Board of Supervisors
Minutes of September 13, 2006
The Newtown Township Board of Supervisors met on Wednesday, September 13, 2006 in the Township meeting room at 8:00 PM. In attendance were Supervisors: Chairman Anne Goren, Vice-Chairman Phillip Calabro, Secretary/Treasure, Jerry Schenkman and members Thomas Jirele and Richard Weaver. Also present were: Paul Beckert, Township Solicitor, Edward Koehler, Township Engineer and John Boyle, Assistant to the Township Manager.
Call to Order: Chairman Anne Goren called the regular meeting to order at 8:00 PM with a moment of silence.
Invocation:The invocation was given by Sister Francesca Onley of Holy Family University. This was followed by the Pledge of Allegiance.
Changes to the Agenda: Mr. Boyle added the approval of a vehicle lease for an Emergency Services department to the Manager’s Report.
Public Comment: Resident Nancy Crescenzo asked that a “residents’ comments” section be added to the new Web site. She asked that the Trail Committee be re-activated, and that the Eagle Road trails be connected. In response to Mr. Calabro’s comment that the trails are part of a Park and Recreation Board sub-committee, she asked that the Committee be re-established as a separate committee in order to apply for grants. She complained about the attendance record of certain Planning Commission members.
Resident Dave Rinker said that he has concerns about the traffic on Stoopville Road. He would like a traffic impact study to be conducted before approval is given to the Veterans Administration for a cemetery.
Claudia Fontaine of Lower Makefield read into the record a letter from Lower Makefield resident Sue Herman complaining that the proposed cemetery might create additional traffic on Lindenhurst Road. The letter expresses support for an entrance to the cemetery on Washington Crossing Road, with traffic directed from Taylorsville Road.
Resident John D’Aprile, a Vietnam War Veteran, said that he does not believe that the proposed cemetery will generate a great deal of traffic, but requested improvements to Stoopville Road to accommodate increases in traffic from new homes. He said that he resents Ms. Herman’s complaints about traffic passing her own house.
Resident Ed Hackett, a Vietnam War Veteran, expressed some concern about a proposed cemetery entrance at Highland Road, because of difficulty of entering Stoopville Road at this intersection.
Resident Harry Stevens, of Newtown Grant, requested an improved crosswalk, possibly with flashing lights, on Eagle Road at Marigold/Jonquil Drives, as this is the crossing used by Newtown Grant residents to access the recreation complex. He also expressed concern about the existing crosswalk on Eagle Road that connects the two portions of the trail. He said that there is not sufficient sight distance for drivers to see pedestrians.
Member's Comments: Referring to recent articles in the Philadelphia Inquirer and Bucks County Courier Times on gang activities in the suburbs, Mr. Calabro complimented the preparedness of our police department to address gang activity.
Minutes, Bills Lists and Reports
Minutes: Mr. Weaver moved to accept the minutes of August 23, 2006. Mr. Schenkman seconded and the motion passed unanimously.
Bills Lists: Mr. Schenkman moved to authorize payment of bills totaling $270,238.50. Mr. Weaver seconded.
Discussion of motion: In response to Mrs. Crescenzo’s question about a past payment of mileage to the Township Manager, Mrs. Goren said that the Manager is provided with a car as part of his contract, and Mr. Jirele said that he is given an allowance for a car plus repairs.
The motion passed unanimously.
Mr. Schenkman moved to authorize interfund transfers totaling $190,331.61. Mr. Weaver seconded and the motion passed unanimously.
Reports of Committees, Boards and Commissions
Historic Architectural Review Board: Mr. Weaver moved to authorize HARB to use its budget funds for payment of plaque honoring Elinor Campbell. Mr. Calabro seconded and the motion passed unanimously.
Planning Commission: Chairman Shawn Ward reported that on September 5, 2006, the Planning Commission reviewed the preliminary as final plan for a major subdivision at Villas at Newtown, Upper Silver Lake Road, and recommended approval of 172 age-qualified units, with conditions and waivers. Preservation of a beech tree and relocation of emergency access are still to be resolved.
