April 7, 2003

New Castle County Department of Land Use has reversed a prior position and will allow Wawa to construct a combination convenience store and gasoline station in Claymont with fueling bays in front of the building.

The company, however, has to work out an arrangement with the Department of Special Services to come up with sufficient sanitary sewer capacity relative to the intended use of the site before the project can go forward.

While confirming the department's revised position on what had become a controversial community issue, Charles Baker, Land Use general manager indicated that the sewer issue, which apparently is the last major stumbling block, can be worked out by a collaboration of county and company engineers.

"If all goes well, the next thing you will hear is that Wawa has gone through the system and its plan is approved," he told a public meeting on Apr. 7.

Insufficient sewer capacity is one of 24 conditions and additional steps that must be met or taken before county planners sign off on the project. Baker, however, described the other 23 as minor and easily met. Wendie Stabler, Wawa's lawyer, said the company does not foresee any problem with any of those..

She and Wawa project engineer Greg Harvey said it is likely the company will seek a variance from the county code or permission to install a holding tank as a temporary expedient until the county's extensive sewer rehabilitation project provides sufficient capacity. "We're not talking about thousands of gallons, just a couple hundred a day. We are very near capacity," Harvey said.

The shortfall is the difference between the rated sewer capacity of the former Brosius & Eliason store, which Wawa will tear down, and the code requirement for Wawa's planned operation. The site is at the southwest corner of the Philadelphia Pike-Harvey Road intersection.

Although noting that sewers are not within his department's jurisdiction, Baker said that between two-thirds and three-fourths of Brandywine Hundred is short on sanitary sewer capacity. That, he said, is the result of years of neglect and poor maintenance that the present county government administration is committed to correct.

"We are not getting any firm answers [from county officials] about how long the upgrades will take," Stabler said. "If there is going to be any economic development or redevelopment in this part of the county it is [a matter that is] going to have to be resolved."

As far as Wawa is concerned, she added, "we are very interested in being in Claymont and being in this site."

Referring to the location of the 16 gasoline pumps in eight bays, Baker said, "The department has changed our position a little bit. We are now okay with the pumps on the Philadelphia Pike side of the building." He had strongly hinted that that would happen at a Claymont Community Coalition meeting on Mar. 20.

The Claymont Renaissance steering committee and the civic coalition had taken the position that the pumps should be located at the rear of the building. A grass-roots movement sparked by resident Chuck Riley argued that the location of the pumps is immaterial relative to the benefits of attracting a business to what otherwise would be an abandoned commercial site likely to remain such indefinitely.

It is generally agreed that Wawa, a Pennsylvania-based regional chain, is a desirable example of its type of operation.

Baker said he was swayed in his decision to reverse the previous position by the company's argument that putting the pumps behind the store would require customers to either walk around the pumps complex or, more likely, cut through the bays.

He said the county will require Wawa to have a canopy over the pumps, but not one as extensive as the company proposed in its most recent submission to literally meet the code requirement that the front of the building be 15 feet from the property line. Its position was that the canopy could be built as an extension to the building rather than a separate shelter.

He said that the reversal was the result of the land use department's policy of working cooperatively with development applicants and communities. Stabler said she agrees that the department is showing "a positive work-with-you attitude."

"Although there are some times that we are mean, some times we can be reasonable," Baker said.

2003. All rights reserved.

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