A hearing on a proposal to build a new Wawa store at the corner of Burnt Tavern and Lanes Mill roads will continue May 29 after attorneys slugged it out for about 90 minutes Wednesday night.
The exchange pitted Wawa’s corporate attorney, Steven Nehmed, against witnesses supporting opposition to the project by Jalil Jallo, a Summit Avenue resident. At the crux of the matter was whether Jallo – who lives miles away from the proposed Wawa – had an interest in the application under the Municipal Land Use Law. A landmark state Supreme Court ruling last year requires that objectors to have an actual interest in an application in order to formally object to it and cross-examine the applicant’s experts.
Jallo has long been thought to be opposing the Wawa expansion – which would include a new retail store and a gas station – because he purportedly owns an Exxon station up the road at the corner of Route 88 and Chambers Bridge/Lanes Mill Road. But to date, his attorney, Edward Liston, has refused to confirm whether that allegation is true. A federal court ruled recently that land use boards may take into account whether an objector is opposed to a project simply to prevent competition for his or her own business.
At Wednesday night’s hearing, Nehmed aggressively cross-examined a planner hired by Liston and Jallo, asking him what his client’s interest was in opposing the Wawa project. The planner reluctantly – after a slew of questions phrased differently from one another – admitted that he “believes” his client owns a gas station in Lakewood (the town in which the Exxon is located) but would not commit to his ownership of the business as his reasoning behind the opposition. The planner said his client had not discussed that aspect with him, instead focusing on land use aspects of the case only.
The application has now been dragging on for months. It began with a hearing last October and was, again, not settled Wednesday night. Nehmed must still cross-examine Liston and Jallo’s traffic engineer and address questions from board members and the public before delivering summations.
The zoning application calls for the construction of a new, 4,736 square foot retail store and six fuel dispensers with 12 pumps. The project requires the board to grant several variances, including a use variance since the operation of a convenience store and gas station in one facility are not normally allowed under the zoning code.
The project also calls for the installation of new stormwater management systems, parking and landscaping features. The application includes requests for relief from more minor zoning issues such as setbacks, driveway size and signage.
Board Chairman Harvey Langer said the hearing will continue at a special meeting set for May 29 during which the Wawa will be the only application heard. The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. at the township municipal complex.