October 16, 2002

Prospective neighbors turned out in force to spread the unwelcome mat for 7-Eleven in Hillcrest. They were told that what previously had looked like a losing battle to prevent the convenience store chain from building an outlet there may not be a hopeless cause after all.

About 150 emotionally-charged residents of the area went to a meeting of the Fox Point Association on Oct. 15 to hear about the company's plans and vent their displeasure. They cited anticipated problems from traffic, rowdyism, crime and trash as reasons for their concern.

Kenneth Cushing, real estate manager in 7-Eleven's Mid-Atlantic division, said the company wants s 3,000-square foot store fronted by six double-sided gasoline pumps at the intersection of Philadelphia Pike, Marsh Road and Lore Avenue, midway up Penny Hill. It would be owned and leased from Charles Muchnick, a Pennsylvania resident who has an option to buy the property, and franchised to operate around the clock. No franchisee has been selected nor will be until the store is under construction, Cushing said.

The property is zoned commercial and apparently meets other requirements of the county's Unified Development Code, which would seem to preclude successful blockage of the project. As yet, no development plan has been submitted to the Department of Land Use for approval.

Cushing said he agreed to present a conceptual proposal at the umbrella civic association's meeting in hopes of obtaining "community input" to incorporate into the ultimate plan. The only suggestion he got was to erect a high steel fence around the site. He said it would be extensively landscaped and buffered from the adjacent residential area.

He told the meeting that he "heard what you are saying," but described the objections as "not unlike the comments I hear every time I go to a public hearing" on proposals to put up a new store. The company, he said, added about 140 stores, nationwide, to the chain last year and expects to put up a similar number this year.

"All we want to do is to develop a commercial property on a state highway." he said.

After his presentation and a raucous question-and-answer session, state Senator Harris McDowell told the meeting that he had been informed by Secretary of Transportation Nathan Hayward that

7-Eleven's plans "are not acceptable at this point." Hayward also promised that "there will be no bending of rules in favor of developing this property," McDowell said. Delaware Department of Transportation approval is required during county review of the technical aspects of a development plan, but its stance has to be based on legitimate traffic considerations.

Cushing and 7-Eleven lawyer Pam Scott said the company has had 'preliminary discussions' with DelDOT and acknowledged that the initial ideas concerning entrance onto and egress from the site are in for some revision. The sketch plan they displayed showed two curb cuts from Philadelphia Pike and one from Lore Avenue, a relatively narrow two-lane street.

This house would be torn down to make room for the proposed 7-11 outlet.

McDowell suggested that an abandoned gasoline service station on the opposite side of Philadelphia Pike might provide an acceptable alternate site. Cushing said the company had looked at but rejected several other sites along the highway.

Stuart Watson, one of the organizers of an ad-hoc opposition organization called Friends of Penny Hill and Hillcrest, said the presence on the property of a house believed to have been built in 1790 is an

even stronger "first line of defense." He noted that the county Historic Review Board has an automatic nine-month moratorium on approving a request for a demolition permit involving an old structure to allow time for determining if it merits preservation.

Scott said earlier in the meeting that the house is not on the National Register of Historic Places nor, in her opinion, eligible for listing there.

Also on the property is a building which long-time residents remember nostalgically as the original Penny Hill Doughnut Shop and

The former Penny Hill sub shop and original doughnut shop

later the Penny Hill Sub Shop.

The house, the shop and another structure, which houses an equipment rental business, are slated for demolition to make room for the 7-Eleven store, Cushing said.

Bellefonte Commissioner George Patterson said the Board of Commissioners, that incorporated municipality's governing body, had voted unanimously "to say no to 7-Eleven." At its closest point, Bellefonte is about a quarter mile from the site.

"This is not a done deal by any means," said Chris Koyste, president of the Fox Point Association.

Prominent during the discussion were references to an existing 7-Eleven store on Governor Printz Boulevard at Edgemoor, about a mile away. Meeting attenders described it as poorly run and badly maintained. There also is a 7-Eleven outlet about three miles away  in Claymont. Cushing said both are beyond the three-quarters of a mile radius from which the company expects to draw most of its customers.

Responding to a question about why the company wants to locate in a predominantly residential neighborhood. he said,  "That is exactly what we look for; that is where our customers come from." He said the proposed store is not intended to replace either of the existing nearby outlets.

Several attenders said that, if the new store is built, they will boycott it.

Cushing said the gasoline station-convenience store combination has replaced the traditional stand-alone gasoline service station, "which is disappearing from the landscape."

He said 7-Eleven's operation is geared toward making its outlets compatible with the areas in which they are located. Large tanker trucks service them three or four times a week and a tractor trailer brings non-perishable items once a week. Daily deliveries of perishables are made with vans "that fit in one parking space," he said.

"We build stores to produce profits for our stockholders. We studied this area and we determined there is a market for our products," he said. "There is no 'Plan B'. This [design] or some version of it  is what we intend to put here. ... If we receive the [necessary] approvals we will go ahead."

2002. All rights reserved.

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