Board of Supervisors
Minutes of August 27, 2008
The Newtown Township Board of Supervisors met on Wednesday, August 27, 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 (late), Jerry Schenkman and Philip Calabro, members. Also present were: Joseph S. Czajkowski, Township Manager, Jeffrey Garton, Township Solicitor and Michele Fountain, Township Engineer.
Call to Order: Chairman Jirele called the regular meeting to order at 7:30 PM with a moment of silence. This was followed by the Pledge of Allegiance.
Resident Dennis Fisher asked the Board for an update on the open space comprehensive plan, expressing some concern that there is very little information available to the public. We will be expected to make a decision on an open space referendum at the upcoming election and will need some information about what is planned for open space preservation.
Mr. Jirele said that the Board will present information on the updated comprehensive plan to residents; the Open Space Committee is working now to compile an inventory of available open space and is setting its goals and objectives for preservation of open space. The public will have information on what the Township’s goals for preservation will be if the referendum passes.
Dr. Ciervo noted that, should the referendum pass, a tax would not be enacted unless or until parcels are identified for purchase and preservation.
Mr. Fisher said that he has heard from some residents of reluctance to incur additional taxes in the current economic climate, especially when no specific information has been presented.
Mr. Jirele said that the open space committee is updating the 1997 comprehensive plan. Until the update, the Township would be guided by the 1997 plan. Many parcels identified at that time are no longer open space. He stressed the benefits to the community of preservation of open space, and asked Mr. Fisher to discuss these benefits with his social circle. The updated plan will hopefully be available for residents to review prior to election day.
Mr. Jirele said that Mr. Gallagher is not in attendance at this meeting because he is at a meeting with Bucks County officials to discuss increasing Newtown Township’s allocation of funds for preservation of open space.
Minutes, Bills Lists and Reports
Minutes: Mr. Schenkman moved to accept the minutes of the regular meeting of August 13, 2008. Dr. Ciervo seconded and the motion passed 4-0.
Bills: Dr. Ciervo moved to authorize payment of bills totaling $152,927.99. Mr. Calabro seconded. The motion passed 4-0.
Dr. Ciervo moved to authorize interfund transfers totaling $184,709.80. Mr. Calabro seconded and the motion passed 4-0.
Reports of Committees, Boards and Commissions
Chairman: : Mr. Jirele said that the Board had met in executive session prior to the start of this evening’s meeting to discuss matters of land acquisition and litigation.
Mr. Jirele announced that Dr. Arvan Patel is sponsoring a “do a good deed” contest for teens, with a prize of a computer for the winner and for the winner’s school. For information visit www.ovdental.com
Other Board Members: Mr. Calabro reminded residents ofa program to be held at the Township Building on September 11, 2008 at 7:30 PM at which Ralph Copleman of Sustainable Lawrence will discuss ways that communities can support environmental efforts to preserve our natural resources. For more information visit www.sustainablelawrence.org
Dr. Ciervo said that in discussing the open space referendum, residents should compare the 1997 comprehensive plan to currently available open space, to see how much land has already been developed and is no longer available for preservation. To preserve open space, a funding stream must be available. If the referendum is passed, the Township can begin discussing preservation through purchase or conservation easements with property owners. He said that information on the updated plan should be available shortly.
Planning Commission: Chairman Allen Fidler reported that at its August 19, 2008 meeting, the Commission heard a report by the Traffic Engineer, and asked that addressing problems at Headley’s entrance be included in future reports. A traffic light could be installed at this location, either as part of the TIP or through TSA funds.
The McLaughlin minor subdivision at 174 Durham Road application was reviewed. There were some unresolved issues with stormwater management and with confirmation of the Zoning Hearing Board’s prior decision regarding lot width. There had not been a review by the Fire Marshal. The Commission asked the applicant to address these concerns and return to the Planning Commission. The applicant agreed to grant an extension.
