Board of Supervisors
Minutes of January 9, 2008
The Newtown Township Board of Supervisors met on Wednesday, January 9, 2008 in the Township meeting room at 7:30 PM. In attendance were Supervisors: Chairman Thomas Jirele, Vice-Chairman Robert Ciervo, Secretary-Treasurer Michael Gallagher, Philip Calabro and Jerry Schenkman, members. Also present were: Joseph S. Czajkowski, Township Manager, Jeffrey Garton, Township Solicitor and Michele Fountain, Township Engineer.
Call to Order: Chairman Tom Jirele called the regular meeting to order at 7:30 PM. He introduced the new Township Solicitor, Jeffrey Garton and the new Township Engineer, Michele Fountain.
Invocation: The invocation was given by Father Heckman of St. Mark’s Orthodox Church. This was followed by the Pledge of Allegiance.
Community Comment: Mr. Jirele explained that the Board has agreed that community comment would be allowed at the start of each meeting. There will not be a time limit on any individual speaker or on the total time allowed. Comment would be permitted on motions before the Board as well, but community comment would now appear only at the beginning of the agenda. All comments are to be addressed to the Board and no debate among members of the community will be permitted.
Resident Jennifer Dix said that she would prefer two community comment periods, as some residents might arrive after the early comment period has concluded. Residents might also want to comment on the evening’s proceedings. She said that the Board should listen to the residents and encourage public comment.
Mr. Schenkman and Dr. Ciervo each stated that the Board had discussed this change, and had agreed that, by eliminating time constraints on the early comment period, residents would have an opportunity to speak to the Board without having to wait until what has sometimes been very late at night.
Mr. Calabro said that he would be in favor of a second period for comment, to allow those residents who cannot arrive early to be afforded an opportunity to speak. He agreed that there might be times when residents want to comment on something that has just occurred at a meeting.
Mr. Jirele and Mr. Gallagher each said that the change is an attempt to be more receptive to the residents. Any changes made will be evaluated, and if the Board agrees that the second comment period is needed, it will be re-instated. Mr. Jirele noted that any resident who asks for an opportunity to speak later will be accommodated, if possible.
Resident Ron Kaisar said that he had recently attended a Wrightstown Township Board of Supervisors meeting where community comment was permitted at the end of the meeting only. He supports the early comment period. Mr. Kaisar said that he has some concerns about the Federal Cemetery Overlay District (FCO). The Veterans Administration has purchased 200 acres from Toll Brothers for a cemetery at a higher price than had been discussed earlier, and the new purchase price does not have any “strings attached”. He said that with the VA paying the higher price, there is no longer a need to provide Toll Brothers with rezoning for higher residential density on the Melsky tract. He asked that the zoning be returned to Conservation Management. He also questioned why the Township Solicitor had been sent to the Court of Common Pleas to support the sale of the Melsky property to Toll Brothers. He said that the FCO is no longer needed; the housing density it provides is detrimental to the community. He asked that the Board repeal the FCO.
Mr. Jirele said that the Township is following this issue closely. He reminded those in attendance that Toll Brothers has submitted a plan and received approval under a valid ordinance. If the zoning is changed, the approved plans are still valid.
Dr. Ciervo said that he would suggest drafting an Ordinance that rezones the portion of the Melsky tract that is in Newtown Township to make it what it had been before the FCO. If there is a successful challenge to the plans in court, then Toll Brothers would have to submit plans under a changed ordinance. The Melsky property is not part of the cemetery.
Mr. Kaisar said that things can change. He noted that the Howe tract had been under a stipulation to permit one school to be built on it; however that has been changed to permit two schools when the School District sells the Melsky property.
Mr. Jirele said that the Board will be following this issue closely but is not prepared to discuss it this evening.
Resident Nancy Crescenzo said that she is pleased that Mr. Jirele has been elected chairman of the Board, as he has served the community for many years. She did not support the removal of the second community comment from the agenda as the residents will want to comment on issues that come up during the meeting. She reminded the Board that, once elected, the members represent the entire community, not just the voters who supported their election. She said that she is disappointed in the selection of the new solicitor, who has ties to the Republican Party. She noted that there had been severe criticism of the Democrats’ appointments from our newly elected Board members.
Resident Pam Fitzpatrick said that she agrees with comments made by Mr. Kaisar, and she would like a new ordinance drafted to protect the Melsky property.
Mr. Jirele said that, in response to a question posed by Mrs. Fitzpatrick at an earlier meeting, Mr. Calabro has reviewed past minutes and learned that Mr. Beckert had appeared in the Court of Common Pleas at Toll Brothers’ request, not as representing Newtown Township.
