company will "probably get the [fuel] pumps in front, with some
design improvements," Charles Baker, general manager of the New
Castle County Department of Land Use, told a packed house at a
Claymont Community Coalition meeting.
He said a
meeting of his staff with company representatives has been
scheduled for next week. "We may have it wrapped up" before the
department hosts a follow-up public meeting, at a date yet to be
announced in early April, he said.
the site on which the company wants to build, at Philadelphia
Pike and Harvey Road, is appropriately zoned, the department has
the final administrative say on whether the project can go
Where the 16 fuel pumps in eight
bays will be situated on the site has been at the nub of a
long-running dispute between Wawa and the coalition and the
Claymont Renaissance steering committee. The company wants them
in front of the store and the civic groups have said they should
go in back. Until now, the county department has seemed to agree
with the civics, exercising discretionary
granted by the Unified Development Code to require that the
building be sited with just a 15-foot setback from the forward
Although Baker said the final
decision will be based "on the best professional [planning] job
we can do" and not influenced by the number of letters he and
County Executive Tom Gordon receive on the matter, he began his
presentation at the Mar. 20 meeting by asking how many in the
audience favored approving the Wawa proposal.
There was no doubt at that point
that he would receive an overwhelmingly supportive response. A
standing-room crowd said to number about 150, although it
appeared somewhat larger, filled the meeting room in the
Brandywine Senior Center to capacity. Another 75 to 100 people
were turned away.
Lawyer Wendie Stabler (above photo) makes a point on behalf of
Wawa Inc. The drawing is of a prototype outlet
similar to the one the company proposes for
Claymont. In the photo below, land-use manager
Charles Baker responds to a question at the crowded
Claymont Coalition meeting.
The crowd was mustered by an
ad hoc effort by Claymont resident Chuck Riley, partly as an
outgrowth of an exchange of views through Delaforum's Community
Voices feature. Coalition president George Lossť declined an
invitation to move the meeting to the larger Claymont Fire
Baker said the turnout was an
impressive display of community interest. It was even more so
because it involved support for, rather than opposition to, a
attenders sat, or stood, quietly through an hour-long agenda of
other matters before the Wawa issue came up and, except for
applause and a few random individual outbursts, were restrained
in their attitude toward the proceedings. Whatever tension
existed was broken with prolonged laughter when Barker,
intentionally or otherwise, said, "We didn't say move the pumps
to the rear; we said move the building to the front."
Lossť said the
coalition does not oppose Wawa' building the outlet in Claymont
but has advocated placing the fuel pumps in front of the
building on the grounds that would be incompatible with the
appearance the Renaissance movement envisions for Philadelphia
Pike. The initial phase of the rejuvenation effort is proposed
for a stretch of the highway about a mile north of Harvey Road.
presentation by Wawa officials and their lawyer, the audience
expressed a clear preference for a complex based on a standard
corporate design similar to the one on Lancaster Pike in
Hockessin. They disapproved of the third and most recent plan
submitted to the county, which has the bays covered by a canopy.
In its filing, the company claimed the canopy served as an
extension to the building, bringing its front to the 15-foot
he did not say so specifically, Baker clearly indicated that the
professional planners don't like that design either. "They did
something (adding the canopy) to get to the 15-foot setback. I'm
not sure that is a good thing now," he said.
Pomykacz, Wawa's regional real estate manager, said the company
has 25 stores in New Castle County, with a total of 823
employees. In 1991, the latest year for which a complete figure
is available, the payroll totaled $8 million and the company
paid just under that amount in county and school taxes, he said.
The Claymont outlet will employ between 50 and 70 workers.
engineer Greg Harvey said that the location of the fuel pumps is
a critical element in the company's marketing scheme. He said
the company has 120 such combination outlets, which the company
calls 'super stores', in five Middle Atlantic states. It has
found that that prototype design is the most efficient in
serving customers who want to just buy gasoline or something
from the store or both. Locating them at the rear of the
building, he said, would be both inconvenient and unsafe since
that would require patrons to work through the bays or detour
Wendie Stabler, Wawa's local lawyer, said the company is community
minded and supportive of the Renaissance movement. Since first
submitting a proposal for the complex in Claymont in 2001, it
has made numerous changes to comply with the county's requests,
she said. "We have been in good faith, trying to do what's asked
of us, within reason."
objected vehemently to the county's imposing the
build-to-setback requirement which, she pointed out, is
optional, not required, on the part of the Department of Land
Use. That part of the development code was added under the guise
of being part of a "package of housekeeping changes" while the
Wawa application was pending, she said. During the review
process "nobody else was being subjected to this in New Castle
County," she claimed.
of the audience noted that the amendment to the code was
sponsored by County Councilman Robert Weiner, who represents
Claymont on Council and is recognized as the prime mover of the
Renaissance. Baker said, however, that his department drafted
the amendments and had Weiner introduce them in his capacity
then as chairman of Council's land use committee. "I'm the one
who's responsible. The department prepared the changes to the
code," he said. Weiner did not attend the coalition meeting.
said that neither the coalition nor the Renaissance committee
wields undue influence. "We do the best professional job
we can. It's not the coalition making the decisions," he said.
other hand, he added, the department is supportive of the
Renaissance. "They've been working for two years trying to come
up with plans and ideas for improving Claymont. A lot of this is
about style and character," he said.