Board of Supervisors
Minutes of September 24, 2008
The Newtown Township Board of Supervisors met on Wednesday, September 24, 2008 in the Township meeting room at 7:30 PM. In attendance and voting were Supervisors: Chairman Thomas Jirele, Vice-Chairman Robert Ciervo, Secretary-Treasurer Michael Gallagher, Jerry Schenkman and Philip Calabro, members. Also present were: John Boyle, Assistant 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. Rabbi Howard Cove of Congregation Kol Emet gave the invocation. This was followed by the Pledge of Allegiance.
Changes to the Agenda: Mr. Boyle said that Alex Zhitomirsky’s Zoning Hearing Board application has been removed from the Solicitor’s report.
Resident Thomas Ames of 61 Gaucks Lane said that he had attended the Planning Commission meeting to hear the discussion of the proposed rezoning of portions of the Office Research Zoning District to Conservation Management. This proposal really only affects one property owner, who is opposed to the change. The proposal has no benefit to the community. The Planning Commission did an excellent job of exploring all of the pros and cons, and the cons far outweigh the few plusses. Mr. Ames objects to the proposal, particularly if it uses Township resources, such as the time of professional consultants. He urged the Board to leave this property as currently zoned.
Resident Paul Sterling of Upper Silver Lake Road asked the Board who in the Township would have direct access to the Township Solicitor, whether there is a Township capital inventory and whether Board members all receive their packets at the same time.
Mr. Jirele said that the Board of Supervisors and the administration, through the Township Manager, would have direct access to the Township Solicitor. Board members receive packets at the same time. A capital inventory has been done, but Mr. Jirele is not sure whether it is done every year, nor whether the auditor compares the inventory to the actual items. He asked Mr. Boyle to get back to Mr. Sterling with information on the inventory.
Minutes, Bills Lists and Reports
Minutes: Mr. Gallagher asked that in the minutes of September 10, 2008, page 6, paragraph two read, “…. Municipal Open Space Program.”
Mr. Gallagher moved to accept the minutes of September 10, 2008. Dr. Ciervo seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Bills: Mr. Gallagher moved to authorize payment of bills totaling $221,190.85. Mr. Schenkman seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Mr. Gallagher moved to authorize interfund transfers totaling $185,360.36. Mr. Schenkman seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Reports of Committees, Boards and Commissions
Chairman: Mr. Jirele announced that a sign designating Newtown Township as a “Preserve America” community has arrived.. He suggested placing it on Washington Crossing Road as it enters Sycamore Street. He asked the members to discuss an appropriate location at a future work session.
Other Board Members: Dr. Ciervo announced a 5K Walk Event to benefit pancreatic cancer awareness and research to be held on November 1, 2008 at Tyler State Park. Last year’s event raised $140,000. For further information about participating visit www.pancan.org
Dr. Ciervo asked the Board to discuss ways to educate the residents on the upcoming ballot referendum question of an earned income tax to preserve open space. He suggested possibly mailing information to residents and creating a video to be shown on the Township television channel. He said that he has spoken to Jeffrey Marshall of the Heritage Conservancy about the video idea.
Mr. Schenkman suggested postponing this discussion until later in the agenda, after the Open Space Committee presents its report.
Historic Architectural Review Board: Chairman Harriet Beckert presented the application of Judith Ryzner for replacement windows at 1 North Sycamore Street. HARB had recommended approval for replacement with double hung windows with sash and jamb liners. Nine windows facing Sycamore Street should be replaced with true divided light windows, painted white. The additional nine windows could be white vinyl clad.
Ms. Ryzner presented to the Board samples of the windows she would prefer. She said that windows with divided lights are not available with energy efficient glass in the brand recommended by her contractor. She would prefer using windows with one pane of glass with mullions glued to the exterior, creating the appearance of individual panes. She is eager to start the project before the winter weather arrives. She showed the Board the samples and suggested that from the street it is not possible to tell that these are not individual panes of glass.
Mr. Jirele said that he has recently replaced his windows with true divided light windows with energy efficient glass. He asked Ms. Ryzner to look at his windows and investigate whether the price for similar windows would be acceptable. He also asked if HARB could discuss Ms. Ryzner’s request via e-mail or telephone rather than wait until the next scheduled meeting. He said that if HARB could have a report, the Board could consider the application again on October 1, 2008.
