Wawa Inc., Doylestown developer Verrichia, and former Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick have been out pitching the proposed New Hope-Solebury Wawa superstore, and on Saturday they held an open house at the existing New Hope Wawa to “clear up the misconstrued details about the project.”
Wawa has submitted an application and sketch plan for the massive convenience store and gasoline complex to New Hope Borough Council and the Solebury Township Board of Supervisors, and leaders of both have pledged neutrality as the plan heads first to Solebury’s planning commission on Oct. 9, and then to New Hope’s Zoning Hearing Board.
Wawa opened in New Hope in 1988 at the corner of West Bridge Street and Sugan Road, remodeled in 1997, and in 2000 expanded its parking lot. It’s reputedly one of the busiest locations in the country for the privately-held convenience store chain, which would like to expand its local footprint. The new superstore would be located just north on Sugan Road across from the New Hope Eagle Fire Company, and would sit on 3.5 acres of land adjacent to Route 202, divided evenly between New Hope and Solebury.
The store itself would encompass 5,500 square feet, with around 70 parking spaces, and the gasoline service areas would feature six pumps. The location would be accessible from Sugan Road and both directions of Route 202.
Residents of New Hope seem sharply divided on the prospect of a Wawa megastore across from the local firehouse, based on interviews, while Solebury citizens appear to be leaning against the new location, which is closer to population centers there, and the township historically has been a leader in environmental protection and preservation.
“The gas and the building are actually in New Hope,” explained Mike Fitzpatrick, who served as a Republican member of the United States House of Representatives for Pennsylvania’s 8th congressional district from 2005 to 2007, and from 2011 until earlier this year, when his brother Brian took over the job. He’s currently an attorney with powerhouse Philadelphia law firm Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel LLP, who have been retained by Wawa.
Fitzpatrick said the project has the support of New Hope’s leaders, but recognized Solebury would be more challenging.
“Borough council has basically pretty much said that they want this,” Fitzpatrick said. “Solebury remains to be seen.”
In fact, a yet to be named Solebury-based group has been circulating a “Mega Wawa Critique,” which has been seen by township leaders. That epistle outlines key objections to the Wawa expansion, including aesthetics (an eye-catching building design and illuminated awnings that clash with local architecture), water contamination risk (underground gas storage tanks could leak into the Aquetong watershed), and adverse traffic impact (the Route 202 and Sugan Road intersection is already overburdened).
Those opposed to the project are also concerned about light and noise pollution. Since Wawa will be open 24/7, they worry about constant night time illumination, and that fuel and other deliveries will add to noise and congestion. They’re also not convinced that Wawa’s entry into fuel retailing will break up Lukoil’s local gas monopoly, saying a new duopoly will likely collude on prices.
Likewise, opponents of the proposed superstore don’t believe it will provide competition for Giant Supermarket or a realistic grocery alternative for consumers. And megastore detractors bemoan the destruction of natural open space and the creation of a huge impermeable surface.
Wawa said the increase in road traffic will be imperceptible.
“Although there will be a small increase, it will not be noticeable when compared to all of the cars already on the roadway,” the company asserted in a statement.
“The new store will be located at an existing signalized intersection of two busy roadways, so the area already has noise and lighting impacts. Adding the Wawa will allow for an opportunity to improve the buffer to the surrounding community with substantial landscaping and fencing.”
Wawa also said the new site will feature “neighborhood-friendly” lighting, and that the architecture of the building and fuel canopy will “conform aesthetically to the surrounding Bucks County area.”
The company underscored the creation of 15 new jobs, and the proposed outlet’s contribution to the local tax infrastructure and economy. Wawa also said their gasoline operation will feature value pricing and free air.
“We are encouraged about the new opportunities in New Hope and Solebury with our proposed expansion,” Wawa said in a statement. “With any proposed development or re-investment in our communities, it’s our top priority to be a good neighbor and follow the processes set forth by our local municipalities. It is our hope that our process of open discussions in the community, dialogue and transparency will always help us come to the best decision for every community we serve.”
Wawa is the largest convenience store chain in Pennsylvania, and also operates in New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, Florida and Virginia.