Board of Supervisors
Minutes of October 15, 2008
The Newtown Township Board of Supervisors met on Wednesday, October 15, 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, Jennifer McGrath, 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. Reverend Gail Moore of Macedonia Baptist Church gave the invocation. This was followed by the Pledge of Allegiance.
Changes to the Agenda: Mr.Czajkowski added, under Manager’s Report, the bid award for signal modernization at Newtown Bypass at Lindenhurst and at Newtown Yardley Roads, and under Engineer’s report, discussion of St. Andrew’s Briar detention basin.
Resident Pam Fitzpatrick thanked the Supervisors for the latest issue of the Newtown Township Newsletter, which was very informative on the referendum on open space and other items of local interest. She said that she is supportive of the open space referendum for preservation of open space. To allow the remaining open space to be developed is a strain on infrastructure, on the schools, on traffic and on water quality. She urged residents to vote yes on the referendum question and to support this issue. She briefly discussed the changes that she has seen in Newtown over her lifetime, and noted that many of the “open” parcels along Eagle Road already are slotted for development.
Mike Sellers of Newtown Borough Council and the Newtown Creek Coalition, thanked Newtown Township for its support of the recent Newtown Creek Clean-up Day. The event was very successful. He urged the Board of Supervisors to become involved in the Creek Coalition, and to attend its November 15, 2008 visioning meeting at LaSalle University at 9:00 AM, at which the design committee will give a presentation of possible future projects to preserve and enhance the Creek.
Resident Karen D’Aprile said that she supports efforts to preserve open space in Newtown but is opposed to the proposed increase in the earned income tax in this current economic climate. She urged the Board to consider other possible methods for financing preservation.
Resident Jeffrey Marshall said that as an expert in land preservation, through the Heritage Conservancy, he has worked with many municipalities across the country on preservation of open space through methods including purchase, regulations, zoning and conservation easements. He discussed the financial benefits of preserved land, noting that the cost in income tax for preservation will be far less than the possible increased real estate taxes for roads, schools and water treatment. He suggested that to oppose the tax is shortsighted.
Resident Brian Bark thanked the Board for living up to its promise to make preservation of open space a priority. He urged residents to support the referendum, to give the Board the tools to negotiate with property owners to preserve open space.
Mr. Calabro urged all citizens to participate in the upcoming election. For information of polling places, registration and absentee ballots visit www.vote411.org or www.buckscounty.org . Those citizens voting for the first time, or for the first time at a new polling place should bring a form of identification.
Minutes, Bills Lists and Reports
Minutes: Dr. Ciervo moved to approve the minutes of October 1, 2008. Mr. Schenkman seconded.
Discussion of motion: Mr. Gallagher asked that the minutes clarify Mr. Schenkman’s statement on page 1, paragraph 6, to read, “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. Schenkman agreed to this change.
Dr. Ciervo amended his motion, Mr. Schenkman amended his second and the motion passed 5-0.
Bills: Mr. Gallagher moved to authorize payment of bills totaling $1,345,101.17 Mr. Schenkman seconded.
Mr. Gallagher noted that this list includes the annual contribution to the employee pension plans.
The motion passed 5-0.
Mr. Gallagher moved to authorize interfund transfers totaling $364,539.24. Mr. Calabro seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Reports of Committees, Boards and Commissions
Chairman: Mr. Jirele reported that a free flu vaccine program would take place on Saturday, October 18, 2008, at various locations throughout the County. For information visit the Township Web site or the County Web site.
Mr. Jirele showed the Board the Preserve America sign recently awarded to Newtown Township and asked for ideas for placement of the sign. He suggested placing it on Washington Crossing Road as it heads onto Sycamore Street.
Mr. Schenkman suggested investigating whether additional signs could be purchased and placed at other gateway locations.
Other Board Members: Mr. Calabro reported that the Newtown Corporation, formerly the Joint Downtown Newtown Corporation, met on Thursday. They will be sponsoring an annual brewfest on Saturday at the Stockingworks. Tickets have already sold out. Newtown Corporation is restructuring its bylaws, and has been discussing whether it is a sole entity or whether it is still a joint Borough/Township effort, with the municipalities appointing Board members. They hope to hold a joint meeting to review the proposed bylaws some time next spring.
