At last night’s hearing before the Cheltenham Zoning Board, one couldn’t help but feel some sympathy for Commissioner Drew Sharkey. Representing downtown Glenside and the surrounding neighborhood, he became the point man in the controversy surrounding the Wawa development. Judging by his performance last night, he certainly seemed up to the task.
Bruce Goodman unveiled a final site plan that allegedly considered the concerns of the Commissioners. In reality he had this plan in his back pocket all along. Spend any time at zoning hearings with sprawl developers like Goodman, you soon see that they play out the same everywhere.
Goodman’s attorneys know the rules of this game far better than any of the commissioners. They do this Every. Single. Day.
At the end of the process, offers to plant a couple more trees, a slightly lower sign, a bigger window, bricks instead of concrete, and maybe a picnic bench will make Commissioners feel like they did their jobs. Meanwhile residents can’t do much more than recoil in disgust at the process that legally must ignore them.
In a packed room at Curtis Hall, the majority of attendees came out against this Goodman’s circus train but in the end failed to stop it from moving down the tracks to Sprawlville. Cheltenham Commissioners have their backs up against the wall staring down guns loaded with their own zoning code. Deny Goodman what he wants, and he will rain down lawsuits harder than last night’s storm.
Most of the public comment centered around the impact to Glenside’s character once this gets built. A few came to the meeting feeling more defeatist. One resident dismissively pointed out that Glenside “is no Ambler …or Manayunk.” But fifteen years ago, Ambler wasn’t an Ambler. Thirty years ago, Manayunk was just another blighted Philadelphia neighborhood.
Indeed, this 70,000 square-foot consolidation of five(!) taxable parcels will throw up an insurmountable roadblock to a pedestrian friendly Easton Road that might one day provide for a pleasant and safe walk between the district and Arcadia. When that Wawa sign lights up, Glenside can kiss that notion goodbye for at least another 20 years.
Residents sipping on that delicious Wawa coffee may soon wonder when that tax windfall will come. As some in attendance correctly pointed out, the mercantile tax receipts will not increase. They will simply flow from a new source. A new Wawa won’t compel anyone to buy an extra gallon of milk or more coffee or hoagies or even donuts. The tax money conveyed through the 7-11 will instead go through Wawa. This is a zero-sum proposition.
Another resident also insightfully pointed to the eventual closing of the Wawa on Limekiln in North Hills, drying up yet another source of mercantile tax. Maybe that building can become another thrift shop or nail salon. Or marijuana dispensary.
The Wawa fans blinded by Bruce Goodman’s promise of a Glenside as a land flowing with gas and coffee truly need to step back and ask themselves why they hate their downtown so much. What is it about a walkable district that actually brings value and real tax relief to the Township that bothers you so much? Residents singing the praises for this proposal borders on masochism, especially as they sing while Bruce Goodman sits back smiling, knowing full well that controls this puppet show.
Southeastern Pennsylvania has no shortage of places filled with strip plazas, big boxes, and super-sized drug stores served by four-lane roadways hostile to pedestrians. These places will gladly welcome these self-hating Glensiders with open arms and acres and acres of free parking all day long.