Board of Supervisors
Minutes of November 18, 2009
The Newtown Township Board of Supervisors met on November 18, 2009 in the Township meeting room at 7:30 PM. In attendance and voting were Supervisors: Chairman Robert Ciervo, Vice Chairman Mike Gallagher, Secretary/Treasurer Matthew Benchener, Philip Calabro, member. Also present were: Joseph Czajkowski, Township Manager, Jeffrey Garton, Township Solicitor William Bolla, Special Counsel and Michele Fountain, Township Engineer.
Call to Order: Chairman Ciervo called the regular meeting to order at 7:30 PM with a moment of silence and an invocation by Father John Atkins of Holy Nativity Church. This was followed by the Pledge of Allegiance.
Changes to the Agenda: Mr. Czajkowski said that the Zoning Hearing Board application for Newtown Pavilion would be discussed under Section 8A of the agenda, and under Solicitor’s Report, consideration of an Ordinance changing Township stop signs and speed limits would be added.
Public Comment: Kara Godwin of Newtown Borough asked whether she could discuss a traffic study to be done for the Promenade.
Dr. Ciervo said that public comment on aspects of the Promenade would be discussed during the land development portion of the agenda.
Resident John D’Aprile asked that a fan be used to create the impression that the flag is waving during the Pledge of Allegiance.
Newtown Borough Mayor Dennis O’Brien, speaking as President of the Newtown Library Company, requested that the Board reconsider its decision to cut its annual donation to the Library. He reviewed the Library’s history, noting that at one point the Library was about to begin selling some of its historic assets, but Newtown Township and Borough began providing annual funding. He noted that the Library depends on this and other fundraising activities, as it receives no County or State funding and the membership dues has been $1.00 since the time of Edward Hicks.
Resident David Krusen said that he is a former Township Solicitor and a lifetime resident and current member of the Library’s Board. He discussed the importance of reading in developing well rounded residents and the need for Township support of the Library, just as the Township supports athletics by building and maintaining fields.
Donna Gusti of Newtown Borough, a member of the Library Board, thanked the Board for its past support of the Library and asked for its continued support. She noted that the State has recently cut its support of the County library system, leaving the Newtown Library the only library in the area with Thursday and Friday hours.
Minutes, Bills Lists and Reports
Minutes: Mr. Benchener moved to accept the minutes of the regular meeting of November 9, 2009. Mr. Calabro seconded and the motion passed 4-0.
Bills: Mr. Benchener moved to authorize payment of bills totaling $386,956.12. Mr. Gallagher seconded and the motion passed 4-0.
Mr. Benchener moved to authorize interfund transfers totaling $180,000. Mr. Gallagher seconded and the motion passed 4-0.
Reports of Officials
Chairman: Dr. Ciervo reported that the Council Rock School Board would be discussing whether to extend its contract with Toll Brothers to sell the Melsky tract at its meeting on November 19, 2009 at 7:30 PM. He urged those interested to attend and participate in the discussion.
Board Members: Mr. Calabro asked the Board whether there would be further discussion of the Board’s contributions to libraries during the budget discussion.
Dr. Ciervo said that the Board would continue its consideration of annual contributions before the vote to hang the budget.
Mr. Benchener reported that beginning in December, the Financial Planning Committee would begin giving the Board monthly reports.
Planning Commission: Chairman Allen Fidler reported that at its November 17, 2009 meeting the Commission reviewed the Zoning Hearing Board application of Newtown Pavilion Associates seeking a variance to permit a front yard fence for a childcare facility in Newtown Business Commons. The Commission discussed with the applicant its concerns for the safety of the children in the playground, which will be on the Newtown Yardley Road side of the building. The drop-off arrangements and the doorways from the building to the playground were reviewed. The Commission urged the applicant to consider sturdy plantings and bollards along the Newtown Yardley Road and the parking lot sides of the fence to protect the children in the event that a vehicle loses control and jumps a curb. It was noted that the application may need to be amended to include a variance for a 4-6 foot fence in a front yard, where 3 feet is the maximum permitted height. After urging the applicant to prepare to address these and other concerns the Board of Supervisors and the Zoning Hearing Board might have, The Commission agreed to forward this application without a recommendation that the Board take any position in support or opposition.
