Board of Supervisors
Minutes of October 1, 2008
The Newtown Township Board of Supervisors met on Wednesday, October 1, 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: Joseph 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. Father John Atkins of Holy Nativity Episcopal Church gave the invocation. This was followed by the Pledge of Allegiance.
Resident Jay Sensibaugh announced that the Newtown Creek Coalition would sponsor a Newtown Creek Clean-Up on Saturday, October 11, 2008 at 9:00 AM. Interested volunteers will meet at the municipal parking lot on Greene Street, behind the Newtown Bike Shop. For additional information call 215-968-3440. In response to questions from the Board, Mr. Sensibaugh explained that the Newtown Creek Coalition is an informal organization comprised of members from both the Borough and Township who are interested in preserving and enhancing Newtown Creek as a resource for the community
Resident Ryan Brevitz of Newtown Crossing asked each Board member whether he would participate in a vote on open space acquisition if the parcel to be acquired would present a conflict of interest with the Board member; specifically he explained that he would consider it a conflict if the acquisition by the Township and preservation of a parcel would have a geographic, economic or legal impact on a supervisor.
Mr. Calabro said that although he supports the preservation of open space, he would recuse himself if the property under consideration were located very close to his home and would be considered a conflict of interest. His home in Newtown Grant does not have any open space adjacent to it, but he is relatively close to property owned by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
Mr. Schenkman said that at this time, it is not clear which parcels will be part of the inventory of open space. He would be cautious with spending of Township money for open space preservation, and he would recuse himself from participation if he lived in very close proximity to a parcel under consideration for purchase or if his own property were unduly affected by the acquisition of open space.
Mr. Jirele said that he would gladly support preservation of open space anywhere in the Township. There is no open space available in his immediate neighborhood, and he questioned Mr. Brevitz’s definition of conflict.
Mr. Calabro said that he considered Mr. Brevitz’s question more a question of character. We are asking residents to consider a referendum to increase the earned income tax for preservation of open space but have not provided information on what open space is being considered for preservation. Would any of the Board of Supervisors use taxpayer dollars if the preservation of a parcel would directly benefit them?
Mr. Gallagher said that his answer would be similar to Mr. Schenkman’s. He said that there will not be a list of properties targeted for preservation. When the Open Space Comprehensive Plan is completed, it will outline the Township’s goals and objectives, identifying the Township’s considerations when evaluating a parcel for preservation, but it will not specifically list any parcels that will be preserved. The voters will be considering the preservation of open space, not the preservation of certain identified land when they consider the referendum.
Mr. Brevitz asked whether Mr. Gallagher would recuse himself if the open land adjacent to his own house were under consideration for acquisition.
Mr. Gallagher said that he would recuse himself from a vote if the purchase were to increase the value of his own house.
Dr. Ciervo said that the open space in the immediate area of his home is already preserved. He said that the open space comprehensive plan is being updated in order for the Township to participate in the County Municipal Open Space Program and other county programs. There is a requirement to partially match the County’s allocation of $580,000 to Newtown Township. The Township cannot begin to preserve land unless or until the referendum is passed. He said that if the Township preserves any open space, all residents benefit.
In response to Mr. Jirele’s question, Mr. Brevitz said that he lives about 6 blocks from Mr. Gallagher, and he would recuse himself from participation if he were a supervisor asked to vote on the as yet undeveloped parcel near Mr. Gallagher’s house.
Me. Schenkman said that when the inventory of open space being prepared by the Environmental Advisory Council and Open Space Committee is completed, we will all be able to see what land is open space and might be likely candidates for preservation efforts. He would have preferred postponing the referendum until the work of the Open Space Committee has been completed.
Resident Dennis Fisher asked where he could find the actual wording of the referendum question.
Dr. Ciervo said that the exact wording of the question will be placed on the Township Web site shortly.
Mr. Fisher said that while he supports efforts to preserve open space, he does not think that this is a good time to ask voters to support a tax increase. He asked whether there will be an increase in real estate taxes to pay for the municipal complex expansion.
Mr. Jirele said that the preliminary budget for 2009 has not been completed but there is a possibility that there could be a real estate tax increase to pay the bond for the municipal expansion.
