Wawa vote delayed over traffic concerns

Published 5:09 pm Friday, July 29, 2022

Isle of Wight County supervisors have delayed voting on a proposed Wawa gas station near Smithfield High School, pending further discussion of the site’s Turner Drive entrance and exit.

The county’s Planning Commission had recommended the project’s approval in June with the condition that the company “submit an alternative intersection design” for Turner Drive “such as a single-lane roundabout.”

According to county staff, the Turner Drive entrance as it’s currently proposed could cause queuing issues for drivers trying to exit the gas station and turn left toward Smithfield High School, particularly during morning peak hours when there’s heavy bus and student-driver traffic. The school is less than a quarter-mile from the proposed Wawa site.

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The delay comes at Wawa’s request. According to Kaufman & Canoles attorney Tim Trant, who represents Wawa’s Miami-based developer, Frontier Development, the company “would like the opportunity to work through those conditions” with county staff before a vote is taken on the requested conditional use permit.

The conditions as presented “would create some problems for our development of the site,” Trant said.

Supervisor William McCarty questioned the need for a redesign of the Turner Drive entrance to accommodate traffic projections.

“Things that are future hypotheticals … I don’t know that I’m comfortable with ever putting that on a current project that is ready to look at developing in our community,” McCarty said. “Current projects should not incur the wrath of a hypothetical future that may or may not materialize.”

Supervisor Dick Grice was also skeptical of a roundabout as the preferred solution, noting that they “aren’t exactly cheap” and that construction would likely need to be confined to the summer months to avoid making Turner Drive impassable during the school year.

Plans developed by Kimley-Horn engineers call for addressing the queuing issue by installing “do not block” pavement markings at the intersection. The markings would warn of a potential fine for motorists observed impeding traffic flow. County staff argue this would place the burden of enforcement on the Isle of Wight County Sheriff’s Office.

Supervisor Joel Acree was in favor of looking at alternative designs for the intersection.

“Although I really want to see a Wawa in the county, the safety and performance of that intersection to me … overshadows me wanting it here,” Acree said.

The supervisors plan to reconsider the matter at their Aug. 18 meeting.