Board of Supervisors Work Session
Minutes of October 6, 2008
Members Present: Chairman Thomas Jirele, Vice Chairman Robert Ciervo, Secretary/Treasurer Michael Gallagher, Philip Calabro and Jerry Schenkman, members.
Also Present: Township Solicitors Jennifer McGrath and William Bolla, Township Manager Joseph Czajkowski and Township Engineer Michele Fountain.
Call to Order: Mr. Jirele called the meeting to order at 7:30 PM.
Approval of Minutes: Mr. Schenkman moved to approve the minutes of September 24, 2008. Dr. Ciervo seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
For this presentation, Attorney William Bolla served as Township Solicitor.
Attorney Ed Murphy, representing John McGrath and Patrick Flanagan, presented an overview of Messrs. McGrath and Flanagan’s plans for development of the former Acme site on Sycamore Street. This two acre site, formerly owned by Elliott Builders, was purchased by McGrath Homebuilders from the Bankruptcy Court. In preparing plans for redevelopment of the site, the surrounding neighbors, Newtown EMS and Newtown Presbyterian Church, Allen and Craig Smith, and the Sycamore Street Retailers Association were all consulted for their input, and their concerns have been addressed as design proceeded. The design has been completed with the following ideas at the forefront:
- Communication with the stakeholders on and around Sycamore Street
- The recommendations of the Acme Visioning Committee
- Demolish the eyesore at the site
- Create an atmosphere that enhances “life on the street” by creating an environment that would maintain the stability of the surrounding businesses and would work well with the other businesses on Sycamore Street
- Maintain a high quality of design to attract high end retailers
- Minimize fast food presence on Sycamore Street
- Minimize traffic impact
- Maximize tax revenue
Mr. Murphy showed an artist’s rendering of the proposed development of the site, consisting of a four story building with a pass-trough that extends Jefferson Street to the parking in the rear. A second ingress point is proposed at the northern end of the property for ingress only. The building would contain 23,000 square feet of retail space with 32 residential condominiums above. The rear parking lot would have 105 spaces, meeting the retail parking requirements, and below grade would be 71 parking spaces for the residential units.
McGrath has two letters of intent from high-end retailers interested in being the anchor store, occupying 12,500 square feet of the retail space. Up to six other retail businesses could be located in the remaining space. It has been agreed among all of the stakeholders on Sycamore Street that the second large retail area will not be a bank.
The Church and Ambulance Squad have no objections to the plans. A temporary construction easement with the Church will be needed, but the builder has agreed to improve the Church’s access to its own rear parking area and will repair the construction easement with an improved landscaping plan.
Mr. Murphy reviewed the decision to develop the property with residential condominiums rather than with commercial/office space. Office space would generate considerably more traffic; there are already either available now or planned over one million square feet of office space elsewhere in Newtown Township and office space would require a parking structure to accommodate the additional parking, for which a parking variance would also be needed.
The proposed structure would be 56 feet high; for comparison, Mr. Murphy noted that the buildings at Goodnoe’s Corner are 40 feet high.
Architect Peter Stampfl reviewed the features of the plan as shown in various sketches, pointing out that the building is placed close to the street, with a wide sidewalk. The pass through area will have entrances to businesses and wide sidewalks, creating a promenade feel. There are two entrances planned. The side of the building closest to the Church is only two stories. Entrance to the residential units is through a lobby area at the rear. The pass-through to the back of the building, which will be an extension of Jefferson Street, will feature 20 foot coffered ceilings and lighting, with some retail business entrances along the pass-through.
Mr. Stampfl presented a sketch showing the building as it would appear looking north along Sycamore Street, with the Church also in view. Because the Church’s ground is about 12 feet above the sidewalk, and the side of the building closest is only two stories, there is not an impression that the new building towers over the Church. The highest point of the building is 56 feet. Mr. Stampfl showed the landscaping plan for the Church, which also serves to screen the building somewhat from Church property.
Mr. Murphy provided some tax information to the Board, noting that he has compared the proposed building with 77,500 square feet of residential space and 23,000 square feet of retail to the same retail area with 25,000 square feet of office space; there could not be any more than 25,000 square feet of office use because of parking requirements. There is a minor deficit for the Township for office use and a substantial benefit to the School District for residential use. While the building would not be age qualified housing, the target market would be mature families with grown children.
