Bart Blatstein has given up on his years-long fight for permission to build a Wawa gas station along South Philadelphia’s Delaware River waterfront over objections that the project would set back efforts to make the area more inviting to residents and pedestrians.
The developer dropped an appeal in Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court on Tuesday that sought to overturn a lower-court ruling against his project, records show.
Blatstein first sought permits for the large-sized Wawa convenience store with rows of gas pumps at the South Christopher Columbus Boulevard and Tasker Street site in the city’s Pennsport neighborhood four years ago.
“In the time that has passed, there is a higher and better use,” he said in an interview Wednesday. He would not disclose his plans.
But the Philadelphia Business Journal has reported that he will instead expand a strip mall planned for another portion of the tract onto the section of the property where the Wawa had been proposed.
Blatstein first sought permits in 2018 for the Wawa project. It was planned on land he bought between Columbus Boulevard and the river, bound by Reed and Tasker Streets, after a previous owner failed to develop a Foxwoods casino at the site.
At the time, the Wawa plan was rejected by the Department of Licenses and Inspections because filling stations may not front on Columbus Boulevard under area land-use rules.
Those rules emerged from the Master Plan for the Central Delaware, which was drawn up in the mid-2000s to encourage development that fosters pedestrian access to the river. The quasi-governmental Delaware River Waterfront Corp. is tasked with managing the waterfront according to the Master Plan.
Rather than appeal L&I’s decision at that time before the Zoning Board of Adjustment, which has the power to reverse actions by L&I, Blatstein suspended his efforts.
In 2019, though, Blatstein submitted a nearly identical plan to L&I, and this time had it accepted, thanks to a cunning technical maneuver: He had a street-facing strip of land declared a separate parcel so that the filling station would face that strip of land — legally speaking — and not Columbus Boulevard itself.
That decision was contested by the DRWC before the Zoning Board of Adjustment, which, in the summer of 2020, issued a decision concurring with the agency’s arguments that L&I had erred in clearing the project.
Blatstein appealed that decision in Common Pleas Court, which ruled against him last summer. He then appealed that ruling in Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court.
The Pennsport Civic Association neighborhood group, which had opposed the Wawa gas station plan, said on its website that it was pleased to learn of Blatstein’s decision to drop the appeal.
“We appreciate that the developer has decided not to further pursue this gas station and look forward to conversations with Tower about the future of the waterfront,” the group wrote, referring to Blatstein’s company, Tower Investments.
Messages for DRWC and Wawa were not immediately returned.