The Commission reviewed and recommended approval of a final plan for minor subdivision of the Lewis property at 46 Maple Lane.
The Commission recommended that the Board of Supervisors deny approval of the Promenade at Sycamore, as the proposed reduction of height from 49 to 43 feet, and reduction of gross area to 89,100 were not acceptable.
On September 12, 2006, the Planning Commission held a special meeting to review JMZO 2006-18, Veterans Cemetery Overlay Zone. Undersecretary for Memorial Affairs, William F. Tuerk, described the plans, noting that formal plans have not been developed pending approval of this Ordinance and funding. The members discussed the traffic impact of the cemetery, proposed residential development and an elementary school. Mr. Ward noted that the VA plans to retain an agricultural lease option on the property as the cemetery is phased in over ten years. The Commission recommended that the Board of Supervisors authorize advertisement of the ordinance, with the condition that Newtown Township and Lower Makefield Township be granted party status during land development for the cemetery. The VA did not oppose granting party status.
Mr. Ward noted that a recent article in the Bucks County Courier Times incorrectly commented on the time spent reviewing the ordinance. The Planning Commission met for over three hours.
In response to questions on emergency access plans for the Villas at Newtown, Mr. Koehler said that the plan to build two sidewalks adjacent to the entrance road would widen the entrance to 57 feet. It would be the safest option to provide emergency access for fire trucks. Such a wide entrance would not be inaccessible during a fire or traffic emergency. Of course, final review and approval of this option would come from the fire marshal.
Regarding the 6-2 Planning Commission vote to recommend advertisement of the cemetery overlay ordinance, Mr. Ward said that the dissenting members were concerned about traffic issues.
Mr. Ward objected to Mrs. Crescenzo’s repeated invective about Planning Commission members’ attendance. He praised the dedication of the members’ hard work, at meetings and at home, in careful preparation and review of plans.Mr. Jirele expressed some concern about the nature of public comment and response, as it is not beneficial to the Township’s effective conduct of business.
Reports of Officials
Manager: Mr. Weaver moved to accept the bid for painting of the police trailer and schoolhouse at the municipal complex to J.P. Smith Contractors, Glenside, PA in the amount of $24,900. Mr. Jirele seconded.
Discussion of motion: Mrs. Crescenzo questioned the spending of money on the current municipal complex, when a new complex is needed. She suggested saving the money toward building a new complex. She asked when the new complex would be discussed by the Board.
Mr. Schenkman said that the Public Works Director had requested that this work be done last year, and it had been postponed. It is important to maintain and preserve the municipal complex while awaiting a new complex. The Financial Planning Committee has been discussing the financing of a new municipal complex, and will be meeting with some experts to discuss such possible financing tools as bond issues in the upcoming weeks.
The motion passed unanimously.
Police Chief Martin C. Duffy was in attendance to request that the Supervisors sign a vehicle lease for a Ford F-550 Special Response Vehicle, leased at a cost of $1, plus the cost of insurance, from Bucks County Emergency Management. The vehicle is equipped with county radio, breathing apparatus, chemical suits, radon detectors and other necessary emergency gear. Newtown Township would house the vehicle and be responsible for maintenance. It would be used for our own emergencies, and to assist other municipalities if an emergency should arise that would require the use of such equipment. The lease length is unlimited, and no special training is required to operate the vehicle.
Mr. Calabro moved to authorize signing of a lease for a Special Response Vehicle from Bucks County Emergency management in the amount of $1.00. Mr. Weaver seconded and the motion passed unanimously.
Mr. Weaver moved to authorize advertisement of JMZO Ordinance 2006-18, Cemetery Overlay District. Mr. Jirele seconded.
