Cherry Hill residents speak out against proposed Super Wawa
All the seats in town hall were filled last night, as more than 50 residents told the planning board the proposed Super Wawa in their neighborhood would receive anything but a “super” welcome.
Wawa is looking to build one of its 24-hour super stores on the former Toyota site at 50 Haddonfield Road, complete with retail, food services and a gas station.
But the problem for many residents is the fear that their once-quaint residential neighborhood will become even more of a traffic nightmare as motorists opt to use Yale and Oakview avenues as a cut through, instead of making a left turn on to busy Haddonfield Road.
More than two hours were given to the applicant to provide testimony and expert opinion on the layout of the store, signage, lighting, trash, store operations, delivery and traffic flow, among other things.
The proposed 6,099 square-foot Wawa would have two access points at Haddonfield Road and Yale Avenue, said Ron Klos, of Bohler Engineering, an engineer on the project.
The property would include a lit canopy to house gasoline tanks. The retail and food store building would include two doorway entrances.
Klos and Harvey Johnson, partners at Duane Morris representing the applicant, detailed the preliminary site plan and took questions from the board.
Many board members questioned the applicant as to whether there would be sufficient space for the super Wawa at the proposed site.
Board member Aimee Hansen expressed concern over how many cars could wait in line for gas while still allowing patrons to back in and out of parking spaces.
Klos said the space permits about one car to wait in line for gas under the plan’s current specifications.
Board members also questioned the traffic flow of cars and deliveries at the site, as well as loading hours for large trailers to make their deliveries.
Small delivery trucks, such as those used to bring newspapers, soda and snacks, would be made during daytime hours, said Mike Redel, a Wawa engineer.
Redel said larger trucks, such as dairy deliveries, are often routed and make four to five other stops in the vicinity. These trucks, he said, would be restricted from making deliveries after 11 p.m. and before 6 a.m.
Fuel deliveries could potentially be made the Haddonfield Road location in the restricted times. Redel said a computer-monitored system automatically routes a fuel truck to any Wawa location when fuel levels are low.
“So they’re not regulated by time of day, they’re regulated by need?” asked board member Carole Roskoph.
“Yes,” Redel said. “But of all the deliveries, they’re the most quiet.”
Board members also inquired about trash collection and lighting, as well as a possible increase in crime in the immediate community.
Redel said theft would be harder to manage by store employees since the building has two entrances, but noted all Wawas typically face similar potential for crime.
Later, Deanna Drumm testified as a traffic expert, citing a traffic study completed on Nov. 8, on the existing Haddonfield Road traffic patterns.
“Studies show 60 to 70 percent of traffic is already on Haddonfield Road. This doesn’t necessarily bring in traffic, this is just a redistribution of traffic,” Drumm said.
Drumm refered to numbers from the New Jersey Department of Transportation on Haddonfield Road crashes, which, she said, were very high along Church and Maple avenues.
However, she added, the DOT has reported two or three near Yale Avenue in recent years.
By 10 p.m., it was clear residents had heard enough from the engineers of the project. The board opened up the meeting to the public, with neatly a dozen residents lining up to defend their neighborhood against the proposed Wawa.
Many residents pleaded with the board to consider the impact additional foot and car traffic trash and loitering would have on their community.
“In the neighborhood, there’s a lot of traffic — and they do not drive 25 miles per hour,” said Maureen Romero, whose children’s second-floor bedroom windows would directly face the proposed gasoline canopy.
Romero said she asked for a report from the Cherry Hill Police Department detailing the amount of accidents along Haddonfield Road between Maple and Church Roads.
Romero read the numbers to the audience.
“Forty-six in 2011. Forty-eight in 2010. Sixty-nine in 2009. Seventy-six in 2008. Seventy-seven in 2007,” Romero said.
She said she thought the decrease in recent years could be attributed to the vacancy left by Toyota.
Romero also told the story of a 17-year-old killed walking to her job at Subway along Haddonfield Road and Yale Avenue in 2008.
Neighbor Joan Slater also voiced her concern about traffic in the community surrounding the proposed Wawa.
She said Cherry Hill police published the last study done on Oakview Avenue in 1995. Slater said the department, at the time, reported that the resident’s concerns on the traffic on Oakview Avenue were valid.
“There is no enforcement on the street to avoid traffic on Haddonfield Road,” Slater said. “(It’s) 17 years later — and we’re still asking for help.”
Residents also expressed an interest in approaching Mayor Chuck Cahn and the town council with a plan to close of Yale Avenue from Haddonfield Road.
Some even questioned how a new super Wawa would impact local property values.
“Property values could go down, increase or stay the same,” said Edward Madden, who said he supported closing off Yale Avenue “If I were buying a home, I certainly wouldn’t want to buy one 100 feet away from a 24-hour Wawa.”
After hearing from the public, Johnson, who represented the applicant, said his client would not have any opposition to closing off Yale Avenue.
The board unanimously voted to table a decision on the property until its March 5 meeting, given that the board and public had brought up new issues that the applicant would need to research and answer further.
Councilwoman Sara Lipsett, liaison to the board, requested the Yale Avenue proposal would need to be brought up to the mayor and council at the next meting. She also asked to see a petition signed by residents asking to close off Yale Avenue, as well as an updated study from the police department on the traffic along Oakview Avenue.
The planning board is expected to make a decision at the March 5 meeting at 7:30 p.m. in town hall.
If approved by the planning board, the town council would also need to approve a resolution before Wawa could move forward with its plans.