NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP >> The board of supervisors has now approved a zoning amendment which begins the process of where convenience stores with attached gas stations can be built in Newtown, Upper Makefield and Wrightstown Townships.
At the Dec, 11 meeting, the supervisors approved what is known as a municipal curative amendment which seeks to find where such a retail combination can be built in the jointure, a special zoning area that Newtown shares with its two neighboring townships.
Under the Joint Municipal Zoning Ordinance (JMZO) all three townships must agree on zoning issues.
Voting on the curative zoning amendment were: Chairman Phil Calabro, along with Supervisors John Mack, Linda Bobrin, Dennis Fisher and Kyle Davis.
According to Newtown Township solicitor David Sander, the other two municipalities have already passed such an amendment to start the zoning change process rolling.
Wawa’s commercial real estate developer, the Provco Group based in Villanova, and its proposal to build a Wawa on the Bypass is not affected by the amendment because it filed its development plan with the township before the amendment was approved by the three municipalities.
However, Sander explained that any other developer now wishing to build a retail store/gas station anywhere within the jointure is now barred from filing these development plans for up to nine months.
If such a use is eventually allowed in the jointure, Sander noted, “It only has to be legally provided in any one of the three townships.
“That doesn’t mean it would be restricted to a single township,” he added, noting that Newtown could be one of the permitted areas.
Provco is already challenging the JMZO ordinance, arguing that the joint ordinance is invalid because it’s “exclusionary” by not allowing retail operations with accessory fueling stations in the Office/Research (OR) Zone, or for that matter anywhere in the jointure.
The developer’s land-use attorney John VanLuvanee told the township planning commission at a well-attended hearing in April that the Wawa plan is “a legitimate land use at this point.
“We contend the ordinance was exclusionary because it did provide a motor vehicle fueling center,” he argued before the planners.
Currently, the land along the Newtown Bypass where the Wawa is proposed is zoned Office/Research (OR) Zone, which does not provide for the sale of gasoline at retail outlets.
Provco has been pressing for an amendment to the JMZO which would allow for such a use.
At the April 2 meeting, the township planning commission recommended that the supervisors ask the jointure to considering amending the JMZO to include a new use - motor vehicle fueling center - in the OR zone.
At that meeting, a number of residents spoke out in opposition to the Wawa, including former Newtown Township Supervisor Gerry Couch who urged the planners to turn the project down on the grounds that it would create a traffic safety nightmare.
“The Bypass is running close to capacity right now,” he had exclaimed, “You’re right at the max and you’re going to add thousands of more cars.”
Provco, the equitable owner of the property, wants to construct a 5,585 square-foot Wawa with 16 gas pumps on a five-acre parcel across from the Crossing Community Church on Lower Silver Lake Road and the Bypass.
The plans calls for 58 parking spaces, front and rear entrance to the building, pedestrian walkways and bike racks.
The entrance and exit to the property would be on Lower Silver Lake Road across from the church.
Because all three townships in the jointure must collectively approve of any zoning change, the land use battle is expected to be a long one.
Provco has already filed a substantive court challenge to the joint zoning ordinance, arguing that it currently lacks any provision for a joint retail/gas station use in the three municipalities.
A hearing has not yet been scheduled.
In the meantime, in November Provco filed an appeal with the township's zoning hearing board seeking a laundry list of variances for the project.