Arguments concluded before Philadelphia’s zoning board on developer Bart Blatstein’s proposal for a Wawa gas station along the Delaware River waterfront that opponents say would set back efforts to make the area more inviting to residents and pedestrians.
Tuesday’s Zoning Board of Adjustment hearing mostly featured witnesses seeking to derail the filling-station plan for part of the South Philadelphia property along Columbus Boulevard, between Reed and Tasker Streets, where a Foxwoods casino had once been planned.
Katherine DeAngelis, a 35-year resident of the surrounding neighborhood of Pennsport, said the proposal was only a detriment to her community, where gas pumps are plentiful.
One filling station already shares a strip mall with a newly remodeled Wawa directly across Columbus Boulevard from where Blatstein wants to build his, she noted.
“This already busy intersection does not need more traffic,” DeAngelis said.
Also speaking out against the proposal were a city Planning Commission official; leaders of groups representing Pennsport and a broader coalition of waterfront communities; and lawyers for Philadelphia’s government and the Delaware River Waterfront Corp.
The DRWC, a city-affiliated nonprofit that manages development along central Philadelphia’s Delaware River waterfront, also produced what it said were 1,200 letters opposing the plan.
Blatstein’s lawyers and consultants made their case for the project at a previous hearing in November. On Tuesday, lawyer Carl Primavera sought during his closing arguments to minimize the proposal’s potential impact on the area, calling it “a minor development."
Board chairman Frank DiCicco said that the panel would vote on the proposal after members who had missed the November hearing had a chance to review transcripts from that session. The transcripts may not be available for 30 days or so, he said.
Wawa did not respond to an email seeking comment on the day’s arguments.
When Blatstein first sought permits for the project in 2017 on the southwest quadrant of the South Philadelphia parcel, the plan was rejected by the Department of Licenses and Inspections because filling stations may not front on Columbus Boulevard under area land-use rules.
Those rules emerged from the Master Plan for the Central Delaware, which was drawn up in the mid-2000s to encourage development that enables pedestrian access to the river.
Rather than appeal L&I’s decision at that time by asking the zoning board for special permission known as a variance, Blatstein suspended his efforts the following spring.
Last year, though, L&I accepted a nearly identical plan after Blatstein had a street-facing strip of land declared a separate parcel so that the filling station — legally speaking — faces the strip of land, not the road.
A driveway across the buffer, however, would let drivers get to the pumps directly from Columbus Boulevard.
Inspectors accepted the parcel-splitting strategy but instructed Blatstein that the pumps themselves would require him to obtain a “special exception,” another type of permission granted by the zoning board with more lenient standards than a variance.
On Tuesday, lawyers for Philadelphia’s government and the DRWC argued that Blatstein’s request should be denied, saying it does not qualify for a special exception because it runs counter to adopted plans for the area and would negatively affect surrounding communities.
The DRWC’s lawyer, Michael Mattioni, also argued that L&I officials had erred in accepting Blatstein’s zoning conceit that the gas station no longer faces Columbus Boulevard.
Peter Angelides, a principal with Econsult Solutions Inc., meanwhile, summarized a report that the Philadelphia economics-and-planning consultancy completed on the proposal.
“It locks in — for a very long time — a very undesirable land use," he said.