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Wawa advances in Berlin with new design

The Berlin Planning Commission voted 4-3 on March 27 to approve a revised site plan for a Wawa convenience store at the intersection of Route 50 and North Main Street.

Wawa Berlin-new design

A revised rendering shows the new design of a Wawa planned for Berlin.
Submitted rendering

The Berlin Planning Commission voted 4-3 on March 27 to approve a revised site plan for a Wawa at the intersection of Route 50 and North Main Street.

In what was the commission’s third meeting on the project in four months, the narrow vote advances the new plan, which features an updated design that developers said incorporated elements of Berlin. Those in opposition to the site plan said they believe developers could have done more.

“We have examples of other Wawas across the country that would suit me better,” commission member Ron Cascio said. “To me it’s not acceptable.”

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. In December 2023, developers returned to the commission asking for approval of a Wawa instead of a 7-Eleven. The developers presented updated plans on March 27 that they said incorporated aspects of Berlin’s architecture. Steve Fortunato, Bohler Engineering senior project manager, said the commission hadn’t been very specific in its guidance but that Wawa designers had removed extra signs from the building and simplified the facia and use of materials. The updated design also features more red brick and windows on the building’s side. 

“This is a one off,” he said. “This is different from all the new models.”

Commission member Newt Chandler said the new design even featured brick pumps under the fueling canopy.

“That’s a nice touch,” he said. 

Cascio said developers hadn’t changed the form of the building. Commission member Erich Pfeffer agreed and pointed out the property was a landmark entrance to Berlin. 

Developers said the commission had asked not for changes to the footprint but rather changes to the exterior of the building at the last meeting. Fortunato said it had been hard to figure out how to adjust the building at all without specific architectural guidelines. 

“What is a challenge here is we had six different opinions,” he said, adding that the commission’s most specific direction had been to walk around downtown Berlin to look for architectural elements that could be worked into the Wawa design. 

Attorney Dirk Widdowson said he questioned how buildings like the Rite Aid and Goose Creek had been approved, as they didn’t work in elements of the town’s architecture.

“You’re dictating a lot more than you did for any of those buildings,” he said, adding that a convenience store had been approved for the site in 2021. “It’s a convenience store. We certainly can’t make it something it’s not.”

Commission member Austin Purnell said he had looked at more recently approved buildings, such as the Dollar General and the police station and felt the new Wawa design fit in.

“It’s tied in with the red brick,” he said. “Generally speaking I like it.”

Commission member Pete Cosby said he’d been on the commission when the Rite Aid was approved.

“We were less experienced and more sympathetic,” he said, adding that he went along with it and as a result had to look at the building for the last 20 years. He noted the proposed Wawa building could be improved by a cupula or gable and said he didn’t like the white risers on either side of the proposed building. 

Berlin planning

Members of the Berlin Planning Commission discuss the new design of a proposed Wawa at the intersection of Route 50 and North Main Street.
Charlene Sharpe / Bayside Gazette

Fortunato said if that had been voiced at the last meeting designers would likely have removed them. 

Attorney Regan Smith said it wasn’t fair to expect developers to return to the commission every few weeks in response to a member’s criticism. Property owner Spiro Buas said the process so far had been extremely frustrating.

“Why is the standard not the same?” he said. “You can’t keep changing what you want.”

He added that the need for a light at the intersection, one of the early concerns regarding the project, had been addressed with the state’s confirmation that a traffic signal would be installed by the fall of 2026. 

Berlin resident Andy Grunden spoke in support of the project and said a lot of workaday people wanted the Wawa in town. 

“Leaving it as it is right now, a little corner warzone is what it resembles, is just unacceptable,” he said. 

Attorney Peter Buas said site plans were meant to be subject to planning commission review but within the confines of the code. The project even when it was a 7-Eleven was code complaint he said.

“I think we can agree this plan is better than the original 7-Eleven site plan,” he said.

Though there was talk among commission members about a conditional approval that would require the developers to incorporate a gable or similar element on the roof of the structure, Widdowson said that would not work for Wawa. He said the project team was asking for a vote Wednesday night, not a conditional approval, as that would be turned down by Wawa. 

The commission went on to vote 4-3, with Cascio, Cosby and Pfeffer opposed, to approve the site plan as presented. 

This story appears in the April 4, 2024, print edition of the Bayside Gazette.