Developer Bart Blatstein presented plans for a super-sized Wawa convenience store with gas pumps on South Philadelphia’s Delaware River waterfront to dozens of the property’s neighbors Wednesday night who roundly opposed the fueling station.
Blatstein said at the meeting of the Pennsport Civic Association that the pumps would occupy just a small section of the overall planned development at Tasker Street and South Columbus Boulevard, part of a large tract where a Foxwoods casino once had been planned.
He said that the gas station would be conducive to a waterfront district that is mostly accessed by cars and that residents of a large townhouse development planned nearby needed places to fuel their vehicles.
“It’s no different than a train stop or a bus stop,” he said. “It’s a way for people to service their vehicles so they can go in and out of the site.”
Community members who spoke at the meeting said they didn’t want the gas station, even as they expressed broader acceptance of the larger project, which Blatstein’s Tower Development said would include a branch of Germany’s Lidl supermarket chain.
“If they put the Wawa over there, I couldn’t care less,” said Thomas Otto, a civic association board member. “But the gas pumps, they’ve got to go, and to my dying breath, I won’t agree to anything with the gas pumps.”
The presentation to the neighborhood group was part of an effort to garner community support for the gas station, the only part of the development spanning an area between Reed and Tasker Streets to require a significant exception from the area’s zoning, which prohibits fueling stations.
The commercial project is being developed separately from the residential district along the waterfront to the east on land recently sold by Blatstein. The request for a variance to permit the gas station is scheduled to be considered by the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment on April 18.
Some at the Pennsport neighborhood meeting said they were afraid that the gas pumps would draw increased traffic from the adjacent I-95 highway into the community’s streets, exacerbating congestion, parking shortages and pollution.
Others said the development would work counter to efforts to decrease vehicle dependency on the waterfront and to turn it into a more walkable environment.
“We want to be less car-centric,” said Robert Pirello, who has lived in the neighborhood for 30 years. “More walking, more biking, more trails.”