Ms. Ryzner agreed to postponement of a decision until next week.
Mrs. Beckert mentioned that she had learned that the Newtown Corporation no longer has façade grants available for this type of renovation in the Historic District. This had been the type of project the grants had been used for.
Mr. Gallagher noted that Newtown Corporation is in the process of restructuring. It is possible that the grants might again be available some time in the future.
Mr. Jirele asked the Newtown Corporation Board Liaison to investigate the status of the façade grant program.
Planning Commission: Chairman Allen Fidler reported that at its September 16, 2008 meeting, the Planning Commission reviewed the Traffic Engineer’s report and agreed that the Traffic Engineer and Township manager should meet with PennDOT about taking over the project of timing the traffic lights on the Bypass.
The Commission reviewed the preliminary plan for land development of Lithos LP at 10 Friends Lane for a 37,500 square foot building addition for office use and recommended that the Board approve the plan subject to certain conditions.
The Commission reviewed three Zoning Hearing Board applications and had no comment for the Board.
The Commission recommended that the Board of Supervisors adopt JMZO 2008-04 – Wetland Transition Areas, which creates buffer areas around wetlands. The Commission recommended that the Board of Supervisors adopt JMZO 208-05 – Detention Basins, which clarifies language regarding the exclusion of detention basins in site calculations for open space.
The Commission had some concern about the burden that JMZO 2008-06 – Permits for Disturbance of Protected Resources might place on owners of smaller lots and is asking the Jointure partners to consider limiting the requirement of permits to lots over a certain size, perhaps 10 acres. He said that some Jointure partners have concerns that owners of large lots are clearing the lots gradually over time in anticipation of future subdivision, at which time there would be more buildable area because of the clearing of woodlands.
Mr. Jirele expressed some concern that this same process of clearing land could take place on smaller lots which could then be subdivided.
Mr. Fidler said that the Planning Commission would like some further clarifications. The burden of a permit could be onerous on owners of smaller lots when they are attempting to work on their properties, for example attempting to work on drainage swales.
The Commission agreed that the proposed amendment JMZO 2006-19 CM District Revisions, which eliminates the B-14 use from the CM Zoning District can have a negative impact on the value of certain properties. It was agreed that the Joint Zoning Council should discuss this further, to see if it is possible to eliminate the B-14 use but adjust other restrictions so that there is no negative impact on property owners. The Commission tabled discussion.
At the direction of the Board of Supervisors, the Planning Commission continued its discussion of the impact of rezoning of certain portions of the OR district to CM Conservation Management. The Commission had no objection to the rezoning of already developed parcels, but discussed the rezoning of the Sterling lot at length. The Commission agreed that the rezoning would eliminate the possibility of the property ever being developed for office use. This would be a benefit to the residential neighbors, who seem to favor residential rather than commercial development. Traffic would be impacted differently if the parcel were developed for residential use. A negative impact would be the elimination of property zoned for business use. There is some concern about the impact of this elimination on the rest of the Jointure, and on the concept of “fair share.”
A resident in attendance spoke about the possible benefit of commercial development of the property as it provides employment and tax benefits without further burdening the School District.
The Commission spoke about the history of development of properties in the OR district, noting that these properties have been developed at a slower rate.
Mr. Paul Sterling and Mr. William Sterling were in attendance, and have concerns about the discussion of rezoning their property. They would like the property left as currently zoned; their intention is to continue to farm the land.
The Commission unanimously agreed that the change to CM Conservation Management would have a negative impact on the value of the property. If it were possible to change the zoning in such a way that the property would not be negatively impacted, for example if rezoned for R-2 age qualified housing, there might be some support. As currently proposed, the Planning Commission unanimously recommends that the Board not rezone the property.
If the Board would like further discussion, the members suggest that they come to a work session or schedule a special joint meeting of Board and Planning Commission. Mr. Fidler urged the Board to review the minutes of this meeting for more detailed information on this discussion.
In other Business, the Commission discussed recent concerns about West Nile Virus. The members agreed that our liaison to the Environmental Advisory Council should ask the EAC to research products that could be recommended for treatment of standing water in detention basins and ponds.
