NORTHAMPTON TOWNSHIP >> The township’s planning commission on Tuesday, April 13 voted against a motion recommending approval of a plan to build a new Super Wawa at Buck and Rocksville Roads.
Wawa is proposing a two lot subdivision that would divide the 5.4 acre Wright property located between Buck, Holland and Rocksville Roads and adjacent to Hope Road, between a northern and southern lot.
The plan incorporates the realignment of Holland Road, which would create a new intersection at Buck and Holland Roads at the Pleasant Valley Shopping Center and alleviate traffic congestion to the south. The new road would bisect the property, separating it into the two parcels.
Wawa is proposing to build a 5,585 square foot convenience store and an eight pump fueling station with sloped canopy on the north side of the realigned Holland Road on 2.37 acres at Rocksville and Buck Roads.
The site would also incorporate 57 on site parking spaces, a large rain garden, a robust buffer with more than 39 trees, hundreds of shrubs and grasses, sidewalks around the perimeter of the site and decorative streetlights.
In addition to realigning Holland Road through the property, the plan includes the addition of a traffic signal at Buck and Rocksville Roads. Both projects have been endorsed by PennDOT.
After hearing plans for the new convenience store and gas station, the planners pretty much agreed that a Wawa is not what the Holland Village Master Plan had envisioned when it was developed seven years ago.
“The master plan viewed this parcel a whole lot differently than what we are looking at now,” said planner Pat McGuigan. “This project that is being presented tonight encroaches directly upon a huge residential area with hundreds of houses.
“As I come over the bridge and up Holland or Buck Road into the Village of Holland I could never have imagined, when I started driving this back in the 1970s, that’s what this parcel would become. And even just seven short years ago the planning commission and the board of supervisors saw it the same way.
“I don’t think a project like this belongs in this particular location. I would never be for it,” said McGuigan. “And Wawa, being a good partner and looking at good public relations, may think this through and maybe decide this belongs some place else. Wawa may have the right to do this, but I still don’t think it’s such a great idea and neither did the Bucks County Planning Commission.”
Under the master plan, the portion of the property where Wawa wants to build its store is envisioned as a transitional area between residential and commercial, possibly as a park. The plan also recommends that the southern portion of the tract be developed with residential or commercial uses or a combination of the two.
Planner Paul Constantini agreed with McGuigan, arguing that a convenience store and fueling station is 180 degrees from what was envisioned by the Master plan.
“This part of the land was meant to be more of a buffer to the residential areas before getting into the heavy commercial side,” he said. “This couldn’t be more opposite of what this is going to be with 24 hour gas pumps, lots of light pollution, more traffic. From a planning perspective I see this as a complete departure from what was decided in the original master plan for Holland Village.”
Planner Edward Ingle noted that over the years the site has been considered for a gas station and a free standing drug store, neither of which came to fruition.
“This seems like a pretty intense utilization of this parcel, especially in view of fact that it’s envisioned as a transitional zone from the commercial area of Holland to the residential area. If this project does move forward, it is imperative there be allowances for some type of gateway area in the northeast corner to let people know they are entering Holland.”
Planner Andrew Gannon joined the mounting opposition from commission members.
“I’m adverse to this for many reasons,” he said. “We are the planning commission. We should be planning for the future and not just rubber-stamping. If nothing else, this should spur us to look at other tracts of land to review their zoning and whether or not we want more of this happening in other places or at least stop this from happening in other places.
“This Wawa is going to be wedged between houses and it seems to be inappropriate to me,” said Gannon. “This property would better be served as a park perhaps or a gateway.”
Under the property’s current C2 Village Overlay District zoning, a convenience store with gas pumps is permitted, by right, although that is currently being challenged before the township’s zoning hearing board.
Neighbors filed an appeal with the township’s zoning board arguing that the plan constitutes a fueling station, not a convenience store and would require conditional use approval by the board of supervisors.
The zoning board heard the appeal on Monday, April 12 but has not yet made a determination.
Regardless of what the zoning hearing board decides, Wawa, it appears, would be allowed to build the store on the property under the current C2 zoning, or with conditions if the zoning board determines it to be a conditional use.
“This use is consistent with the health, safety and welfare. It’s allowed to go on this site because it’s permitted by right,” argued Provco Attorney Julie VonSpecklesen.
VonSpecklesen argued that the master plan is a “guideline” and is “not mandatory. This property is zoned for this use, which is a by right use,” she said. “Provided that we comply with the zoning and the subdivision and land development ordinances we are entitled to develop this property with this proposed development.”
VonSpecklesen added that even though the master plan is a guideline, “we are incorporating the realignment of Holland Road,” which is recommended by the master plan. She also noted that the master plan does include a scenario with a commercial use on the northern parcel where the Wawa is being proposed.
Gannon conceded Wawa’s right to develop the site, but said that doesn’t mean it’s right, especially with a residential neighborhood within yards of the site.
“The zoning is what the zoning is. It’s a failure of the administration that didn’t set appropriate zoning for this land so that this type of application couldn’t be used. It’s sad. It’s a shame. But it’s a reality,” said Gannon. “But just because you can doesn’t mean you should and I could not in good conscious vote to approve this.”
During public comment, the planners heard from numerous Hope and Holland Road residents who raised issues with the plans over traffic, noise, light pollution, housing values, the affects of benzene on the public’s health and crime issues.
Hope Road resident Pam Duffy, who lives just a few houses away from the site, warned planners that the proposed Super Wawa will “ruin Holland Village for generations to come” and announced that a petition drive launched last year has collected more than 1,400 signatures against the plan.
“My neighbors at the corner are 70 feet from the pumps. No one deserves that,” said Duffy. “And there are at least 20 properties within 300 feet from the gas pumps destroying the quality of life and putting our health at risk.”
In a letter to the Wawa CEO, which she shared with the planners, Duffy encourages the company to keep its existing store on Holland Road, purchase the Shell station for its gas operations and turn the site of the proposed Wawa into a Wawa Park with beautiful trees and gardens “as Wawa’s welcome to beautiful Holland Village.”
Hope Road resident Dr. Arvind Cavale, who chairs the department of medicine at St. Mary Medical Center, raised “grave concerns” with township leadership, which he said have been derelict in their duty to protect residents from a potentially “harmful” development.
“Many of you have commented on the 2014 master plan,” he told the planners. “This does not fit the plan. We were very happy with who ever designed that plan. Clearly a gas station is the wrong thing, in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“The southern half of the same property, which is almost identically sized, has remained open. Why not make this happen in that section of the land?” he asked.