2021 | Development

Planning Commission signs off on final site plan for Wawa in Gaithersburg

Future gas station, convenience store on Md. 355 was subject of legal challenge

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Rendering from planning documents

This story was updated at 6:50 p.m. Dec. 3, 2021, to correct a reference to the address where the Wawa would be built.

The Gaithersburg Planning Commission has approved the final site plan for a future Wawa gas station and convenience store on Md. 355.

The project has drawn the ire of some in the community since it was proposed two years ago, including an unsuccessful legal challenge from a community group.

The Wawa, which would be the first in Montgomery County, would feature a 5,060-square-foot convenience store with an adjacent filling station at 405 S. Frederick Ave. (Md. 355), across from Gaithersburg High School.

In October 2019, the Gaithersburg City Council approved a schematic development plan, or initial site plan, for the Wawa.

But a month later, a group of residents and businesspeople filed an administrative appeal in Montgomery County Circuit Court on the grounds that the development application didn’t comply with the master plan because the gas station didn’t constitute a “light commercial use.”

Additionally, the plaintiffs argued that the Wawa was not “consistent with the residential character” of the neighborhood.

The Circuit Court determined that the project was compatible with the master plan, but ruled that the Planning Commission should have allowed an opportunity for cross examination.

The case went to the Court of Special Appeals, which ruled in March both that the development was compatible with the master plan and that opponents to the project waived their right to cross examination. The appellate court’s ruling this spring allowed the project to move forward.

A few residents opposed to the Wawa project continued to voice their opposition during Wednesday’s Planning Commission meeting.

Carol Johnson said Wawa should consider putting in electric charging stations instead of gas pumps based on the belief that the use of electric vehicles will eventually overtake the use of gas-powered ones.

“I think that the future is here, and it’s really kind of silly to put in all this money for gasoline …,” she said.

Phillip Hummel, a land-use attorney with the firm Miles & Stockbridge, said Wawa considered incorporating electric charging stations into the project, but the need to prioritize stormwater management and sidewalk space took precedence.

“It was something that was considered. It just couldn’t be easily accommodated due to all of the competing factors involved,” he said.

Walter Umana, who lives near the future gas station, said he is worried about the potential noise and light pollution.

“This is a very quiet neighborhood. With Gaithersburg being the city of trees, we want to make sure it maintains that feel, and with the wildlife around here, we want to make sure that nothing gets disturbed more than it should be,” he said.

Monica Lozada said she also lives near the future Wawa site and wanted to know if there would be security cameras at the facility. Lozada also requested that additional bike racks be included there.

Wawa Real Estate Project Manager Chris Hoffman said there would be cameras both inside the convenience store and on the building’s exterior. The property will be monitored 24/7 by a security team, he said.

“If there was ever a situation that called for immediate police response, or a moderate commotion that we would want to bring to the attention of our internal security folks, the store personnel has that ability to call on those resources as necessary,” Hoffman said.

Planning commissioner Lloyd Kaufman said the final site plan only includes enough bike rack space for about two bicycles. He said he wants to see more bike rack space to accommodate Gaithersburg High School students who might go to the Wawa during a break.

Mira Gantzert, a project manager with Bohler Engineering, said that adding more bike racks is something that can be discussed.

“We can potentially look at the west side of the building, where there is an existing sidewalk that’s 8 feet, and potentially have one or two more bike racks up against the building, but still have 4 or 5 feet for pedestrians to be able to walk past that,” she said.

Kaufman, Planning Commission Chair John Bauer and Commissioners Phillip Wessel and Sharon Cantrell unanimously approved the final site plan.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com