Carole Stuckley of Upper Makefield Township reviewed the history of the Veterans’ Cemetery and of the Federal Cemetery Overlay District. She said that, since the passage of the FCO, the Veterans Administration has agreed to purchase 200 acres of Toll Brothers’ property at fair market value. The FCO had been created to allow Toll Brothers to make up for losses resulting from the sale to the VA at below fair market value; this is no longer the case. She said that 1200 residents have signed petitions against the rezoning. A cemetery use is permitted in the CM zoning district. She questioned why the Jointure believed that rezoning was necessary and why it was believed that the VA would not ever pay fair market value. She asked the Supervisors to rezone the Melsky property for CM zoning.
Jane Johnson of Upper Makefield said that she would like the Melsky, and the entire FCO district rezoned as conservation management in the event that Toll Brothers has to resubmit its plans.
Resident Brian Bark said that he is in favor of one community comment period early in the meeting without any time restrictions. He said that he supports earlier statements about the rezoning of the FCO district, as the current zoning places a burden on our schools, roads and neighborhoods.
John Melsky said that he agrees with earlier comments about rezoning the FCO back to Conservation Management.
Mr. Gallagher said that at one time Mr. Schenkman had suggested that residents submit letters or e-mails to Supervisors in advance of the regular meetings so that the Supervisors could be better prepared to provide answers to specific questions from the public during community comments. He encouraged residents to continue with this practice.
Minutes, Bills Lists and Reports
Minutes: Mr. Schenkman moved to accept the minutes of December 12, 2007. Mr. Calabro seconded and the motion passed 3-0-2, with Messrs. Gallagher and Ciervo abstaining.
Bills: Mr. Gallagher moved to authorize payment of bills for December 26, 3007, totaling $613,500.50. Mr. Schenkman seconded.
Discussion of motion: In response to Mrs. Crescenzo’s question, Mr. Schenkman said that he had reviewed these bills, as had Mr. Gallagher. He noted that not all bills are for recent expenses, as some bills are submitted some time after services have been performed or items purchased.
Mr. Gallagher said that he has reviewed the bills, and has had lengthy discussion with Finance Director Elaine Gibbs in preparation for this evening’s motion.
The motion passed unanimously.
Mr. Gallagher moved to authorize interfund transfers totaling $470,000 for December 26, 2007. Mr. Schenkman seconded and the motion passed unanimously.
Mr. Gallagher moved to authorize payment of bills totaling $146,718.95 for January 9, 2008. Mr. Schenkman seconded.
Discussion of motion: In response to Mrs. Crescenzo’s question, Mr. Jirele said that a bill for tree relocation was partially for moving sycamore trees from the Goodnoe’s Corner construction site and planting them in Township parks, along with some other transplanting.
The motion passed unanimously.
Mr. Gallagher moved to authorize interfund transfers totaling $11,832.63 for January 9, 2008. Dr. Ciervo seconded and the motion passed unanimously.
Reports of Committees, Boards and Commissions
Historical Architectural Review Board: Chairman Harriet Beckert presented the application for AT&T at Goodnoe’s Corner, noting that the recommended approval is for awning option #2, as shown in the packets.
Mr. Schenkman moved to authorize a certificate of appropriateness for AT&T at 3 Durham Road. Mr. Gallagher seconded and the motion passed unanimously.
Mr. Jirele commented on the number of signs inside the windows of this store, visible from the street.
Mrs. Beckert said that the HARB would investigate and ask the Codes Department to follow up. She noted that sometimes temporary signage in windows has been permitted while businesses await final approval for permanent signs. In response to questions from the Board, she said that the color of the Ink Stop building is not what had been approved, and HARB is currently working with the owners to address this concern.
Paul Newlin of Rite-Aid Pharmacy and Darin Hapbell of Blair Signs were in attendance to discuss Rite-Aid’s application for certificates of appropriateness for signage.
Mr. Jirele said that the Codes Office has reviewed the concerns about the lighting used in the “halo lights” and has said that because the letters are opaque they are permitted. Regarding the number and size of signs, Rite Aid has received Zoning Hearing Board relief. Mr. Newlin provided the Board with copies of the Zoning Hearing Board decision.
Mrs. Beckert said that HARB has some concern about the number of signs being requested by this applicant as well as the materials used.
Mr. Hapbell presented a sample of high density urethane, also known as sign foam, which will be used on all but the halo lit signs. He noted that his firm has worked with HARB, which now approves of all of the signs requested.