The Commission reviewed the PRD variance application of Joseph Ralston at 16 Kingsley Court and suggested that the applicant include his plans to address stormwater management in his presentation to the Board of Supervisors for a variance to allow an increase in impervious surface and for rear yard setback to build a patio. The Commission voted 8-0 to recommend that the Board approve this application.
The Commission reviewed several Zoning Hearing Board application and had no comment on Emmanuel Fashakin, 11 Waterford Place, Robert Hughes & David Rominiecki, 82 Swamp Road and Vahakan Derassouyan at 21-33 Swamp Road. In response to Dr. Ciervo’s questions on the Derassouyan application for variances for a free-standing multi-use sign, Mr. Fidler said that the Commission members agreed that this applicant has been cooperative with the Township’s plans for the intersection of Swamp and South Eagle Road. The applicant has reconfigured the entrance to the shopping center to work better with the planned intersection improvements. The existing sign is to be removed.
The Commission had no comment for the Board on the application of Erik & Stephanie Molden at 4 Foxhall Road, but suggested that the applicant consider reducing the size of the project for an in-ground swimming pool with decking and coping and that the applicant present evidence of the support of his neighbors and homeowners association.
The Commission reviewed the application of Neil Morris at 429 Taylor Avenue for a variance for increased impervious surface to widen an existing driveway. There were some neighbors in attendance who strongly opposed this application because there had been some concern that the project was not in compliance with the already approved variances. Mr. Solomon assured the Commission that the as-built plans are in compliance with variances granted in 2007. The Commission’s recommendation to the Board not to oppose this application was not unanimous, as some members felt the request was excessive, and that the applicant had attempted to “take a second bite of the apple” by asking for additional impervious coverage. It was noted that the applicant has installed stormwater management to address the current and proposed impervious surface. It was suggested that opposing neighbors make their concerns known to the Board of Supervisors and the Zoning Hearing Board.
The Commission reviewed the application of Alex Zhitomirsky, 12 Old Frost Roadfor a use variance for professional offices in a residential zoning district, with additional variances for impervious surface and side yard setback. This is the old farmhouse that was relocated as part of the Newtown Rental Center expansion. The Commission recommended that the Township oppose this application, as the members preferred to see an attempt made to re-use this historic farmhouse for residential use. This was not a unanimous vote as some members would have preferred that the house be preserved even as offices. The Commission suggested that the applicant seek input from residential neighbors and the Wiltshire Walk Homeowners Association.
The Commission reviewed the proposal to rezone certain parcels in the OR district, and while the members did not object to changing the zoning of the already developed Villas, The Reserve and Norwalk, were unanimous in their opposition to rezoning of the McGowan/Sterling property, or any other rezoning that would negatively impact the value of the property. The Commission opposed continued discussion without the inclusion of the property owners. Mr. Paul Sterling and Mr. Will Sterling were in attendance, and indicated that they have not requested, nor have they been included in discussion of this proposed rezoning.
In response to Dr. Ciervo’s comments, Mr. Fidler said that the Planning Commission would review this proposal from a planning perspective, considering the impact of commercial development on this area of the Township. The Commission is aware, from its review of the Brandywine project some years ago, of the impact of office development in this area. The Commission will consider the advantages and disadvantages for the individual property owners and for the community as a whole, when it revisits this proposal at its September 16, 2008 meeting.
The Commission discussed the proposed ordinance to license sidewalk signs on Sycamore Street, and ordinances governing signage throughout the commercial areas of the Township. After some lengthy discussion, the Commission recommended that the Ordinance, in its presented form, be adopted for a period of one calendar year. The Commission has formed a sub-committee to review existing sign ordinances, and using this ordinance as a template, to attempt to craft a similar ordinance to address other businesses in the TC and PC Zoning Districts that are not in the historic district or do not front on Sycamore Street.Mr. Garton suggested that the ordinance be adopted with no permits to be issued beyond December 31, 2009, to allow the signage issue to be re-evaluated.
Reports of Officials
Volunteer Appointment to Financial Planning Committee: Dr. Ciervo moved to appoint Anthony Salvucci to the Financial Planning Committee for a term of one year. Mr. Schenkman seconded and the motion passed 4-0.
