GAITHERSBURG — Despite some backlash from residents in the area, Gaithersburg Mayor Jud Ashman and the city council voted 4-1 on Oct. 7 to approve construction plans for a Wawa gas station on MD 355.
The new gas station and convenience store will be placed across the street from Gaithersburg High School.
Members of the community came out in opposition of the project during a public hearing back in August, citing concerns over traffic congestion, pedestrian safety, unsightliness and the existence of other gas stations in close proximity.
Residents spoke out against the project again on Monday, during a public comment portion of the council meeting. Ashman allowed residents to voice their concerns over the project but noted that the public record was closed on the matter. He explained that since the official time for comment had passed, the council could listen to concerns but could not draw on them when voting later in the evening.
Jennifer Jackson spoke during the public comment session explaining that she had visited a Wawa station in Virginia and found the store littered with trash and crawling with vermin.
“Just the other day I had gone to a Wawa down in Virginia, and there was trash all over the place, between the gas station areas, right by the convenience store, and it was disgusting. There was vermin and trash and things like that inside the bathrooms,” she said. “Wawa has said that it’s a good company and (that it will) keep the site clean, but really what they’re going to do is they’re going to treat it like anything else in their portfolio, and we’re going to be stuck with the aftermath of it.”
Jackson also noted that she feels the site does not fit in with the area’s master plan.
“It’s a travesty,” she said.
None of the speakers at Monday’s meeting were there to voice their support of the project.
Councilmember Ryan Spiegel voted in favor of the Wawa project, noting that there is some community support for the project and there are limits to the city government’s ability to decide which businesses are allowed to set up shop.
“The government doesn’t pick and choose what specific business goes where; we establish the general rules for land use, and then applicants can come and apply for approval of development plans,” Spiegel said. “So, when a business comes to us, because it has determined that market forces warrant placing its business in a particular spot, we have to objectively determine whether it can satisfy the requirements of the zone and the master plan that apply to that location.”
Spiegel went on to explain that in matters like these the city council acts more like a judge than legislator.
“While part of our discussion certainly involves balancing the benefits of a proposal against any negative impacts to the surrounding community and imposing appropriate conditions to ensure that balance, at the end of the day the legal question is whether the applicant meets the requirements,” he said. “In my view, respectfully, (it does).”
Councilmember Laurie-Anne Sayles cast the lone vote in opposition to the project.
“While it meets all of the classifications and permissions of zoning, I just cannot support this project at this time,” she said during her remarks before the vote.
The four other council members who voted to approve the application echoed similar sentiments, saying that the council took great care to listen to the community and understand their concerns.
As a condition of the council’s approval of the project, Wawa will have to meet two additional requirements: to include an additional tree island in the parking lot and to ensure sidewalk connectivity between the site and the adjacent Holbrook Shopping Center.