Some members of the Newtown Township Board of Supervisors entertained the idea of leasing two acres of Silver Lake Park to Wawa or a similar convenience store last week.
The idea was first proposed by board members Phil Calabro and Jennifer Dix as a way of providing the township with much needed revenue after the loss of employee Earned Income Tax from the Lockheed Martin site.
Dix noted that since Wawa has fairly specific building and site requirements, the only logical site in her opinion would be at the corner of the Newtown Bypass and Campus Drive. She noted that per Wawa’s website, the popular convenience store no longer builds without gas pumps, on sites smaller than two acres, or on roads that carry less than 25,000 cars a day.
Dix expressed interest in leasing a portion of the land to a developer, while leaving the remaining five acres preserved as open space. Dix said that very specific requirements would be in order for the lease including beautiful signage, an appealing building that is set back from the main road, and improvements to the adjacent park – such as benches, additional trails, a spot for fishing, more landscaping, and water quality improvements.
“It would make an under-utilized space into something I think the community wants as well as supplying the Township with much needed revenue,” Dix said in a Facebook post late last month. “The remaining five acres of the park could be upgraded as part of the deal. Assuming we could structure it so it doesn’t set a precedent for more commercial development on the Bypass.”
Calabro noted that the township could require anything it wants as part of specs for development of the land since its not dealing with a private landowner. “We can control everything about this property,” he said.
He also noted that a site like Wawa could bring the township tens of thousands of dollars a month in income for the township. The township, after losing over $1 million in Earned Income Tax, and with the potential of losing more as more towns continue to institute the tax, will need the extra revenue if it doesn’t want to cut back or layoff employees, said Calabro.
The township solicitor noted that while Wawa may be the desired developer of the spot, the township will have to make their specs available to anyone interested in developing the land under the gas station/convenience store category.
Traffic has long been a concern of residents when townships negotiate with Wawa brokers and land developers, but Calabro said traffic during rush hour is bound to be backed up if that corner if developed. He said while people will be concerned with traffic filtering out, people forget that the Lockheed Martin plant use to employ about 1,000 people.
While Board President Kyle Davis said he has a “serious problem” with selling park land for a gas station, Vice Chairman Ryan Gallagher said it is important that the township does its due diligence before moving forward, including analyzing the open space survey from 2008 that pinpointed all open properties in the township – noting that the site indicated by Dix and Calabro may not be the best site for a Wawa.
A resident that spoke at public comment during the meeting noted that the land is deed restricted and that any development on the property would have to go through county commissioner approval, a fact proven by the township manager but not identified by Dix or Calabro to the attending residents.
The Board of Supervisors did not take any formal action of the proposal put forward by Calabro and Dix.
Despite a significant population and space open for development, the Newtown area is void of any Wawa locations, including their popular gas stations that dot the landscape of the Doylestown and Levittown areas.