Gate lock at SuperFresh remains bone of contention

Township, property owner sparring over key system, expansion plans on hold
By Mike McGann, Editor,

This is gate is locked during the evening, but concerns exist about emergency access.

EAST MARLBOROUGH — The say good fences make good neighbors, but in the case of the SuperFresh Supermarket, on U.S. 1, it’s a good locked gate — preventing early morning deliveries and trash pickups behind the store — that is keeping the neighbors happy.

But concerns about emergency access to the rear of the store led to some lively discussions during Monday night’s Board of Supervisors meeting, as the owner and manager of the site sought preliminary approval for a minor expansion to the market, located in the Longwood Village Shopping Center.

The township and the property owners are working to resolve a disagreement about the property — and matter is currently before the courts, as the property owners are appealing previous township rulings about revising the site development plan.

Monday night’s discussions were, in part, an attempt to resolve those issues, keep the neighbors happy and allow the supermarket to expand — the store faces increasing competition from the coming expansion of the nearby WalMart into a full SuperCenter, making it a full competitor to the SuperFresh. The store already faces competition from a Genuardi’s across the street — although the Safeway-owned chain is struggling and rumors continue to circulate that more store closings — the chain already closed a number of outlets including the one in Chadds Ford — are coming in 2011.

To get that expansion — the property owners need to satisfy the township on the gate issue.

Currently, the gate is manually locked by the store manager during non-business hours — and the manager of store has the key. As part of the proposed expansion, the supervisors wanted an electronic locking system installed, at least on one gate. The property owner, RJ Waters, is proposing using a lock box, similar to those used by real estate agents. While the lock box would cost about $100, the electronic system is priced at $27,000. There is concern about emergency access to the rear of the store — more on the police side of the issue, rather than fire, as the fire companies would just cut the lock with a bolt cutter.

The concern, as expressed by township supervisors, is the worry that police officers needing to get out of their cars to open and unlock the gate might provide a hazard — assuming there is a potential threat behind the store. An electronic system would allow both local and State Police to get access to the rear of the site without getting out of their patrol car.

Initially, Waters offered a “trial period” for the lockbox — and if there were three incidents with either emergency responders or deliveries in a 12-month period, the company would immediately agree to install the electronic system. That didn’t pass muster, as various supervisors including Richard Hicks and Richard Hannum said that while three strikes might be okay on the delivery issue, they would only consider a “once and done” policy on emergency access.

And even at that, supervisors were not sold.

“It’s only a partial fix,” Hicks said.

Supervisors deferred a decision on the proposal, suggesting that Waters needed to discuss the issue and get input from township Police Chief Gerald Davis as well as the State Police before the township would be willing to sign off on the lockbox idea.

Previously, neighbors complained about deliveries and trash pickups behind the store as early as 4:30 a.m. — in violation of the original approval of the shopping center’s hours of operation.

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