Last Tuesday, as the Maplewood Township Committee approved the introduction of three ordinances that would pave the way for a new Wawa convenience store and gas station, Mayor Vic DeLuca addressed concerns about 24-hour gas stations on Springfield Avenue.
One ordinance will allow 24-hour gas stations in town (previously prohibited) but only in designated highway business zone areas. Another one of the ordinances would shrink those zones to specific nodes on Springfield Avenue.
Some residents protested the need for 24-hour gas at the proposed Wawa as well as the potential for 24-hour gas at the 76 station at Springfield Avenue and Millburn Avenue.
“Why do we need a 24-hour gas station?” asked one 23-year Maplewood resident, who said that she had moved to the town for its quaintness.
A resident of 44th Street — near the proposed Wawa location — also questioned the need for 24-hour gas. “Anyone coming into that neighborhood at that hour is not going to be from Maplewood. That’s not the kind of traffic we want in our city. The focus has to stay on what makes this town a great place to live.”
A Marie Place resident — near the existing 76 gas station — said, “My concern is the noise and quality of life. We don’t have central air. We can hear every noise. We can hear the air pump, the vacuum cleaner, we can hear the cars pulling in.” The resident asked that the town “keep it the way it is at the 76. It’s not something we signed up for when we moved to Maplewood.”
Another 44th Street resident said he was “a little conflicted.” He saw that property values would go up with the Wawa — “That’s a positive” — but asked that the Township Committee “be cognizant of the noise and imposition on life of the neighborhood.”
Conversely, Stephanie Scott of Amherst Court near the 24-hour 7-Eleven on Springfield Avenue told the Township Committee that although “We fought it tooth and nail … I will say that it has been a net positive to have a 24-hour business.” Scott said that previously the corner where the 7-Eleven is located was dark with lots of negative activity. She said that there is now “great police presence” and the “owners have been good neighbors.”
Mayor DeLuca explained that 24-hour gas would not be allowed in residential areas, and also argued that the Wawa would be a “huge plus” for its area.
“They’ve done a safety analysis and we have in the ordinance that they have to have a security plan and measures that would be approved by the chief of police,” said DeLuca, who noted that the location of the proposed Wawa is currently “one of the darkest areas of Springfield Avenue and Maplewood. This store and this activity will bring a lot more light and exchange with folks. We think will fundamentally change that area and make it safer.”
DeLuca also explained that Wawa would not build on the site without the ability to be open and sell gas 24 hours. “This is the business model now,” said DeLuca. He also noted that the Wawa building will buffer properties from the gas pumps. DeLuca also countered the idea that Maplewood residents would not use the Wawa 24 hours a day, saying he knew many whose shift work and early morning schedules had them looking for coffee and gas before 6 a.m.
“As far as 76, there is not a requirement that they are opened,” added DeLuca. In fact, the Mayor said that he has talked to the 76 operators and it does not make business sense for them to be open all night since they are not also a convenience store and do not make enough in sales to justify the expense of a 24-hour operation. “When they close at 10, 10:30,” said DeLuca, “they are looking to get out of there.”
DeLuca said that if the 76 did decide to stay open 24 hours they would need to honor the noise ordinance and also present a security plan to the police chief. Regarding the proposed ordinance, DeLuca said, “We can’t chop off the 76. We have to treat these businesses equally.”
Four of the Township Committee members voiced their support for all three ordinances. Committeeman Jerry Ryan said, “My view on this is I feel I’m making a trade off between doing the things that need to be done to enable a really good development and trying to minimize the downsides. I feel the combination of the regulations, safety and shrinking the size of highway business zone represents a really good trade off. I’m in favor of it.” Ryan said he was also persuaded by the testimony of residents who live near 24-hour businesses currently.
Deputy Mayor Kathy Leventhal said she felt Wawa had made a very good presentation and would be “a good neighbor.”
Committeeman Marlon K. Brownlee said, “Overall it’s actually my belief that these measure taken together will transform that area of Springfield Avenue for the better.”
India Larrier was the one holdout saying she was “conflicted” — particularly due to the concerns expressed by Marie Place residents near the 76. “Do I want to keep the dark corner?” asked Larrier, referring to the proposed Wawa development. “No.” However, she said, “I believe for me and for Maplewood this may not be the deal that does that.”
Larrier voted against the introduction of ordinance 2793-15 allowing 24-hour gas station operation within the highway business zones. However, the other four members of the Township Committee voted to introduce the ordinance.
The other two related ordinances were unanimously voted to be introduced:
Ordinance 2795-15, amending the township’s zoning map, reclassifying some properties from a Highway Business Zone to a Pedestrian Retail designation. This would ensure that gas stations and auto repair shops would only be allowed to open up shop in those HBZ-designated areas.
Ordinance 2794-15, defining a convenience store with a fueling station, allowing a convenience store with a fueling station to be a permitted used within the highway business zone and adding professional offices as a permitted use in the Pedestrian Retail Business Zone.
The final hearing on the three ordinances will take place August 18.