A Wawa may soon be built next to a centuries-old chapel and tavern in Chester County after officials approved a zoning change that cleared the way for the convenience-store giant.
The West Whiteland Township Board of Supervisors voted 2-1 on Wednesday to allow Wawa to move into a yet-to-be-built 5,600-square-foot building — complete with eight gas pumps — at 690 E. Lincoln Highway, once home to an Entenmann’s pastry factory and outlet store.
East Lincoln Highway, also known as Route 30, traverses a busy, leafy district now zoned for densely packed apartments, townhouses, and offices, save for the historic St. Mary’s Chapel and Ship Inn, which predate zoning.
“It’s kind of going to look strange,” said Michael Person, owner of the Ship Inn, constructed in 1796. "A Wawa and a chapel.”
The board majority also decided to increase the density of single-family homes that can be built on several acres along East Lincoln Highway, explaining that even with the change, fewer standalone residences could fit on a piece of land compared with blocklike apartments or townhouses.
As a result of the supervisors’ decision, developer Eli Kahn, the owner of eight acres at 690 E. Lincoln Highway, said he would likely not go forward with his original plans to build 130 apartments and a three-story office building there in favor of about 80 townhouses, the building he plans to lease to Wawa, and two other retail buildings that he could also rent out.
NVR Homes, which teamed up with Kahn, has also indicated it would not build more than 400 apartments and townhouses on 52 acres at 500 E. Lincoln Highway — the former home of the Laborers’ Training Facility — and instead opt for about 90 single-family homes and 65 townhouses, West Whiteland officials said.
“Either way, there will be something built there,” said Theresa Santalucia, chair of the West Whiteland Township Board of Supervisors who voted with Beth Jones in favor of the ordinance changes while Michele Moll voted against them Wednesday. “You’ll get less density with the Wawa.”
Moll said she decided to vote against the zoning changes after she reviewed the town’s comprehensive plan, which recommends commercial growth around Lincoln Highway and Pottstown Pike, but limits gas sales to the town center. The board’s majority decision Wednesday, she said, appears to be contradictory.
“The township’s Board of Supervisors must be careful to engage in smart growth and development, and zoning of land use is the single most important legal tool available to do so,” she said Thursday. “In addition, it was clear to me, from surveys, numerous emails, and various conversations, that the residents did not favor a zoning change.”
A spokesperson for NVR Homes, the parent company to several building subsidiaries, including Ryan Homes and Fox Ridge Homes, declined to comment. A lawyer for NVR Homes did not respond to a request for comment.
“We’re both agreeing to less development on the properties than are permitted by right," said Kahn, founder of Malvern-based EKahn Development, adding that he had approached Wawa for this project.
“Believe it or not, Wawa wants to be in West Whiteland,” he said. "They do not have a full-service Wawa in that area.”
The builders saw an opportunity to work together, said John R. Weller, West Whiteland’s director of planning and zoning, but “we feel as if the township benefits as well."
As part of the deal, Kahn said he and Reston, Va.-based NVR Homes would be willing to pay for a new $1.75 million road a little north of the bustling Ship Road intersection that town officials say will better manage increased traffic. The developers will also foot the bill for a second path on the nearby Chester Valley Trail, Weller said, noting that he considered the builders’ offers to be the most financially responsible solution for West Whiteland.
Residents have aired vocal opposition to the new developments. Some have raised objections to what they predict will still be a severe uptick in congestion and expressed exasperation about added construction, pointing to the embattled Mariner East pipeline and geologic factors that make the area particularly susceptible to sinkholes.
Like Person, of the Ship Inn, other residents have drawn concern to the architectural incongruence between St. Mary’s, a small chapel built in 1873, and commercial giant Wawa.
A spokesperson for Wawa did not respond to repeated requests for comment, nor did officials at St. Mary’s. But the chapel, Kahn said, will benefit from the new developments, too, because builders will repave its parking lot and create a pathway through the new construction at 690 E. Lincoln Highway.
“This is well-thought-out, well-planned, and well-designed," Kahn said. “I do this for a living, so I understand people don’t want to see any other further development, but that’s not realistic. It’s hard for people to see new development."