Board of Supervisors Work Session
Minutes of February 17, 2009
Members present: Chairman Thomas Jirele, Vice Chairman Robert Ciervo, Secretary/Treasurer Michael Gallagher and Member Philip Calabro.
Also Present: Manager Joseph Czajkowski and Township Engineer Michele Fountain.
Call to Order: Mr. Jirele called the meeting to order at 7:30 PM.
Planning Commission Vision for 2009: Planning Commission Vice Chairman Jim Ott, Secretary Peggy Driscoll and members Dennis Fisher, Jay Sensibaugh and Brandon Wind were in attendance to discuss topics to be considered for Planning Commission discussion and input in 2009.
Mr. Ott said that the Commission has reviewed the updated Comprehensive Plan for the Jointure and he would like a number of items in the plan further discussed and implemented. This might require working with the Environmental Advisory Council and the Park and Recreation Board. Road classifications throughout the Jointure should be reviewed and re-evaluated.
Mr. Jirele said that a subcommittee of the Joint Zoning Council will be formed to review road classifications. He and Planning Commission Chairman Allen Fidler will represent Newtown Township on this committee, which will begin meeting in March.
Mr. Jirele said that with the Acme site the subject of proposed development and with the possibility of other parcels becoming available for re-development, he would like the Planning Commission to begin discussions of a vision for the future of Sycamore Street. As the Commission discusses this, he would like the Commission to consider State Street and the current and permitted uses at Goodnoe’s Corner. He urged the Commission to consider not just the proposed development of the Acme site but the entire length of Sycamore Street. Current zoning and possible changes that might help guide the future development of the street including permitted uses, mix of uses, setbacks and building height should be included in this discussion.
Mr. Ott said that current zoning allows for rental apartments but not condominiums. Condominiums might contribute a more stable and invested residential population. This is something the Commission might want to discuss further.
Resident Vince Lombardi said that in 1998/99 some revisions of the Ordinance had been made to address conversion of residential to commercial use. A study was done which determined a minimum lot size of 7500 square feet and addressed some setback requirements. Some uses, including funeral homes and service stations, are included in the Ordinance to protect it from challenges.
Dr. Ciervo asked that the Commission do a comparison of uses permitted by right and by conditional use. He also asked that some restrictions, such as limit of retail space to 10,000 square feet, be re-examined in light of the possibility that as much as 25% of the properties on the street could be redeveloped in the next few years.
Mr. Sensibaugh urged that the property owners be included in these discussions to avoid any contentious feelings.
Mr. Ott suggested that a subcommittee of Planning Commission members meet with representatives of the Sycamore Street Community Association.
Resident David Katz said that the selection of Elliott Building Group for a project at the Acme site had contradicted recommendations contained in the Acme Visioning Committee report and a report by the JDNC. He suggested that a new acme visioning committee is needed. The Zoning Hearing Board had granted Elliott some variances; perhaps developers could consider a plan that would fit with those variances.
Mr. Calabro agreed that the Planning Commission’s priority for consideration in the coming year should be Sycamore Street.
Mr. Lombardi said that $5,500,000 has already been spent to revitalize Sycamore Street and that project is beginning to reap on the investment. The goals of the original Sycamore Street Committee should be kept in mind moving forward.
Resident Karen Katz said that it is a good idea to consider the entire Sycamore Street area rather than just focus on the Acme site. She said that a group of Borough and Township residents with concerns about the future of the downtown area has recently formed. This group is working on a mission statement and is eager to work and be involved in the future development of the street. She urged the Board to consider this group’s input on uses, zoning regulations and architectural styles.
Mr. Jirele said that the Board is not attempting to shut out the public. The Planning Commission is charged with planning for the future development of the Township. Their meetings are open to the public and residents’ input is always welcome. He noted that the Township has no jurisdiction over architectural styles used, although Board members can express preference for styles that complement the historic nature of the surrounding community.
Mr. Ott concurred, stating that the Planning Commission welcomes input from business owners and residents.
The Board agreed that Sycamore Street is the first priority for the first half of this year. The Planning Commission should include in its discussion the TC Town Commercial district’s uses and restrictions, with a goal of making recommendations for possible changes by the end of June.
