting a number of variances for signage, including for two electronic message centers that are prohibited in the jointure. Provco is requesting the electronic center signs to display fuel prices with the changeable copy limited to fuel prices.

Provo is also requesting variances for the number of signs allowed. The number of signs is limited to two. Provco is asking for four signs.

In addition, Provco is seeking a variance for the location of signs. The ordinance does not permit signage within 1,000 feet of the bypass. Provco is seeking relief for one wall sign located within 1,000 feet of the bypass.

At its April 28 meeting, the board of supervisors voted unanimously to oppose Provco’s request for variance relief for the proposed convenience store and gas station and to direct its solicitor to oppose the requests.

While opposing the variances, the supervisors are not challenging a special exception request by Provco to build a Wawa in the township’s office research zone under the E30 use.

The township, working with the jointure, crafted the E30 use to address a lawsuit filed by Provco challenging the jointure for not allowing a combination convenience store and gas station use. The E30 ordinance limits such a use to the office research zone in Newtown Township.

The zoning board opened the appeal on June 3, hearing from Provco attorney John VanLuvanee who produced testimony from witnesses regarding the history of the site, signage and fueling position.

VanLuvanee opened his presentation by attempting to put one issue to rest. He announced that instead of proposing an LED digital sign, they are now proposing a gas price module sign. “We do not believe the sign we are now proposing is an electronic message center sign,” he said.

Township solicitor Dave Sander disagreed. He said the township would be taking the position that what is now being proposed is an electronic message center and the township would continue to oppose the variance.

Among the expects testifying on behalf of Provco at the June 3 meeting was Joseph Botta Jr., president of development for Pineville Properties LLC. He provided background on the project, including development of the E30 ordinance and Provco’s substantive challenge of the zoning ordinance.

Also testifying was Jason Korczak, a civil engineer with Bohler Engineering who has been involved with the project since 2018. He testified that if the lot size was calculated based on the deed a seventh fueling dispenser would be permitted by right.

Korczak also testified that from an engineering standpoint there is no reason why the seventh or eighth fuel dispenser couldn’t be provided at the site. He also testified that the plan would essentially be the same whether there were six, seven or eight dispensers.

The addition of a seventh or eight dispenser would not alter the character of the neighborhood or substantially impair the use or development of adjacent properties, Korczak testified.

VanLuvanee is expected to present additional witnesses at the July 7 meeting. He’ll be followed by Sander, who will layout the township’s case against the variances.

Once both sides have had a chance to make their presentations, the zoning board will accept public comment on the appeal. It was unclear whether that would happen at the July 8 meeting or at a subsequent meeting.

If the zoning board grants relief, the township has the right to appeal. If the township doesn’t appeal, Wawa will be free to move forward with land development plans to build the Wawa.

If the relief isn’t granted, Provco can appeal the decision to the Bucks County Court of Appeals, a process that would rack up additional legal fees and take months to complete, or it can move forward with “by right” plans, which would limit the fuel dispensers to six and the number and types of signs as per the E30 ordinance.

“I think they were very wise in how they drafted their application so that the variances aren’t that spectacular,” surmised township attorney Jerry Schenkman at the May 5 planning commission meeting. “And even if they are denied and they have to do the by right development, they can build it with the number of dispensers we find acceptable, the number of signs that are in the ordinance and they can go through land development and build the Wawa.”

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