Commissioners approve request for Wawa gas station despite opposition

Palm Beach County staff members got 649 telephone calls from people opposed to the idea of a Wawa gas station and eatery opening up at Hypoluxo Road and High Ridge Road.

The callers complained about the possibility of crime, noise and increased traffic in an already clogged area. Opponents of the gas station didn’t just call staff members. They contacted journalists and flooded the in-boxes of county commissioners.

In the end, though, it didn’t matter. During a long meeting Thursday, commissioners voted 5-1 in favor of land use changes and 6-0 in favor of zoning changes that will allow Wawa to be built. Commissioner Paulette Burdick was absent during the vote. County Mayor Mary Lou Berger cast the lone vote against the land use changes Wawa sought, saying they were “too much.”

The result — approval — surprised few.

“I’m shocked, shocked,” said Drew Martin, an environmental activist doing his best imitation of Captain Renault in “Casablanca.”

Preservationists and environmentalists have come to expect this county commission to approve any and all requests for higher densities, larger projects — even if they call or email or pack commission chambers to plead for a different result.

Indeed, opponents of the Wawa project did pack commission chambers to make the same case they had made in calls and emails.

Some Wawa supporters had signs and T-shirts that read, “I LOVE WAWA.”

Many more opponents, hoping commissioners would spurn Wawa’s request for a land use change from commercial low to commercial high, held signs that read, “Keep Low Commercial. Save Our Homes.”

“We’re not opposed to Wawa,” said Gerald Edenfield, who lives in the area where the station will be built. “We just don’t want a 24-7 interstate stop in our backyard. it’s like a cancer. Once it starts, it’ll eat our neighborhood away.”

Wawa wanted permission to operate a 24-hour gas station, but staff members, noting that another station in the area does not stay open all night, recommended that Wawa follow suit. Commissioners accepted that recommendation.

That change didn’t mollify opponents.

“It’s not about Wawa,” said Lori Taylor. “It’s about our lives and how they will be affected. We’re not in support of having our lives dramatically changed.”

Wawa’s backers were out-numbered during the meeting, but a few did rise to speak.

Mary Lou Macataugay said she drives past the proposed Wawa site to another gas station. She’d rather not.

“I want Wawa,” she said. “I want Wawa because it is clean, well-lighted and the gas is cheaper.”

Another Wawa fan, Charles Patterson, noted the station’s popularity in the northeast as he addressed the opposition to its plans here.

“This wouldn’t be a discussion up north,” he told commissioners. “I welcome them. This would be far more convenient to use. I think what the people would find — if you saw fit to put them in there — is that they will be good neighbors.”

Commissioners shared that opinion.

Shelley Vana, whose district includes the Wawa site, said having an empty lot there has contributed to local crime.

“To my knowledge, this has been a problem property for a very long time,” she said. “Something has to go there that will take away some of the crime.”

Commissioner Steven Abrams referenced the words of an opponent, who told commissioners they wouldn’t want a Wawa station in their backyard.

“I would want one near me, and I would vote for one near me,” Abrams said.

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