Town Says No to Super Wawa

There will not be a new Wawa in Conshohocken at this time.

During a meeting Wednesday night, the town's borough council voted 6-1 to deny an amendment that would have allowed a large Wawa with a gas station in the neighborhood.

The vote was a victory for the Conshohocken Revitalization Alliance (CRA)  that fought against the measure.

CRA spokesman Tony DeFazio said his group was happy to not see the larger food/gas store in the 1-square-mile borough.

Wawa, which didn't return a request for comment following the decision, still has options if they want to continue through with plans to build the larger store. They can challenge the council's decision in court or repackage their proposal and take it in front of the zoning board.

The original proposal to open the Wawa on a vacant car dealership lot in the heart of the borough drew plenty of debate. It would have been the third Wawa store in the area. During earlier meetings, some members of the community spoke out against it.

"Is this the way we want to look at our town as Wawa, Wawa, Wawa?" asked one woman.

"I don't think it's right for right here in Conshohocken," Mike Oraschewsky of the Conshohocken Cafe told NBC10's Rosemary Connors. "We've got a Wawa on both ends of town."

"There's more passion from the opposing side. But, it's a divided issue. It's hard to be passionate about bringing a Wawa into Conshohocken," Brian Pieri, a resident and owner of The Stone Rose restaurant, said. "They are a great company, but they belong on a pike."

Under the plan, a less-than-5,000-square-foot "neighborhood-designed" superstore would have been built on Fayette Street at the site of the old Moore Chevrolet car dealership.

"It's an eyesore right now, I think a Wawa would probably be a OK," said Natalie Adler, a Philadelphia resident who travels to Conshohocken every day for work.

"We believe that we are a community partner, a strong partner, not only to community causes but also to the local businesses and, of course, the residents in the area as well," said Wawa spokeswoman Lori Bruce after an earlier meeting. "Our goal is to become community assets and compliment the communities we serve."

The store wouldn't be a "Super Wawa" since it would be less than 5,000-square feet, according to Wawa.

Some opponents to the store believed the addition of gas pumps would have made it a Super Wawa in any case.

Sam Marino lives right across the street from where the Wawa would have been.

"Personally, I don't want it. I don't want to see 600 to 700 cars going in and out all day. I may plant arborvitae (a tall shrub) in my front yard or even move," Marino said.

He did admit, however, that if it did happen, he probably would have shopped there.

Marino's best friend Ed Schaffer was a supporter.

"I want it. I love Wawa. When I stop to visit my friend, I want convenience. He doesn't want the traffic." 

Wawa has been a part of the Conshohocken community for more than 40 years, according to Bruce. She says 1,200 people signed a petition in support of the superstore. If it had opened, the plan would have included 40 new jobs and making other contributions to the community, Bruce said.

The promise of jobs and potentially cheaper gas, though, wasn't enough to match the vision some have for Conshy.

Realtor and developer Gary DeMedio of DeMedio Keystone Realty said that he's watched Conshohocken over the past 40 years go from a steel town to a blue-collar town and now the  trendy, vibrant community it is today. He was concerned that the Wawa would take away from the town's uniqueness.

"We'll lose the small town feel. Wawa's a great family-owned company but it's just not a fit here," he said. "It's not all about gas prices or the store's popularity."

About two dozen businesses formed the CRA to oppose the measure. One of their primary concerns was that the borough could have changed zoning ordinances for convenience stores and gas stations in order to appease Wawa.

At previous hearings about the Super Wawa, CRA members countered claims by a traffic engineer that the store would generate a 7.5 percent increase in traffic.

"The main overall point is the town put a lot of time and effort into making Conshohocken more walkable with nice restaurants. The Wawa facility doesn't match that plan. They will stifle mom-and-pops," said Pieri.

Last month, Abington Township approved a plan to open a Wawa. Weeks later, the Cherry Hill Planning Board approved opening a Wawa too.

The company, which is headquartered in Wawa, Delaware County, Pa., owns and runs some 600 convenience stores in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and recently expanded their business into the Florida market. About 200 of the stores sell gas.

While plans for the new store in Conshohocken fell through, Wawa plans to open an additional 21 stores this spring and summer. 

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