The Commission discussed the current Ordinance’s fence regulations and would recommend that in the near future the Board consider a possible revision of the Ordinance, as commercially produced fences are available in 4 and 6 foot heights and the Ordinance permitted height maximum is 5 feet. A five foot fence is required for pools, for example. The Commission members do not think that a six foot fence should always require a Zoning Hearing Board variance, particularly when the fence is to be surrounding a pool. A review of the permitted fence heights in side and front yards for properties with no rear yard, such as corner properties and those backing onto busy roadways might also be considered. This is also a concern for the Jointure partners.
Mr. Gallagher agreed that the fence ordinance should be reviewed in the new year.
Historical Architectural Review Board: HARB member Harriet Beckert presented a recommendation for a certificate of appropriateness for AT&T, 3 Durham Road. She noted that the corporate logo has changed to a very bright shade of orange. After some discussion with the applicant a more muted shade was agreed upon.
Mr. Gallagher moved to authorize a certificate of appropriateness for AT&T, 3 Durham Road, as outlined in a memo dated November 12, 2009. Mr. Benchener seconded and the motion passed 4-0.
Mrs. Beckert reviewed the application of Promenade, 200 North Sycamore Street. She noted that the applicant has made a number of revisions to create the impression that the structure consists of four attached buildings instead of one large building. Included in these changes are changes in the façade materials to stucco, clapboard and stone, modifications in the color of bricks and stucco, and wrought iron railings on the balconies. Window sizes have been adjusted to further create the impression of four buildings. Windows will have divided lights.
Mr. Calabro moved to approve the certificate of appropriateness of the Promenade at 200 North Sycamore Street, as outlined in the application dated October 5, 2009. Mr. Gallagher seconded.
Discussion of motion: Dr. Ciervo thanked the applicant for working closely with HARB to satisfy its concerns.
Resident David Katz asked whether there is a system in place to insure that the building complies with the approved certificate of appropriateness.
Mr. Garton said that compliance would be a condition of the land development approval and would be inspected by the Codes Inspector.
Mrs. Beckert said that HARB also inspects for compliance.
The motion passed 4-0.
Mrs. Beckert reported that HARB is near completion of the style and color portion of its design guide book. When completed the book will reflect the discussions of the Planning Commission on the TC District and Sycamore Street.
Zoning Hearing Board Applications
Newtown Pavilion Associates, LLC, 6 Penns Trail: Evan Lambrose was in attendance to review this application for a variance for a fence for a childcare facility. He noted that this property has two front yards. He is amenable to all of the Planning Commission’s suggestions regarding bollards and plantings. He noted that the Ordinance requires a four foot fence for a play yard. There is a section of the Ordinance limiting front yard fences to 3 feet, but it appears this might only apply to residential uses.
Mr. Benchener asked why the height is limited to 3 feet in the front yard.
Mr. Garton said that it is probably an aesthetic reason. This property has two front yards.
Mr. Lambrose noted that the fence is on the side of the building and will be screened by trees and plantings. It is about 25 feet from the road and the land is bermed, further screening the fence. In response to Board questions he said the facility will be for children from infancy through kindergarten, a maximum of 82 children.
The Board passed this application to the Zoning Hearing Board without comment.
The Promenade at Sycamore Street, 200 N. Sycamore Street – Preliminary as Final Plan: Attorney William Bolla represented the Township in this application.
Attorney Ed Murphy represented the applicant for this preliminary/final plan for land development for the proposed development of 1.96 acres for six retail stores and 25 residential condominiums with associated parking and stormwater facilities in the TC Town Commercial Zoning District. Since the Board last saw the proposal as a sketch plan and as a Zoning Hearing Board application, the plans have been revised to comply with recommendations of the Planning Commission’s reviews of September 29 and October 15, 2009. The Planning Commission conditioned its recommendation of approval on the plans being revised before appearing here. That has been done so that the plans comply with the CKS letter of November 11, 2009.
Mr. Murphy said that the plans will comply with the Carroll Engineering letter dated November 10, 2009. The comments of the Newtown Borough traffic engineer have been reviewed by McMahon Associates. There has been no further response from Newtown Borough’s traffic engineer.
Dr. Ciervo asked the Board to discuss any concerns about the requested waivers.
Mr. Gallagher asked about comments regarding the drainage plans.