Ms. Fountain reported that she had forwarded information on this to the EAC liaison.
Open Space Committee: Chairman Jay Sensibaugh presented a PowerPoint on work completed to date for the update of the Township Open Space Comprehensive Plan. He said that the Committee, whose members include representatives of the Planning Commission, Environmental Advisory Council and Park and Recreation Board, began meeting in June, and have met with Lynn Bush, director of the Bucks County Planning Commission. The County Open Space Program requires an updated plan in order to qualify for Newtown Township’s $580,000 allocation of grant money.
Committee member Andrew Levine, chairman of the Park and Recreation Board, discussed the goals and objectives of the Committee. These are guided by two principles, sustainability and respect for the rights of property owners. The Committee agreed that when considering the acquisition of land for preservation, the Township should consider sustainability first, avoiding parcels which would be resource intensive to maintain. Mr. Levine said that the Committee has prioritized its goals for preservation of open space as preservation of wooded areas, biological diversity, greenway corridors, watershed protection, recreational open space and farmland preservation. He noted that greenway corridors is a goal of the County program.
Dr. Donald McEachron, chairman of the Environmental Advisory Council, reviewed progress on an inventory of open space. With the help of two of his students at Drexel University, the EAC has completed a draft inventory of all parcels, both publicly and privately held, within the Township. The inventory contains information about the topography, soils and watersheds on properties. The inventory was completed using maps that do not reflect the most recent development in the Township. The next step in completing the inventory will be to ask the Planning Commission to help review to cull any recently developed or subdivided parcels. Once an accurate list of parcels has been developed, the EAC will begin its on-site evaluation of properties to confirm the conditions that are reported on the maps. An evaluation form will be used to give weighted values to certain characteristics, based on the open space goals and objectives adopted by the Township.
In response to Dr. Ciervo’s question, Dr. McEachron said that the Committee did not have access to a 2003 map of open space developed by the Heritage Conservancy.
In response to questions from Mr. Gallagher, Dr. McEachron explained that the weighting system being developed for evaluating parcels of open space would be based on environmental conditions only, with values reflecting the goals of the Township, for example higher numbers would be given to wooded parcels, the first priority for preservation.
Mr. Sensibaugh said that the next step of the Committee would be to develop an action plan, which would identify the types of projects that the Township would like to pursue, such as open space linkages and joint projects with neighboring municipalities.
Mr. Gallagher said that the Committee will be providing tools for the future preservation of open space, but would not be identifying specific parcels that should be acquired, nor would it consider methods of financing for land acquisition. The Committee has not yet discussed or considered non-acquisition tools. The action plan would be necessary in order to qualify for the County Municipal Open Space Program.
Dr. Ciervo suggested sending an electronic copy of the open space inventory draft to the Codes Department to remove those parcels which are no longer open space.
Mr. Schenkman thanked the Committee for the work already completed and for the very thorough presentation. He asked the Board to re-open discussion of methods for educating the residents on open space preservation and the upcoming referendum question. He suggested that this presentation be shown on the Township television station separated from the full meeting, so that residents do not have to watch the entire meeting to review the presentation. He suggested that the PowerPoint and the exact wording of the referendum question be placed on the Township Web site.
Mr. Gallagher said that he has spoken to Jeffrey Marshall about an organization called Lands Trust, which helped Buckingham Township put together its public information and education package. There is some valuable information on the importance of open space preservation on the Heritage Conservancy Web site which Newtown could consider linking to or borrowing from.
Dr. Ciervo asked that the Township Manager review a mailer used in Upper Makefield when it had a referendum question.
Mr. Jirele said that he is interested in ascertaining the costs involved in a mailer to the residents. He said that he has spoken to Video Gold about producing a short video. This would cost between $800 and $1500.
Mr. Schenkman said that the Township Manager has some information on another video company as well. He said that he is concerned that voters have information on the issue prior to Election Day.
Mr. Jirele said that he would work with Mr. Marshall on a script for a video, which would include this evening’s presentation.
The Board agreed that a page on our Web site should contain all pertinent information.
Mr. Jirele and Mr. Schenkman agreed that they would like to see a budget for a video and for a mailer.
