Letters to the Editor: Wawa Redux?

It’s been more than six years since the Borough of Conshohocken began debating the merits of a “Super Wawa,” or as it was later pitched, “convenience store with gas-fueling stations.”

Over time, business owners and residents voiced passionate views for and against the development. Ultimately, the proposed development was voted down 6-1 by Borough Council in 2013. Two years later, it was unanimously rejected by the Conshohocken Zoning Hearing Board. Prior to all this, the planning commission recommended 2-1 that the development should not be approved but new events force us to revisit the issue.

According to numerous sources, it appears Council is working out some sort of settlement with the developers representing Wawa. What is disturbing, in our view, is that these discussions are occurring without public input or visibility. This lack of transparency feeds public resentment that Council – our elected officials – are not acting in the interest of constituents. It is hard imagining how Council could do such an about-face. Are the three new members on Council driving it? They should slow down and do proper due diligence.

Recalling how the community was so uniformly opposed to this development, they could benefit from revisiting, why, as Fayette’s Street’s champion, the late Gary DeMedio put it, “It [Wawa] just doesn’t fit.”

Here are the key issues:
-There are already three Wawas serving Conshohocken – you can’t access the Borough without passing by one – hard to understand the case for a fourth.
-Allowing a Super Wawa or any other 24-hour convenience store/gas station would require a change in the zoning ordinance that would bring more drive-through retailers.
-The 2011 Revitalization Plan Update, commissioned by Council and supported by the community, specifically recommended against drive-through retailers.
-The property (EF Moore Chevrolet Dealership) is in the Residential Office (R/O) district which was specifically created to preserve and protect the character of the residential neighborhood.
We believe the Revitalization Plan is the central issue.

The Plan was designed to, “encourage development of the Borough that is consistent with its small town feeling.” The Plan stressed the importance of ensuring “that the community character is preserved.” And specifically states, “drive-thru chain retailers’ development needs diminish the “main street” feel and walkability.”

Conshohocken has worked hard to develop its retail district, with numerous committees made up of volunteers and business professionals developing programs to promote the Borough’s “main street” feel to small businesses and entrepreneurs. Those efforts have borne fruit with dozens of small-business owners forming a unique community character that attracts new residents and patrons to the Borough.

The question for Council is, why jeopardize this? Once you change the zoning ordinance, you open a Pandora’s box of problems for the community. Independent businesses like Feine, Pasta Via, Lenny’s, just to name three, that deliver unique products to the community will suffer greatly. This is not an academic argument. These retailers will be impacted in a negative way.
Council should do the right thing. Adhere to the guidelines of the community-inspired Revitalization Plan Update and stand by previous Council’s decision to reject a Super Wawa in the Borough.