Wawa may be a top company on the “America’s Favorite Convenience Stores” list, as announced last week by CBS Philly, but in Lower Southampton, the chain remains in hot water.
On the evening of Tuesday, Jan. 14, at the Township Building in Feasterville, the Zoning Hearing Board held its fifth meeting regarding the controversial Wawa, proposed by developer Provco Pineville Acquisition LLC at the intersection of Bristol and Brownsville roads.
The possible 5,051-square-foot convenience store and 16-pump gas station has been a hot-button issue in the township for several months, with most residents sharing the same feeling about the Wawa. They don’t want it.
Every seat in the room was filled last Tuesday for the meeting, which included testimony from Donald Palmer, principal of Tawanka Elementary School. Since the building is located in close proximity to the proposed site at 2055 Brownsville Road, the safety of local children has been a main concern of residents.
Palmer was asked about traffic patterns during drop-off and pick-up, and he detailed how both ends of Brownsville Road become backed up during the rushes with parents’ cars, in addition to buses. He added that despite traffic, there is no crossing guard stationed at the intersection of Bristol and Brownsville roads for students who walk to school. There are also no sidewalks from the intersection leading up to the school.
Attorney Julie Von Spreckelsen, of Eastburn and Gray, argued that the 743 Tawanka students hail from Lower Southampton, Langhorne Borough and Middletown Township. She said those from the latter two areas would enter Tawanka before reaching the intersection, and therefore wouldn’t be affected by the Wawa.
Resident Valerie Vitzthum then presented as evidence a hand-crafted map of the township, which highlighted vacant stores that, in her opinion, would be a better fit for the new Wawa.
“I believe we have an obligation to go with vacancies before we go and allow destruction that will forever change the facade of the township,” she said.
Von Spreckelsen attempted to object to the map on the grounds that Vitzthum couldn’t verify its accuracy.
“I’m an expert because I live here. My child goes to that school, I know the area, I grew up here. I don’t know what you have an objection to,” Vitzthum countered. “I can’t bring the road in here. You would have to drive down it.”
Vitzthum came under fire by the board for posting a petition and site plan on Patch, which included board secretary Nick Bordner’s name at the bottom. Chairman Samuel Pozzuolo stressed that the board had nothing to do with those documents.
During the public comment portion, local after local came forward to express their concerns about the Wawa. Kim Appleyard, a resident of Bristol Road and Scott Street, was almost in tears.
“It doesn’t matter how much you change the seconds on the light on Bristol and Brownsville roads. The vehicles are coming off Bristol Road and cutting through the little neighborhood,” she said. “They are speeding. We have children back there that we fear. It [Wawa] belongs on a four-lane highway, not a two-lane highway.”
Robert Lanhan, a resident on East Bristol Road, echoed Appleyard’s sentiment about the increase in traffic a “super” Wawa would most likely cause.
“I can see people cutting through our neighborhood on the side roads to get into one of the entrances,” he said, adding an additional concern about the Wawa’s potential impact on the sewage system. “Personally, I like Wawa. Most people do. I don’t like the location. This is a residential area that’s going right next to an existing [Sunoco] gas station/convenience store. Then you have another convenience store on the other side of the road. We are a residential area. This isn’t Street Road. It’s Brownsville and Bristol roads.”
Timothy Donahue, who served in 2010 as vice chairman of Lower Southampton’s Comprehensive Planning Committee, said the Wawa isn’t being built to serve township residents, but rather those of surrounding areas. Referencing a study from the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, he stated Lower Southampton has had a population growth of 2 percent since 1980. Meanwhile, Newtown Township has grown 432 percent, Northampton Township 49 percent and Middletown Township 39 percent.
“We’re proposing a third Wawa for the benefit of the commuters passing through Lower Southampton, and we are going to accept the burden of the traffic and everything else that comes with it. We have to. We’re the doormat of the people commuting from Philadelphia into the other suburbs,” he said. “The infrastructure of those roads is just not built to support the traffic currently there, let alone any additional traffic based on the numbers and growth. The growth is showing it’s not in Lower Southampton. We don’t need it.”
The board will convene at a later date to make a final decision. ••
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org