Mr. Gallagher said that perhaps in the future the Newtown Corporation could arrange sales of brewfest tickets to Township and Borough residents before the general public, as he has heard that many residents were unable to purchase tickets. He suggested looking for a larger venue.
Mr. Gallagher reported that the Open Space Committee met on Monday, and continued its work on updating the Township Open Space Comprehensive Plan. Working with the County Planning Commission, the Committee hopes to have the plan completed by the end of the year.
Dr. Ciervo said that he had been reviewing the new Joint Comprehensive Plan and had noted that since 1990 the Township has lost 900 acres of farmland and 1700 acres of non-farm open space to development. He is eager to preserve what little open space remains in the Township.
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, with registration at the Richboro entrance near Northampton Country Club. Last year’s event raised $140,000. For further information about participating visit www.pancan.org.
Planning Commission: Chairman Allen Fidler reported that at its October 7, 2008 meeting, the Planning Commission reviewed the application of David and Beth Mischak of 192 Greenbriar Lane for a PRD variance for rear yard setback relief of 6.01 feet to build a 229 square foot, two-story addition in the rear of an existing single family dwelling in the R-1 Zoning District and recommended that the Board of Supervisors grant the variance.
Mr. Fidler reported that he was not informed of a change in the meeting time of the Joint Zoning Council, so was not in attendance to report to members Newtown Planning Commission’s concerns about JMZO 2008-06, Permits for Disturbance of Natural Woodlands. The Planning Commission members continue to feel that some improvements need to be made to the draft, including some improvement in the definition of “woodlands”. As currently written, the definition of woodlands includes 10 mature trees on one acre of land, without including undergrowth and brush, and does not differentiate between natural wooded areas and trees planted by a homeowner. The Members also have concerns that the ordinance will place a burden on owners of smaller properties, forcing them to go through the expense of a survey and plan preparation for a permit application for a small project. While the Commission agrees with the concept of protection of our natural resources, we would like the ordinance to be more specific and detailed, and would like to see lots of less than 10 acres excluded from the permit requirement.
The Commission discussed JMZO 2006-19/2008-09 CM District Revisions, which removes the B-14 use from the ordinance, at length. While the members were unanimous in their lack of support for the ordinance as currently written, we each had different ideas on improvement of the amendment. We agreed that first, the Jointure must agree on how they would like to see CM properties developed, either as large lots with single homes, or in some type of cluster with preservation of contiguous open space. We have discussed three specific recommendations that might be considered by the Jointure and by our Board of Supervisors:
The Commission was unanimous in its concern that we respect the rights of current property owners by not negatively impacting the value of their properties.
We unanimously voted to recommend that the Board of Supervisors and the Planning Commission meet in a work session to discuss this ordinance informally. We also agreed that it might be helpful to include representatives of our Jointure partners in this meeting.
At Mr. Jirele’s suggestion, Mr. Fidler provided Mr. Garton with a copy of JMZO 2008-09 with the discrepancies highlighted. He said that the Commission does not want to see the amendment passed leaving developers with loopholes to increase housing density.
Mr. Schenkman said that he was impressed by the unanimity of the Planning Commission members in their concerns with certain aspects of the proposed amendment and urged the Board to consider the joint meeting to discuss this further.
Mr. Jirele pointed out that this amendment appears on this evening’s agenda for authorization to advertise. It is supported by the Jointure partners. There are several parcels in Newtown Township and throughout the jointure which are at risk if this amendment is not adopted.
Mr. Fidler said that the dominant theme of discussion at the Planning Commission had been the possible negative impact on owners of CM properties. One resident owner of CM property has been attending meetings regularly expressing this concern. The Planning Commission is attempting to give the Board of Supervisors the best information, attempting to point out aspects of the draft amendment that the Supervisors might not have at the forefront of their considerations.
Mr. Schenkman said that he had some concerns about certain legal aspects of the zoning change, particularly of spot zoning. He has had some conversations with other Jointure members who were unaware of the Newtown Planning Commission’s concerns. While he did not want to see this proposed amendment languish, he would like to give serious consideration to the Planning Commission’s concerns.