The Board reviewed the types and locations of the signs and discussed whether a “food mart” sign should be permitted.
In response to questions from the Board, Mr. Newlin explained that the Rite Aid will carry some food items such as milk, bread, soda, juice and cereal. Not every Rite Aid carries these items. The sign is informational to allow the public to know what services are available inside this store. The Zoning Hearing Board approved the number of signs. This will be a 10,000 square foot building and the signs will not be overwhelming.
At Mr. Jirele’s request, Mr. Hapbell agreed to remove the message from the drive through exit sign’s reverse side.
Mrs. Beckert said that she has requested that the “drive-thru” sign not be halo lit, but lighted by gooseneck lamps. This is sign number 3 in the application.
Mr. Hapbell presented photographs of another Rite Aid branch to demonstrate the difference in appearance between a back or halo lit sign and a gooseneck sign. He said that lighting was discussed with the Zoning Hearing Board, Planning Commission and HARB, and approval was recommended by all but Mrs. Beckert. He and Mr. Newlin pointed out that the back lit signs were less obtrusive and had a softer appearance than the gooseneck lamps. He said that lights would be extinguished ½ hour after closing of the store.
Mr. Gallagher said that his review of the HARB minutes of this discussion indicates some confusion as to which signs would have lighting and what lighting would be used.
Mr. Newlin and Mr. Hapbell asked that the Board discuss this issue and make a decision this evening rather than table it to review HARB minutes further. If the Board will not approve back lighting for the “drive-thru” sign, Rite Aid would redesign the signage to use gooseneck lamps.
The Board discussed halo lighting versus gooseneck lights for the “drive thru” sign and thought that, since the sign would be visible from Sycamore Street, gooseneck lights might be more appropriate.
Mrs. Crescenzo said that most pharmacies carry food items now, so additional signage is not necessary.
Mr. Schenkman moved to authorize certificates of appropriateness for Rite Aid at 1 Ice Cream Alley subject to the following conditions:
Mr. Gallagher seconded and the motion passed unanimously.
2008 Budget Discussion
Mr. Garton advised the Board that the MPC allows a second class township to revise or amend its already adopted budget by the 15 th of February of the budget year. The Code requires public advertisement 10 days prior to adoption of the amended or revised budget. The budget cannot be increased more than 10% overall, nor can any major categories be increased more than 10%. With the calendar set for public meetings, a changed budget would have to be adopted on February 6, 2008, with advertisement ten days prior to that. A preliminary revised budget would have to be discussed and adopted at the January 23, 2008 meeting.
Dr. Ciervo said that he would like to reopen the budget. He is concerned that the general fund has increased more than 10% and that spending has not been reduced. He would like to lower taxes and reduce spending. He suggested examining the local services tax and the millage for the rescue squad. He said that perhaps a portion of the local services tax could be dedicated to the rescue squad.
Mr. Calabro said that the two new Supervisors should have an opportunity to review the budget and have some input.
Mr. Schenkman said that he would not object to a review of the line items in the budget, but the allocation of the millage and the tax structure are complex questions that cannot be adequately addressed in two weeks. It would be difficult to project the results of a reduction in the taxes or a change in the structure. It is also important to present a clean history when approaching underwriting institutions for the bond issues contemplated in the coming year for the municipal expansion. He suggested that the Financial Planning Committee be charged with a careful review of the tax structure with an eye on possibly making recommendations for the 2009 budget.
Mr. Gallagher said that he did not know whether tax structure issues could be resolved in only two weeks, but he would be willing to discuss the possibility. He would be very interested in reviewing and discussing certain line items within the current budget.
Mr. Jirele said that he would add budget discussion to the January 23, 2008 agenda, and ask Mrs. Gibbs to attend that meeting. At Mr. Schenkman’s suggestion he agreed that the Financial Planning Committee should participate in the discussion as well. He urged the Board to re-examine the budget in preparation for this discussion.
Resident James McCrane said that he has concerns about the Township’s lack of long term planning in the past. While there are some issues that could be addressed in the next two weeks, he would suggest that the Board take time to carefully review major changes.
Mr. Garton said that a formal motion from the Board is not needed at this time to re-open and continue budget discussion.
Reports and Comments of Officials
Chairman: Mr. Jirele noted that this is a change to the agenda.
Members: Mr. Schenkman reported that he has been elected treasurer of the Joint Zoning Council.