Volunteer Appointment of Architect for Historical Architectural Review Board: Mr. Czajkowski explained that an architect is required on this Board by the state, to lend expertise on reviewing of plans for restoration of historic structures. It is not necessary for the volunteer to be a Township resident. He presented the resume of Joseph F. McKernan, Jr. to the Board, and noted that Mr. McKernan has been involved with the restoration of Old St. Andrew’s Church.
Mr. Schenkman moved to appoint Joseph F. McKernan, Jr. to the Historical Architectural Review Board. Dr. Ciervo seconded and the motion passed 4-0.
Newtown Township Ordinance 2008-O-10 - To Permit Sidewalk Signs on Sycamore St. - Authorization to Advertise: Mr. Garton suggested that the Board authorize advertisement of the ordinance, which will be adjusted to state that no permits will be issued beyond December 31, 2009.
Mr. Schenkman moved to authorize advertisement of Ordinance 2008-0-10, permitting Sandwich Board Signs on Sycamore Street. Dr. Ciervo seconded.
Discussion of motion: Dr. Ciervo thanked the Planning Commission for its efforts to work with the Sycamore Street business owners on this ordinance.
Mr. Jirele said that he has some concerns about the fairness of only allowing the signs on Sycamore Street. The solution of only enacting the ordinance for one year while the Planning Commission reviews signage in the rest of the business community seems like the best solution.
The motion passed 4-0.
Land Development Matters
Consider the Phase III Land Development Agreement for Cricklewood Green: Mr. Schenkman moved to approve the development and financial security agreements for Cricklewood Green. Dr. Ciervo seconded.
Discussion of motion: Mr. Schenkman noted that this developer has been very cooperative with the residential neighbors.
The motion passed 4-0.
Consider Land Development Waiver Agreement for Congregation Brothers of Israel: Mr. Schenkman moved to approve the land development waiver agreement of Congregation Brothers of Israel. Dr. Ciervo seconded and the motion passed 4-0.
PRD Variance – Joe Ralston, 16 Kingsley Court: Mr. Jirele opened the hearing for a PRD Variance for Joseph Ralston of 16 Kingsley Court for relief of 618 square feet of impervious surface and for rear yard setback relief of 3.81 feet to construct a paver patio. Mr. Garton incorporated into the record the application, the Township Engineer review and the Planning Commission review.
Mr. Ralston said that he had not been aware that his property, which is the largest in the development, has two easements, which are deducted from his lot calculations when determining the impervious surface. He would like to build an 846 square foot paver patio in his yard and is seeking relief of 618 square feet. As part of his plan he will be installing a seepage pit. The downspouts from the rear portion of his roof will run into the seepage pit. His property backs onto open space and the development’s stormwater management basins. He presented an approval from his homeowners association and letters of support from his adjoining neighbors.
Mr. Garton noted that CKS has reviewed the application and found that there would be minimal impact of run off from this patio. He asked if Mr. Ralston agreed to comply with the letter, which is dated August 13, 2008.
Mr. Ralston agreed to this condition. In response to questions from the Board he said that the planned fire pit is about 2 feet in diameter and surrounded by pavers. It will be located at the far end of the patio, away from the house.
Mr. Jirele said that, while the Board is reluctant to grant increased impervious surface, in this particular case, the applicant has ample room, but area within the easements have been subtracted from his total square footage. The engineer has confirmed that there is minimal impact on stormwater management.
(Mr. Gallagher arrived at this point)
Mr. Schenkman moved to grant a PRD Variance from Wiltshire Walk’s final plan to Joseph Ralston at 16 Kingsley Court for 618 square feet of impervious surface and 3.81 feet of rear yard setback, subject to the condition that the applicant comply with the letter of CKS Engineering dated August 13, 2008. Dr. Ciervo seconded and the motion passed 4-0-1, with Mr. Gallagher abstaining.
