Planners approve Wawa

In a vote of 5-2, The Planning Board approved plans for a Wawa at the intersection of Deans Rhode Hall Road and Route 535.

By: Joseph Harvie
   The former site of Claire’s Farm Market on Route 535 soon will be a place to get coffee, a sub and possibly some gasoline.
   The Planning Board on Dec. 14 granted preliminary and final site-plan approval for an eight-pump Wawa gas station and 5,773-square-foot convenience store at the intersection of Deans Rhode Hall Road and Route 535.
   The 5-2 vote also allowed Wawa to take the two adjoining lots the building is proposed for and combine them into one 8.6-acre lot.
   Wawa also was granted a variance to allow for a 53-square-foot sign on Route 535 that will display gas prices and another variance to allow more than 10 percent of the parking in the front of the store.
   As a condition of the application’s approval, Wawa representatives agreed to allow the township to withhold issuing a certificate of occupancy for the establishment until a traffic light is installed at the intersection of Deans Rhode Hall Road and Route 535.
   The proposed traffic light will be installed by Prologis, which built a warehouse on Deans Rhode Hall Road. Because of the traffic impact the building would have on the two county roads, the warehouse developer was ordered to install the light at the intersection. Construction on the warehouse is nearly complete, and until the light is installed Prologis will not be granted a certificate of occupancy.
   Planning Board Chairman Robert Southwick said Prologis is waiting for state Department of Transportation approval so construction on the light can begin.
   The Wawa plan includes 106 parking spots, rather than the 48 that are permitted. Wawa representatives said the larger lot is necessary because there could be up to 15 people working at one time, and 30 on shift changes. Representatives from Wawa said they plan on placing parking directly in front of the store so the store will look "familiar" to customers who frequent other stores in the chain.
   According to the application, the eight gas pumps would be covered by a canopy, which is allowed in the township. Wawa representatives said diesel fuel will not be sold at the station.
   Wawa also plans to build a 53-square-foot sign on Cranbury Road. About 33.5 square feet of the sign will be used to display gasoline prices, while the remaining 19.5 square feet will have the Wawa logo on it.
   Planning Board members Charlotte Camarota and Debra Johnson voted against the project. Ms. Camarota said she had concerns about the parking lot’s traffic flow, and the limited parking available for tractor-trailers. She said the six proposed spots probably were not enough for the Wawa because there are so many warehouses in the area.
   Ms. Johnson said the Wawa would generate more traffic than Wawa expects. She said she also was concerned about the number of trucks that would be in the parking lot. She said that if there were no spots left, trucks would end up parking on the road, which she said would bring added danger to an already dangerous section of town.
   Three residents who spoke against the application said they too were worried about traffic and the limited number of tractor-trailer parking spaces.
   They also said they were concerned because of a township ordinance that prohibits a gas station from being built within 5,000 feet of a "presently functioning" gas station.
   The residents noted that a Sunoco gas station, to be located at the intersection of Route 522 and Route 535, was approved by the Zoning Board of Adjustment in January 2004. That site is within 5,000 feet of the proposed Wawa station.
   Planning Board attorney Jay Jorgenson said that because the Sunoco is not open and working as a gas station, the 5,000-foot regulation does not apply.