In response to Mrs. Katz’s comments on traffic, Mr. Jirele said that there have been a number of recent studies done and these can be viewed by the public by contacting the Township Manager’s office during the business day.
Resident Jen Dix and Mrs. Katz each questioned a possible community center use somewhere on Sycamore Street, perhaps a YMCA.
The Board agreed that the budget would not permit a community center at this time, but would certainly welcome any donation of a facility. There is a YMCA presence at Chandler Hall. At one time the Y had requested the donation of land to build a gym in the Township. Reverend Sandra Reed of St. Mark’s AME Church in the Borough has also been investigating a possible community center. Ms. Dix and Mrs. Katz might want to contact Reverend Reed.
Resident Shawn Ward, an owner of a business on Sycamore Street and member of the Sycamore Street Community Association, said that money had been escrowed by a developer for a traffic signal at Silo Drive. He asked whether that would be installed, as traffic has become an issue at that intersection with Sycamore Street.
Dr. Ciervo said that the intersection has not met PennDOT warrants.
Melba Vittoriano, an owner of a Sycamore Street business, said that it has become dangerous to cross the street near Silo Drive. She urged the Board to address this safety concern.
The Board asked that the Planning Commission keep this in mind when they discuss Sycamore Street.
Dr. Ciervo said that he has a few other items he would like the Planning Commission’s input on, particularly protection of natural resources and agricultural soils in the Conservation Management Zoning District and whether a fee is collected for recreation for retail development.
Ms. Fountain said that retail is considered commercial development. The fee structure for park and open space is different for residential and for commercial development, but retail businesses would pay a fee.
The Board discussed an increase in waiver requests and variances for development and asked that, when reviewing plans for development, the Commission focus attention on the waivers and variances being requested.
Mr. Fisher said that as liaison to the Environmental Advisory Council he has been asked about environmental impact studies for development. Some municipalities do require such studies.
Ms. Fountain said that she has begun researching when such studies would be required; she will report to the Planning Commission on this.
Mr. Gallagher said that he had understood that the Board did not want an EAC review to become a step in the approval process.
Ms. Fountain said that she and Messrs. Ott and Fidler have been careful in reviewing Zoning Hearing Board applications. She said that other issues that might be considered for the Planning Commission are alternative energy and tree banks. The Ordinance requires tree replacement, and occasionally there might be a reason that replacement is not appropriate, but a fee in lieu might be considered.
Mr. Jirele said that the Jointure is currently discussing alternative energy regulations. He also thought that a tree bank might be something the EAC could discuss.
Mr. Ott briefly discussed some concerns he has about the Ordinance’s definitions of woodlands and some discrepancies between the maps included in the comprehensive plan and the woodlands as defined. He also asked that the Board revisit the streetscape plan for the Business Commons, as a few recent applicants have requested paying a fee in lieu or placing sidewalks elsewhere in the Commons when they would not have made any connections for pedestrian access through the Commons.
Mr. Katz asked whether there are any provisions in the Ordinance for alternative energy such as ground source heat pumps, and he questioned conflicts with homeowners association regulations that do not provide for alternative energy sources.
Mrs. Katz said that she would like an effort made to install sidewalks and crosswalks to encourage more pedestrian access. She noted that within the shopping centers, sidewalks are not being shoveled after snowstorms. She again spoke of the group that is eager to work with the Board and Borough Council on development of the downtown area. She asked any residents interested in becoming part of the group to write to email@example.com.
Historical Architectural Review Board: Frank Tyrol and Joseph McKiernan were in attendance to discuss HARB priorities for the coming year.
Mr. Jirele said that the priorities that the Board would like HARB to focus on are the sandwich board ordinance, signage throughout the historic district and the possible expansion of the historic district.
Mr. Tyrol presented a draft application for a renewable sandwich board license that has been developed by HARB with the Codes Department. This application clarifies the size, height and overall appearance of the permitted signs. Right now there are a variety of signs on the sidewalks. It is hoped that with the application and licensing process a more uniform appearance will result. There is a provision for businesses to appeal to the Board of Supervisors if they want a non-conforming sign. There needs to be some degree of flexibility because special circumstances do exist for some of the businesses on Sycamore Street.
