It’s a wrap: Wawa is not coming to Newark

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The developer of a proposed Wawa in Newark has thrown in the towel on the project, a decision that pleases nearby residents but disappoints some business owners and public officials.

Tonymar LLC in Elizabeth had its attorney send a letter to the planning board last week explaining that it wants to withdraw the application and has terminated the lease with Wawa for a complex that would have been built on a 2.48-acre location at McCarter Highway near Gouverneur and Clark streets.

Michael Oliveira, attorney for the developer, said his client and Wawa agreed not to proceed with the project because of a lawsuit filed by a neighborhood group opposing the development.

“Litigation could run as long as two years, and the developer and Wawa mutually decided it didn’t make sense to wait that long,” Oliveira said.

Wawa could not be reached for comment.

In its lawsuit to stop the project, the Broad Street Block Association contends that the planning board did not approve the project last October, when it voted 3-1, with four abstentions, to permit construction of a 24-hour convenience store with 16 gas pumps.

The complaint argues that under municipal land use laws, the planning board failed to have a majority vote on the project.

When this issue was raised prior to the complaint being filed on May 22, planning board Chairman Wayne Richardson said the three members who voted for the Wawa represented the majority of the board at the October meeting, which was attended by eight of the nine board members. He said the plan actually passed 7-1, because the four abstentions were counted with the majority.

The complaint also says the planning board should not have been voting on the project, because the developer’s request for a wider driveway can be considered only by the zoning board of adjustment.

Objections to the Wawa, though, are not just about procedure and issues of jurisdiction.

Lisa Gray, president of the neighborhood association, insists that, without a security guard on duty, the Wawa would have brought loiterers. She said the group also feared that prostitution, which her organization fought years ago, would return to the community.

Gray said she would reach out to the developer on other ideas, such as a supermarket like Trader Joe’s.

“We want the developer to work with us to bring something that is going to benefit the community,” Gray said. “It’s a spacious lot. It has lots of potential.”

Oliveira said the developer has no idea what he wants to do with the property.

Business owners in the neighborhood, meanwhile, are not happy. Vacant land doesn’t do them any good. The Wawa, they said, would light up the area and bring business to the corridor.

George Gomez, owner of a car wash, said he had gone to a community meeting last year and was looking forward to the Wawa.

“It would have been nice to have a building there,” Gomez said. “It’s more revenue for the city.  An empty lot doesn’t make money. They have to do something there.”

Another business owner, who did not want to be identified, said he would have lost some business with the Wawa, but he didn’t mind because their customers along the busy corridor would make it safe for other business owners on McCarter Highway.

“Just for the increased traffic, I would take it,” the owner said. “It’s a benefit to the strip. I would have loved to have the Wawa.”

Outgoing Central Ward Councilwoman Gayle Chaneyfield Jenkins said it’s unfortunate that the developer had decided to pull out. She was concerned that developers in the future might shy away from investing in the city if they sense legal entanglements.

“It may give other people pause to develop, which is sad because we do need development in the city of Newark,” Chaneyfield Jenkins said

At-Large Councilman Luis Quintana said the developer is “disgusted,” because he’s been unable to use the land.

Despite the disappointment, Quintana said he hopes the city can sit down with the developer and decide what is feasible.

“This area of the city can’t continue to be an eyesore,” Quintana said. “A major arm to the city is an eyesore. You have to make sure you have something there that’s sufficient for the community.”

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