The Board of Commissioners have placed high value on transparency and civic engagement. It is important that the residents of Upper Gwynedd Township are receiving complete and accurate information about various Township issues, news, and events. This section of the website has been dedicated to dispel rumors by addressing incorrect information posted on social media and other non-Township affiliated websites.
The Upper Gwynedd Township staff and elected officials receive a lot of questions about the corners of Sumneytown Pike and West Point Pike/Church Road. The main question we get is why these two corners remain vacant and undeveloped. We have created this summary to help residents and visitors understand what is happening in each area.
“The Sumney” Corner:
The Township has been involved in several pieces of litigation regarding this property, stemming from the property owner’s (Provco’s) land development requests to build a Wawa gas station with 16 fueling locations on that corner. When reviewing land development requests, the Township must first and foremost consider that it is our priority to protect the health, safety and public welfare of the community.
Generally, if an applicant’s project is not permitted by a “By-Right Plan” that completely complies with our Zoning Regulations, most applicants start their development process with the Zoning Hearing Board in order to try to obtain the zoning relief necessary to proceed with their project. Some uses have been determined (by our zoning ordinance) to always need a specific approval from the Zoning Hearing Board because of their substantial impact on the community, such as gasoline service stations or new or used car sales.
In 2016, Provco requested Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB) relief to allow their proposed convenience store and gas station. The Township believed that Provco was required to meet certain traffic and safety conditions in order for the ZHB to grant Provco its desired relief; none of which Provco met. These conditions are sometimes called “special exception standards”. Somewhat surprisingly, the ZHB issued a decision in 2016, allowing the applicant to sell gasoline as an “accessory use”, but without making Provco demonstrate compliance with the special exception standards established by the Township Zoning Ordinance. The special exception standards were very important in this particular case because they required Provco to demonstrate the safety and traffic impacts of the proposed Wawa in that particular location. The Township Board of Commissioners disagreed with that decision and have been in a legal dispute regarding the zoning regulations and special exception standards applicable to the Sumney Corner that continues to this day.
Provco also filed two land development applications on this property (at their own risk of because of the appeals of the 2016 ZHB decision). Both applications were denied by the Board of Commissioners due to serious concerns about the safety of cars exiting the site onto Sumneytown Pike and West Point Pike. Provco’s proposed development failed to comply with the Townships Ordinances, including, but not limited to, its traffic requirements. The large SEPTA bridge (and especially the headwalls of that bridge on either side of Sumneytown Pike) obscures visibility for turns both into and out of the site, and these traffic movements are extremely hazardous due to the lack of visibility up Sumneytown Pike caused by the bridge. Vehicles trying to make either turn would not have a clear sight-line to eastbound Sumneytown Pike traffic. Provco filed an appeal of both those decisions of the Board of Commissioners, forcing the Township into additional legal disputes. Ultimately, the Commonwealth Court agreed with the Township, and upheld both of the Board’s land development denials in September of 2019.
In 2019, Provco filed still another legal challenge in an effort to have its Wawa development approved. This suit, called a “Substantive Validity Challenge”, alleges that a convenience store also selling gasoline is a recognized, permitted, single use in Pennsylvania, and therefore the Upper Gwynedd Township Zoning Ordinance (and virtually every zoning ordinance in the Commonwealth) is allegedly unconstitutional because the Zoning Ordinance permits this use as two separate uses or as a combination of two uses, but not as a single use. The Commissioners disagree with Provco’s position and are defending the Township’s Ordinances by opposing Provco’s Validity Challenge. On February 25, 2020 The Township Zoning Hearing Board rendered an oral decision on the Validity Challenge denying the challenge.
To date, the Township has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on legal bills due to these cases. As stated above, it is the foremost duty of the Township to protect the health, safety and public welfare of the community. The Township refuses to be pushed around by developers or large companies who apparently believe that the rules do not apply to them, and who appear to have little regard for the safety of Township residents. The Township would obviously prefer to spend this money for parks and other projects, but development threats that endanger the lives of our residents have to be our highest priority. Of the four (4) different matters for which the Township requires legal services related to this development (Zoning Hearing Board, Land Development one, Land Development two, and the recent substantive validity challenge), all have been initiated by Provco and none of them have been initiated by the Township. The Township is simply defending against Provco’s continued assault of the Township’s regulations, which were designed to ensure the health and safety of the Township residents. To date, all of the substantive decisions made by the Courts have supported the Township, proving that the Township’s concerns are reasonable, legitimate, and well-founded.