Mr. Gallagher said that the Board will make every effort to provide residents with information to help make an informed decision on the referendum. Information presented at last week’s meeting by the Open Space Committee is being placed on the Web site, and later in the meeting the Board will discuss other ways to educate the residents on the ballot question.
Mr. Calabro said that residents should be aware that real estate taxes might go up to finance the municipal complex expansion. He continued to object to the referendum question being placed before the voters without sufficient information on which parcels of open space might be purchased and at what cost.
Mr. Fisher asked about enacting the tax if the referendum passes.
Mr. Garton explained that if the referendum is passed, the Board would then hold public hearings and vote to adopt an ordinance to enact the tax.
Dr. Ciervo said that he is working to update a map of open space parcels that had been prepared by the Heritage Conservancy in 2001. Once completed he would like it to be placed on the Web site so that residents would be able to see what has been developed recently and what parcels still remain open with the possibility of preservation,
Newtown Borough resident Paul Salvatore announced that the Newtown Business and Professional Association would host a business expo on October 15, 2008 at the NAC from 3:00 to 7:00 PM. The Newtown Library Association is sponsoring a 5K walk/run on October 11, 2008. Newtown Rotary will host Pedals for Progress on November 8, 2008 at the old St. Andrew’s Preschool. At this event old bicycles will be collected to be shipped to third world countries. A $20 donation is being requested for the shipping costs. If you have a bike and are unable to attend on that date, please drop off bikes at Stockburger’s in advance. Since its inception, Pedals for Progress has shipped almost 2000 bikes.
Mr. Salvatore said that as a Borough resident he appreciates the Township’s effort to preserve open space, as Borough residents benefit when Newtown Township prevents further development of the area. He also urged Mr. Gallagher to participate in any vote that would preserve land near Newtown Crossing, as this is what residents have elected him to do.
Resident Richard Thompson thanked the Board for placing the referendum question on the ballot; he supports the open space efforts of the Board.
Minutes, Bills Lists and Reports
Minutes: Mr. Jirele suggested that the vote on minutes from the September 24, 2008 meeting be tabled to the October 6, 2008 work session to allow Board members sufficient time to review them.
Bills: Mr. Gallagher moved to authorize payment of bills totaling $54,327.01. Mr. Schenkman seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Reports of Committees, Boards and Commissions
Chairman: Mr. Jirele announced that the Joint Zoning Council meeting has been changed to 7:00 PM on Thursday.
Mr. Schenkman said that on this, the third day of Rosh Hashanah, he wished everyone a Happy New Year and hoped that our names would be written in the Book of Life for the year.
Mr. Gallagher said that the Financial Planning Committee has been discussing the effects of the current economy on the Township. A report will be given at the October 15, 2008 meeting.
Historical Architectural Review Board: Chairman Harriet Beckert reported that she has spoken to 5 members of HARB about the replacement windows for 1 North Sycamore Street. The entire building, including the addition, dates back to the 18 th century. As such, true divided light windows should be required, however the members agreed that the Marvin windows with wooden mullions affixed to both the interior and exterior would be acceptable for the eight windows facing Washington Avenue and Sycamore Street. Vinyl clad windows would be acceptable for the windows that do not face either street. The difference in price between true divided light windows and these Marvin windows is about $3100.
Mrs. Rysner said that she had spoken to Chris Ortwein of the Newtown Corporation and was told that façade grants are not available for her planned improvements.
In response to Dr. Ciervo’s question, Mrs. Beckert said that the aluminum storm doors and triple track storm windows, while not historically accurate, pre-date the formation of the HARB, and as such, HARB cannot require their removal. The storm windows will be removed when the replacement windows are installed.
Mr. Jirele said that he would like a report from the Newtown Corporation on the façade grant program. He expressed some concern that most of the grants that had been distributed had gone to projects in Newtown Borough. He asked for an update at the next work session.
