RED BANK: WAWA MEGASTORE PLAN YANKED

Former Red Bank mayor Ed McKenna, left, grilled Wawa engineer Mark Whitaker over the proposal at a zoning board hearing in March. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

[UPDATE: This post contains comments from site ower Frank Sala, who was unavailable at the time of the original posting.]

By JOHN T. WARD

Wawa’s coffee, subs and gasoline prices may have earned it a devoted following, but a controversial plan to build a supersized convenience store and filling station on Red Bank’s southern border has been withdrawn, redbankgreen has learned.

Jennifer Krimko, the attorney for applicant A&B Property Holdings, confirmed that the proposal was withdrawn via letter to the borough dated Tuesday.

The plan called for replacing the Auto Exotica luxury car showroom on Newman Springs Road with a 5,600-square-foot Wawa market and canopied filling station, with 12 pumps dispensing gasoline and diesel fuel.

But the site’s proximity to Broad Street, and its potential impact on traffic flows, quickly emerged as issues at zoning board hearings this winter.

The plan faced pushback from nearby commercial property owners — including Exxon station owner Gulshan Chaabra, who hired former mayor Ed McKenna as his lawyer to fight it — as well as concerns raised by board members.

Frank Sala, who owns Auto Exotica and A&B Property, told redbankgreen Thursday that he scuttled the plan in the face of opposition and the amount of time it might take to defend it in court should it be approved by the Red Bank zoning board.

Wawa, he said, had privately agreed to concessions, including the elimination of a left turn into the property from eastbound Newman Springs Road. But officials in Shrewsbury, who he said had previously not objected to the plan, had reversed position and vowed to fight it.

Sala said he wasn’t up for a process that might take several years before the Wawa was built, if ever.

“I have no interest in that,” he said.

“The losers are the people of Red Bank who are going to be paying more for gas” than they otherwise would, Sala said. In addition, there are 50 new jobs that won’t be created, he said.

Sala previously said he intended to lease the site to the Wawa chain and move his business to a new facility he’s building in Atlantic Highlands. That plan, too, has been scrapped.

“We’re staying where we are,” he said.

Recent scheduled hearings had been postponed, and the matter was most slated to resume June 21. The withdrawal effectively ends the board’s review, which would have to start from square one if a new plan is submitted.

This month’s issue of Inc. magazine reports that the Wawa chain “is rapidly expanding — and ditching gas and cigarettes for kale salads and nerdy coffee.”