In response to Mr. Schenkman’s question, Mr. McGrath explained that he has built a number of age qualified developments in and around Newtown and is familiar with this target market. The condos will have two bedrooms and 2200 square feet of living area at a price in the $600,000 range. There has already been some interest in the project among people who had considered Delancey Court but preferred an “in town” setting.
In response to questions from the Board, Mr. Stampfl said that the extension of Jefferson Street would be a private driveway; the building and alley would be 90 feet deep. There would be between 4 and 7 retail spaces; the exact number would be determined once an anchor store has been determined.
Mr. Murphy said that the following variances would be needed to develop the site as depicted in this plan:
- Use variance for a retail space of 12,500 square feet
- Use variance for residential condominiums
- Height variance for 56 feet
- Side yard setback (this is already non-conforming)
- Some other minor variances.
Details as to the hours of operation of the retail uses would be addressed during the land development phase. The parking outlined meets the requirements for retail and residential uses.
Mr. Calabro expressed some concern that the project seemed very large at 100,000 square feet and 56 feet high. He said that he would like information about the availability of other residential units for comparison to already available office space.
Mr. McGrath said that he has gauged interest in the project through the interest in his other projects in the area. He is not concerned about sales of residential units in this economy because of the interest shown by possible purchasers. The underground parking would not be financially feasible for office use, and although there is rock under the site, it will be possible to build the underground parking. The goal is to create a “downtown” feel to the project, which he described as the beginning of Sycamore Street, and compared the look to Doylestown and Princeton, where buildings are about 60 feet high. In response to Mr. Calabro’s questions, Mr. McGrath said that the Church is on a rise above the sidewalk of about 12 feet and is 43 feet high. There are 100 feet between the Church and the side of the proposed building. The height is 56 feet to the peak of the roof; certain architectural elements might be 2-3 feet higher.
Mr. Schenkman said that the appearance had a very urban 19 th century tenement feel. He is concerned that the height will dwarf the buildings on the opposite side of the street. He asked whether there could be a reduction in the size of the project while still remaining a profitable venture.
Mr. Murphy said that he is not sure of the heights of the buildings on the opposite side of the street, but they are only two stories high.
Mr. Stampfl reviewed the number of units per floor for the residential area as 5 units on the top, 13 on the third and 14 on the second floor.
Dr. Ciervo said that while he liked the first floor retail space, he had concerns about the size of the building. He would prefer to see a building that kept to the 30 foot height permitted by the Ordinance. He said that he is opposed to granting so many variances or of any rezoning. He is also concerned about new housing when there are so many unsold condos and townhouses in the Township. He asked for a comparison of 23,000 square feet of residential to 23,000 square feet of office space.
Mr. Gallagher also liked the first floor, but had similar concerns about the size of the building. He asked the developers to provide some information on similar sized buildings in the area that he could visit for comparison. He also asked for more input on the opinion of the Church.
Mr. Jirele said that he had no problem with most of the variances, including height, but would not support a 56 foot height. He did not see any difference between condominiums, which are not permitted in the TC district and apartments, which are permitted. He did express some concern about the overall size of the project, but is eager to get something approved and the site developed for the benefit of the entire community.
Mr. Calabro and Mr. Jirele reviewed the dimensions of the Elliott project for this site, which was a combined retail/office building of 56,000 square feet with a height of 44 feet.
Resident Pancho Messier of 101 Wrights Road said that he has been interested in this project. His children are grown and he is interested in downsizing and living in town. He urged the Board to work on a compromise to allow the project to move forward.
Resident Mark Santry said that he is also interested in downsizing and moving to town and urged the Board to work with the developer on this project.
Resident Vicki Verbit also expressed interest in downsizing and moving into town. She said that the project might appeal to those with grown children and also to young professionals. She is eager to see the Acme site developed and urged the Board to work on a compromise with the developer.
Newtown Borough resident Julia Waldorf expressed some concern about the size of the building as it will dwarf the buildings in the area and cast a shadow on the narrow street. She also felt it does not honor the historic district.
Resident John D’Aprile said that the plan looks good and he is eager to see the site developed. He urged the Board to work on a compromise.
Resident Brook D’Italo said that he supports the concept, but has some concerns about the already congested traffic on Jefferson Street. He said that he would like to see the project incorporate some traffic solutions.
Resident Karen Katz said that the scale of the project is not in keeping with the character of the Township. She urged the developer to hold a general public meeting to get input from the business and residential neighbors. She also expressed disappointment that community uses for the site were not considered.
