Aging strip shopping centers that marked the suburbanization of South Jersey more than 50 years ago typically are not cited as architectural standouts.
But some Cherry Hill residents are especially fond of one such plaza — the sprawling Barclay Farm Shopping Center on Route 70 in Cherry Hill.
And they have spent the last four weeks mounting a campaign against a plan by Wawa and the center's owner to demolish two buildings and construct a Super Wawa at a corner of the 13-acre center.
"People are infuriated about this," Martha Wright, a Cherry Hill native who lives in the Hunt Tract in the Barclay Farm section and one of the protest leaders, told 70and73.com in an interview.
Even today, the Barclay shopping area still has its original Colonial feel that Barclay Farm developer Bob Scarborough championed. A promotional real estate article from July 1967 in The Philadelphia Inquirer noted: "Along the south side of Route 70, Barclay Center shopping section has an Early American theme and has been cited as one of the most attractive commercial centers in the East."
Photos on the Preserve Barclay group on Facebook — set up to protest the Wawa plan — feature Colonial touches in the center, including horse-head hitching posts.
Barclay Pavilion, at the southwest corner of the center, has an Early American look. It would be torn down under the plan. The center's owner also plans to tear down the building that housed a 600-seat movie theater when it opened in 1963 that now is a pet supply store. Besides the Wawa, the property owner also proposes building a 12,499-square-foot retail building with two tenants.
Wright, the spokesperson for the group of Barclay-area residents, is no stranger to skirmishing over developments. She has been involved in planning and zoning issues in Cherry Hill and Avalon, where she has a second home. A few years ago, she was part of the group battling an apartment complex at Brace and Kresson Roads — a loss that still is vivid in her memory.
"People are emotional and they use their emotions to express their concerns, but those emotions are not based on legal footing," Wright explained. "Time and again, residents get overrun."
With that in mind, Wright said the group has retained South Jersey land-use lawyer Jeffrey I. Baron of the Voorhees firm of Baron and Brennan to represent the Barclay neighbors before the Cherry Hill Planning Board in their fight against the Wawa application. No date has been set for the hearing.
Representation by an attorney is key to getting the attention of planning and zoning board members in New Jersey communities. Residents are free to testify at hearings about planned developments, but each faces a time limit and rarely do they cite evidence and law in opposing the project. When represented by an attorney, a resident group can make its case in the same way the developer makes its case for its proposal.
"I don't think we need another Wawa. I don't think we need another Dunkin' Donuts. And I don't think we need another urgent care," Dawn Higgins, facilitator for the Council of Cherry Hill Civic Associations and president of the Erlton North Windsor Civic Association, told 70and73.com. She credited the Barclay Farm neighbors with being "very organized" and said the coalition of associations supports the group's opposition to the Wawa plan.
Wawa has caused major stirs when it has proposed Super Wawa's recently in the 70and73 area, as well as elsewhere in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
A controversial plan to build a Super Wawa near the intersection of Route 73 and Kresson Road in Voorhees has drawn fire from several neighbors and lawyer Howard N. Sobel, whose law offices would be next to the Wawa driveway to Kresson Road. He is representing his firm before the Voorhees Zoning Board of Adjustment and not testifying simply as a property owner. A third meeting on the Voorhees plan is scheduled in September.
In Mount Laurel last year, a proposed Super Wawa near the intersection of Route 38 and Hartford Road was sharply criticized by Mount Laurel residents because it neighbors a long-time, family-owned gasoline station. It was approved by the Township Zoning Board of Adjustment.
The applicant for the Wawa development in Cherry Hill next to the Barclay Farm neighborhood and the owner of the property is listed as Hortense Associates LP, which is part of the Kaiserman Company Inc., a real estate company based in Center City Philadelphia.
70and73.com contacted Kaiserman and asked for comment on the residents' opposition. "Given that our application is still under review by the Department of Community Development and pending before the Planning Board, it is our practice to refrain from making any comments regarding our proposed project at this time," Max Kaiserman, director of marketing and revenue at Kaiserman, responded in an email message.
Preserve Barclay spokesperson Wright listed several reasons for the opposition beyond the demolition of the buildings.
A 65-year-old deed from the sale of the farm property by the Barclay family to the Scarborough company stipulates no oil or mining operations and, in that part of the deed, said oil tanks on the property are prohibited. That part of the deed, she said, might apply to the gasoline operation of proposed Wawa business.
In addition, West Gate Drive, one of the roads leading into the Barclay Farm development, would significantly change near the Route 70 intersection to accommodate Wawa traffic. A home on West Gate now used as a professional office would be torn down and a driveway would lead from the Wawa to West Gate.
Wright said neighbors are concerned over the landscaped Barclay Farm memorial sign now in the middle of the road that would need to be removed. She said Bob Scarborough built the sign islands as part of the design of the development. Similar ones stand at other entrances to the neighborhood.
"Who owns those islands that have been maintained by the citizens?" asked Wright, who said she was told by the Township that no one knows who technically owns the monument signs. "No one wants to touch that one," she added. Other concerns include proposed signs for the Wawa and the buried gasoline storage tanks.
Anne Einhorn, who lives in the Kingston neighborhood across Route 70 from the Barclay center, said she has not inspected the Wawa plans or met with Township officials.
However, Einhorn said she is worried about an increase in traffic in her development, particularly from Wawa customers who will use Kingston streets as a cut-through to reach Kings Highway.
"I definitely know it will increase," Einhorn said of traffic volume.