Discussion of Motion: Ed Murphy representing Toll Brothers, was in attendance to give a brief history of the plans. He explained that Toll Brothers owns 300 acres on the east and West sides of Highland Road, and Council Rock School District owns the 134-acre Melsky property, which is in both Newtown and Upper Makefield. The Veterans Administration proposes purchasing 200 acres on the east side of Highland Rd for a Veterans cemetery. Of the remaining 100 acres, 27 acres are to remain as green space to provide a view and buffer for the cemetery. The remaining parcel would be divided into 80 lots, each ½ acre. The entrance to this proposed development would align with the entrances to the Baptist and Jehovah’s Witness churches on Stoopville Road. There will be on-site water and sewer treatment facilities, owned by Upper Makefield. Township. The White family is to retain a parcel for two single-family homes. Of the 134 acres on the Melsky property, the School District would retain 40 acres for use as an elementary school. The remaining acreage will be divided into ½ acre lots for single-family homes, with 46 homes in Upper Makefield and 44 in Newtown. The School District has insisted that its acreage be in Newtown Township because of public water and sewer availability. Playing fields will be located at the rear portion of the tract. The District will use Maureen Welch Elementary School as a template for development of this parcel. The 44 homes in Newtown will have public water and sewer; the Upper Makefield homes will tie into the facility on the Grey tract. The two portions of the development will have compatible infrastructure; roadway improvements to Stoopville Road will be consistent with the model already in place. There are to be internal sidewalks on both sides of the street, with a trail along Stoopville Road and pedestrian access through the development to the elementary school.
In response to Mr. Calabro’s question, Mr. Murphy said that about 28 to 30 acres retained by the School District are developable. The remaining acreage, to the rear of the property, consists of wetlands and floodplains. The 100 acre parcel known as the White tract, in Upper Makefield will have 80 homes because a portion is to remain open space to create a view shed for the cemetery, however all lot sizes are the same, ½ acres.
In response to Mr. Jirele’s question, Mr. Murphy said that funding is being sought for the 27 acres of preserved open space, with an estimated cost of 1.35 million dollars.
In response to Mr. Schenkman’s questions, Mr. Murphy said that no formal agreement has been signed between the VA and Toll, or between Toll and the School District. Agreements of Sale have been submitted, but they remain unsigned. Another party has indicated interest in acquiring the Melsky property from the School District.
The deals are all interconnected because the VA is interested in acquiring the 200 acres at below market value, and Toll is attempting to balance that sale with the purchase of the Melsky property for development.
In response to questions from resident Jay Sensibaugh, Mr. Murphy said that an ongoing litigation involving the School District would be withdrawn if the property is sold to Toll Brothers. He said that it was his understanding that Congressman Michael Fitzpatrick is attempting to raise two million dollars for open space in Upper Makefield and traffic calming on Stoopville Road as part of the plan to bring the cemetery to Bucks County.
Resident Frank Mendicino expressed concern about the zoning process. He said that the planning code requires a traffic study, and that sketch plans have not been submitted. The change in the Ordinance would not hold Toll to these plans. He expressed concern about the entrance to the cemetery being placed on Highland Road. He said that, in his opinion, funeral traffic should be routed from the New Hope exit of I95 through Upper Makefield to an entrance on Washington Crossing Road. He questioned whether the School District had agreed to the use of the Melsky property for an elementary school.
Mr. Murphy said that the District is in agreement, and that the property would not be large enough for a middle or high school.
Mr. Mendicino said that the Planning Commission only spent a few minutes reviewing the Ordinance. He said that he is concerned that on page six, Section F. 1 of the proposed ordinance there is reference to “restricted to cemetery or open space uses.” This could restrict the land to only open space uses in Upper Makefield, further limiting land available for development, should the deal fall through.
Mr. Beckert said that the Ordinance goes into effect when the property is transferred to the Veterans Administration. If there is no transfer, the Ordinance does not take effect.
Mr. Mendicino complained that Newtown Township did not have sufficient time to carefully review the Ordinance. He continued to be concerned about the inclusion of the “open space uses” phrase. The request to be granted party status is meaningless. A traffic study is necessary in advance of approval. He also said that the School District has not been represented at meetings, and no portion of this deal has been put in writing.
Mrs. Crescenzo expressed concern about the amount of time given to Newtown to review the proposed Ordinance. She also said that a new elementary school is not needed but a middle school in Northampton should be built. She expressed some concern about water and sewer needs, and about the plan for curbs in the development, as she would prefer Belgian blocks. She said that the VA should be supported in its efforts to bring a cemetery to Bucks County; the traffic concerns are not legitimate, and the benefits outweigh the negative aspects of the plans.