Mr. Gallagher moved to approve a certificate of appropriateness for 1 North Sycamore Street for replacement of eight windows facing Sycamore Street and Washington Ave with Marvin simulated divided light windows with mullions both inside and outside and remaining windows to be replaced with windows with vinyl clad white exteriors with removable interior mullions. Mr. Schenkman seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Reports of Officials
Consortium Salt Bid: Mr. Czajkowski reported that through the Consortium, Doylestown Borough accepted and opened bids for 2008-09 road salt. While Cargill, Inc. was the lowest bidder, their bid did not extend to additional purchases if needed. International Salt Co., LLC bid more, but did not include a cap. The cost is $69.50 per ton, up from $47.42 per ton last year. Last year’s contract did not expire until September 30, 2008, so the Township has purchased 800 tons of salt under last year’s contract. The increased costs are associated with transportation. In response to questions from a resident and from the Board, Mr. Czajkowski said that the Township is investigating using brine, which is applied to roads before snow begins to fall. Brine requires special equipment.
Mr. Schenkman moved to accept the bid of International Salt Co., LLC for salt for 2008-09 at $69.50 per ton. Mr. Gallagher seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Municipal Complex Expansion: Mr. Czajkowski advised the Board that the bond funds have been received for the expansion. The architect and construction manager will meet on Friday. The project should be put out to bid next week, and groundbreaking could be in early November.Woll Tract: Mr. Czajkowski reported that some electrical engineering work is being completed and the project should be out to bid on October 15, 2008.
Chief Henry Pasqualini reported that the police had responded to 1,129 calls for service, including one bank robbery and four burglaries. The traffic detail issued 272 citations, 104 of which were on Eagle Road. The Chief reminded the residents of the anonymous tip phone line at 215-504-2201 and asked residents to report any suspicious activity they witness. He asked whether the Board had considered his motorcycle proposal.
Mr. Jirele said that the Board would discuss this at Monday’s work session.
Chief Pasqualini said that there have been a number of requests for additional stop signs along North and South Drives.
Mr. Czajkowski said that the Traffic Engineer felt that multi-way stop signs are not warranted and in some instances there are sight distance concerns.
Traffic Commission Ordinance: Mr. Garton presented a draft traffic commission ordinance, establishing a traffic commission. All of the traffic regulations, such as stop signs, no parking, speeding on Township roads can be established by the commission, which obviates the need for advertising every ordinance when the Township would like to, for example, erect a stop sign. He noted that both Lower Makefield and Doylestown Townships have a traffic commission. This is something our Police Chief would like to try, and if unsuccessful, could be rescinded.
Mr. Gallagher said that he was not sure whether he would want to relinquish Board control of traffic matters.
Mr. Schenkman said that the Board of Supervisors should continue to have input on traffic matters; he suggested gathering information from Lower Makefield and Doylestown on their experiences.
Mr. Jirele said that he would like to discuss this further at a work session.
Zoning Hearing Board – Neil Morris, 429 Taylor Avenue: Mr. Garton reminded that Board that Mr. Morris’s attorney and the attorney for Mr. and Mrs. Lumpkin, neighbors who oppose Mr. Morris’s plans, had requested time to attempt to reach an agreement on Mr. Morris’s application for a variance for 642 square feet of impervious surface, bringing the total impervious surface ratio to 19.45%, to expand his driveway. He had previously been granted a variance for increased impervious surface of 17.04% for an addition to his home. At this time, there is no resolution between the applicant and the neighbors. The question before the Board is whether to send the Solicitor to support or oppose the application, or to send the application to the Zoning Hearing Board without comment.
Mr. Schenkman asked what issues are still outstanding.
Attorney Maureen Carlton, representing the applicant, said that the applicant had agreed to a list of criteria put forth by Mr. Lumpkin, as follows:
Although Mr. Morris has agreed to all of these requests, there is no agreement. The plans before the Board do not show these criteria. The plans have been tweaked, but continue to request an increase of 2.41%, to 19.45%. The driveway now ends one foot beyond the house. The reason there is no reduction in impervious surface, even with these changes, is that it has been discovered that one overhang does not appear on the “as-built” plans. With inclusion of this overhang, and reduction in the size of the driveway and sidewalk width, the impervious surface request is still 19.45%, a 2.41% increase.