Neil Morris, 429 Taylor Ave.: Mr. Garton reviewed this application for increased impervious surface to enlarge a driveway. The current driveway measures 755 square feet, and the applicant wishes to add 642 square feet. A variance was granted in April 2007 to permit a maximum of 17.04% where 13% is the maximum permitted; with this request the impervious surface will be 19.45%. Code Enforcement Officer Michael Solomon has confirmed that the “as built” project is in compliance with the Zoning Hearing Board relief.
Attorney James Esposito represented the applicant. Mr. Esposito explained that with the current configuration of the driveway, it is impossible for Mr. Morris to enter the second bay of his newly constructed garage. He noted that as a condition of the Zoning Hearing Board decision in April 2007, Mr. Morris has installed a stormwater infiltration system which produces an effective impervious surface of 7.9%. With the addition of 642 square feet of impervious surface the effective impervious will be 10.85%, which is still below the permitted 13%.
Mr. Garton explained that the Zoning Hearing Board had required a stormwater management system that would control run-off from the additional impervious surface; the system contains run-off as though the impervious surface were 7.9%.
In response to questions from the Board, Mr. Esposito said that with the new construction, the impervious surface is 16.55%. Mr. Morris has not widened his driveway; the new garage is a two car, side entry garage. The old garage was in the same location. The second bay of the garage is a few feet deeper to accommodate his Cadillac SUV. He said he did not know how much bigger the second bay is. To get the car into and out of the garage requires a “K” turn, so additional driveway area is needed to drive forward.
Attorney Keith Brown represented Gregory and Helen Lumpkin of 441 Taylor Avenue. He presented the Board with photographs of the current site.
Mr. Lumpkin said that last year, when construction began, it appeared to him that the project was encroaching into the setback with his property. This was confirmed by the Township and construction was stopped. It appeared that the site plan, setback lines, and impervious surface calculations that had been submitted to the Zoning Hearing Board were all incorrect. No demolition permit had been issued when demolition began. The plans were then revised to comply with the Zoning Hearing Board decision. In June of this year, driveway construction began, and it also appeared to go beyond the permitted impervious surface. Again construction was stopped. Mr. Lumpkin asked that no additional impervious surface variance be granted. He is concerned about the appearance of the property and about run-off onto his property.
Mr. Brown said that the Lumpkins have attempted to reach a compromise with Mr. Morris, the proposed new driveway is 25 feet beyond the current driveway. To reach an agreement on the length of the driveway, the Lumpkins had agreed that if the driveway did not extend beyond the garage, they would agree to a widening to within 5 feet of the property line. Mr. Brown showed the proposed compromise on the plans, and said that the Lumpkins are very concerned about run-off.
After some further discussion, the Lumpkins said that they would agree to an additional one foot beyond the garage, but Mr. Morris said that he would need at least 8 feet to maneuver his large car into the garage.
The Board discussed possible solutions to Mr. Morris’ difficulty with parking his SUV, including exploring whether the SUV cold be parked in the first bay of the garage, where Mr. Morris currently parks a smaller car. Mr. Jirele noted that some Board members had visited the site; they have concerns about granting increased impervious surface. He urged Mr. Morris to attempt to reach a compromise with his neighbors.
Mr. Garton suggested that the applicant seek to continue his Zoning Hearing Board application while he continues to explore solutions with his neighbors. He could then return to the Board to discuss the compromise if it would still require some Zoning Hearing Board relief.
Mr. Schenkman moved to send Mr. Garton to oppose the application of Neil Morris of 429 Taylor Avenue at the Zoning Hearing Board, if the applicant does not continue the application to work on a compromise. Mr. Gallagher seconded.
Discussion of motion: Resident Mark Sherr said that a part of the reason for the driveway extension is to provide off-street parking for visitors. He said that Mr. Morris is a reasonable person and is attempting to compromise with his neighbors. He noted that the full plans are here, and questions about the difference in the size of the parking bays in the garage should be able to be answered.
Mr. Brown said that he has examined the plans, which show the difference between the two bays to be 3 feet.