Mr. Jirele expressed some concern that all Jointure partners have not been part of the same conversation.
In response to Board questions, Mr. Garton said that if the Board were to authorize advertisement, small changes in the language of the ordinance could be changed prior to adoption, but if substantive changes were made, the ordinance would have to be re-advertised.
Financial Planning Committee: Chairman Glenn Beasley reported that at its most recent meeting the Financial Planning Committee began its review of the 2009 capital budget, discussing the various departmental requests. The Committee will prepare recommendations for the budget meeting of November 5, 2008. The Committee reviewed the projected 2009 income for the Township, and estimated that the current economy could produce a decrease in income of between $500,000 and $680,000, primarily because of decreases in revenue from the earned income tax, real estate transfer taxes, interest income and public safety income. These would be offset slightly by increases in the local service tax, which was only partially collected in 2008, and an increase in the contract with Wrightstown Township for police services.
Mr. Beasley said that some municipalities in the County have already begun to see shortfalls. While Newtown Township is on target for its real estate transfer taxes up to this point, it might drop off toward the end of the year.
The Board briefly discussed the outlook for sales of some of the new construction that has already begun in the Township, with mortgage money tightening. The age qualified housing might also suffer as retirees are unable to sell their houses in order to downsize and as their retirement savings is affected by the current stock market.
Mr. Jirele thanked the Financial Planning Committee for its work; he suggested that a joint meeting of the Board, Administration and Financial Planning Committee be arranged for Oct. 30, 2008, to discuss the 2009 budget further. He asked the recording secretary to provide Mr. Beasley with a copy of the draft minutes of the Board work session at which the 2009 budget was discussed.
Mr. Beasley suggested that Financial Planning Committee members be appointed for terms of longer than the current one year term to provide continuity in long term planning.
Mr. Garton agreed to research whether the Committee was created by ordinance or resolution to determine how to change the terms of appointments.In response to Mr. Calabro’s question, Mr. Beasley said that the Committee would begin discussing the current economy’s impact on Newtown’s business community at its next meeting.
Reports of Officials
Municipal Complex Update: Mr. Czajkowski reported that the request for bids for the expansion of the municipal complex were sent out on Tuesday, with bids to be opened on November 13, 2008, after which the administration will have recommendations for awards for the Board to consider. The State requires that all major contracts, such as construction, electrical, plumbing be bid separately. The Township must accept the lowest responsible bidder.
Mr. Garton explained that bidders provide a statement of their experience. A bidder cannot be rejected by reputation alone, but if there is, for example a history of litigation, or consistently low recommendations, a bidder could be rejected. The architect and construction manager would check references of bidders and be involved in making recommendations to the Board.
Woll Tract Update: Mr.Czajkowski reported that the Woll tract project would be put out to bid on Friday, with opening of bids on November 25, 2008.
Signal Modernization of Newtown Bypass: Mr. Czajkowski reviewed the bid tabulation provided by Carroll Engineering for the modernization of traffic signals at the Newtown Bypass at Lindenhurst Road and at Newtown Yardley Road, to include new signals, signal poles, a video system and interrupter for EMS; this modernization does not include red light cameras. Miller Brothers submitted the low bid of $207,489.23. Traffic Impact funds from the TSA 2 fund will pay for the work.
Dr. Ciervo moved to accept Miller Brothers’ bid for modernization if Newtown Bypass traffic signals for a cost of $207,489.23. Mr. Schenkman seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Mr. Calabro thanked Mr. Czajkowski and the Public Works Department for placing the brake retarder signs along roadways. He asked about signage prohibiting truck parking on Grant Street.Mr. Czajkowski said that the Township prohibits overnight parking of commercial vehicles on Township roads. The police have spoken to the owner of the truck seen on Grant Street. Signs warning of this prohibition have been ordered.
Council Rock North High School Natatorium Parking: Mr. Garton reminded the Board that at the time of their granting a waiver of land development for the addition to the CR North swimming pool a condition to the waiver had been to locate sufficient parking to make up for parking lost by the expansion. The School District would like to delay the construction of parking until the spring in order to accommodate the construction schedule as well as explore opportunities to increase the number of spaces constructed as part of the replacement process.