Environmental Advisory Council: Vice-Chairman Jay McGuigancongratulated the Board on its recent acquisition of 7 acres at Rockbridge, thereby protecting a valuable environmental resource.
Mr. McGuigan said that the EAC has made applications to its EcoStar award available to local businesses and organization in the past, and will continue to do so, but this year would like to also actively seek businesses and organizations to be nominated for the award.
Messrs. Jirele, Schenkman and Gallagher expressed support for this addition to the methods for consideration of EcoStar recipients.
Mr. McGuigan reported that the EAC has continued to collect data on wildlife management, particularly on deer/vehicle accidents. He presented a map highlighting locations of frequent accidents, and discussed the increased number of accidents each year. In 2007 there were 95 such accidents, most occurring from September to January and between 5:00 AM and 8:00 AM in the morning and between 5:30 PM and 11:30 PM in the evening. Working with Public Works Director Gary Crossland, the EAC had begun placing an electronic warning sign at various locations of frequent accidents. This sign will be moved periodically, and data will be collected to measure its effectiveness. Mr. Crossland has also been attaching blinking lights to the already existing deer crossing signs around the Township. The data presented this evening will also be shared with the Bucks County Courier Times and the Newtown Advance. The EAC is attempting to monitor results for neighboring municipalities’ wildlife management programs, and will seek direction from the Board as to pursuing a wildlife management program.
Dr. Ciervo suggested working with Tyler Park’s program. He noted that about half of the accidents are occurring along Route 413. The EAC might investigate whether to coordinate a bow hunt on Township owned land in cooperation with the Tyler hunt.
Mr. Jirele also urged the EAC to follow the results of the programs initiated in Upper and Lower Makefield.
Chairman McEachron spoke briefly about wildlife management as it relates to sustainability of open space. He said that no open space will completely sustain itself, but that wildlife management must play some role. The EAC, in addition to reviewing the damage caused by deer, is also investigating invasive plant species and damage by geese.
Dr. Ciervo asked whether the EAC or Open Space Committee has considered leasing of Township owned property to farmers. He said that at one time the Wiggins tract and the land opposite Newtown Elementary School were leased to farmers.
Dr. McEachron said that this had not been, but should be, considered as a method of sustaining land at little or no cost to the Township.
Reports of Officials
Fee Schedule Amendment – Electrical Permit Fees: Mr. Boyle reported that due to statewide building code requirements, residential electrical permits are required to be reviewed and inspected by an electrical underwriter. The fees charged by the underwriter to the Township are charged back to the applicant. An amendment to the fee schedule is required to incorporate these fees into the Township fee schedule.
Mr. Jirele noted that the residential fees are between $150 and $200.
Mr. Gallagher moved to amend the fee schedule to include the electrical permit fees as outlined in a memo from Code Enforcement Officer Michael Solomon dated September 16, 2008. Dr. Ciervo seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Mr. Garton reported that the Board had met in executive session prior to the start of this evening’s meeting to discuss litigation.
Sandwich Board Ordinance: Mr. Garton noted that this ordinance has been advertised for adoption after a public hearing. It would allow for sandwich board style signs on Sycamore Street, with permits issued for one year.
Dr. Ciervo noted that the ordinance as drafted refers to the TC Zoning District as Town Center, but should be Town Commercial.
Mr. Garton said that the ordinance should be adopted with that correction.
Mr. Schenkman moved to authorize adoption of Township Ordinance 2008-10, as corrected. Mr. Gallagher seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
JMZO 2006-19, CM District Revisions: Mr. Garton explained that this amendment would eliminate the B-14 use within the CM Conservation Management Zoning District. The Newtown Township Planning Commission tabled discussion pending further information. The Board has three options: to continue discussion of the merits of the ordinance, to authorize advertisement, or to do nothing pending further response from the Planning Commission.
Dr. Ciervo said that this has been under consideration since 2006 as a way to stave off overdevelopment of the CM district. There is concern that this could be used as a tool for developers to get higher density housing. Lynn Bush of the Bucks County Planning Commission has assured Dr. Ciervo that there is ample land already available for higher density development within the Jointure. This ordinance would also increase the lot size for the B-12 use to 30,000 square feet. Dr. Ciervo said that he has some concern about recent development within the Township of very large houses on small lots, with the houses using all available impervious surface, thus requiring Zoning Hearing Board relief for outdoor amenities such as pools and patios.
