Cherry Hill Planning Board approves Wawa
After hearing hours of testimony from professionals and residents last night, the eight-member Cherry Hill Township Planning Board unanimously approved a site variance for a proposed Wawa store at Haddonfield Road and Yale Avenue, the site of the former Toyota dealership, complete with retail, food services and a gas station.
The board met last month to hear from Harvey Johnson, a partner at Duane Morris, who represents Wawa. Johnson, along with site engineer Ron Klos and Wawa engineer Mike Redel, discussed the site, the flow of traffic and deliveries, and the impact on the neighborhood.
At the end of the last meeting, planning board members asked the applicant to go back to the drawing board to come up with a solution to eradicate traffic in the residential neighborhood along Yale Avenue.
Johnson told the board exiting motorists would not be allowed to make a left turn on to Yale Avenue and into the neighborhood.
He said, too, that Wawa would welcome a sign that reads no left turn, as well as a sign that reads no left turn for trucks. The township would need to approve such a sign, however, and allow the Cherry Hill Police Department the ability to enforce it.
The board also asked the applicant to study the noise impact on the neighborhood, along with solidifying the hours trucks are allowed to make deliveries.
Representing Wawa, Johnson called on the knowledge of Dave Shropshire of Shropshire and Associates in Lumberton, who was sworn in by the board as a sound/acoustics engineer.
“We can give assurance to our client, neighbors and board that we can comply with the State Noise Control Act,” Shropshire said.
Shropshire said he performed decibel readings at three spots along the site recently. Along Haddonfield Road, the ambient readings he took came in between 53 and 75 decibels. The higher readings, he added, were due to a motorcycle riding along Yale Avenue.
The State Noise Control Act requires the sound to be under 65 decibels from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. at 25 feet away.
The highest noise volume at this Wawa, Shropshire added, would come from trash collection.
At a Wawa site with an identical trash setup in the Manayunk neighborhood of Philadelphia, the decibel count spanned from 62 to 65 decibels at 20 feet away, which is within the state ordinance.
Wawa officials also promised to contain all deliveries to the hours of 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., with no overnight delivery of gasoline, which residents expressed concern over at the meeting prior to March 5.
A few hours into last night’s meeting, Peter Thorndike, who represented resident Maureen Romero, had an opportunity to cross-examine experts who presented testimony on behalf of Wawa.
Romero, a resident of Pennsylvania Avenue, spoke at the previous meeting in opposition to the proposed Wawa. She said her children’s second-floor bedroom windows would directly face the proposed gasoline canopy.
Thorndike told the board the space Wawa needs to fit its retail store and gas pumps cannot be adequately accommodated on the 1.8-acre lot.
Thorndike called Joseph Fiocco, a highway safety and traffic engineer for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. Fiocco said he is licensed in New Jersey and warned the board about the safety hazards the site imposes on the community.
“What they’re proposing provides significantly greater risks,” Fiocco said. “I see a number of crashes taking place there.”
Deanna Drumm, who testified on behalf of Wawa as a traffic expert at the previous meeting, said the site met all safety requirements in her opinion.
Even with the approval of the planning board, because Haddonfield Road is a county road, the Camden County Planning Department has the final say on the traffic patterns needed to sustain the site’s traffic circulation and flow, board members said.
Wawa officials said they did update the site plan to include wider drive aisles for more maneuverability. Commercial traffic would circulate by entering the Wawa from the signal on Haddonfield Road and exit back on to Haddonfield Road.
By 11 p.m., about a third of the 100 or so residents had cleared out. The remaining neighbors were then invited to provide their comments on what had been presented at the meeting.
Nearly a dozen residents spoke passionately in opposition to the plan.
“Wawa was encouraged to reach out to the community by the board, but Maureen Romero did all the reaching,” resident Richard Case said in reference to a meeting held with one Wawa official and three residents the week before the planning board meeting. “I went to 40 to 45 homes on Oakview Road and couldn’t find anyone who wanted it.”
Carrie Haney of Oakview Avenue asked the board if there were any steps she and fellow residents could take to block Wawa if it was passed by the board.
“Do we have any say once it gets past you? It’s a five-pound spot and you’re trying to put a 10-pound thing in it,” Haney said.
Before closing arguments, the board asked township traffic planner Arnold Garonzik to weigh in on the site plan.
“This plan is better than what we saw in February. A much better plan,” Garonzik said. “Some areas will be a little tight, but the trucks will be able to get around. It’s the best design they could do.”
Johnson then asked the board to approve the plan, as the applicant was asking for just one variance to amend the township’s signage code.
The board further discussed the conditions Wawa would need to meet to be approved, including delivery hours, curbing and landscaping, loitering, crosswalks, prohibited traffic on Yale Avenue, left turn enforcement and additional signage.
The board also agreed that, after two lengthy meetings, they had heard sufficient evidence from residents, professionals and experts.
Many members of the board expressed sympathy to neighboring residents as they casted their vote, but said they had to vote “yes” because the applicant met all of the township’s requirements and ordinances.
Next, the town council needs to approve a resolution before Wawa could move forward with its plans.