The motion passed 5-0.
Emmanuel Fashakin, 11 Waterford Place: The Board had no comment on this application for a ten-foot fence around a tennis court.
Robert Hughes & David Rominiecki, 82 Swamp Road: Messrs. Hughes and Rominiecki were in attendance to review their Zoning Hearing Board application seeking a variance for an increase in impervious surface to 18.52% from the permitted 13% to install a swimming pool and garage extension. Mr. Hughes said that he has been making improvements to his property gradually, and the garage is a long term plan, probably not to be built for a few years. He is seeking a variance for both projects now, rather than returning for a second variance at a later time. He said that his property is currently at 15% impervious surface, which includes his patio, for which he received a permit from the Township. He had not been told that a variance had been needed at that time. No additional driveway will be needed for the proposed garage. He noted that this is a one-acre property and his only neighbors are the High School and St. Andrew’s Church.
Mr. Jirele suggested that the application be revised to include the existing patio. The Board had no further comment.
Erik & Stephanie Molden, 4 Foxhall Road: Mr. and Mrs. Molden were in attendance to review their application for an increase in impervious surface of 2,925 square feet to install a pool and patio. Mr. Molden said that after the Planning Commission’s review of his plans, he spoke to his engineers about installing a seepage pit to control the additional run-off, and has also removed 650 square feet of paved area from the plan. There are letters of support from neighbors attached to his application.
In response to questions from the Board, Mr. Molden said that he has spoken to Mr. Reilly, his neighbor, who was recently granted a variance for an additional 1444 square feet. Mr. Reilly substituted a wooden deck for a large portion of his patio. Mr. Molden said that he prefers the paver patio. He moved here from Warrington, where the pavers are not considered impervious, because run-off can seep through. The planned pool is 770 square feet. He would prefer to address the additional run-off by installing appropriate stormwater management.
Dr. Ciervo said that this development’s plan included numerous waivers. The Board is concerned about the additional impervious surface. Each home was allotted 6,000 square feet of impervious surface and very large homes, taking up almost the full 6,000 square feet, have been built. He is concerned that this lack of additional room for outdoor amenities will be an ongoing problem.
The Board suggested that the plans be re-examined to look for ways to further reduce the request for increased impervious surface and that the plans be revised to show the proposed seepage pit.
Mr. Molden agreed to continue his application to revise his plans further.
Vahakan Derassouyan ( Newtown Plaza), 21-33 Swamp Road: Vahakan Derassouyan was in attendance to review this request for a joint use freestanding sign for the shopping center. He confirmed that the new sign is the same height as the existing sign, which is to be removed. The existing sign has wooden poles, while the new sign has wider brick columns. The Board had no comment on this application.
Alex Zhitomirsky, 12 Old Frost Road: : Attorney Barbara Kirk was in attendance with the applicant to review this application to allow a D-1 office use at this location in the R-1 Medium Density Residential Zoning District. The old stone farmhouse is currently vacant. It had been moved from its original location some time ago. Ms. Kirk explained that the applicant would renovate the interior and restore the exterior of the building for Mr. Zhitomirsky’s IT software development business. He would work there with two employees. There would be no other traffic to the site; no clients would call. If the applicant were to reside at the site, this would be permitted as a home occupation. The request for increased impervious surface for a circular driveway has been removed. The site also requires a side yard setback variance, as the building was turned around during the relocation.
Ms. Kirk said that this proposed business would have no more than four people on site. The hours of operation would be Monday to Friday, 9:00 to 5:00. The applicant will restore the building, which is rapidly falling into disrepair. At the suggestion of the Planning Commission, Mr. Zhitomirsky has spoken to the surrounding neighbors. Most had no objection. One neighbor said that he “did not support” but did not indicate that he objected to the business use. The nearest neighbor, Laurence Haymer, said that this building is an eyesore and he is eager to see it restored. The Wiltshire Walk Homeowners Association had no objection.
Ms. Kirk said that the applicant would accept as conditions to a variance, that it would extend only to this business, and not to the property, and that the number of employees on site would be limited to four.
