Maplewood Residents Support Wawa But Want ZBA Involved in Zoning Changes

by The Village Green
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In light of a presentation concerning the proposed WAWA development for Springfield Avenue at the June 3 Maplewood Township Committee meeting, leaders of the College Hill Neighborhood Association and Hilton Neighborhood Association have sent the following letter to the Committee members (read The Village Green’s coverage of requested zoning changes by the Wawa developer here):

Dear Maplewood Township Committee Members and Our Fellow Maplewoodians:

The Post Office redevelopment has dominated public debate in Maplewood for the past few months. So much attention on one parcel of land. Meanwhile, crosstown and right in the same 07040 zip code, sits Springfield Avenue, which is well-over a mile of land and very deserving of the attention of each and every resident and our surrounding communities.

For us – the residents of the College Hill and Hilton neighborhoods – Springfield Avenue is more than another road to fill with ratables. It is a vibrant part of our community – where we go to keep our households fed, taken care of, and entertained. These businesses are our neighbors.

And our community is about to welcome a new neighbor – Wawa!

On the surface, we are excited about Wawa’s signature coffee and cheap gas. Much deeper, we are cheering that a reputable business will make such a big investment on the Avenue. And, we are smiling because Wawa will bring so much positive energy to the eastern end of Springfield Avenue. Our goal in sending this letter is to ask each of you for your attention to a few matters as we get ready for our new neighbor and many more.

To the Township Committee:

In the coming weeks, matters regarding Wawa will come before you for consideration. As you evaluate the proposals, we urge the following:

#1 – Enacting Key Zoning Changes.

When we met with Mayor De Luca on May 30th and May 31st to discuss our thoughts on Wawa and 24-hour businesses, we were very excited by his proposed idea to change the zoning on Springfield Avenue from Highway Business to Pedestrian Retail Business between Boyden and Broadview. This is the change we need on Springfield Avenue. Included with this zoning change should be a prohibition on future 24-hour businesses in the Pedestrian Retail Business zone and a closer look at allowing first floor offices to open in this business area.

We need to update the code starting this Summer to align with the current and projected nature of business operation on the Avenue, and with the types of businesses desired by residents. We believe that this zoning change is one of the best ways to do so. We look forward to working with the Township and the Springfield Avenue Partnership to ensure this change is implemented in a fashion to attract the best possible business to the Avenue while meeting the interests of the community. Regardless of what happens with Wawa, we will continue to urge the Township to make this particular zoning change.

We are incredibly thankful to the Mayor for his willingness to extensively meet with us, to hear our concerns, and to let us engage in a solution.

#2 – Ensuring Sound Safety Measures Are Placed on 24-Hour Business Operation.

It is our understanding that Wawa will only open in Maplewood if they are permitted to operate 24-hours for both their gas and retail sales, and that currently, the Township has a law prohibiting the sale of gasoline between 11PM and 6AM. While neighbors have differing views on the need for 24-hour businesses in Maplewood, one value was uniformly crystal clear – no change should compromise the character of Maplewood or put an unfair burden on our municipal services, like the police department. We are one community. The truth is, just as one benefit improves the whole town, one detriment impacts us all irrespective of the street we call home in Maplewood.

As the town evaluates lifting the ban on 24-hour gas service, we strongly encourage you to use this as an opportunity to legislate that businesses be required to undergo a mandatory public safety check with our local police department in order to operate. The Township should also look at creative ways to address businesses that put an increased demand on municipal services. Before making any change, a careful review of independent public safety data and business operation, especially as it relates to our region, should be considered.

We appreciated Mayor De Luca’s words that any change he would advocate for with respect to allowing 24-hour gas stations would be limited to the reconfigured Highway Business zoned areas of Springfield Avenue (the new Highway Business zone would be the western and eastern ends of Springfield Avenue; the newly expanded Pedestrian Retail Business zone in-between would not have gas stations). To add to this, as neighbors we urge that such changes should have comprehensive public safety checks added, many noted above.

#3 – Encouraging Wawa to Use Already Established Channels to Address Land Use Matters.

While we are sympathetic to the challenges of starting a business, we do believe in the administrative processes to address those matters. Wawa will have two primary uses – gas operation and retail. We know the Board of Adjustment is tasked with addressing such use variances. And as such, any question on use of the property should be handled by the Board of Adjustment.

To Our Fellow Maplewoodians:

There is something special missing from Springfield Avenue. And, it is more Maplewoodians! The reality is we would love to see you more often in our neighborhood as there is so much here to benefit you and our Township.

From a strict dollar and cents perspective, Springfield Avenue presents the best opportunity for Maplewood to increase revenue through our numerous commercial lots. The more you shop, the more businesses grow. And then more businesses will want to come in resulting in more money in our tax base for the township and the school system. Did you know that if each of the over 8,000 households in Maplewood spent just $50 a month on Springfield Avenue that would bring more $4.8 million dollars to our local businesses? It is easy to make that $50 a month investment without changing how you live. For example, instead of rushing to Target and dodging a sea of red carts for party supplies, you can pay a fraction of the price at Deals right on the Avenue and support our town-wide local economy.

From a non-economic standpoint by not supporting Springfield Avenue, you are missing the essence of why we call ourselves Maplewoodians. For many of us, we call Maplewood home because of the progressive values and the desire to live in a place that is not a cookie cutter suburb full of strip malls. Springfield Avenue helps fill those goals in so many ways. On the Avenue you can:

· Dance into healthy living at Viva Z Club or Inspiration Dance.
· Firm up your muscles at CKO or The Gym.
· Find your inner Zen at Shakti Yoga.
· Release your creative energy at Express Yourself Studios or at Knitknack yarn (maybe do a little yarn bombing on the Avenue too).
· Be inspired to cook with all of the fresh foods at the Farmers Market (FYI the Farmer’s Market starts on June 8th for the season).
· Grow with educational programming at the Hilton Library and the 1978 Maplewood Art Center.
· Brag that you ate mouth-watering food at NJ Top 25 Restaurant Verjus, or at authentic Jamaican cuisine at Pimento Grill, or at the “always makes you so happy no matter what” tasty, but healthy HLS Juice Bar
· Stockpile your kitchen with freshly made sausage from Piast Polish Meat, Italian meats from DiPietro’s, and ravioli from Campy’s.
· Savor irresistible sweets from Gigi’s, Edo’s, and the Rack.
· Pamper your dog at Puppy Love Spa.
· Get great bargains, including 50% discount on greeting cards at Lexanne Pharmacy.
· And enjoy a long walk on the beautiful brick sidewalks built in response to the tireless advocacy by neighbors in College Hill and Hilton.

There is so many wonderful things literally taking place in our backyard on Springfield Avenue, and we look forward to celebrating all of those opportunities with you. Perhaps over fresh cup of coffee from Wawa on a bench in Maplecrest Park.


Erin Scherzer
On Behalf of the College Hill Neighborhood Association

Carol Buchanan
On Behalf of the Hilton Neighborhood Association

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