Mr. Murphy explained that there had been some concern that the stormwater plans would have required disruption of Sycamore Street. One of the Planning Commission members offered a suggestion, which has been adopted. This will avoid additional digging on Sycamore Street to address the flow from the site to the storm sewer.
Ms. Fountain said that the storm sewers are at the minimum allowable slope, but they are acceptable.
Mr. Benchener asked about the left turn from Jefferson Street.
Mr. Murphy said that the applicant will be working with both the Township and Borough to address concerns about the left hand turn.
Mr. Calabro asked about the willingness of the applicant to continue to address the Sycamore Street traffic concerns after approval is granted and building is completed. He noted that the Promenade is not the only project which will impact traffic on Sycamore Street.
Mr. Murphy said that the applicant will revisit the traffic concerns after the building is completed and occupied.
Mr. Benchener suggested that more definitive language than “revisit” be used to address the applicant’s responsibility after completion of the project.
Joseph DeSantis of McMahon Associates said that he had worked for the original Sycamore Street Committee as well as being the traffic engineer on this project. He conducted a traffic study in July of 2009, revised in September 2009. He worked with the Planning Commission and reviewed the studies with the Newtown Borough Traffic Engineer. The Borough Engineer’s comments have been discussed and addressed. The proposed project is not a significant traffic generator; the ITE statistics indicate that the trips generated are fewer than had been generated by the Acme. The highest volume of trips generated at the peak PM hour by the Acme would have been 100, 50 in and 50 out. With the proposed condominium and retail use, the highest volume at the peak hour is 70 trips.
Mr. DeSantis explained that during the critical PM peak hour there are 1200 trips on Sycamore Street; the Promenade’s impact is not significant. The level of service would not change by the addition of 70 trips.
Mr. DeSantis discussed the existing problem of westbound traffic on Jefferson Street heading toward Sycamore Street. This could be addressed by an increased green light time on Jefferson Street. He has also considered a right turn on red, but there is a sight distance problem. An advance left from Jefferson Street was considered, but there are too few vehicles making the left turn; this would not alleviate any difficulties. He evaluated the possibility of banning left turns from Jefferson to Sycamore, which could help some, but would impact Washington Avenue. Washington Avenue and State Street were included in consideration of all of the possible changed traffic patterns. His opinion is to change the timing on the traffic light to allow a longer green light on Jefferson Street. This will allow more cars to turn from Jefferson and alleviate the back-up, without causing significant back-up of cars on Sycamore Street waiting for the green light. If there is no improvement in traffic with the timing adjusted, then a restriction of left turns could be considered. Mr. DeSantis urged the Board to first evaluate the results of the timing change before making a decision to restrict left turns. He said that he did evaluate making Jefferson Street a one-way street, but that negatively impacted Washington Avenue.
Mr. Calabro said that the Acme has been abandoned for many years. It is not appropriate to compare the traffic from the Acme to the traffic generated by the proposed new use.
Mr. DeSantis explained that he had included the trips generated by the 17000 square foot grocery store for information only. He did consider that the Acme had two entrances, which might have influenced traffic flow. The traffic study he presented considered that the site is currently generating no traffic, and will add 70 trips at peak.
Dr. Ciervo questioned the square footage attributed to the old Acme, as he thought it was considerably smaller.
Mr. DeSantis said that the abandoned building was surveyed. The 17000 square feet is accurate. He briefly discussed the trip generation for a grocery at peak PM hours would be different than trips generated by specialty retail, as is proposed for the Promenade. The grocery would generate a different number of trips than a convenience store.
Township Traffic Engineer Andrew Brown said that he has reviewed McMahon Associates studies and agrees with them. He confirmed that numbers used in this evening’s presentations are accurate. ITE Trip Generation is the standard used by traffic engineers. Variance from the numbers used by ITE is about 3% in either direction.
Mr. Calabro said that the Planning Commission had discussed possibly using a delayed red light at Sycamore Street to allow additional left turns. He asked if Mr. Brown agreed with Mr. DeSantis’ recommendation not to implement that solution.
Mr. Brown said that a delayed left turn would not really help with backed up traffic because it would take away from the right turn’s green time.
Mr. Benchener asked if Mr. Brown concurred with McMahon’s recommendations.
