Planning Commission Reviews Wawa's Latest Plan
At its April 5, 2022, public meeting, the Newtown Township Planning Commission (NTPC) reviewed Wawa's latest Land Development Plan for a combination gas station & convenience store on Newtown Bypass. This is the penultimate step before the plan is finally approved by the Board of Supervisors.
UPDATE (April 13, 2022): At a Newtown Board of Supervisors (BOS) meeting, Planning Commission (PC) Chair Peggy Driscoll presented the Commission's de facto decision to recommend that the BOS NOT approved Wawa's latest Land Development Plan to build a Wawa on the Newtown Bypass. After her presentation, Supervisor Calabro was critical of her handling of the April 5 PC meeting because she allowed Holland residents to make comments. View the video.
UPDATE (May 11, 2022): At 4:21 PM (just a few hours before BOS meeting), Newtown Township Manager Micah Lewis informed supervisors that “Provco/Wawa will be removed from tonight's agenda at the request of the Applicant.” According to a letter received via email from John A. VanLuvanee, the attorney representing Provco Pinegood Newtown, LLC, who said that his client has “elected to grant the Township a 90-day extension of the time period within which the Board of Supervisors is required to take action on its pending preliminary/final land development plan application. The time for the Township to take action pursuant to the most recent extension that I granted expires on May 15, 2022. Accordingly, this extension is granted throught (sic) August 15, 2022.”
Mr. VanLuvanee requested that the plan be removed from the agenda of the May 11, 2022, Board of Supervisors meeting. No reason was given. Was it a "poison pill" that that arose at the last minute? What's Next? Get the inside story at the June 6, 2022, Meet Mack Monday Zoom meeting.
Recall that Wawa was already granted a request by the Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB) for a special exception to allow this use, but was denied variance requests regarding the number of fueling stations and signs (read “Newtown Township Zoning Hearing Board Issues Official Provco (Wawa) Decision”).
Township consultants were present at the meeting and submitted written reviews & recommendations beforehand and answered questions from Commission members. Many Newtown area residents who attended the meeting as well as NTPC members had plenty to say.
This was not the first time that Wawa representatives appeared before the NTPC. At its April 21, 2021, Zoom meeting, the NTPC discussed Provco’s Zoning Hearing Board “Special Exception” application (read “Newtown Planning Commission Versus Wawa”).
Several residents made comments - mostly opposing the plan - at the meeting. Brett Duffy – a Holland resident - summed up most of the concerns that residents had and criticized Provco for being unprepared to answer questions about its Wawa Land Development Plan. Listen to his comments below:
“The developer that wants to build on a parcel of land in your township that you have the power to approve or deny… they don’t know anything about it or they do know it and the answers are not satisfactory,” said Mr. Duffy. “That was my big takeaway.”
Indeed, Provco did not provide some critical documents until just a few hours before the meeting and at several points during questioning, Jason Korczak, P.E., Sr. Project Manager for the project could not answer questions from Commission members.
Mr. Duffy also mentioned several other problems he had with Provco’s “testimony” or lack of testimony such as addressing comments of the Bucks County Planning Commission. Provco felt it only needed to respond to township engineers’ response letters.
Wawa Adamant About Keeping Orientation of Plan Layout
In its review of the Preliminary Plan of Land Development, the Bucks County Planning Commission (BCPC) made several recommendations for modifying the plan. One of these involved the location and orientation of structures.
“We recommend that the location of the store and fuel pumps/canopy be flipped so that the store is situated closer to the Bypass," said BCPC. “The grade of the site is approximately eight feet higher than the Bypass so, as proposed, the canopy will loom high above the roadway. Further, we note that the canopy could be positioned with the shorter end toward the Bypass to minimize the visual impact of its mass.”
But at the April 5, 2022, Newtown Township Planning Commission (NTPC) meeting, the Provco/Wawa representatives pointed out that the BCPC was merely a “recommending body” and this issue was not mentioned in any township staff or consultant review letter.
The Provco executive went on to note that Wawa was “adamant on staying with this orientation” and claimed that “from an operational, safety, and traffic circulation perspective that this is the safer and move efficient plan.” Listen to their comments:
NTPC Recommends That Supervisors Deny Wawa’s Plan
When all was said and done, the NTPC failed to achieve a consensus to recommend that the Board of Supervisors (BOS) approve Wawa's plan.
The vote was three in favor (Shelley Howland – first speaker, Warren Dallas – third speaker, and Mary Donaldson – fifth speaker) and three opposed (Terry Christensen – second speaker, Craig Deutsch – fourth speaker, and Peggy Driscoll, last speaker). This effectively means that the NTPC will not recommend that the BOS approve the plan.