Mr. Jirele said that he and Mr. Calabro had visited the site and confirmed that the parking cannot be installed until construction is completed.
Mr. Gallagher moved to extend the deadline for providing replacement parking spaces at Council Rock High School North until August 30, 2008. Dr. Ciervo seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Woll Tract Easement: Mr. Garton reviewed provisions of an easement agreement with Council Rock School District which grants rights to the Township to construct an access road, sidewalks and the like through School District property for a Wrights Road entrance to the Woll tract.
The Board discussed the provision that the School District would be permitted close the access during daylight hours up to 10 times a year. The members agreed that it would probably only take place about twice a year, and would have very little impact on the use of the park. The agreement requires that the District provide the Township with adequate notification when the access is to be closed, to allow traffic to be re-directed.
Mr. Gallagher moved to enter into an easement agreement with Council Rock School District for access to the Woll tract through District property at Wrights Road. Dr. Ciervo seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Skate Park: Mr. Garton reviewed an agreement of sale with Newtown Shopping Center to purchase one acre of land at a cost of $10, with the Township responsible for securing necessary approvals of a lot line change. The agreement is conditioned on an environmental study and the owner of the shopping center securing consent of its mortgage holder and certain tenants. The property is to be merged with already owned Township property, and is to be used for recreation purposes, which include a skate park.
Dr. Ciervo moved to enter an agreement of sale with Newtown/Bucks Associates, LP to purchase one acre of land adjacent to already owned Township property at Newtown Shopping Center. Mr. Gallagher seconded.
Discussion of motion: Dr. Ciervo thanked Jack Lowe for his cooperation in giving this land to the township for a future skate park for the benefit of Newtown’s children.
Resident Jay Sensibaugh questioned whether this land would be in area already designated as reserve parking or if the transfer would impact the shopping center’s impervious surface calculations.
Mr. Garton said that this is not an area for reserve parking, and although there will be a reduction, the area will still be considered open space.
Mrs. D’Aprile thanked the Board for following through with this promise to residents to provide a skate park.
The motion passed 5-0.
(At this point Ms. McGrath replaced Mr. Garton at the dais as Township Solicitor.)
JMZO 2006-19/JMZO 2008-19 – CM District Revisions: Ms. McGrath reminded the Board that this amendment would eliminate the B-14 use and amend the table of performance regulations for B-12 use in the CM Conservation Management Zoning district.
Dr. Ciervo said that he had made a motion at a previous meeting to recommend authorization to advertise this amendment. He would like to put that motion to a vote. He said that the B-14 use is better suited for the high density residential zoning districts. B-14 provisions have been used to bully Boards into permitting higher density development in the CM district, leaving residents with lots with insufficient impervious surface to accommodate outdoor amenities and improvements.
Ms. McGrath suggested that a new motion be put before the Board.
Mr. Calabro said that he had requested that the motion be tabled in order to get more input from the Planning Commission. The Planning Commission Chairman had assured the Board that a recommendation would be presented this evening, however the Planning Commission is requesting that more time be given for further discussion with the Board. He would like to allow for additional time.
Dr. Ciervo moved to authorize advertisement of JMZO 2006-19/2008-09, CM District revisions. Mr. Gallagher seconded.
Mr. Schenkman said that while he is in agreement with the intent of the Ordinance he would rather defer to the Planning Commission and give the amendment additional consideration.
Ms. McGrath confirmed Mr. Gallagher’s understanding that if authorized to advertise, minor discrepancies could still be corrected in the draft, but substantive changes would require re-advertising.
Mr. Sensibaugh said that the use of the B-14 or B-12 style development allows for preservation of contiguous open space, saving woodlands and natural habitats, whereas the elimination of B-14 would reduce the amount of preserve open space as developers move to the B-1 use, with no preserved open space. He agreed with Mr. Gallagher’s assertion that no B-14 developments have been built. He said that previous Boards have been willing to offer compromised alternatives when presented with plans for B-14 developments. This amendment would eliminate opportunities for preservation of contiguous open space.