In response to questions from the Board, Mr. Zhitomirsky said that the house is 2400 square feet. There would be sufficient room for four offices and a conference room. Should his firm grow larger than four employees he would have to move. He designs software used in the pharmaceutical industry. His employees are frequently on the clients’ sites, not at the office. The driveway will accommodate all employee cars; there will be no on-street parking.
Mr. Jirele said that at the time of the Newtown Rental Center expansion, when this house was moved, it had been agreed that the house would be for residential use only. This had been a promise to the residential neighbors, but he is not sure whether it was a condition of approval for land development and subdivision.
Dr. Ciervo said that he had received an e-mail from a resident who is opposed to the business use of this property. He would like more information on the opinions of the residential neighbors. He would also like to ascertain whether the restriction to residential use only is a condition of the subdivision approval. He suggested that the application be continued to answer these questions.
The Board questioned whether there is a real possibility that the property could be sold for residential use. There was also some concern that there is not a real need to create additional business space when there are so much available office space within the business district.
Ms. Kirk said that the agreement of sale of the property expires on September 30, 2008. A Zoning Hearing Board decision is needed before the sale can be completed. An extension would have to be agreed to by the seller.
Deborah Granite, realtor for this property, said that the property has been on the market for six months. There have been 115 showings, with Mr. Zhitomirsky being the only person to express interest. The house views the paved parking lot and dumpster of the delicatessen next door. The house is deteriorating at a rapid rate, and currently will require about $300,000 in renovations.
Mr. Calabro said that this proposed use would be permitted if Mr. Zhitomirsky were living at the site; it is not an intense use of the property. The property would be better for the community if it were owned, occupied and maintained, even if it is for a low impact business use. He said that Mr. Zhitomirsky is being penalized for honestly disclosing his plans for the property.
The Board continued to discuss its concern about promises made to the surrounding neighbors that the property would be residential in use.
Dr. Ciervo moved to send the solicitor to oppose this application unless the applicant agreed to continue until the Board could ascertain whether residential use is a condition of subdivision and whether the surrounding residential neighbors oppose the application. Mr. Gallagher seconded.
Discussion of motion: Brad McGowan, owner of the property, said that he has invested a great deal of money in the house already. He has attempted to sell it as a residential property, but its location, so close to the delicatessen parking lot and dumpster, makes it unattractive to prospective home buyers. He said that he did not participate in the subdivision. He noted that all setbacks on this 10,000 square foot lot are non-conforming. He would be willing to extend the agreement of sale to try to work out this variance request.
Lorna Basin of Remax, Mr. Zhitomirsky’s real estate agent, said that if this house is properly renovated, as Mr. Zhitomirsky proposes, it will increase the value of the surrounding residential properties. She did not think it would be attractive to buyers for residential use because of its close proximity to so many commercial businesses, including the delicatessen, rental center, bank and self storage facility. This is a very good use of a property in desperate need of repair.
The Board briefly discussed the many challenges to restoration of a historic farmhouse, and agreed that it would require dedication and would be expensive.
Mr. McGowan pointed out that the building has two front doors and the interior has two staircases. The original portion of the building dates to about 1750, but it appears to have been a duplex home. This makes it very difficult to market as a single family residential property.
Mr. Calabro said that he agreed that this is a very good use of the property. Residents are frequently concerned about cars and traffic, but this use would generate about the same number of cars and trips as a single family home. The applicant is being penalized for coming forward with his plan, when he could have presented this as an in-home business.
Dr. Ciervo said that he would prefer to postpone action until it has been determined that the use was not a condition of subdivision. He would also like input from the surrounding neighbors.The motion passed 3-2, with Messrs. Schenkman and Calabro voting nay.
Certificate of Completion # 9 – Tudor Square Phase III: Mr. Schenkman moved to authorize escrow release for Tudor Square Phase III in the amount of $29,927,26. Mr. Calabro seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
The meeting adjourned at 10:10 PM.