At some point, the plan will come before the BOS for approval. I have been reminded by our solicitor that the Board did not oppose the proposed use of a convenience store with gas station and Provco received a special exception from the ZHB for the use, thus the use is permitted on the property. "If the plan meets all applicable ordinances," said the solicitor, "it must legally be approved."
It is my understanding, however, that the ZHB only approved the use as defined by the E-30 ordinance. This plan may comply with that use, but so would modifications to the plan that involve the style of the building (e.g. brick vs. stucco), the orientation of the fueling station, landscaping details (e.g., tree species), the exact number of electric car charging stations (E-30 calls for "minimum" 2 but more can be provided), etc. All these potential modifications are not detailed in the ordinance - and some have been mentioned by the BCPC (see below).
Potential Plan Modifications Recommended by BCPC
In addition to the location and orientation of structures, the BCPC made several other recommendations.
Parking lot screening—Sheet C-701, Landscape Plan, proposes dwarf mountain laurel (kalmia latifolia ‘Elf’) and leather leaf viburnum (viburnum rhytidophyllum) to be planted along the edge of the parking lot as part of the required landscaped screening for the parking lot. We note that mountain laurel is an understory plant that will likely not thrive in the proposed locations. Additionally, leather leaf viburnum is generally classified as a large shrub to compact tree and may not be appropriate for the use intended on the site.
Street trees—As indicated on Sheet C-701, the proposed street trees are shown in a straight-line pattern along the adjacent roadways. To provide visual interest, we recommend that the street trees be planted in informal groupings versus the rigid linear approach currently shown on the plan.
Berm—The plan shows a large berm proposed in the southwestern portion of the site, adjacent to the PECO-owned property with existing overhead power lines. At its highest point, the berm is 15 feet tall from the surrounding base elevation of the berm. The plan indicates it will not be landscaped except for grass cover. Unless contrary to the purpose of the berm, we recommend that landscaping, extending from the existing tree line in the western corner of the site, be added to soften the appearance of the berm and to provide a more naturalized view from the Bypass.
It is likely that some individuals who live and work nearby, including those to the north of the Bypass, will choose to walk to the proposed convenience store. We acknowledge that the Bypass is a high-volume roadway, with many vehicles travelling at high rates of speed. For this reason, consideration should be given to keeping individuals who choose to cross the highway as safe as possible. Facilities meant to provide safer pedestrian connections, such as pedestrian refuge islands, timed traffic signals for pedestrians, and crosswalks with flashing beacons, should all be considered. Additionally, a complete sidewalk network along Newtown Yardley Road, from Upper Silver Lake Road to the Bypass, should be considered. This would also provide a pedestrian connection between the proposed convenience store and the Newtown to Delaware and Lehigh Trail that is currently under study.
Adjacent Residential Use
The BCPC noted that Section 803.E.E-30.29 of the zoning ordinance states that the lot or
property on which a Motor Vehicle Fueling and Convenience Store use is proposed shall not abut a lot or property that contains a residential use. An aerial photograph (see below) of the site indicates the possibility of one or more residences located on the church property directly east of the site.
With regard to 803.E.E-30.29 and "abut" - I was told by someone who has some real estate experience that abut means property lines touch without a public road in between. The private property in question here is located across Lower Silverlake Rd so it does not qualify as "abutting." I have to imagine that the ZHB knew about this when it approved the use.
Hours of Operation
Meanwhile Section 803.E.E-30.30 of the zoning ordinance says: "The Board of Supervisors may limit the hours of operation if a residential use is located within 750 feet of the subject property line." Here is where we have some say as to why we do not like Wawa's current plan, which I understand specifies 24/7 hours of operation. Since there is clearly "residential use" within 750 feet of the proposed Wawa site (see above aerial view), I believe that the BOS can set a limit the hours of operation, which is our right according to the E-30 ordinance. Can they take us to court on this? I don't know - but if it is written into the law they would need to go back to the ZHB and ask for a variance regarding that - I don't think they asked for it in the first round.
- Planning Commission Synopsis of April 5, 2022. Meeting
- Wawa's Request for Zoning Variances Denied!
- Newtown Township Versus Wawa: Round 1, Signage (Audio Snippets)
- Newtown Township Versus Wawa: Round 2, Signage Part Deux (Audio Snippets)
- Newtown Twp vs Wawa: Round 3, Newtown's Expert Testifies (Audio Snippets)
- Podcast: Newtown Planning Commission Versus Wawa
- Video: Planning Commission Report on Wawa (July 25, 2018)
- Super WaWa Survey Results
- Wawa's Transportation Impact Study (August 2018)