Mr. Calabro and Mr. Jirele expressed a preference for uniformity of appearance and hoped that deviation would be rare.
Mr. Ward noted that the application would be an administrative procedure if the signage were in compliance with provisions of the Ordinance. If there is a request for some deviation, the applicant would have to first appear before HARB for a recommendation of approval by the Board of Supervisors.
Mr. Lombardi said that most of the business owners on Sycamore Street are eager to comply. The biggest difference seems to be color. Mr. Calla of the Codes Department has agreed to meet with the Sycamore Street Community Association to review the application.
The Board agreed to place this matter on an upcoming regular Board meeting for formal approval.
Mr. Gallagher suggested that HARB be asked for input on architectural styles that would be appropriate on Sycamore Street as properties become available for redevelopment.
Mr. McKiernan said that he has worked with other municipalities to produce brochures outlining acceptable styles for historic districts.
Mr. Jirele reminded the Board that the Acme site is not in the historic district.
Swamp Road Traffic Issues: Residents John Selitto and Eleanor Lyons presented the Board with a letter dated February 3, 2009, outlining the history of PennDOT’s Swamp Road Improvement Project and the residents’ many concerns with ongoing traffic issues. The Swamp Road Residents Group (SRRG) is asking the Board to forward a letter to PennDOT supporting the following requests:
The Board reviewed each item on the list. Regarding item #1, Mr. Jirele said that the Jointure will be reviewing road classifications throughout the Jointure during the coming year. The classification would dictate the zoning of the road, and would impact setbacks and rights of way. While PennDOT takes a view only regarding traffic, the Jointure must consider the development impact of reclassification.
Referring to item #2, foliage, Ms. Lyons asked if there are any grants or programs for planting buffers.
Resident Moe Sood asked whether other barriers might also be available to muffle some of the sound.
Mr. Jirele said that he is aware of petitions elsewhere in the Township and the County for sound barrier walls, but these petitions have not been successful.
Regarding item #3, Mr. Jirele said that a reduction to 40 MPH on Swamp Road to match the 40 MPH speed limit on the same road in Wrightstown might be a more successful request.
Regarding item #4, Mr. Czajkowski said that PennDOT would not install the signs elsewhere because of the grade of the road. There are safety concerns with prohibiting the use of jake brakes. He did not think that rewording of the sign to say “except for emergencies” would be effective, as it would be impossible to enforce. Emergencies are frequently a matter of perception.
The Board was supportive of installation of a three way stop sign at the intersection with Twining Bridge Road. Dr. Ciervo said that perhaps with a reduction in the speed limit and the installation of the stop sign at Twining Bridge Road there could be a reduction in the need to use the jake brakes.
Mr. Jirele asked whether there was support for the stop signs and intersection crossings at Colonial Commons, as this could increase the noise levels from the trucks.
Mr. Sood assured the Board that all of the Colonial Commons residents have been made aware of the request and have signed petitions requesting the improvements.
Mr. Jirele agreed that item #7, paving of the covered bridge entrance would be a good idea for safety reasons.
Mr. Gallagher said that PennDOT would not create an additional entrance to the College, as requested in item #8. This would have to be done by the County.
The Board agreed that further reconstruction of the Temora Farm bridge seems unnecessary, as there have recently been improvements. Mr. Jirele suggested sending a separate letter asking that this project be removed from the TIP.
The Board discussed whether there would be any stimulus money for road projects in Bucks County. Mr. Czajkowski said that he did not think there were any projects in Southeastern Pennsylvania included in the stimulus.
Mr. Selitto said that he would like the Board to request all of the items outlined in the letter. He felt that a long list would be a starting point for negotiations.
The Board discussed the list and agreed that some additional information would be needed for any letter, but that they would like to send a separate letter requesting Temora Farm bridge be removed from the TIP, and that the list include some very specific information on the other requests. It was agreed that reduction in speed limit to “match Wrightstown’s” would be a more effective response. Reclassification of the road would be discussed and addressed at the Jointure.
Board of Supervisors 2009 Priorities
Mr. Jirele asked each Supervisor to discuss his priorities, concerns and goals for 2009.
