The Conshohocken Planning Commission voted 2-1 to reject a zoning text amendment regarding zoning at the Moore Chevrolet property on 11th and Fayette Streets, ending the first step in developer's attempts to put a Wawa in the borough.
The commission, which is an advisory body, will provide its recommendation to borough council, who will then vote on the text amendment as the process continues.
Before the vote on Jan. 23, the board permitted public comment and a presentation update from the developers.
The Conshohocken Revitalization Alliance, represented by Philadelphia attorney Darwin Beauvais, introduced several local business owners and residents who urged the commission not to approve the text amendment.
Gary DeMedio, a long-time Conshohocken realtor and president of the Conshohocken Economic Development Corporation, said that he spent a lot of time serving on committees that developed Conshohocken’s vision and transformed the borough from a blighted area to a “destination spot.”
“This is not what we envisioned for Conshohocken,” DeMedio said, calling the board’s decision a “game changer” and “a silver bullet.”
DeMedio also said that the property never officially went up for sale and, if it did, he believes that other potential buyers would present themselves.
Bob Wilson, owner of Bob Wilson's Gulf on 5th and Fayette Streets, said that he has dealt with many different oil companies over the years, and is a “survivor,” but having a large entity such as Wawa selling gas down the street may be too much.
“I can’t compete with anybody like that,” Wilson said.
Daniela de Souza, owner of the newly opened ‘Feine coffee shop at 812 Fayette Street, said that after she moved to Conshohocken a few years ago, she became a part of the community and decided to open a business there.
“This is about what represents us,” de Souza said. "This is a beautiful little town and we're trying so hard to keep the charm."
"Is that really what we want representing the community?" de Souza asked.
Other residents spoke on behalf of Wawa, making points such as the increased traffic due to condominiums and “knocking down a single dwelling to build two,” and that keeping the old building intact is more of an eyesore than the Wawa will be.
“I don’t think ‘the perfect’ should be the enemy of ‘the good’,” said one resident, who also suggested some sort of compromise between Wawa and the residents.
West Conshohocken lawyer Ross Weiss represented the developers to the commission.
Weiss first responded to questions posed by the planning commission after the November meeting.
Regarding the size and illumination of Wawa signage, Weiss assured the board that lighting would be as unobtrusive as possible, and the signage would be reduced in a transition from Moore to the Wawa.
Weiss also addressed the question of noise by offering expert testimony showing that the Wawa would be within the borough’s noise ordinance requirements, and that no deliveries would be made between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.
According to Weiss, the Wawa design will reduce impervious coverage by 14 percent, and will include landscaping that increases the “walkability” of the northern end of the borough.
“You want walkability – Wawa is giving you walkability,” said Weiss.
Other benefits Wawa brings to the community include new sidewalks, heavy landscaping, bike racks, additional tax revenue and 40 new jobs, Weiss said.
Weiss concluded by telling the board members that he had been working as a lawyer in Conshohocken for years as the borough was rebuilding, and there have often been complaints about new businesses and condos before they were built, but they became part of the Conshohocken that people love today.
After both sides presented, board members addressed the crowd.
Planning Commission Chairman David Bertram said that he considered the zoning intent, Conshohocken’s comprehensive plan, the borough’s business objectives and strategies, and the process for revising zoning code in his decision.
“The proposed project is not a match for this site in any way, shape or form,” Bertram said, making a motion to reject the text amendment.
Commission member Brian Tobin, who also voted to reject the text amendment, said that approving the amendment could have serous effects on the upper part of Fayette Street in the future.
Commission member Matt Mittman, who voted against rejecting the amendment, first made a motion to approve the text amendment as conditional use, which would add another element of review from the zoning hearing board.
The motion failed to receive a second, so it was not brought to a vote.
Planning commission members Joseph Dougherty, Jr., and Aaron Weems recused themselves from the vote.
Applicant Mike Cooley of the Provco Group said that he plans to continue with the process and will seek approval from Conshohocken Borough Council, though there is no time table yet on when that meeting will occur.
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