Mr. Brown said that he would agree with the McMahon recommendation to lengthen the green time on Jefferson Street and evaluate it for a period of about one year after completion of the project. If the changed timing is not helpful, then it might be appropriate to consider restricting left turns from Jefferson onto Sycamore Street.
Dr. Ciervo asked that copies of the traffic study be made available to interested residents of the Township and Borough. He noted that the intersection of Jefferson and Sycamore and State is already a problem. He asked if State Street had been included in the studies.
Mr. DeSantis said that State and Washington were considered in the studies. He believed that the adjustment to the light at Sycamore Street would alleviate some of the back-ups at the State Street intersection as well.
Mike Sellers of Newtown Borough Council thanked both the Township and the developers for their cooperation with the Borough Council and Borough residents. He indicated that the Borough will soon be facing similar development plans at the Stockburger property and would extend the same courtesy to the Township. Mr. Sellers said that the traffic study did not include Borough intersections; this study is still necessary, as the traffic will greatly impact Borough streets. He expressed some concern about a lack of clarity and the deferment of resolution of traffic concerns until completion of the project. He asked the Board to postpone a decision on the project until the Borough engineers have had sufficient time to further review and comment on traffic information.
Dr. Ciervo said that while he has had similar concerns, the applicant has addressed all of the Board’s concerns to the satisfaction of our traffic engineer.
Gerard O’Malley, a Borough representative of the Joint Traffic Committee, said that the Borough traffic engineer had prepared a response to the traffic study in which it is noted that Borough intersections were not included in the study. This is one of three sites which will see development in the coming years, along with Stockburger’s Chevy and Chrysler properties. He urged an expanded traffic study. The Joint Traffic Committee has made four recommendations:
Mr. Gallagher asked Mr. O’Malley to elaborate on the cap suggestion.
Mr. O’Malley said that a limit on the number of trips generated by the Promenade should be adopted. With each conditional use application, the amount of trips generated should be considered and deducted from the topmost limit. Once that limit is reached conditional uses should be denied.
Mr. Gallagher said that he does not think placing a cap would work, as all tenants might not be known and there can be a turnover of tenants. Regarding Silo Drive, the developer cannot be held responsible for intersections beyond his development.
Dr. Ciervo noted that PennDOT does not feel a traffic light is warranted at the Silo Drive intersection. Changing the traffic pattern could negatively impact the businesses at that end of Sycamore Street.
Mr. Benchener said that he has concerns that the variance in predicted trips might be more than has been indicated. He would favor placing a cap on the number of trips.
Mr. Gallagher said that he does not agree with this idea, especially since it could place the burden on the last space to be leased.
Mr. Benchener said that he would like to adjust the language in the condition that the Jefferson Street traffic issue would be “revisited”.
Mr. Bolla, Mr. Murphy and Ms. Fountain discussed ways to strengthen the language. Ms. Fountain noted that escrow is held for 18 months after completion of the project. Release of escrow could be conditioned on addressing the traffic concerns.
Mr. Murphy said that the traffic engineers have indicated that within six months of the issuance of the last certificate of occupancy, a new study would show whether the timing change has been effective or whether further adjustments are needed. The application would agree to having the release of escrow coincide with the requirement to reevaluate the traffic study.
Mr. Sellers said that this condition assumes that the traffic will be okay and will only require tweaking. He again urged the Board to postpone approval until Borough engineers have had sufficient time to review the studies.
Mr. Murphy said that the Borough has been provided with all studies and took three weeks to respond to them. Newtown Township’s consultants and the applicant’s consultants have been very quick to turn things around. He urged the Board to move forward.
The Board further discussed the “revisiting” and agreed that six months after issuance of the last CO an additional study should be conducted to evaluate whether additional measures should be taken to alleviate traffic on Jefferson Street.
In response to Mr. Benchener’s further asking for a cap on the permitted number of trips, Mr. Murphy explained that such a condition of approval would make it impossible to get financing to complete the project.
The Township professionals agreed with this statement.
Dr. Ciervo noted that every prospective retail tenant would need a conditional use approval. The Board will have an opportunity to review every tenant’s application. He, Mr. Calabro and Mr. Gallagher all agreed that they would not support a cap on trips permitted.
