The proposed Wawa development in Maplewood has hit some zoning snags, but the Maplewood Township Committee has indicated that it is willing to help Wawa overcome those hurdles.
Maplewood Township Counsel Roger Desiderio is drafting ordinances for the Committee’s consideration that would deal with hours of operation, a lot line placement, and a use variance issue. Desiderio said he planned to have something for the Committee to review by its second June meeting on the 16th.
“We’ve been talking a lot about Springfield Avenue and trying to get development,” said Mayor Vic DeLuca “The Master Plan is pretty clear about using the zoning code to spur development.”
“This is on us,” DeLuca added. “If we want this kind of development we have to work to balance the needs of residents and the needs of the developers to make that happen.”
Deputy Mayor Kathy Leventhal and Committeeman Jerry Ryan indicated that they too were interested in working with the developers to bring a Wawa convenience store and gas station to 44th Street and Springfield Avenue (near the Irvington border). Committee Marlon K. Brownlee said he was anxious to hear community input about the proposed zoning changes.
Members of the Hilton Neighborhood Association voiced positive reactions to the project after a presentation in March.
The three proposed zoning/ordinance changes include:
- The developers are asking that the TC create a new use in the code for minimarts that could be limited to the highway business zone on Springfield Avenue. Currently, town code enforcement official Bob Mittermeier has indicated that the the development contains two uses (retail and gas station), requiring a use variance through the Zoning Board of Adjustment. The developers of the Wawa are arguing that towns have been adjusting their codes to reflect that minimarts are a single use and that the gasoline component is a product associated with the food and is not the traditional gas station. Desiderio noted that there are legal precedents for this new use in other towns.
- A lot on 45th street that is included in the proposed development is zoned residential (R-24) and would need to be changed to highway business zone. “There is an argument that can be made that under the Master Plan and the intent to develop the area there is a fair basis for doing this,” said Desiderio. “Also, the site is currently used to store heavy equipment, so we’re not knocking down a house.”
- Currently, there are two prohibitions for 24-hour businesses in Maplewood: service stations and businesses in a residential zone. These businesses are allowed to operate from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. “They are seeking to be open 24-hours a day,” said Desiderio, referring to the Wawa. “They say it is a linchpin to that development.” DeLuca suggested that service stations could be left in that “blackout except for stations in the highway business zone so it would not affect the other three [service stations] in residential zones.”
Desiderio said that the ordinances involving the use variance and the lot line would still need to go to the Planning Board for approval.
Committeewoman India Larrier wanted to know why the developers could not go through the Zoning Board of Adjustment and “take their chances.”
“They won’t do that,” said DeLuca. He noted that the “D” variance needed for single use designation was the “most stringent variance.” Said DeLuca, “They are concerned that a competitor would fuel opposition leading to a negative result.”
Larrier said, “My concern is that these rules … I see them as a way to protect the township.” Larrier also said she was not interested in changing the hours of operation for a gas station. “I would feel better about hours of operation if I felt they had met the benchmarks that they needed to from the Zoning Board of Adjustment.”
Ryan said, “Under the right circumstances, I would not be opposed.”
[Regarding the 7-Eleven on Parker and Valley, DeLuca said the variance issue was different there since the market and the gas pumps have two different operators, 7-Eleven and Shell.]
Leventhal asked if the other two stations on Springfield Avenue would be able to be open all night also. Desiderio said that they would.