Gaithersburg City Council Approves Wawa

Gaithersburg City Council Approves Wawa

Project has faced opposition from nearby residents

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The Gaithersburg City Council on Monday approved initial plans to build a Wawa gas station and convenience store on Md. 355 across from Gaithersburg High School.

The city council voted 4-1 to approve the project, with Councilwoman Laurie-Anne Sayles opposed.

The gas station, which would be the first Wawa in Montgomery County, would sit on a 1.84-acre site at 405 S. Frederick Ave., or Md. 355. The store would be 5,060 square feet.

A City Council public hearing on the Wawa proposal Aug. 5 sparked controversy among residents who felt that a gas station would be a public nuisance.

Among the concerns residents cited were the potential for increased traffic, poor environmental and aesthetic effects, and the potential that smaller gas stations would be hurt financially. Some also worried about students from the high school crossing a major thoroughfare.

Nine residents spoke during a hearing Monday night with many of the same concerns, even though Mayor Jud Ashman reminded residents that the public record had been closed on the matter and the council could not consider any new comments in its decision.

Troy Parcelles said he continues to worry about the impact on small businesses of a large chain such as Wawa.

“The city of Gaithersburg does not need another gas station, especially a hypermarket like Wawa that’s going to pump in 500,000 gallons a month,” he said.

Jennifer Jackson, a resident of the nearby Deer Park neighborhood, said she went to a Wawa in Virginia recently and was taken aback by the amount of trash she saw there.

“It was disgusting, and I thought, ‘Oh, my goodness. They’re going to put one of these here,’” she said.

Jackson said she worries that her neighborhood could be “overcome with vermin and roaches” if the gas station were built.

“I’d like this location to be somewhere that makes a little more sense than in the middle of a block right across from people’s houses,” she said.

Councilman Ryan Spiegel said during the meeting that he supported the Wawa because it meets the zoning requirements and it conforms to the requirements of the city’s master plan.

“In a sense, we’re dealing like judges here instead of like legislators,” he said.

Spiegel said he respected the views of the residents who spoke out against the Wawa.

“We have carefully listened to everyone who has commented. And even if we ultimately disagree, we hear you and we respect your views,” he said.

Councilman Neil Harris echoed many of Spiegel’s supportive comments and said he has fond memories of eating at Wawa from his days of living in Philadelphia.

“It’s a great place to get dairy products and sandwiches,” he said. “My experience is that they’re good neighbors.”

Council members Mike Sesma and Robert Wu said during the meeting’s discussion that they still had reservations about the project related to queuing at the pumps, traffic on Md. 355 and other environmental concerns.

As part of the approval, Wawa must meet conditions imposed by the city, including providing one additional tree island in the parking lot to break up the parking spaces and ensuring sidewalk connectivity between the property and nearby Holbrook Shopping Center.

Sesma also asked that the applicant perform a more thorough traffic analysis as a condition. Wu and Sesma ultimately voted yes with this condition in place.

Sayles said she is a “big fan of Wawa” and is glad the chain has chosen Gaithersburg, but she doesn’t think this location is suitable due to the potential for increased traffic.

“While it meets all of the classifications and permissions of zoning, I just cannot support this project at this time,” she said.

Ashman said in an interview following the meeting that there are several other steps before construction starts.

“There is more process with the city. They will go through the planning commission and do a site plan to more fine-tune what the plan will be. But in essence, the council gave them approval tonight,” he said.

Ashman said he understands the concerns of the opponents to the Wawa.

“Look, any time there’s something new, particularly with neighbors in one of our older neighborhoods. … it’s nice and people have lived there for a long time. People are resistant to change. That’s just a fact of life,” he said.

Ashman said he thinks Wawa will start to grow on those who are against it.

“We love our residents. We love that neighborhood. I think eventually they’ll resolve themselves to this Wawa and maybe even enjoy it, or maybe they’ll hold it against us for a long time to come. Who knows.”

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

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