Dr. Ciervo noted that the Planning Commission has recommended that the Board accept a fee in lieu of dedication of open space. That fee would be about $160,000 to be paid to the Park and Recreation Capital Fund. Would the applicant agree to allowing $10,000 of that money to go to the General Fund to be used for Board contributions to the libraries.
Mr. Murphy indicated that the applicant would agree to that and would also make a $5000 contribution to the Newtown Library Company.
Dr. Ciervo said that while he did not initially support this project, the applicant has worked with the Zoning Hearing Board, the Planning Commission and HARB and has produced a plan that has met all of the recommendations and requirements of these entities. He is now ready to support a motion to approve.
Mr. Gallagher move to approve Preliminary/Final Land Development plan of 200 North Sycamore Street, tax map parcel 29-10-7, prepared by Van Cleef Engineering, dated July 29, 2009 and last revised November 4, 2009, subject to the following conditions
Discussion of motion: Resident David Katz said that the Acme has been closed for seven years. The impact of the new building should be compared to the current circumstances on Sycamore Street.
Mr. Murphy said that the study did not consider traffic from the former Acme but used numbers for the way Sycamore Street is now.
Mr. Katz asked if the applicant can be required to address traffic in the Borough after completion of the project if the impact is greater than the study had indicated.
Mr. Bolla said that this is not an action this Board could take.
Resident Karen D’Aprile urged the Board to approve this plan to move forward to developing the site.
Mr. Sellers said that the Borough appreciates the cooperation between the two municipalities and understands that the Board must act in the best interest of the Township. He looks forward to continued cooperation between the two municipalities.
The motion passed 4-0.
Reports of Officials
Hanging of Budget: Mr. Czajkowski said that the Board must vote this evening to authorize advertising of the budget. He provided the members with copies of a revision which includes the recommendations made at the last Board meeting. The staff has reviewed the expenditures and have made further reductions. The Park and Recreation Fund has been moved to the General Fund.
Mr. Garton explained that this vote would be to authorize advertisement. Further changes can be made to the budget provided no change alters the budget more than 10% in the aggregate and no one major category has a change greater than 25%.
In response to Dr. Ciervo’s question, Mr. Czajkowski said that the Rescue Squad is now a line item in the Public Safety budget.
Mr. Benchener asked whether any amendments to the budget made this evening would be included in the authorization to advertise.
Mr. Garton said that the Board could authorize to advertise the budget as amended this evening.
Mr. Gallagher suggested that the $10,000 added to the general fund by the Promenade be designated as donations of $5000 to Newtown Library Company and $5000 to Wrightstown Library.
Dr. Ciervo said that these are donations. They should be carefully considered as the Township will already need to dip into the reserve fund to balance the budget. First Fourth has been eliminated and Newtown Corporation has been reduced. The Board appoints the Newtown Corporation Board of Directors, so the Township has some input there.
Mr. Calabro said that the Rescue Squad dedicated tax had been eliminated, which had been about $9 per household. Now the Rescue Squad is given 25% of the Local Services Tax, which was about $98,000. He suggested reducing the amount given to the Rescue Squad and instead using it to fund the local charities. He said that if $20,000 were taken from the Rescue Squad it would be enough to fund the libraries. He also suggested removing the funding from the Newtown Corporation.
Dr. Ciervo said that he was not willing to reduce the Rescue Squad budget. He said that the $10,000 from Promenade would be going to the libraries. The Newtown Corporation is an investment in the Township’s business community.
The Board discussed a possible reduction of the Rescue Squad contribution. Dr. Ciervo noted that the Board had passed a resolution giving the Squad a percentage of the Local Services Tax. That would also have to be reviewed. He noted that with the passage of the resolution, the Board had also eliminated the Rescue Squad’s use of the Township gas for vehicles.
Mr. Calabro said that he is still concerned about eliminating the contributions to the libraries, the Senior Center and First Fourth.
The Board discussed whether to divide the $10,000 from McGrath to be shared by the two libraries. Mr. Gallagher and Mr. Calabro favored sharing the contribution. Dr. Ciervo felt that the Wrightstown Library is supported by the State and County, while Newtown Library gets no such support.
Mr. Czajkowski suggested leaving the $10000 as a line item for contributions but postponing the allocation until later.
Mr. Gallagher said that it would appear that any additional changes that might occur would not change the aggregate more than 10%. The budget should be advertised and made available to the public.
