Right after the New Year, I received an unsigned letter than made a bunch of accusations. The accusations are basically a retread of things I have been told are going on behind the scenes in regards to the proposed Wawa.
It is obviously the person behind this letter has an agenda and doesn’t care much for a few local Democrats, so I didn’t give it much credence overall. But it got me thinking.
Marc Jonas, Esq. is the attorney for the developer. He is their main advocate and did the majority of the speaking at the Conshohocken Planning Commission in November. As the letter points out Jonas is also the Chair of the Montgomery County Planning Commission, which I didn’t know.
Why is that relevant? The Montgomery County Planning Commission had a somewhat prominent role in the initial Conshohocken Planning Commission meeting in November. The Montgomery County Planning Commission sent a letter reviewing the Wawa proposal, which outlined a series of pros and cons. It was detailed and said how it fit within the Conshohocken’s Comprehensive Plan and how it didn’t.
So during the same Conshohocken Planning Commission meeting you have Jonas representing the developers of the proposed Wawa and the county wide planning board providing a review of the development. Not only that, Jonas mentioned during the Conshohocken Planning Commission meeting, at least a couple times, the positive experience the development of Wawa had in Lower Moreland Township and within the actual proposal there is a glowing letter (pg. 89) from Jill Blumhardt, a commissioner in Lower Moreland Township. Guess what? She is also a board member of the Montgomery County Planning Commission. So you have two members of the Montgomery County Planning Commission advocating for the development. So this got me more curious on how the review on the county level works.
So I sent an email to Holly L. Mager, Section Chief – Design Planning at the Montgomery County Planning Commission, to ask what the process is of conducting a review. She wrote the review of the proposed Wawa in Conshohocken. She replied, “The Montgomery County Planning Commission staff routinely completes review letters for communities as required by Act 247 of the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code. These letters are written by our staff and are not reviewed or approved by any member of the Montgomery County Planning Commission Board, including the chairman. Our letters are advisory only, and all final decisions regarding development proposals are made by the municipality. Hope this answers your question regarding my review letter for the Conshohocken Wawa.”
So lets remove the current players, because there is no evidence of any wrong doing. The current process allows for board members to represent a project that is being reviewed by the commission. This invites a huge problem. Could a staff member feel pressure, real or unreal, to go easy or be overly critical on a proposed development because the politically connected commissioners are representing and supporting the developer? Yikes.
“I don’t care who does the electing, so long as I get to do the nominating.” Boss Tweed
So now lets move on to the political figures mentioned in the unsigned letter, some of who we have mentioned before. Attorney Marcel Groen is one of the lawyers for the developers. Groen is the head of the Democratic Party in Montgomery County. The implication in the unsigned letter is that the developers hired the head of the Democratic Party to put pressure on the appointed officials, who may or may not have aspirations for elected office, or the elected members of the Conshohocken Borough Council, which is dominated by members of the Democratic Party.
So I looked into who the developers hire to represent them in other municipalities. Guess what? They also have utilized the services of the head of the Republican Party in Montgomery County, Robert Kerns, Esq. Kerns, who is also the solicitor for Upper Gwynedd Township, has represented a Wawa project in Upper Merion and Douglass Township. So there is either nothing unusual in the hiring of the heads of the political parties by the developers or they are hiring the appropriate political boss to sway the elected officials they feel need swaying. Having the party’s support is key to your election or re-election.
Remember our story on Conshy Borough solicitor Michael Savona? Since we reported on the recusal of Conshohocken Borough Solicitor Mike Savona on decisions involving the proposed Wawa, he has switched law firms and been reappointed by the Conshohocken Borough Council. Guess whose firm he works for now? He works for Eastburn & Gray, Marc Jonas’ law firm and one of the firms advocating for the proposed Wawa.
So now what? I am going to post this story to the site and then to Facebook and Twitter and the comment war will start. Some people are adamant for the proposed Wawa and some are adamantly against it. You will usually see comments like “give me cheap gas” and “not in my neighborhood.” But what I want to know this time is whether any of the above bothers you?
The next opportunity to speak your mind publicly for or against the proposed Wawa is Tuesday, January 22nd at 7:00 p.m. at the Conshohocken Planning Commission meeting. It is being held in the ballroom at the Washington Fire Company.
Comments are open.