Pennsylvania will allow Peco Energy to build a controversial natural gas infrastructure project in a residential area of Marple Township, which had denied zoning approval after residents complained it would be a hazard to public safety.

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, in a 3-0 vote, on Thursday granted Peco’s request to exempt the “gas reliability station” from local zoning. Peco said the facility, a hub on its gas distribution system, would allow it to deliver more natural gas to a growing section of Delaware County and is needed to provide an “adequate, safe and reliable” flow of energy.

Peco’s facility, which would house equipment to reduce gas pressure on a new pipeline before the fuel is distributed to neighborhoods, is planned for a half-acre site at the corner of Sproul and Cedar Grove Roads in Broomall. The site is next door to a fast-food restaurant. Residences are located across streets on three other sides of the site.

“Peco has the authority to place the buildings along the pipeline to manage the distribution and supply of natural gas in its pipes as long as the company operates its facilities in compliance with state and federal regulations,” the PUC said in its order.

Residents formed the Marple Safety Coalition and conducted protests on the site, saying Peco should find a safer and more suitable location for the facility. Marple Township in November 2020 denied zoning for the project, saying it was incompatible with residential and retail uses.

More than 60 people filed protests with the PUC, and 93 people testified during four hearings last May.

The PUC largely adopted a recommendation in December by two administrative law judges that Peco’s project qualified as a “public utility facility” exempt from local regulation. The township had argued that Peco’s project was a “building” subject to local zoning restrictions.

“The buildings are reasonably necessary to protect the equipment of the natural gas reliability station from weather and vandalism,” the judges, Emily I. DeVoe and Mary D. Long, wrote in their recommended decision.

Peco said it was eager to begin the project.

“We remain committed to being a responsible neighbor to the residents of Marple Township and will continue to maintain the community informed as we move forward with our work,” Mayra H. Bergman, Peco’s vice president for communications, said in an email.

The township’s attorney could not be reached for comment on Thursday. PUC decisions can be appealed to Commonwealth Court.

Julia M. Baker, a neighbor who intervened in the PUC matter, expressed disappointment. “We still firmly believe that we are not some NIMBY case,” she said. The Marple Safety Coalition’s case has implications for other communities impacted by unwanted utility infrastructure, she said.

The station will contain two buildings, one housing equipment for reducing gas pressure and a smaller structure to contain communications equipment. They will be surrounded by an 8-foot security wall that is also designed to dampen noise.

Peco says the gas reliability station is part of a $150 million project that involves building an 11½-mile pipeline from its West Conshohocken gas plant to the proposed Sproul Road facility, where gas pressure would be lowered before the fuel is fed into the local distribution network. Peco says the project is needed to supplement energy supplies to Marple and surrounding communities, where growing demand is set to exceed delivery capacity in the next decade.

The PUC said that “ancillary issues” unrelated to the siting of the buildings, such as traffic, public safety, noise or environmental requirements, were outside the scope of the commission’s review. The PUC said it defers determinations about those issues to environment or transportation agencies.