Mr. Gallagher said that he would like the municipal complex to be the number one priority. Not yet thoroughly addressed are technology uses in the building and furniture. He said that he would like the technology committee to discuss uses such as internet access in the building’s meeting room, and possibly on the dais. He thought that if laptops could be tied into the video feed for the television broadcast, plans could be shown electronically to the viewing public, rather than using cameras focusing on drawings on easels.
Regarding environmental issues, he would like to know what other municipalities are doing regarding energy. He would also like to investigate some trail extensions. Tied in to environmental issues, and to some extent budget issues, he said he would like to learn more about “going paperless.”
Mr. Calabro suggested that the Township might consider use of hybrid cars.
Mr. Gallagher said his third priority would be budget maintenance. He said that in the current economy it will be more important for the Board to track revenues and expenditures on a monthly basis.
Mr. Gallagher’s fourth priority would be promoting business and economic development. Tied to this would be further investigation into availability of public transportation.
His last priority would be preservation of open space. He noted that he has discussed his priorities on a Web site, www.newtowntownship.net.
Dr. Ciervo said that his first priority would be identifying parcels suitable for open space preservation and working with those parcels’ owners for possible purchase and preservation. He would like a more detailed, or line item, treasurer’s report each month. He would also like to complete the Terry Drive extension and the improvements to the intersection at Swamp and Eagle Roads.
Mr. Czajkowski said that the Swamp and Eagle Road improvements should begin shortly.
Mr. Calabro said that his first priority would be completion of work on Sycamore Street, including review of zoning and development of vacant parcels and the Acme site. His second priority would be completion of the Woll tract so that some use by residents would begin this year. He would like to see the business community organized into a chamber of commerce, and he would like the traffic concerns on the Bypass resolved.
Mr. Jirele said that his priorities would be Inter-municipal cooperation, open space, monitoring of the budget and trails. He would also like to further review current office research zoning and possible changes to permitted uses.
The Board briefly discussed the role of the Newtown Corporation in developing and promoting business throughout the Township. It was agreed that the Board would develop a specific charge for Newtown Corporation, with requests for regular updates and reports, creation of inventories of current businesses and vacancies and available land.
Dr. Ciervo said that he would like preservation of open space to be the top priority for the Board.
Mr. Calabro said that he would be interested in actively pursuing the reduction and elimination of paper, as suggested by Mr. Gallagher.
Regarding the preservation of open space, Mr. Czajkowski said that many neighboring municipalities have established subcommittees charged with identifying parcels and meeting with the landowners.
Mr. Sensibaugh said that he had suggested that the open space subcommittee, made up of representatives of the Board, the Park and Recreation Board, the Planning Commission and the Environmental Advisory Council not be disbanded, but continue to work together to pursue projects and identify suitable parcels. He noted that both Newtown Borough and Wrightstown might have projects that could be pursued together.
After some further discussion, the Board agreed to the following priorities:
Mrs. Dix asked whether the Board knew when or whether there would be another presentation for development of the Acme site. She also asked about the traffic committee.
Mr. Jirele said that McGrath will be making another presentation some time in April for the Acme site. The Board adopted a resolution for a traffic committee at its last regular meeting.
Mr. Katz said that certain roads are in very bad condition and he urged the Board to address this. In particular he noted Worthington Mill Road at the bridge and Jefferson Street at the bridge.
Mr. Jirele said that Worthington Mill Road is not in Newtown Township and that there has been very little interest among the nearby community to improve it. The portion of Jefferson Street that Mr. Katz commented on is in Newtown Borough and is a state road.
Dr. Ciervo said that he would like the Board outline what it expects Newtown Corporation to work on. He suggested sending a letter asking for some specific information and some specific goals and priorities. He said that he would like Newtown Corporation to promote business in the shopping centers to fill some of the vacancies. He would also like Newtown Corporation to finalize its association with the Newtown Business Commons Association.
Mr. Jirele suggested that the Board discuss goals for the Newtown Corporation at an upcoming meeting.
Mrs. Katz noted that the business community is being welcome and asked whether the Board would also welcome the group she has been organizing,
Mr. Jirele suggested that either the group come to a work session for some back and forth conversation, or members could come to the regular Board meetings to give public comment.
The meeting adjourned at 10:00 PM.