WAYNE, NJ – This week’s Planning Board meeting was packed with Packanackers who lined up to provide resistance to a Wawa gas station and convenience store that is being proposed to be built where the old Nagel’s Candy Barn sits on the corner of Route 23 and Cedar Place.

MCBS-RENJ WAYNE LLC is the name of the limited liability company for the Wawa franchise.  Their three-person team, consisting of a Lawyer, an Engineer and a Traffic Consultant, came to the front of the Wayne Council Chambers to officially begin their presentation to the Wayne Planning Board on Monday night. 

Aware that Wayne residents would be urging the board to delay or deny the application, the team spent almost a full hour presenting the plan to build the Wawa, discussing the environmental impact, safety precautions and predicted traffic impact on the area.

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“We do understand the sensitivity to the wetlands and the proximity to the lake,” stated Engineer Jeffrey Martell. “We are not disturbing any of the wetland area,” said Martell. “We are only disturbing the existing paved areas and the areas that are currently developed.”

He then described the double-walled fuel tanks that are monitored at three different areas, with anti-corrosive materials used throughout.  He also mentioned an Oil/Water Separator in the storm water collection system that would capture any spilled fuel leaked into the groundwater before it left the property.

“What I’ve stated so far is generally accepted requirements. I think Wawa goes a step above what the regulations require,” said Martell who then explained a 24/7/365 continuous electronic monitoring system at corporate headquarters.  “Wawa is a risk-averse company,” he said.

Mayor Chris Vergano and Councilman Dave Varano, who both sit on the Planning Board had several questions of the MCBS-RENJ team, prompting revisions to the plan that would need to be re-presented at the follow-up meeting scheduled for April 13, 2020.

Vergano, who knew that many residents were upset that, yet another gas station would be built in an area already crowded with them, explained that the Planning Board could not deny the application on this basis. “We don’t get to pick and choose what goes on a particular property as long as it is zoned properly,” he said. “This is a permitted use in the Highway Commercial Zone.”

Town Planner, Christopher Kok backed up the Mayor explaining that the free market must be allowed to operate and that zoning each individual property dependent on the type of business that wants to go there would be “Hugely bureaucratic,” and “Would open up the door to a lot of favoritism.”

The audience did not agree with this as evidenced by the reaction during the public comments when former Wayne Mayoral candidate Ray Egatz said: “I can’t believe that if you had thirty applications for petroleum reserves, that you’d have to okay every one. So, that you would have Route 23 be ‘Gasoline Alley,’ carpeted with gasoline stations and this board couldn’t do anything about it.”  Applause echoed throughout the chamber following this remark.

For over an hour, fifteen residents took their turn walking to the front of the room, directing questions to the MCBS-RENJ team, focusing on the environmental impact the gas station may have on Packanack Lake and the surrounding area as well as fears of increased traffic on the immediate residential area.

“What happens if the filter doesn’t work?” asked Arlene Sullivan, talking about the Oil/Water Separator. “Who cleans up the mess? Who is responsible?”

“Will there be increased traffic on Cedar Place?” asked John Marato, who lives on that road.

“Has anybody done an endangered species check on this area,” asked Richard Carlisle.

Sam Liebman said: “I would argue that the Nagel’s Candy Barn has historical significance to the Packanack Lake community.”

Another former Mayoral Candidate, Lonni Ryan came to the microphone and asked dozens of questions about every subject she could think of that might throw a wrench into the project, speaking for about twenty minutes.

Each question was answered patiently by Martell, though it was clear how tired the engineer was becoming.

“There are concerns that there appears to be an aquafer in the area that feeds Packanack Lake,” said Ryan. “This project would be creating underground storage tanks in that area.” She then asked the Board to look into whether there was an aquafer in the area. *An aquafer is a body of permeable rock which can contain or transmit groundwater.

Kathleen Syron-Ericeno received two rounds of applause for her statements, first saying that the Wawa wasn’t needed because the Packanack Shopping Center already has a deli and a place to buy lottery tickets and a gas station nearby. “We already have the most convenient place,” she said to applause. 

Next Syron-Ericeno said she was ”Terrified” about the proximity to the proposed Wawa to her neighborhood, using the Quickcheck as an example: “Every time I go there, the police are in the back-parking lot because they need to monitor it for all of the drug problems that Route 23 has.” The crowd showed its appreciation to this remark with supportive applause.

Craig Betron owns the nearby Max’s Deli and talked about what he was calling a potential “Traffic nightmare” on Cedar Place that is already used as a U-Turn for Route 23 North.  “People almost get in accidents every single day,” he said.

“We respect all the questions this evening,” said Martell at one point, summing up his team’s stance by saying: “We’ve tried to keep the disturbance where it is already disturbed; outside of the wetland areas, using as many as the best management practices as we can as part of this design. We got a lot of feedback from the board and listening to the public here. We’ll look to take this plan one step further, but I do think it is a very good site design on this property.”

After more than an hour of questions and almost four hours into the meeting, Board President Frank Ranalletti called a halt to the public portion and adjourned the meeting. 

This was only the beginning for the Wawa team who will return for the April 13 Planning Board meeting with the next step of the application.  The MCBS-RENJ team will present the changes to the plan that were suggested by the board. 

This will be another opportunity for the residents to urge the board to reject the application.

“We are not against development,” said Egatz, who is spearheading the “Say No to Wawa” movement. “We are for intelligent, environmentally-safe development. The Nagel property could be used for a professional building, for example. There are a lot of uses for that property that would be beneficial for the community and would not pose an environmental threat, or a traffic safety threat.”