The Hammonton Zoning Board rejected an application late Thursday night by Bellevue Property Associates to build a super Wawa at the intersection of the White Horse Pike, Route 206 and Route 54.
The vote was 4-3 in favor of Wawa, but the vote required five affirmative votes to pass, so the application was denied.
Robert W. Bucknam Jr., the attorney for the applicant, said after the vote he had to talk to his client before he could say what the company’s next step might be.
In his presentation to the board Thursday night, Bucknam said Bellevue Associates could not construct a multistory building close to either the White Horse Pike or Bellevue Avenue, as required by the town’s Form Based Code.
The code requires a downtown-like building close to the road there, in what is called a gateway zone, arguing that buildings reminiscent of downtown would signal to motorists that downtown is nearby. However, downtown is more than a mile away, and separated from the gateway zone by a residential area.
Wawa would not have to meet such stringent building requirements if it built just a quarter-mile or so to either the east or west of the current site on the White Horse Pike (Route 30), because it would be outside of the gateway zone.
Bucknam said he doubts the state Department of Transportation would approve any building so close to Route 30, and that pushing a building up against the pike or Bellevue Avenue would require all parking to be placed closer to the residential area on Elvins Avenue, making traffic noise and activity more prominent for residents.
“Imagine putting one of these (downtown building types) up to the White Horse Pike,” Bucknam said. “That’s what this code requires us to do.”
Bucknam said Bellevue Associates could, however, provide a “Welcome to Hammonton” sign and open landscaping at the site, which would signal to motorists the way to the downtown and still allow the site to function as a gateway.
The code, which puts a premium on controlling styles of buildings downtown and on Route 54 leading to downtown, requires any structure at the site to function as a gateway to the downtown and to physically look like a downtown building.
Acceptable building types were all multistory and would have to be built close to the road, like buildings in the downtown.
Residents of the nearby streets and Zoning Board Chairman Gaetano Matro said they were concerned that increased traffic volume at the intersection would be a problem for the residential neighbors around Elvins Avenue, and for the unusual intersection where Route 206 joins Bellevue Avenue (Route 54).
The company first applied to the Zoning Board in April for variances to build a Wawa convenience store and gas station there. The Zoning Board tabled it until the company could come up with better design plans.
The developer wanted more time to meet with community groups and to tweak the building rendering, project supporter Leeann Lahoud, of Egg Harbor Township, has said. Her family hoped to sell one of two lots to Bellevue for the project.
The proposed site, at the southwestern corner of the intersection, became part of a new Gateway GW3 Crossroads district when the town amended its master plan in 2011 and embraced a form-based code for its downtown and the main road leading to it.
The code helps protect the overall look of a community, especially in high-visibility areas, Planning Board Vice Chairman and Richard Stockton College geology professor Michael Hozik has said in the past. He led the effort to create the form-based code.
Hammonton is one of the few places in New Jersey with a form-based code, said town engineer Kevin Dixon, of Dixon Associates in Galloway Township.
The Wawa application was the first in the gateway district since the passage of the code, and some officials feared that immediately granting a variance would undermine the town’s ability to enforce the code in the future.
The Wawa application needed both use and design variances from the Zoning Board. Bellevue Associates wanted to build a 4,000-square-foot store and single canopy with six fuel pumps at the 1.6-acre site. The property is made up of two lots, now housing a closed gas station and the Midway Professional Center office building.
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