Berlin Commission Tables Wawa Site Plan Approval; Planners Voice Traffic, Design Concerns

Berlin Commission Tables Wawa Site Plan Approval; Planners Voice Traffic, Design Concerns
The rendering above shows the proposed Wawa convenience store, to be located on the corner of routes 50 and 818, from multiple viewpoints. Submitted Image

BERLIN – Traffic concerns prompted officials to delay approval of plans for a Wawa at the intersection of Route 50 and North Main Street in Berlin.

The Berlin Planning Commission this week voted unanimously to table consideration of a site plan revision for a Wawa on Route 818 at its intersection with eastbound Route 50. Officials said they wanted traffic at the busy intersection reviewed and improvements made to the site layout.

“We raised our hands to protect the people of Berlin, not the convenience of people going to Ocean City,” commission member Ron Cascio said. “This is a nightmare traffic situation.”

Representatives from Bohler Engineering met with the commission Wednesday to review plans for a Wawa on a site previously expected to be a 7-Eleven. In 2021, the commission approved a site plan for Athena Properties, the parcel on the corner of routes 818 and 50, that included a 7-Eleven and a hotel. Bohler Engineering representatives told the commission this week that little had changed except the brand of the convenience store.

“We’re swapping a convenience store and gas station use for a convenience store and gas station use,” Bohler’s Jamie Andruzzi said.

Commission members were quick to point out that the store’s garbage enclosure was right on Route 818.

“It’s not a good feature for the entrance to town,” commission member Newt Chandler said.

Cascio agreed.

“Why would you put that on a Main Street?” he said.

Project representatives said the enclosure had been put where it was shown on the plan because employees would be able to easily access it there. They added that it was not just a fenced enclosure but was made up of painted blocks with a cap on it.

“It’s still right on Main Street,” commission member Austin Purnell said.

Officials also questioned the 23-foot sign shown on the store’s plans. Project designers said the town’s code allowed signs up to 25 feet. Purnell said that the commission had made designers of the Hebron Savings Bank, which will be directly across Route 818 from this project, decrease the size of its sign.

“A 23-foot monstrosity,” Purnell said, “that’s a lot.”

Bohler Engineering representatives said they could take that feedback back to Wawa.

As far as access to the store, Bohler representatives said there was no access on Route 50, just Route 818. They explained that the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) had labeled the property as denied access along Route 50.

Commission member Matt Stoehr asked if there were sidewalks planned for the property. Bohler Engineering’s Liz Celko indicated there were not.

“We did not touch anything in the state maintained right-of-way because those plans were already approved,” Celko said.

Stoehr said he felt this was an opportunity for more sidewalks in town, particularly since people are more likely to walk to a Wawa than the medical office already in the area.

When the commission asked for public comment, town staff read a letter that had been submitted by Berlin resident Ryan Nellans.

“I’m writing as a resident to oppose the construction of the proposed Wawa on the corner of Main Street and MD Rt 50 …,” Nellans wrote. “The jobs it would create are generally low to minimum wage. That’s not a living wage in Berlin or even northern Worcester County, where we are experiencing the same housing crisis that impacts us at state and national levels. The people it would employ are unlikely to be Berlin residents, nor would be the corporation to which it belongs. Money that goes into those businesses leaves our community, as well as negatively impacting existing businesses who provide many of the same goods and services while actually engaging with our community.”

Resident Gina Velong told the commission she didn’t like the trash enclosure location and also had significant traffic concerns.

“I don’t see how any of this is going to work if we don’t have a traffic light,” she said.

Developer Fred Wittig said Wawa had no control over whether there was a light at the intersection but said he’d support the town if it wanted to make a request for a signal to SHA. When Velong asked about how much of the town’s wastewater capacity the store would use, Andruzzi said he’d have to look that up but could provide the information later. He added, however, that the store would use the same capacity the 7-Eleven that was already approved would use.

Resident Marie Velong questioned the number of cars that would be going in and out of Wawa every day. The engineers weren’t able to provide a figure but said they could look it up. She also reiterated Stoehr’s concern about sidewalks and her daughter’s concerns about the need for a light at the intersection.

“The State Highway Administration has rose colored glasses on when it comes to intersections around here,” Velong said. “It takes people dying before they ever do anything.”

Wittig suggested the store wouldn’t bring many new cars to the area. He indicated shoppers would be those who were already on the road, passing by.

“C-stores, or convenience stores as they’re called, they’re not destinations,” he said. “They pull off existing traffic.”

Berlin resident Kate Patton said she was worried about all the light pollution the store would create.

“Wawa doesn’t shut down at night,” she said. “We’re moving so far away from what Delmarva provided as a dark sky … We’re turning into the same old same old everywhere with light pollution everywhere. Our community is changing.”

The engineers said the project would use light that was cast downward so it would stay on the site.

Stoehr said his major issue with the Wawa proposal was the impact on traffic and pedestrian safety.

“Whether it’s you guys’ fault or not that we can’t get a light I don’t really care,” he said. “I think we need something we can look at, current traffic on that road at different hours on different days, and then estimate what this brings … I have a major concern of this many increased cars on that road … I feel like we’re dancing with the devil saying yeah let’s go ahead and do this.”

Chris Denny, chair of the commission, suggested an updated traffic study. Commission member Pete Cosby said he’d been driving by the site daily for 40 years and had seen how dramatically traffic had increased. He said he wanted to see a Wawa on the property but that he too had concerns about access and the impact on the already busy Route 818.

Celko said a traffic study had been done and provided to SHA when the site plan had been approved in 2021.

“There was a SHA study done when this was previously done by Parker and Associates,” she said. “The convenience store and gas station were on there. We have communicated with MDOT, they have seen the plan. If they ask us to do any changes, we will supply those changes.”

Commission members nevertheless said they wanted a new traffic study. Denny also told the engineers that he’d like to see other Wawa design options. His peers quickly agreed.

“We in Berlin have come to understand that we’re unique and that we want to promote more uniqueness and not sameness—anywhere USA,” Cascio said. “And just the general architecture of any 7-Eleven or Wawa, it’s just corporate stuff. Some corporations have detailed drawings for special places. I’d like to think we’re special.”

Cosby echoed that.

“Make it something special,” he said.

The commission agreed to table the project until the concerns expressed were addressed.

Wittig said he would work with Wawa to see what could be done to address the commission’s comments.

“We’ll see what we can do,” he said. “I appreciate everyone’s comments.”

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.