Commonwealth Court rules for neighbors opposed to Wawa

The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania ruled for the two neighbors, Kris Waller and Lisa Rhodes, opposing the effort to redevelop the former Moore Chevrolet property along the 1100 block of Fayette Street in Conshohocken with a Wawa with gas pumps.

Since there have been several types of hearing tied to the Wawa over the past decade, here is a timeline of what previous hearings and actions this ruling is connected with.

  • In November 2017, Conshohocken’s Borough Council voted 4-3 to amend the zoning code to allow a convenience store with gas pumps exist within the Residential-Office zoning district (more on this)
  • The neighbors appealed this decision to Conshohocken’s Zoning Hearing Board, which ruled by a vote of 3-2 to invalidate Borough Council’s decision (more on this)
  • The Borough of Conshohocken appealed this decision to the Court of Common Pleas and on January 17, 2020 Judge Wendy Rothstein ruled in favor of the borough (more on this)
  • The neighbors then appealed this decision to the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, which reversed the Court of Common Pleas decision on August 16, 2021

In the August 16, 2021 opinion, President Judge P. Kevin Brobson writes that the zoning hearing board was within its authority on how it gauged the credibility of witnesses and how it determined which expert witnesses to “accord more weight.”

The appeal also challenged the zoning hearing board for allowing the testimony of one of the neighbors on how allowing a Wawa with gas pumps would impact the community. The opinion supported the zoning hearing board in this matter.

The opinion closed in declaring that the zoning hearing board was within its right to declare that the amended zoning ordinance passed by the borough council constituted spot zoning.

From the opinion:

We conclude that the ZHB acted within its power as the sole judge of the
the credibility of the witnesses and the weight afforded to their testimony. It is not an abuse of discretion for the ZHB to accord more weight to the expert testimony of Mr. Comitta over the other two experts who testified in the case. Similarly, the ZHB did not err when it considered Neighbors’ and Mrs. Dorsey’s testimony about how a convenience store, with the sale of gasoline would affect the Borough’s public health, safety, morals, and general welfare. The ZHB’s conclusion that the Zoning Amendment constituted arbitrary spot zoning rests on the solid foundation of the substantial evidence in its findings of fact. Accordingly, the ZHB neither committed an error of law nor a manifest abuse of discretion in reaching its decision that the Property was spot zoned.

An appeal of this decision would go to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

You can read the full opinion here.