Attorney Keith Brown, representing the Lumpkins, said that the plans dated September 23, 2008, do not show all features, and there are discrepancies between the most recent and the original plans. There is no confidence that the plans currently being used are accurate, and it would be unfair to expect the Lumpkins to hire their own engineer to verify the plans’ accuracy. At this time, it is a lack of faith in the accuracy of what has been presented, not the request to the Zoning Hearing Board, that is keeping the Lumpkins from agreeing to withdraw their objections.
Mr. Garton suggested that a third party review the plans and the concessions agreed to. He suggested that the Township Engineer review the plans.
Ms. Carlton again confirmed that the plans currently before the Board are not accurate. She provided an updated plan.
Mr. Brown said that his clients have no trust that any plans presented are accurate. The latest revisions were only presented last Friday. The project already exceeds the permitted impervious surface.
Ms. Fountain said that she is not sure whether the plans, which show 19.6% now, would have 19.45% if the reductions to the sidewalk and driveway were made and the overhang were added in.
Dr. Ciervo moved to send the Solicitor to oppose the application of Neil Morris because the Board has not been shown an accurate plan of what is being requested of the Zoning Hearing Board.
Mr. Gallagher asked whether the applicant would continue the application, if there would be a possibility of producing an accurate plan that the neighbors would have confidence in.
Mr. Calabro asked whether at issue is trust that the plans shown are accurate or whether it is the request for an increase in impervious surface. He asked whether, with accurate plans, the request for an increase in impervious surface to 19.45% would be acceptable to the Lumpkins.
Ms. Carlton said that she believes the neighbors object to the length of the driveway, not the percentage of impervious surface. She said that the applicant has already agreed to the list of requests of the neighbors.
Mr. Gallagher seconded Dr. Ciervo’s motion to send the Solicitor to oppose the application.After some further discussion, Mr. Garton again suggested that the attorneys discuss their differences and consider continuing the application. He said that the Board would vote on the motion before the close of the meeting.
Open Space Education: Mr. Gallagher said that at a previous meeting the Board had discussed sending a mailer to residents and creating a short video on the upcoming open space referendum. He presented the Board members with a draft for a possible flyer, consisting of an open letter to the residents on open space, the ballot question along with the plain English wording, the goals and objectives as outlined by the Open Space Committee and some frequently asked questions. Residents in attendance were also provided with copies of this draft.
Mr. Schenkman said that he had not been provided with a copy of the draft until the meeting and would not be ready to comment of the specifics, as he has not reviewed the contents.
Mr. Calabro said that he has some concerns about setting a precedent by sending a mailer on the question.
Dr. Ciervo said that if a question is placed on the ballot by the Supervisors, there should be some communication explaining the question. He had no such concerns about a precedent, as this is the correct thing to do for any referendum question. Regarding the content, the draft does not take a position, but only outlines the text of the ballot question. A detailed list of parcels to be considered will not be created at this time because there is not a funding stream or negotiation tool to approach owners of open parcels.
Mr. Jirele said that many residents have expressed concern that they do not have sufficient information to make a decision. This is an attempt to provide such information.
Mr. Calabro disagreed, as the draft does not give any specific information on parcels to be considered for preservation. Because the tax might not be enacted until well into 2009, at which time the work of the Open Space Committee to update the open space comprehensive plan and the EAC’s open space inventory will have been completed, he would have preferred postponement of the referendum until the May 2009 primary election. This is a bad economic time to ask the residents to volunteer to increase their tax burden. Residents will be faced with a tax increase for the municipal complex expansion. Mr. Jirele stressed that the coming presidential election would bring a large voter turnout and would give a better indication of residents’ opinions on the referendum.
Mr. Calabro said that the draft mailer is tilted to one side of the issue and should not be mailed.
Mr. Schenkman said that he does not object to a mailer to inform voters of the upcoming referendum, but he does not want it to attempt to influence the vote. He is concerned that the Open Space Committee’s work will not be completed and presented to residents until after the election, thereby denying the residents access to the best information. He disagreed that negotiations could not take place until the method of imposing a tax is in place; other ways of financing purchases could have been explored. He is particularly concerned about the rush to place this question before the voters in the current economy.