Dr. Ciervo moved to authorize advertisement of JMZO 2006-19, CM District Revisions. Mr. Gallagher seconded.
Discussion of motion: Mr. Gallagher said that he supports the amendment because of the financial burden on the community when denser housing is permitted. This means more services to be provided and more children in schools, which will lead to higher taxes.
Mr. Schenkman said that he does not disagree, however there could be an adverse impact on certain property owners. He would like more information on the financial impact on property owners, and would like the input of the Planning Commission, which has not completed its review.
Mr. Jirele said that B-14 is used primarily as a tool for developers to use when negotiating for denser housing. The use was created less than ten years ago, so by eliminating it, we are reverting to a CM zoning as it existed then.
Dr. Ciervo asserted that Lynn Bush has stated that the financial impact of elimination of this use could not be calculated. He noted that the B-14 is a conditional, not a by right, use.
Mr. Gallagher said that it had been his understanding that the B-14 use was to have been used to provide large areas of open space, with housing clustered together.
Mr. Jirele said that the Ordinance already has sufficient natural resource protection. The B-14 use has only been used as a negotiation tool. No significant areas of open space have been preserved using this use. He discussed an instance of Orleans developers presenting an unattractive B-14 development for the Goodnoe tract. When neighbors objected, Orleans then asked for a different configuration that would not normally have been permitted. He urged the Board to consider the good of the entire community, not the good of one or two or ten individual property owners.
Mr. Schenkman said that he has some concerns about the change constituting a “taking” by the government.
Resident Bill Sterling said that he is an owner of CM property. He is concerned that the Board is tweaking the zoning to devalue his property further. He asked to leave current zoning on his property as it is.
Mr. Fidler said that the B-14 use had been created as a way to protect natural resources and agricultural soils, although it has not been effective that way. He agreed that it has been used as a negotiation tool by developers. He said that the Planning Commission is asking for additional time to review the proposed modifications to the B-12 use before it makes a recommendation. He said that it was his understanding that Wrightstown Township Planning Commission had also tabled consideration of this ordinance pending additional information on the B-12 lot size, setbacks, etc.
Dr. McEachron said that he objected to Chairman Jirele’s statement that planning should not be for the individual. He said that planning should be for the individuals within the community, and should not impinge on the rights of the individuals. The proposed zoning change puts certain individual property owners’ property values at risk.
Dr. Ciervo and Mr. Jirele disagreed with Dr. McEachron, stressing that when considering zoning matters, the good of the entire community must be considered first.
Mr. Calabro asked that the Board allow the residents to comment on the motion without “debating” back and forth.
Mr. Sensibaugh said that the B-14 use requires a large quantity of open space; elimination of the use will change the characteristics of the CM district. It will be an elimination of contiguous open space, as it will create larger land parcels. He would like to see the zoning maximize open space.
Mr. Paul Sterling said that Lower Makefield has conducted a poll of residents to determine the community’s interest in what they would like to see remain as open space. He is concerned that the proposed mass mailing to residents will not present both the pros and cons, but will be one-sided.
Mr. Calabro moved to table consideration of JMZO 2006-19 until the Planning Commission has made its recommendation. Mr. Schenkman seconded.
In response to questions from the Board, Mr. Fidler reviewed the calendars for the Joint Zoning Council, Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors. He said that if the Joint Zoning Council makes recommendations for lot size and density for the B-12 use, and considers reserving a certain portion of impervious surface for future use, the Planning Commission should be able to discuss a draft amendment at its October 7, 2008 meeting.
Mr. Jirele expressed some concern that the amendment be adopted soon, as there is a developer attempting to use the B-14 use right now.
Dr. Ciervo said that he would like to move forward with the advertisement, with adoption of the ordinance after the Joint Zoning Council has discussed the concerns Mr. Fidler mentioned.
Mr. Garton advised the Board that at this time there is not a final draft to advertise. If any changes are made by any of the Jointure partners, the ordinance would have to be re-advertised.