Mr. Murphy presented the Board with a “fiscal impact comparison” showing the tax ramifications of 32 age-targeted residential units and of 25,000 square feet of office space. He noted that the Township would benefit by $6694 for residential but would see a deficit of $1220 for office use, and that the School District would benefit greatly by residential use. The comparison anticipates no children going into the public schools from the 32 residential units.
Traffic Engineer Mark Roth reviewed a trip generation comparison for residential and office use for the site, noting that the general office space will generate greater than triple the peak hour vehicles of residential use. He said that he has studied the intersection of Sycamore and Jefferson Streets and agrees that there is considerable back-up along Jefferson at certain times. He said that some of this could be remedied by different signal timing and permitting a right turn on red, with some adjustment to the stop bar.
The Board agreed that there are concerns about the narrow turning radius and the necessity for the current location of the stop bars. There is also some sight distance concern with permitting right turn on red, as it is necessary for drivers to pull forward almost into the intersection to see oncoming traffic.
In response to Mr. Bolla’s question, Mr. Murphy reviewed parking requirements noting that the Ordinance requires 4.5 spaces per 1000 square feet of office space; the cost of underground parking would not be justified for office use.
Mr. Roth explained that Trip Generation bases its traffic counts on the square footage for office use, not the number of employees. It also uses a per unit trip estimate for residential use of 6 trips per unit.
Resident Shawn Ward asked about age restrictions.
Mr. Murphy confirmed that the project would not be age restricted, but would be age targeted, or marketed to appeal to families without children.
Police Department Traffic Unit Discussion
Police Chief Henry Pasqualini was in attendance to discuss the addition of a motorcycle detail to the Police Department. He said that the police motorcycle is a very noticeable and commanding presence in the community. Motorcycles’ maneuverability allows them access to certain situations like blocked traffic surrounding an accident. They can do everything that can be done with the patrol cars except transport other individuals. They would be used year round except in snowy and icy conditions and very cold weather. Lower Makefield, Bristol Township and Bensalem are using motorcycle patrols. Chief Pasqualini said that would like to add one motorcycle to the Department and monitor its effectiveness, with a goal of having two motorcycles. Two officers, motor carrier safety inspectors, are currently assigned night duty. In January they will be re-assigned to daytime duty. These officers will be trained for the motorcycle program, and would work 5 day weeks, so that there would be at least one officer on duty every day.
In response to Board questions, Chief Pasqualini said that there were certain time scheduling issues that he is attempting to address among the Police Force, but he is trying to treat the Department members fairly by implementing change over a period of time.
The Board discussed the purchase. Because of savings elsewhere in the 2008 capital budget, there is money available to purchase one motorcycle at $14,500, immediately. There would be an added benefit of not using a patrol car, saving wear and tear. This might help to extend the life of patrol cars, allowing the replacement of cars to be reduced from 4 per year to 3.
Chief Pasqualini pointed out that a 4 year old motorcycle has a trade-in value of about $10,000. They retain their value. The motorcycles are Harley Davidson Electra Glides. They cannot go off road, but would be very maneuverable along paved trails through parks and inside the recreation areas of the developments.
Mr. Jirele said that he has some reservations about the motorcycles. He would like the Department to proceed with the hiring of two new officers, but would like to postpone purchase and training of officers for the motorcycles until next year.
Dr. Ciervo said that he is impressed with the resale value of the motorcycles and with the possible benefit to the wear and tear on patrol cars. Because there was a $20,000 savings in the budget from the purchase of scales, he would like to move forward.
Mr. Schenkman said that he would like information on Lower Makefield’s experience with the program, but is otherwise supportive.
Messrs. Calabro and Gallagher also agreed that the purchase of one motorcycle now, with the training of two officers, would be a good idea. Purchase of a second motorcycle could be part of the next year’s budget.
The Board agreed to authorize the purchase of one motorcycle and the training of the two chosen officers. They also agreed that the Chief should begin the interview process for two new officers, who would hopefully begin work in January. It was agreed that this decision should be reviewed at a televised meeting, and that the addition of police personnel should be part of the budget meeting.
2009 Budget – Capital Requests
Mr. Schenkman said that in the current economy, revenues might not be as previously projected and some “belt tightening” might be necessary.
Police Department: Mr. Gallagher reviewed the patrol car replacement policy, which would replace four cars every other year, with 2 cars in the alternate years replaced.
