Smithfield Wawa still stalled

Published 5:04 pm Monday, April 3, 2023

Plans from 2021 to build a Wawa gas station and convenience store near Smithfield High School remain in limbo.

At issue is a plan for handling the traffic that would enter and exit from Turner Drive, less than a quarter-mile from the school, during peak traffic hours.

Miami-based Frontier Development and Henry Layden of Smithfield, who manages the 3.8-acre William G. Yeoman III parcel at Benns Church Boulevard and Turner Drive where the Wawa would be built, had submitted an Oct. 25, 2021, application to Isle of Wight County requesting a conditional use permit for the project.

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Isle of Wight’s Planning Commission recommended the project’s approval in mid-2022 on the condition that its developers “submit an alternative intersection design” for Turner Drive “such as a single-lane roundabout.” Isle of Wight supervisors, who have the final say over whether the Wawa gets a permit, postponed voting on the application in July, citing ongoing discussions concerning the Turner Drive access.

The Wawa application reappeared on the supervisors’ August, September and October agendas but was either tabled or removed.

Plans developed by the engineering firm Kimley-Horn had initially proposed installing “do not block” pavement markings at the Turner Drive access, which, according to a Virginia Department of Transportation traffic analysis, would depend on enforcement by local police.

If the entrance becomes blocked, there is the potential for traffic to back up onto Benns Church Boulevard, VDOT’s analysis states. There’s also the potential for drivers headed left from the Wawa toward Smithfield High to have their line of sight obstructed.

During peak hours, the existing westbound left turn movements at the corner of Benns Church Boulevard and Turner Drive have resulted in VDOT assigning the intersection a “B” level-of-service grade. With the additional traffic from the Wawa, VDOT’s traffic analysis projects the intersection would be reduced to a “D,” adding an additional 20 seconds of delay. Mitigating this impact would require additional lanes on Turner Drive, the traffic analysis states.

According to spokesman Tim Kelley, VDOT, on Nov. 10, denied Wawa its requested access management exception to allow left turns from the site onto Turner Drive. This denial was “based on safety concerns” due to “traffic congestion at this location during peak school traffic hours,” Kelley said.

Then, on Dec. 9, VDOT received an email from an engineer on behalf of Wawa noting the company planned to appeal.

According to Kelley, the email came through on the 29th day of VDOT’s 30-day appeal window.

“This was the last contact VDOT’s Franklin Residency has had with Wawa regarding any possible appeal,” Kelley said.

The Franklin Residency serves as VDOT’s regional headquarters for Isle of Wight, Southampton, Greenville and Sussex counties and the cities of Franklin and Emporia. Only the notice of Wawa’s plans to appeal, and not the appeal itself, was submitted as of Nov. 9, Kelley said.

“We have reached out several times and have not heard anything back,” Franklin Residency Administrator Paul Maddox told Isle of Wight County supervisors at a March 16 meeting.

Maddox didn’t specify whom VDOT had attempted to contact. Layden, speaking by phone to The Smithfield Times, contended it was his team that was “getting the run-around” from VDOT and county officials. Frontier did not immediately respond to the Times’ requests for comments.

“We’re not locked into a roundabout,” Supervisor Dick Grice said.

Board of Supervisors Chairman William McCarty said he too was not in favor of a roundabout based on feedback from area residents.