The “Genuardi’s” Corner:
Around the same time that Provco proposed a Wawa on the Sumney Corner, another applicant (Hartford Properties) proposed a Royal Farms gas station and convenience store on the opposite corner, which most people call the “Genuardi’s” Corner. Hartford also required Zoning Relief and applied to our ZHB to operate as planned, including a request for a special exception to permit the sale of gasoline. As a result, unlike Provco, Hartford presented evidence to the ZHB regarding the health, safety and public welfare impacts of the proposed Royal Farms and the traffic associated with it. On June 28, 2016, the ZHB issued a decision (the “ZHB Hartford Decision”) granting the zoning relief requested by Hartford, subject to certain conditions. Hartford appealed some of the conditions in the ZHB Hartford Decision to the Court of Common Pleas, but eventually withdrew this appeal. Hartford also filed a case against the Township that was related to a possible settlement of the appeal of the conditions of the ZHB Hartford Decision, but that litigation was also withdrawn by Hartford.
In 2018, Hartford submitted a conditional use application to the Township Board of Commissioners seeking approval to operate multiple principal uses on a single property pursuant to a zoning text amendment recently adopted by the Commissioners. A conditional use is a use that is permitted, provided that the applicant can demonstrate that certain conditions are met to the satisfaction of the Commissioners. Hartford’s Conditional Use application was granted with certain restrictions (“Hartford Conditional Use Decision”). The conditional use approval for the Royal Farms was then appealed by Provco which, of course, wanted to develop a Wawa on the Sumney Corner. In August of 2019, the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas affirmed the Township’s Hartford Conditional Use Decision and denied Provco’s appeal. Provco then appealed the opinion of the Court of Common Pleas to the Commonwealth Court. This appeal is still working its way through the Courts and a final decision has not yet been issued.
In 2019, Hartford filed a land development application for the Shoppes at Upper Gwynedd (on the Genuardi’s Corner), which included the Royal Farms, that was granted by the Commissioners after Hartford demonstrated that its plans substantially complied with the Township Ordinances. Again, Provco appealed the Commissioners’ decision, but that appeal appeared to have been filed beyond the permitted deadline. Provco has since withdrawn their appeal and that matter is therefore concluded.
You will start to see demolition beginning on the Genuardi’s Corner in the upcoming weeks. However, since we continue to wait for the Commonwealth Court to make a decision on the Hartford Conditional Use case, Hartford may or may not choose to actually develop the Genuardi’s Corner depending on the outcome of that appeal. There is no question that Hartford plans to develop the Royal Farms and the rest of that commercial site if all appeals are resolved in its favor.
It is important to note that the Hartford/Royal Farms Application was handled with the identical scrutiny as the Provco/Wawa Application by the Board of Commissioners. The Hartford site (Genuardi’s Corner) does not have the same serious health, safety and welfare conditions that exist on the Provco site (the Sumney Corner) because the Hartford site is much larger, is located across Sumneytown Pike and has much better visibility under the railroad bridge.
We hope this summary helps to explain the complex legal and safety issues on these two corners. If not, please feel free to call the Township Manager, Sandra Zadell, anytime to meet and discuss this issue at 215-699-7777.
- Rumor: I can call and request a paper census questionnaire
Truth: NO, you cannot call and request a paper questionnaire. Households only receive the questionnaire in the 4th mailing, if they have not responded online or by phone
- Rumor: I need the most up-to-date phone/computer and I have to download special software to complete the census
Truth: ANY device that can connect to a website will allow access to the census. No matter what the age. The website is very mobile friendly!
- Rumor: Census information on the site "Next Door" is a scam
Truth: the Census has partnered with Next Door and they are posting valid information
- Rumor: The census materials have a QR code
Truth: Census materials do NOT have a QR code and this is a scam taking you to a Chinese website
- Rumor: The census information was mailed out already via a political party
Truth: The census mailings will not be mailed out until 3/12-3/20. The mailings that have been sent out throughout Montgomery County were a political mailing and not related to the U.S. Census Bureau.