Dr. Ciervo said that the CM zoning would preserve agricultural soils; this preserves open space as many of the available parcels offered for development are former farms.
Resident Bill Sterling said that he is an owner of CM property and he supports the current zoning which allows the B-14 use to help with preservation of contiguous open space. He said that it is not developers who are misusing the B-14 use; it is the Board of Supervisors who do not want to see land developed as B-14 developments.
The motion passed 3-2, with Messrs. Calabro and Schenkman voting nay.
PRD Variance – Beth and David Mischak, 192 Greenbriar Lane: Ms. McGrath said that the application has been advertised in the Newtown Advance; the advertisement, notice to adjoining residents, the CKS review letter of September 29, 2008 and the application are made part of the record.
Beth Mischak presented her application for relief of 6.01 feet of the rear yard setback to construct a 229 square foot two-story addition to her home in the Woods of Saxony in the R-2 High Density Residential Zoning District. No variance is required for impervious surface. He application includes letters of support from her adjoining neighbors and the Woods of Saxony Homeowners Association. Her home backs to Woods of Saxony owned open space.
Mr. Schenkman moved to grant a PRD variance to Beth and David Mischak, 192 Greenbriar Lane for an additional 6.01 feet of rear yard setback where 26.73 feet is the minimum required setback. Mr. Gallagher seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Zoning Hearing Board Applications
Growth Horizons, Inc., 514 Washington Crossing Road: Attorney Mike Sellers represented the applicant. Beth Davison, Vice President of Growth Horizons was in attendance. She explained that this is a group home, currently with two residents. Growth Horizons seeks a special exception to build an 18 foot by 26 foot addition on a 0.94 acre non-conforming lot to house a third resident. In response to questions from the Board, Ms. Davison said that there is one staff member on site 24 hours a day; no residents drive. No additional parking is required, nor is there increased traffic.
Mr. Sellers assured the Board that the property will still be well below the impervious surface requirement for properties in the CM district.
The Board passed this application to the Zoning Hearing Board without Comment.
Mr. & Mrs. Raj Kumar, 1 Harding Court: The Board reviewed this application for a variance for front yard setback relief of 2 feet to install a front porch and passed the application to the Zoning Hearing Board without comment.
2008 Roadway Improvement Program: Mr. Gallagher moved to authorize payment for the 2008 Roadway Improvement Program to Bray Brothers, Inc., in the amount of $204,508.90. Mr. Schenkman seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Goodnoe’s Corner Certificate of Completion #8: Dr. Ciervo moved to authorize escrow release in the amount of $39,48.60 to Goodnoe’s Corner. Mr. Schenkman seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Ms. Fountain confirmed that $266,000 remained in the escrow account.
St. Andrew’s Briar Detention Basin: Ms. Fountain reported that her firm had inspected the St. Andrew’s Briar Detention Basin in April and had recommended that the following maintenance tasks be completed prior to the Township’s taking dedication:
Since spring it has been confirmed that no trees need to be replaced.
Mr. Jirele said that the Homeowners Association has agreed to perform all tasks except increase the orifice size, which would be a hardship.
Ms. Fountain said that the increase would cost about $1000, and there should be sufficient money in the escrow account to do this. She suggested a trash rack be installed.
Mr. Jirele said that he would review this with the Homeowners Association. The Township would assume the escrow funds and do the outlet structure work in house. He will report back to the Board on this matter.
Traffic Calming at Newtown Yardley Road: Ms. Fountain reported that a traffic signal at Newtown Yardley Road at the entrance to Headley development is part of the 2012 TIP. PennDOT estimates the cost of that improvement at $772,000. The Planning Commission is currently reviewing plans for land development in the Business Commons that might include some traffic improvements at this intersection.
Mr. Jirele suggested that the Board wait to see whether the land development plans include any traffic calming measures before deciding whether to wait until PennDOT addresses this issue.
Mr. Czajkowski said that PennDOT has concentrated all of its efforts on bridge maintenance and repairs this year and has postponed many TIP projects statewide.
Mr. Jirele said that there had been an executive session to discuss matters of personnel and real estate prior to the start of this evening’s meeting.
The meeting adjourned at 9:45 PM.