GAITHERSBURG — The Gaithersburg Mayor and Council met on Aug. 5 to hold joint public hearings on proposed projects for the city.
Before getting deep into the meeting, Gaithersburg Mayor Jud Ashman asked those present to observe a moment of silence for the victims of the two mass shootings, which occurred over the weekend in Ohio and Texas.
The first major project the mayor and council discussed was the application of 1788 Holdings to develop a Wawa gas station on Frederick Avenue.
The new gas station and convenience store would be designed to fit on a lot that is a little less than two acres. The property is approximately 8,920 square feet. According to the city, the property has an existing commercial building that was constructed around 1952, which would be replaced with the new convenience store and gas pumps.
Wawa Inc. has been a privately held company since 1803. The company initially began as an iron foundry in New Jersey but got into the business of dairy farming at the end of the 19th century, according to Wawa.
Today, Wawa has more than 800 convenience stores, 500 of which offer gasoline. The stores often offer some fresh foods along with packaged snacks.
Larry Goodwin is the managing principal of 1788 Holdings, which is the real estate developer for the project.
He explained in his testimony before the mayor and council that students at the local high school would be patrons of Wawa given it will be located across the street.
However, the project garnered considerable backlash from Gaithersburg residents at the public hearing. Attendees cited concerns over pedestrian safety, the size of the new development and distaste for adding another gas station to an area that already has many.
James Parsons of the law firm Lynott, Lynott & Parsons spoke to the mayor and council on behalf of local business owners who potentially would feel the impact of the new Wawa at its proposed location.
“We’re here tonight to voice our opposition to this project respectfully; it would not be in the public interest to approve this project at this location,” Parsons said. “The issue is that this location is not the right place for this type of facility. Wawa is known in the industry as what’s called a hyper-marketer of fuel; they sell a lot of gasoline. A Wawa station with pumps like this one can sell over 500,000 gallons of gasoline per month, and this obviously creates a high volume of customer traffic.”
He explained that creating more traffic across seven lanes of travel so near a high school would be very dangerous for the students. The convenient location and low prices for kid-friendly snacks would be an enticing draw for students.
“One of the purposes of a corridor development zone is to enhance economic vitality; if this store is opened, it will seriously damage the economic vitality of nearby gas stations and other convenience stores. There are 10 stations within a one-and-a-half-mile radius and 23 within a three-mile radius,” Parsons said.
Loretta Rivers was another attendee at the public hearing. She noted that the development is not right for the space provided.
“I think this is the wrong development, the wrong place for this area; it feels like it’s being shoehorned in. This is not a small operation; this is a 5,000-square-foot building and six double-sided pumps,” she said. “This is not in keeping with the rest of the development. There are four apartment projects, there is a park, the high school, there’s an elementary school and a church; this just doesn’t fit into what the rest of the development is on this road.”
She also noted concerns about added traffic congestion.
Pam Lindstrom also attended the hearing and highlighted her concerns over the lack of community engagement on the project.
She noted that a Wawa convenience store would not be an improvement for high school students over the shops in Old Town.
“It struck me that the developer kept touting their experience doing mixed-use developments farther down county in places like Bethesda, and it reminded me that we have a master plan for this area,” she said. “I really hope that you all will pause before you sell out the master plan for this area.”
City staff recommended that the Planning Commission keep the record open for comment until Aug. 29 at 5 p.m, according to the city. Action by the mayor and city council is expected in October.