Mr. Sensibaugh said that the Planning Commission did not review the proposed Ordinance carefully. He expressed some concern about provisions of Sections III Y and Sections IV B, C and D, which deal with use regulations and setbacks.
Mr. Rinker expressed concern about traffic and the need for a traffic impact study.
Mr. D’Aprile expressed some concern that the cemetery plan is tied up with so much Toll development. He said that Toll should be required to improve Stoopville Road to accommodate the increased traffic from development.
Mr. Murphy said that the normal process was not followed up to this point because of the unique opportunity to bring a Veterans Cemetery to Bucks County. The Jointure had preferred amending the Ordinance to allow for the cemetery. Once the Ordinance has been amended, the normal land development process will be followed. Newtown Township has been involved in all aspects of the planning thus far. The Township Planner has studied the proposals and found that for Newtown the plan would be density neutral. A traffic study will be done, as is required for a preliminary plan for a major subdivision.
William F. Tuerk, Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs, and his staff, WIlliam Jane, Steven Morrow and Kimberly Wright, were introduced. Mr. Tuerk said that, as World War II Veterans are aging, there has been an increased need for cemeteries. The Veterans Administration plans to open 12 new cemeteries by 2010. These cemeteries are phased in by section, as needed. He said that community involvement is sought for planning of the cemeteries. At this time no design has been completed, and an entrance would be selected as part of the design phase. Government budgets require that the site must first be acquired, before design can begin. He shared pictures of other cemeteries, noting the stone buildings and high maintenance standards. This cemetery would be phased in over ten years, in 60 to 80 acre parcels. Burials usually begin within 240 days of breaking ground, using temporary facilities while construction proceeds. Land would remain agricultural until needed. Once open, the cemetery would probably see six to eight burials each day, with an estimated ten cars per burial. This is a very high estimate, as many burials are of cremated remains that have been held until the cemetery is available. Not every funeral has a cortege of cars, as some burials are not conducted immediately after funerals. Washington Crossing Road sees an average of 10,000 trips per day, so the impact of cemetery traffic would be minimal. These numbers are estimates based on experience; no formal studies have yet been conducted.
In response to questions from Mr. Schenkman, Mr. Jane, in charge of cemetery construction, agreed to provide any traffic study information available on other cemetery constructions. Ms. Wright, the regional director for the greater Philadelphia area, can also be contacted for information on other area cemeteries.
Mr. Tuerk assured Mr. Schenkman that the VA would consider a Highland Road or a Washington Crossing Road entrance site equally. All information requested would be made available. This information could then be made available to the public via the Newtown Township Web site.
In response to Mr. Calabro’s questions, Mr. Tuerk said that most traffic to the cemetery would be from within a 50 to 75 mile radius. The VA does not typically improve roads to the cemetery, but does improve the immediate entrance site, sometimes adding turning lanes. Cars can move quickly into the cemetery, and off of the roadways, where there is an area for waiting for all to arrive. Cars are not stacked at the entrance.
In response to questions from Mr. Rinker, Mr. Tuerk said that progress must be made toward changes in zoning by September 30, 2006 because Congress had authorized purchase for fiscal 2006, which ends on September 30. The purchase does not have to take place on that date, but significant progress must be shown.
Mr. Schenkman asked for the following:
Mr. Weaver said that he is confident that all concerns would be addressed as part of the land development process, and that he feels comfortable proceeding with advertising the Ordinance.The motion passed unanimously.
The Promenade at Sycamore – Zoning Hearing Board Application: David Shafkowitz, attorney for Elliott Building Group, said that he would like to continue the Zoning Hearing Board application, while his firm addresses the concerns of the Board of Supervisors. He asked to make a brief presentation of the proposed construction, and to ask the Board’s guidance on acceptable compromise, prior to re-submitting plans to the Zoning Hearing Board.
Mr. Calabro objected to allowing the presentation, as the Promenade appears on the agenda only as a Zoning Hearing Board application. He said that the project is too big, and felt that the developer should scale it back considerably, then return to the Board for consideration.
