Last February, Wawa unveiled controversial plans for a gas station and convenience store on South Main Street.
Concerned about traffic and light pollution, many in the community formed a grassroots group and signed petitions to fight against the project. Debate over the Wawa drove the conversation in the city for several months and was a factor in the September resignation of Mayor Vance A Funk III.
However, now a full year later, the proposed site still sits empty, the project in a state of limbo.
“I’ve not heard anything from Wawa at all,” Planning Director Maureen Feeney Roser said this week, noting that the company filed preliminary plans in March, and under the usual timeframe, those plans would have been considered by the planning commission last May.
Instead, company officials asked her office not to move forward with the approval process.
“That’s not typical,” Feeney Roser said. “Usually once somebody submits, they want to be on the next council agenda.”
The plans, as presented last year, call for a 4,999-square-foot store and 12 gas pumps in the Park N Shop center on South Main Street, across from the Newark Municipal Building. The store would be built at the corner of Apple Road and South Main Street, at the site of the vacant M&T Bank building.
The Wawa is part of a broader improvement plan for the aging shopping center. Approximately 6,000 square feet of the existing building closest to Apple Road would be demolished, leaving more than 44,000 square feet of retail space.
In order for the proposal to move forward, council would have to approve a minor subdivision and a special-use permit for the gas pumps.
Susan Bratton, real estate manager for Wawa, said the company has not given up on the South Main Street location.
“There are some issues with the ownership of that property,” Bratton said this week. “That’s what has affected our ability to proceed or not proceed. At some point, Wawa might be able to move ahead.”
“At this point we’re in the process of communicating with the landowner,” she added. “It’s really out of our control.”
She was adamant that public opposition has not played a role in the delay.
“Not at all,” said Bratton, who represented Wawa at a heated public meeting last February. “Interest in any project is always something that raises a high amount of reaction in a community as organized as Newark.”
Bratton would not elaborate on the ownership issues the project faces.
Feeney Roser said that the owners of the shopping center, the Gallo family, had partnered with Delle Donne and Associates for the project. Delle Donne is the entity that submitted the preliminary plans last year, she said.
However, since then, the landowner and Delle Donne parted ways, Feeney Roser said. The property is now represented by DSM Commercial, a property management firm headquartered on South Chapel Street.
Tripp Way, managing director of DSM, confirmed that the landowner has a lease agreement with Wawa but would not comment further.
Winslow Road residents Jim and Carol McKelvey, who last spring formed the group South Main Street Coalition for Safety to lobby against the project, said they continue to monitor the status of the plan.
The McKelveys oppose the proposed gas pumps because of the light pollution and traffic they would bring, but maintain they would support a Wawa without gas. For several months last year, they held meetings, distributed yard signs and attended community events wearing sandwich boards opposing the gas pumps.
“When the owner decides to bring the plans (to the planning commission), we’ll pick up where we left off,” Jim McKelvey said.