Chief Pasqualini explained that currently there is not uniformity within all vehicles. His aim is to have a uniform fleet. He is switching to Impalas as the Crown Vic is to be discontinued in 2010. Impalas have 100,000 mile warranties. Cars are rotated out of the front line after 60,000 miles. The Department’s three detectives use the cars that are taken off the front line. While he had requested four new cars this year, with the addition of two motorcycles, one now and one in next year’s budget, he would be able to reduce the request to three cars.
Chief Pasqualini said that he is also asking for five new Data 911 Computers for the patrol cars and video cameras in the vehicles. The cameras are installed in the cars but can be removed if a car is taken out of service. These cameras would be a great help to the officers, particularly in disputed traffic stop situations.
Public Works: Mr. Gallagher said that the long term budgeting for road resurfacing has requests ranging from $400,000 to $1,000,000 from one year to the next. He would like the Department to work on a budget that spends more equally year to year. The members agreed that they would like more detailed information from the Public Works Director.
The members briefly discussed the purchase of a salt brine tanker. This would give the Department more lead time for plowing and could reduce some of the overtime. The Board discussed speaking to Wrightstown about possibly working with their Public Works department to spray some of Newtown’s more hilly roads that border Wrightstown if a brine tanker is not purchased.
Emergency Services: Mr. Gallagher explained that the Department has three vehicles: the chief’s car, an inspector’s car and a third vehicle. He was not sure who uses the third car.
Mr. Boyle said that the cars used by EMS Department must be able to transport equipment. He would investigate what the third vehicle is used for.
Mr. Jirele said that with so much new construction planned in the coming years, he would like to look for a storage area for the EMS Department rather than purchase a storage shed.
Park and Recreation: Reviewing the propose capital requests, Dr. Ciervo said that at the next Park and Recreation Board meeting, members would be discussing compost toilets for the Roberts Ridge Park. A large portion of the proposed budget of $178,000 for restrooms is for running a water/sewer line to the restroom site.
The members discussed the long term use of the house and barn at Clark Nature Center. The barn floor is in very bad condition, and if the barn is to be used, it should be repaired. With the planned inclusion of meeting rooms in the new municipal building, the Board would like to know whether the barn will continue to be used for programming.
Regarding the expenses for the house at Clark Nature Center, Mr. Jirele said that this would be bringing the house up to date. The proposals should be reviewed to determine what should be done immediately and what can possibly be postponed.
Mr. Gallagher said that it is his understanding that the septic system is adequate for now, with only one person living in the house. The new septic system could possibly be postponed.
Mr. Jirele suggested investigating whether the Wiggins property could be farmed; a local farmer has expressed interest, and this could save the Township’s maintenance of the property.
Regarding equipment for the proposed skate park, Dr. Ciervo said that the Park and Recreation Board will begin investigating costs and working up plans once the land has been acquired.
Technology: The Board was in agreement with the proposed replacement plan for the Technology Department. Mr. Gallagher said that the Department is looking into some GIS software.
Other Capital Expenses. Mr. Gallagher mentioned some needed replacements for streetlights at a cost of about $81,000, and asked whether this should be included in the capital budget. Mr. Weaver is investigating some streetlights whose bases will not rust.
Mr. Jirele suggested that if a non-rusting product is found, the SALDO should address requiring developers to use that product on new streetlights.
Mr. Gallagher asked the Board to develop some guidelines for Departments when spending money that is surplus from their approved capital budget. He said that if an approved expense comes in under budget, he would like some guidelines for departments to use the remaining money on other purchases that had not been in the approved budget.
Window Replacement at 1 N. Sycamore Street: Mr. Jirele reported that the 2008 available façade grants have already been awarded and there is nothing remaining for 1 North Sycamore Street. Ms. Ortwein, the Executive Director of the Newtown Corporation, is not sure whether there will be state funding for 2009, as the Main Streets Program has completed the fifth year in a five year program. One of the 2008 grants has not been used, and if it is forfeited in the next 30 days, it could be given to the 1 North Sycamore Street project.
Mr. Jirele reported that Upper Makefield has indicated it will increase its contribution to the EMS.
The meeting adjourned at 10:45 PM.
Mary Donaldson, Recording Secretary
Joseph S. Czajkowski, Township Manager
Tom Jirele, Chairman
Robert Ciervo, Vice-Chairman
Michael Gallagher, Secretary/Treasurer
Philip Calabro, Member
Jerry Schenkman, Member