David Bertram, whose opinion on the proposed Wawa we have shared before, has provided an open letter to Conshohocken’s Borough Council and Mayor Bob Frost that addresses his concerns about the proposal to build a Wawa with gas pumps at 12th and Fayette. Bertram shares his resume and his role in denying the previous Wawa proposal in the initial paragraph.
If you would like to provide a letter offering support for the proposed Wawa, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. It has to be more than “cheap gas” and “I need my coffee.”
Here is the letter:
October 10, 2017
400 Fayette Street
Conshohocken, PA 19428
Dear Borough Council and Mayor Frost:
I am writing to you in regard to the proposed zoning text amendment for the Borough’s RO District and your potential October vote on it. I am a resident who has served the Borough on their Community Revitalization Plan Update Committee in 2011, the Committee for the Joint Whitemarsh and Conshohocken Riverfront Study in 2016, and as a member of the Planning Commission from 2009 until early 2017. I was the Chair of the Commission in 2013 when it first reviewed this same proposal. I am now a practicing architect and educator.
In the field of urban planning there is a term called soft properties. They are properties whose owners and uses are, if not likely, at least susceptible to change. It is the future of Conshohocken’s soft properties as well as the lack of discussion and associated planning for such repercussions that I so adamantly oppose this project.
If the Wawa project is approved and these soft properties change hands, they will never go to bid, it is very likely that convenience stores and/or fast food establishments will secure temporary lease-agreements on them as they will be the most interested parties with the deepest pockets. They will wrangle the Borough to rewrite our zoning as Wawa is now attempting to do, and there will be no discussion with or within the Borough of the highest and best uses of these prime real estate parcels. We will, if history teaches, be left taking a defensive and reactive stance as we are now with the developer’s proposal.
In my opinion, this scenario is not particularly speculative at all. If you do approve this project, you will have advanced the legal argument that any forthcoming proposals for convenience stores and fast-food places will, with a new Wawa now up the street, be “in keeping with the neighborhood.”
The process of continuing to mold our future in the form of a new Comprehensive Plan, as you know, is happening as the community debates this issue. The dates for civic participation in this very important planning process are published. However, that is for our future plan. At this moment, at the moment of your vote if it happens this month, our current Comprehensive Plan in no way supports the rewriting of our zoning ordinances to allow a 24/7 super-sized gas station in a predominantly residential neighborhood. And, as I am sure you are aware, per Pennsylvania’s Municipalities Planning Code, Article VI- Zoning Section 603 Ordinance Provisions, zoning decisions and revisions must reflect a municipality’s current Comprehensive Plan.
While I understand wholeheartedly that resident opinion is the back-bone of our Borough’s vision of itself, it is more specifically the opinions of those who have stepped forward and involved themselves- it is their voices that have manifested themselves in the current Comprehensive Plan. Your decision to approve or not approve this project should neither be based on popular vote nor any door-to-door opinions you might have gathered when campaigning. If a “silent majority”, who I often hear reference to, actually believes our zoning ordinances need to be revisited, they must extend their civic participation beyond Facebook and attend the scheduled and open Comprehensive Plan Task Force meetings.
This proposal, which the Borough has been contending with for over five years, has been divisive to our community and continues to consume an inordinate amount of our tax dollars on legal fees and must finally be stopped. It is my understanding that it has divided our Council as well, and to be honest, is painting a very unkind portrait of some elected officials in the minds of very concerned residents like myself. I am unable to fathom how an elected Council member may choose to ignore the Comprehensive Plan and actually support a developer in rewriting a zoning ordinance who has no proven hardship? How would supporting this amendment not be the unconstitutional practice of spot zoning- “the process of singling out a small parcel of land for a use classification totally different from that of the surrounding area for the benefit of the owner of such property and to the detriment of other owners.”(Anderson’s American Law of Zoning, 4th Edition, § 5.12)? How is it not favoritism to a particular developer to rewrite a zoning ordinance to allow for a purpose that is permitted elsewhere in the Borough?
This project has been thoroughly vetted by both the Conshohocken and Montgomery County Planning Commissions twice, the Zoning Board (after a series of 27 hearings) and Borough Council- and 19 forward-looking elected and appointed officials have disapproved it. Three members, with far narrower scopes of concern and understanding in my opinion, voted for its approval. You have been elected to reinforce our collective vision, not to strike deals and over-ride it. Please join the overwhelming majority of us who have voted in favor of preserving our Borough’s quality of life that has been built slowly over time and with tremendous effort and do not approve this project.