Right now, the former and its imposing building in downtown Willow Grove, sits empty - save for a couple of construction vehicles.
Bruce Goodman, owner of Goodman Properties, presented to the July 9 Community Development Committee a concept as to what that property could be.
“We’re proposing to demolish the building, and construct two buildings there,” Goodman told the committee.
In replace of the Bally’s building, Goodman suggested constructing a Wawa with a gas station and a bank with drive-thru service.
The Wawa would be a 6,200 square-foot building, with six gas stations and 12 dispensers, while the bank building would be 4,500 square-feet, with three drive-thru windows.
Parking for the bank would consist of 24 spaces, and 50 spaces for Wawa.
[See .pdf in media gallery for concept example]
Goodman Properties owns sites in several counties in Pennsylvania and other states. Those in Upper Moreland include Willow Grove Pointe and Regency Square.
According to Goodman, he has been a developer in the area for over 30 years. He is also involved with several philanthropic activities, such as being the premier sponsor of the last year.
According to Goodman, his company is in the process of acquiring the Bally’s property, which is located along Old York Road, where Old York and Easton roads diverge. The property is also continuous to the road leading into .
In a slideshow, Goodman presented the preliminary concepts for the 3.1 acre- 36,000-square-foot property, focusing on the multiple entrances by both vehicles and pedestrians.
“We’ve done a lot of work on this plan with access,” Goodman said.
He explained that the concept would allow multiple access and exit points to Wawa and the bank, along Old York Road.
He also showed how a bridge over the Veterans Memorial Park stream would connect to Veterans Memorial Drive, providing another access point to the park. This particular access point, Goodman said, would likely attract park patrons and Willow Grove Train Station users.
The Wawa façade itself would likely be a “next-generation prototype,” meaning it would have a modern look, which Goodman said would match the entrance to Veterans Memorial Drive.
“I think we can do a great job with the streetscape,” Goodman said. “And, do a great job with this development.”
[What are you thoughts on having a ‘super-Wawa’ in town? Provide your comments below].
Good Fit for the Town Center District?
Ward 2 commissioner, Kevin Spearing, who sits on the committee, was the first to comment. He questioned the ease of pedestrian access, observing that the preliminary concept sketches have the gas pumps pointing toward Old York Road.
Spearing asked if the gas pumps could be placed in the back, with the convenience store portion closer to the Old York Road sidewalk.
“If it’s going to fit here, it has to be pedestrian friendly,” Spearing said, noting the township’s town center zoning.
Goodman responded that since it is a preliminary concept, many potential considerations will have to be addressed. To Spearing’s concern, Goodman suggested that a cross walk, heading diagonal nearby the Veterans Memorial Park entrance on Old York Road to the store portion, might be possible. However, changing the location of the gas pumps would be against Wawa’s planning directives.
Goodman also suggested that Wawa may not be particularly focused on walkability.
“This location will work for them [Wawa], because of traffic,” Goodman said, duing the presentation. “Not pedestrian traffic, but because of vehicular traffic.”
Kip McFatridge, Ward 5 commissioner, who also sits on the committee, said he liked the idea of building a bridge to Veterans Memorial Park, creating an access way for pedestrians, and promoting the park itself.
While McFatridge later commented that Wawa might not be “the greatest thing” for a town center, he also thanked Goodman for the presentation, as there are no other developers coming forward with ideas for the property at this time.
“Yes, there are lots of things to work out,” McFatridge said. “My opinion, it’s going to take a high-revenue store to make up for the property there.”
Ward 3 commissioner Donna Parsell said she would like to see unanimous commissioner support for the project. She said that having a Wawa would particularly mean employment opportunities for Upper Moreland residents.
Ward 6 commissioner Sam Valenza, also expressed positive feedback for the concept.
Chairperson of the committee, Joe Lavalle, Ward 4 commissioner, said that Wawa would not be the “first choice” for the downtown Willow Grove area. However, he did say he was intrigued how the design could help improve streetscape and traffic congestion, and considered it a potential development for the downtown area.
“This could be potentially the first step in making that happen,” Lavalle said.
Ward 1 commissioner Lisa Romaniello had a similar opinion, agreeing that such projects could correct what she called, “inefficient traffic patterns.” However, she directed concerns toward Wawa as being part of downtown Willow Grove.
“I just think that this location is a prominent location,” Romaniello said. “It is a Town Center location.”
She also expressed concern over potential environmental hazards for the Veterans Memorial Park stream, with a gas station in close proximity.
When asked for his opinion, newly appointed Ward 7 commissioner Don Warner also expressed reservations on the use of such prominent Town-Center zoned real estate. He also focused his thoughts on the proposed bank, suggesting that it could be made into smaller town homes for young professionals catching the train into Philadelphia.
Several members of the public also weighed in opinions about having Wawa downtown, most of who were on the fence.
While one comment suggested that Wawa would actually increase traffic congestion, another said if Wawa couldn’t find what it was looking for in Upper Moreland, then it would simply go across the street into Abington.
Another comment seemed to get to the heart of the evening's initial reactions.
“Am I enamored by the Wawa concept? No,” Jonathan de Jonge, a highly involved Upper Moreland resident, told the committee. “But, I think this should be the beginning of an interesting conversation.”
During his presentation, Goodman explained that he wanted to get a “temperature” reading about the project from the committee. He said that the feedback was helpful.
“I thought it was positive and very encouraging,” Goodman told Patch immediately after the discussion. “We will proceed with the project, and I will work with the commissioners in addressing the issues they said.”