BRICK – A fourth hearing before the Board of Adjustment for an application to build a Wawa convenience store, gas station and drive-through restaurant on the corner of Duquesne Blvd. and Route 70 was not enough to complete the public comment portion during the March 8 meeting.
Professional engineers, land planners, traffic experts and others hired by the developer, Paramount Realty and Riviera Realty, presented their application during the first three Board of Adjustment meetings that started back in November 2016.
The case is in front of the Board because only three of the five lots in the 4.97-acre parcel are in a business zone. One parcel is in a residential zone and one is in an office/professional zone.
Before public comment could be heard on the application at the March 8 meeting, opposing attorney Vincent Sanzone — a criminal defense attorney whose family owns an abutting property at 628 North Lake Shore Drive — spent hours cross-examining the professionals. It was a move created to draw out the meeting and make it as long as he could, said Board Chair Harvey Langer.
Sanzone presented his own witness for the case, his sister Dr. Diane Sanzone, who is a senior environmental scientist and served as an advisor during the Deepwater Horizon Spill in Alaska.
Paramount’s attorney, John Jackson, objected to qualifying Dr. Sanzone as an expert witness because he said she is not licensed in any of the required fields for the application and because she does not have professional neutrality since her family owns the abutting property.
“How does Dr. Sanzone’s testimony apply specifically to this application? What additional facts will she present to assist the board with this application?” asked Board Attorney John Miller, who decided she could present limited testimony relevant to the application.
Dr. Sanzone said that due to the proximity of the gas station to the public she would like to see other modeling studies performed, such as noise impacts, visual impacts, traffic nuisance and others that would “protect the local residents.”
Dr. Sanzone also asked about contingency plans for unexpected events, such as fuel spills, and the construction of off-site containment fields if this were to happen.
Jackson said the applicant had filed environmental impact statements and the plans comply with all federal, state and local DEP requirements. “This is a filibuster action and has nothing to do with land use considerations; I ask to dismiss the witness,” he said.
Miller said the application began in November and the objector’s attorney had plenty of time to have “whatever reports they needed for today.”
“Her qualifications are extraordinary,” said Langer, “but this isn’t Deepwater Horizon – this is a gas station, and they’re meeting every law they have to meet.”
The meeting was contentious at times with attorneys Sanzone, Jackson, Miller and Board Chairman Langer talking over one another.
In his hour-long closing statement, Attorney Sanzone said the application “eviscerates” the township Master Plan and called it “an unnecessary and unwanted development…Paramount bought land that was zoned for a different use and allowing them to change that is not right or just for the adjoining Lake Riviera residents.”
He then cited dozens of case law decisions supporting reasons for the Board to reject the use variance requests.
“Come on, let’s be reasonable here; there are people in the audience who have questions they want to ask, very good questions, and they have been here for three or four meetings, I want to move this along,” Langer said.
Board Attorney Miller said the Board would accumulate and analyze facts before making a decision on the land use application.
“The facts are still coming in,” Miller said during the meeting. “The public provides facts on the same footing as the others who have testified…no one will not be heard for any application,” he said. “You have the right to speak on anything that comes up…and get it on the record.”
At 10:40 p.m. Lake Riviera residents finally got their chance to comment during the meeting which was scheduled to end at 10:00 p.m.
Patricia Young, whose property borders the proposed commercial site, had privacy concerns since she lives in a split level house where the main floor is at 18 feet and the sound wall is at eight feet.
“Currently I look out the window and see woods; I’m going to see the Wawa and the Wawa is going to see me,” she said.
The applicant’s engineer Jeremy Lange said the eight-foot sound wall was not going to block her view. “The only screen is the existing trees that will remain the the buffer area…the commercial area will be in these homes’ line of sight. Short of a giant wall that’s the only way to block the sight,” he said.
Lange said most of the activity would be in front of the site, so the commercial buildings would provide a buffer. The developer could be required to plant some fast-growing arborvitaes, he said.
Young also expressed concerns about Wawa lighting. Lange said there would be no excessive glare and there would be no light spillage across property lines because the LED lighting has cut off shields that shine down in a “sharp distribution.”
Diane Dowlen said she lives about one mile from the proposed development and she sometimes has to wait for five light cycles to get from Duquesne Blvd. onto Route 70.
“I am a resident who can’t get out of her neighborhood because of the volume of traffic; Wawa will compound that even more,” said Dowlen, who has lived in her house for 48 years.
Ken Fielder said he heard the professionals call the parcel the “final piece of the puzzle for development of Route 70,” but he said to him it’s “a piece that doesn’t fit; there’s a bottleneck on Duquesne Drive and there’s going to be a worse bottleneck.”
Fielder also expressed concerns about the height of the sound wall. “Why not mimic Costco’s sound wall? It’s 12 feet high and it sits on a four-foot berm.”
Lange said the walls were different because of “the nature of what we’re buffering; the big box store has a loading zone with big trucks servicing them. This is not nearly as noisy, it’s a completely different situation. The objectives and goals of the two sound walls are completely different.
Fielder said he was also worried about noise from the trucks since Wawa would be a 24/7 operation, and he had concerns about a variance request for reduced setbacks for the site.
Joe Marra said that due to the nature of the three businesses there would be a high volume of cars going in and out all day. He said he was concerned about odor pollution from garbage generated from the drive-through restaurant.
“Put in a scrubber system in the dumpsters, because if the wind is blowing the right way there will be a terrible odor,” he said.
Just before midnight Langer asked the audience to raise their hand if they had questions. At least a dozen hands went up, so another meeting has been scheduled for March 22 at 7:00 p.m. when the Board could also take a vote on the application.