Mrs. Goren said that this presentation would address the variances sought, and as such, has been properly advertised on the agenda.
Mr. Shafkowitz noted that the Township is bound by the initial agreement, and he would like to find common ground through discussion and review.
Mrs. Goren polled the Board members. Mr. Jirele, Mr. Weaver, and Mr. Schenkman expressed interest in seeing the presentation. Mr. Jirele said that it is important for this Board to lay out its expectations to the developer.
Mr. Shafkowitz introduced David Sander, Kim Labray and Denise Venuto, who would be participating in the PowerPoint presentation.
Mr. Shafkowitz reviewed the request for proposals issued by the Redevelopment Authority of Bucks County, the objective of which was to re-develop this site into a mixed-use commercial/retail property preferably with some creative service or business that may drive people to the area. Architectural plans and/or drawings were neither required nor considered as part of this preliminary evaluation process.
Mr. Shafkowitz then reviewed the plans originally submitted, a 70,000 square foot mixed-use structure with a 25,000 square foot footprint. A parking structure was also proposed. Residential space was requested by the Township, and a third story to the building was proposed, which would add about 18,000 square feet. The current plan, at 89,000 square feet, includes first floor retail, second floor office and third floor residential uses.
Mr. Shafkowitz showed some comparisons of height with other buildings in Newtown and in some surrounding communities, and some architectural features that his project would use to echo the appearance of the older buildings in the surrounding business district. He discussed reducing the height to two and a half stories, or possibly two stories. If the building’s third story were eliminated, the parking garage would also be eliminated. If the building were 78,000 square feet, a one deck parking facility could possibly be included. The length of the building, at 300 feet, had been part of the original concept. He said that the original Acme site has a 98% impervious surface ratio. The proposed plan would be 88% impervious. He noted that even the originally submitted concept had required zoning relief.
The Board discussed its expectations, with Mr. Weaver noting that the Acme Visioning Committee had requested the residential third story, but expected the height to be between 36 and 39 feet. He said that the original concept had included a building without side setbacks.
Mr. Jirele said that he did not recall and discussion of the depth of the building. He expressed some concern about the third story causing so many problems. He said that he would like to see a buffer between the site and the Presbyterian Church.
Mr. Shafkowitz said that eliminating the parking deck could change the rear configuration.
In response to Mr. Sensibaugh’s question, Mr. Shafkowitz said that the agreement had been amended so that the old Acme building would be demolished upon issuance of building permits.
Mr. Mendicino complained that this presentation had not been on the agenda.
Mrs. Goren said that although the Board had not been given prior notification of the presentation, the agenda did call for review of the variance requests. The presentation addressed the variances needed for the project, and the discussion looked for ways to reduce the size of the variance requests.
Mr. Shafkowitz confirmed that his presentation was designed to review the variance requests, and to request deferment of action by the Board on the application. He agreed to submit the request for a continuance in writing.
Mr. Mendicino continued to object to the discussion.
Mrs. Crescenzo complained that the presentation had not appeared on the agenda. She said that a more appropriate plan should be submitted.
Resident Walt Jamison, a trustee of the Newtown Presbyterian Church, said that he is pleased that an effort is being made to reduce the size of the project. He asked that a maximum possible side yard setback be provided between the project and the Church property.Mr. Beckert said that there would be an executive session after the meeting.
Mr. Weaver moved to authorize signing of Mylars for 104 Pheasant Run. Mr. Jirele seconded and the motion passed unanimously.
Public Comment: Mrs. Crescenzo complained that renovation of Roberts Ridge Playground is taking too long, and it does not look to be progressing. She also complained about the attendance of Planning Commission members at meetings, reading a list of the attendance of each member, and highlighting repeated absences.
Mr. Mendicino said that the Planning Commission members donate a great deal of their time, and that plans must be carefully reviewed at home to prepare for discussion at meetings. He commended the Planning Commission members for their dedication to the Township.
Mr. D’Aprile said that the Planning Commission members should not be so sensitive to criticism.
The meeting adjourned at 1:10 AM.