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WILMINGTON, Del. -- The Wawa convenience store chain is suing New Castle County, Delaware, saying the county's Unified Development Code illegally prohibits Wawa from adding more gas pumps, reported the Wilmington, Del.-based News Journal.
The lawsuit asks the court to declare that a section of the code violates the U.S. Constitution. Wawa also wants a court order prohibiting the enforcement of that code section. The Unified Development Code is a set of stricter building regulations adopted in 1997 to control sprawl.
The lawsuit focuses on part of the code that prohibits new underground petroleum storage tanks in environmentally sensitive areas but allows tanks that already exist in such areas to remain or be replaced.
Wawa says that part of the code violates the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause because it gives existing businesses an advantage over new ones seeking to compete. The lawsuit claims 38 gas stations already exist in the kinds of environmentally sensitive areas outlined in the code.
Wawa operates 540 convenience stores in five states, including 34 in Delaware. Nine of its Delaware stores sell gas, the lawsuit says.
Wawa had sought New Castle County's permission to add gas pumps at its Tybouts Corner store, but the location is within an area where the code prohibits new underground petroleum storage tanks.
The county has denied Wawa's attempts to get the permission it needs to install the tanks. One county board recognized the extraordinary precautions Wawa proposed to take with its tank technology, but the chain's request for a variance was ultimately denied.
Wilmington attorney Richard D. Kirk, who filed the lawsuit for Wawa, directed inquiries to Wawa spokeswoman Lori Bruce, who prepared a statement that said, in part, that prohibiting gas pumps at Tybouts Corner limits competition.
Two other businesses sell gas at the same intersection.
"We believe that consumer choice and the competitive marketplace will suffer as a result," she said.