Dr. Ciervo thanked the residents who spoke about the rezoning of the Melsky tract. He said that he would like to rezone this property. Although rezoning might not affect the already approved plans, it could be effective if new plans are submitted. He asked that this be looked into, at least for the Newtown Township portion of the Melsky tract.
Mr. Gallagher said that he would want to be sure than any change in zoning would not negatively impact the cemetery plans.Mr. Jirele said that any plans for rezoning should take note of the permitted uses in the CM District, as this does not necessarily mean only three-acre residential housing. Certain other housing is also permitted. He asked that the solicitor and Planning Commission keep that in mind as they investigate a change. He also said that Upper Makefield’s Board of Supervisors should be kept informed of this discussion. He would contact Upper Makefield about this.
Manager: Mr. Czajkowski reviewed the recommendation for Road Improvement Certificate 3A, which includes the Twining Bridge Road work, which is complete.
Mr. Schenkman moved to authorize payment of 2007 Road Program Certificate #3A in the amount of $217,987.69. Dr. Ciervo seconded and the motion passed unanimously.
Mr. Czajkowski reported that materials are in house for installation of a crosswalk at lower State Street at Fountain Farm Lane, however consistent temperatures above 40º are needed to allow the materials to set properly. The crosswalk will be installed in the spring.
Mr. Schenkman reported that he had recently met with Congressman Patrick Murphy to discuss the $2,000,000 promised for improvements for Stoopville Road in connection with the Federal Cemetery. He has included in the Board packets a letter from Pennoni Associates outlining a concept plan for the contemplated improvements. Costs are now estimated at $2,500,000 with a portion of that money going to Upper Makefield. It should be noted that the concept plan has no roundabouts; all have been removed, including the one proposed at the intersection of Stoopville and Washington Crossing Roads. He asked that the Board and Administration help to put together information on in-kind contributions so as not to delay receipt of the money.
In response to questions from the Board about the now projected cost of $3.5 million, and about in-kind contributions, Mr. Schenkman said that a portion of the project is on our TIP list and would be financed by PennDOT. In-kind contributions would be 20%, which could include services of Gilmore & Associates and of Pennoni; Upper Makefield would also be contributing in-kind.
Mr. Czajkowski assured the Board that these expenses could easily be documented. He noted that Upper Makefield and Newtown must agree on the concept. It has not been fully engineered; details are yet to be worked out. He noted that it will be easier to get this funding because it involves multiple municipalities working together.Mr. Calabro moved to approve the concept plan for Stoopville Road improvements dated November 30, 2007. Mr. Schenkman seconded and the motion passed unanimously.
Solicitor: Mr. Garton reported that he has met with Mr. Beckert about the transition. He will provide a more detailed report of ongoing matters at the next meeting.
Engineer: Ms. Fountain reported that she has met with the Township Administration and Codes Department about the transition from Remington & Vernick. She thanked the Board for the opportunity to work with Newtown Township.
Old Business: Mr. Jirele said that through the efforts of Mr. Gallagher and Dr. Ciervo, competitive bids were sought for our video consultant. Through that effort about $4,000 has been saved.
Mr. Gallagher moved to reappoint Video Gold as video consultants for 2008. Mr. Schenkman seconded.
Discussion of Motion: In response to a question from Mr. McCrane, Mr. Jirele said that the Township will be discussing possibly web casting the meetings in the future.
The motion passed unanimously.
New Business: Mr. Gallagher said that he would like the Township to form a technology committee. He asked for a motion to form a committee and to seek applicants to serve on it.
Mr. Jirele suggested that the Board first discuss the mission, the issues to be addressed, the number of members to serve, their skill requirements and their terms.
Mr. Garton suggested drafting a resolution that would form the committee and include the parameters and scope of the committee.
Mr. Gallagher said that he was not completely sure yet what those parameters would be, and asked that any resolution be very broadly defined.
The Board agreed to submit comments and ideas on this committee to Mr. Gallagher. Mr. Jirele suggested that the Township consultants and staff should also be asked for comment.
Community Comment: Paul Salvatore of Newtown Borough, announced that the Rotary Club Newtown Coupon Book is now on sale at First National Bank and at Zebra Striped Whale. Proceeds will go to the Rotary Club, who will help support the Council Rock North Choir trip to China.
Mr. Salvatore reminded the Board that signs advising of the reduced speed limit on Newtown Yardley Road had not yet been installed.
EXECUTIVE SESSION: Mr. Jirele announced that the Board had met in Executive Session to discuss litigation involving the Goodnoe tract development. No action is to be taken this evening.
The meeting adjourned at 10:00.