The Board discussed changing its fee schedule. Mr. Czajkowski reported that he has researched surrounding municipalities’ fees and found that Newtown’s are lower. They have not been adjusted since 2007.
The members agreed that fee increases should be implemented, as they only impact those with projects.
Mr. Benchener said that he would like to revisit the projected revenue for real estate transfer taxes. He had thought that there would be an increase, but very recent financial information indicates that this might have been wrong. He suggested using a projection of $650,000.
Mr. Calabro said that he would agree to this reduction or to $600,000 as originally proposed.
Mr. Gallagher said that the projection should be based on 2009’s revenues, which are close to $700,000.
The members agreed to leave the revenue from real estate transfers at $700,000.
Mr. Gallagher moved to authorize advertisement of the budget for 2010. Mr. Benchener seconded.
Discussion of motion: Resident Ethel Hibbs asked whether the Township is “poor” and whether expenses would be met. She is concerned that services the Township residents use are being cut. She is particularly concerned that Newtown’s First Night is no longer being supported, when 10,000 people participate in this event. She said that she is also concerned about the removal of contributions to Wrightstown Library. About 80% of the users of the Library are Newtown residents.
Dr. Ciervo said that Berkheimer is projecting flat revenues. First Night had been removed from the budget last year, because this is a for-profit business undertaking which has done well without the contribution. The allocation of contributions to the libraries has not yet been decided. Some further discussion will take place on that.
Mrs. Hibbs asked about removing the Park and Recreation Fund to the General Fund. She had concerns about measuring the recreation’s self-sufficiency.
Mr. Czajkowski said that as part of the general fund, Park and Recreation would still have its own budget line item.
Mr. Benchener said that this would make the use of funds more flexible.
Donna Gusti thanked the Board of working to continue supporting Newtown Library Company, which depends on donations and contributions.
Resident John D’Aprile said that he knows this is a tough year. He urged the Board to put safety first; to fund the police, fire and rescue before Park and Rec and libraries.
The motion passed 3-0-1, with Mr. Calabro abstaining.
Brad MCGowan, Lot #2, 12 Old Frost lane, Consideration of a New Use: Mr. McGowan was in attendance to ask the Board to support a duplex use on his property. The property has a historic building, but it is next to Newtown Rental Center and TD Bank. He provided photographs showing the views of parking lots from the home. He said that the property has been on the market for 20 months. It is now vacant and boarded up and very unsightly. The only interest in the property has been for commercial/office use.
Mr. McGowan provided a floor plan for the house, noting that it has two front doors and two staircases. He said it was probably used as a two family house at one time. He would like to renovate it to be two rental units.
Mr. Garton said that he would need to review the ordinance to determine whether this is a permitted use in the R-1 Zoning District or whether a variance would be needed.
Mr. McGowan said that he had not anticipated the problems the property would have when he agreed to move the house. He had moved other historic homes, renovated and sold the properties. This one has been difficult because of its proximity to commercial properties. This would be one lot, not a twin home on two lots. He would rent both units.
The Board agreed that if there was no objection from the immediate neighbors it would support this new use.
Ordinance Changing Township Speed Limits and Stop Signs: Mr. Garton explained that this ordinance would make legal stops signs and speed limits which are already in existence.
Mr. Gallagher moved to adopt Ordinance 2009-O-1, establishing a speed limit for motor vehicles on certain streets and roads located within Newtown Township and also establishing stop signs and removing stop signs at various intersections within the Township. Mr. Benchener seconded and the motion passed 4-0.
Public Comment: Mr. D’Aprile thanked the Board for its work on the budget.
Mrs. Beckert said that the McGowan building is a historic structure. She urged the Board to cooperate with the owner’s attempts to occupy it so that it does not fall into further disrepair.
Resident John Dix said that he lives behind the McGowan property. He had supported Mr. McGowan’s proposal for an office on the property but is not sure he supports two rental units.
New Business: Mr. Benchener said that he would like the Board to take a position on the proposed Aria Hospital in Lower Makefield. The location of a hospital on this site will impact Newtown residents greatly.
Mr. Garton said that the Township has intervened in the Zoning Hearing Board application of Aria. Lower Makefield has appealed that decision. He would draft a resolution for the Board’s consideration.
The meeting adjourned at 11:50 PM.