Mr. Fidler said that the Planning Commission would attempt to have a recommendation by the Board’s October 15, 2008 meeting. He pointed out that there would be additional expense to re-advertise if the ordinance continues to be revised. He also noted that many ordinances remain under consideration and discussion for a number of years before they are adopted.
Mr. Calabro moved to amend his motion to table until the October 15, 2008 Board of Supervisors meeting. Mr. Schenkman seconded and the motion passed 4-1, with Dr. Ciervo voting nay.
JMZO 2008-02 –Electronic Message Signs: Mr. Garton said that this amendment has been advertised, and after public hearing the Board can adopt it. The ordinance prohibits electronic message center signage of any kind visible from the right of way. This only affects signs whose messages change; it is not limited to billboards.
Mr. Schenkman said that there have been a number of recent legal challenges regarding these signs. Initially it was believed that an ordinance would not be necessary, but recent case law indicates that the ordinance should prohibit all electronic message signage without exceptions. The issue can be re-visited as technology advances.
Mr. Schenkman moved to adopt JMZO 2008-02. Mr. Gallagher seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
JMZO 2008-08 Accessory Contractor: Mr. Garton explained that this amendment has been advertised and after public hearing the Board can adopt it. The ordinance creates an accessory contractor or trade use as an accessory to a residential dwelling in the CM, CR-1, R-1 and R-1A zoning districts.
Mr. Schenkman moved to adopt JMZO 2008-08, accessory contractor. Mr. Gallagher seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Zoning Hearing Board Applications
Mr. Garton reviewed the Zoning Hearing Board applications of Kevin McPhillips, 40 Amaryllis Lane, Brad Bernstein, 31 Camellia Court and Christopher and Gina Crooks, 6 Hillside Drive, which the Board passed to the Zoning Hearing Board without comment.
Erik and Stephanie Molden, 4 Foxhall Road, were in attendance to review a revised plan for increased impervious surface to install a pool and deck. The plan has reduced the request for impervious surface by 1000 square feet. The Board passed the application to the Zoning Hearing Board without comment.
Mr. Jirele thanked Mr. and Mrs. Molden for their efforts to work with the Board to reduce the impervious surface.
Attorney Maureen Carlton, representing Neil Morris and Attorney Donna Wengiel representing Mr. and Mrs. Lumpkin, neighbors to Mr. Morris, were in attendance to review a revised plan. Ms. Carlton said that Mr. Morris has revised his plans and is close to an agreement with his neighbors. Ms. Wengiel and Ms. Carlton asked to return to the Board’s October 1, 2008 meeting with a final revised plan.
Resident Ann Swanson, 423 Taylor Avenue said that she visited the codes office to review the building plans for Mr. Morris’s renovations. The plans on file do not match the completed project. She presented copies of the plans and photographs of the completed house to the Board. She asked why Mr. Morris was allowed to move into the house without the required final inspection.
Mr. Garton said that Mr. Solomon has assured him that all required inspections were satisfactorily completed before Mr. Morris moved into the house. Regarding Mrs. Swanson’s other question, he suggested reviewing this in advance of next week’s review of Mr. Morris’s application,
Land Development Agreement – Grainhouse Developers: Mr. Schenkman moved to authorize approval of the land development agreement of Grainhouse Developers. Mr. Calabro seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Engineer's Report :
Escrow Release – Newtown Walk: Mr. Schenkman moved to authorize escrow release in the amount of $10,218 to Newtown Walk. Mr. Calabro seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Mr. Gallagher noted that there are two amendments still appearing on the Jointure Solicitor’s report, one was to change the Woll tract from POS to EIR zoning, the other to add a TC-3 Zoning District. It is his understanding that the Township is no longer interested in pursuing these amendments.
Mr. Jirele suggested leaving the TC-3 amendment on the report.
Mr. Gallagher moved to notify the Jointure Solicitor that Newtown Township is no longer interested in pursuing an amendment to rezone the Woll tract as EIR. Dr. Ciervo seconded.
Discussion of motion: Mr. Jirele explained that when the Woll tract plans were revised, it was possible to accommodate the impervious surface requirements by means of a small increase in impervious surface through a Zoning Hearing Board variance.
The motion passed 5-0.
The meeting adjourned at 10:45 PM.