Mr. Jirele disagreed that the process has been rushed; he said that the Township has dragged its feet on open space. He said that the work of the Open Space Committee is required for participation in the County Municipal Open Space Program, not for the referendum.
Dr. Ciervo reiterated his position that the residents have been provided with enough information with the recent Open Space Committee presentation, the maps being placed on the Web site and the goals and objectives, as outlined in the mailer.
Mr. Gallagher expressed some concern that the discussion will give the impression that the Board is not in agreement on the preservation of open space.
Mr. Schenkman said that the voters need to have the best information to make an informed decision. He continued to question whether the residents will know enough and whether this is the right time to ask for a tax increase. He does support the preservation of open space.
Mr. Jirele suggested that the Open Space Committee be instructed to complete its draft comprehensive plan prior to election day.
Mr. Schenkman moved to direct the Open Space Committee to present its draft update of the comprehensive open space plan by October 24, 2008. Mr. Gallagher seconded and the motion passed 4-1, with Mr. Calabro voting nay.
Dr. Ciervo asked that the Township Manager be directed to get cost estimates for the mailer that Mr. Gallagher has drafted, for 10,000 copies, with 7,000 to be mailed to residents and 3,000 to be available at the polls on election day.
Mr. Czajkowski suggested that the Board give him an amount “not to exceed”, such as $7,000. This work cannot be done in house.
Mr. Gallagher moved to produce a mailer based on the draft he provided, 10,000 copies, not to exceed $7,000, and a video as discussed with Jeffrey Marshall, at a cost not to exceed $1500. Dr. Ciervo seconded.
Discussion of motion: In response to Mr. Jirele’s question, Mr. Garton said that the County program would allow up to $10,000 for a planning grant. He doubted that the mailers and film would be eligible for this re-imbursement.
Resident Will Sterling said that the Board is not considering the costs associated with maintenance of open space. He noted the costs for maintaining and mowing of the Wiggins tract as an example. The tax, once levied, will continue, as open space parcels have to be maintained. He urged the Board to take the $8,500 and set it aside to purchase open space.
The motion passed 3-2, with Messrs. Calabro and Schenkman voting nay.
Return to Solicitor’s Report
Neil Morris Zoning Hearing Board Application: Attorney Brown, representing Mr. and Mrs. Lumpkin, informed the Board that his clients have reached an agreement with Mr. Morris, and would like to continue the application until December, in order to revise the plans. Mr. Morris will provide copies of the plans to the Lumpkins two weeks in advance of the hearing. A third party review of the plans will be needed to confirm their accuracy.
Mr. Gallagher asked that the Township Engineer review the plans.
Ms. Carlton, attorney for Mr. Morris, said that her client agrees to the continuance. She will contact the Zoning Hearing Board Solicitor to ask that the application be continued to the December meeting.
Dr. Ciervo withdrew his motion.
Dr. Ciervo said that he had made the motion to send the Solicitor to oppose the application only because of the concerns about the accuracy of the plans.
Resident Ann Swanson reminded the Board that she had questioned them about some concerns she had about the plans Mr. Morris had submitted to the Zoning Hearing Board and about the certificate of occupancy for the property.
Mr. Jirele said that the Zoning Officer has confirmed that there were certain “field changes” made to the plans and all have been reviewed, inspected and approved. There was no change to the permitted impervious surface; an updated plan is on file. Mr. Jirele said that such changes are fairly common in construction. Mr. Morris had been given permission to occupy the addition to his home.
Mrs. Lumpkin said that the plans that were presented to the Zoning Hearing Board, which were reviewed by the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors in 2007 were wrong. The plans were changed after construction began in July of 2007.
Mr. Czajkowski said that the plans on file would be as built, and do not necessarily match exactly with plans presented at the time of the Zoning Hearing Board application. In this case, there were field changes made to the plans.Mr. Jirele said that the Township Engineer will confirm that the as built plan is accurate and will try to correct any inconsistencies moving forward.
Mr. Schenkman asked that the Board be updated on some research done about the traffic at the entrance to Headley development. He said that information had been provided to the Planning Commission by the Township Traffic Engineer.
Ms. Fountain agreed to update the Board on this matter.
The meeting adjourned at 10:15 PM.