Board of Supervisors
Minutes of January 27, 2010
The Newtown Township Board of Supervisors met on January 27, 2010 in the Township meeting room at 7:30 PM. In attendance and voting were Supervisors: Chairman Michael Gallagher, Vice Chairman, Robert Ciervo, Secretary/Treasurer Matthew Benchener and Philip Calabro, member. Also present were: John Boyle, Assistant Township Manager, Jeffrey Garton, Township Solicitor and Michele Fountain, Township Engineer.
Call to Order: Chairman Gallagher called the regular meeting to order at 7:30 PM with a moment of silence and an invocation by Reverend Blake Blakesley of Newtown Presbyterian Church. This was followed by the Pledge of Allegiance.
Public Comment: Resident Karen Brask said that she has some concerns about the safety of the full upright curbs recently installed as traffic calming on Stoopville Road. As a professional driving instructor working with teens, she is very aware that these curbs are unexpected and can cause serious accidents if drivers run into them. She suggested that enforcing the speed limit would help more with traffic calming than these medians.
Mr. Gallagher said that the Board has discussed some similar concerns and has asked Gilmore & Associates to attend the February work session to discuss this further.
Mr. Benchener said that the traffic committee has had similar concerns. Some of the committee’s members are professional traffic engineers. He will ask them for some input on solutions to the current concerns.
Dr. Ciervo said that he agreed with Mrs. Brask’s concerns but had hoped that when the project is completed and the medians are planted and the road is no longer a construction site, the medians will seem less abrupt and unexpected.
Resident Jay Sensibaugh said that the Board had discussed salary freezes of Township employees in the current budget and asked whether Township employees had been given raises.
Mr. Gallagher said that only those employees whose contracts included raises received and increase. There has not yet been any resolution to the Board’s request that contracted employees’ salaries be frozen.
Resident Jim McBride, speaking as president of the Foxhall Estates Homeowners Association thanked Ms. Fountain for working with the HOA to resolve its issues with Orleans Homebuilders. There are still some items outstanding on the punch list. Mr. McBride asked whether the Township would draw down on the escrow to address this and whether any escrow release is proposed in the near future.
Mr. Garton explained that Orleans’ letter of credit has been extended, so no drawdown would occur. It is better for all if Orleans addresses the outstanding punch list items, as it would be considerably more costly for the Township to become involved in trying to hire contractors to complete the work.
Mr. Gallagher asked that the Foxhall HOA be notified if any escrow release or drawdown is to take place.
Ms. Fountain said that Orleans has asked for an escrow release. The value of the outstanding work to be completed is about 25% of the amount in escrow. Money would remain in the account to cover the outstanding work.
Mr. McBride asked that no funds be released until all work has been completed. He has some concerns about working with the developer if escrow is not withheld.
Mr. Garton said that the letter of credit has been extended until February. The Board would discuss this on a February agenda. It is his understanding that some of the outstanding work involves landscaping, so he would not expect that this will have been resolved by February. The Township has an obligation to release the escrow for completed work; the value of unfinished punch list work will be calculated and an appropriate amount will be withheld form escrow release. This amount would be adequate if the Township were to have to assume responsibility for completion of the work. The HOA would be asked to confirm the punch list before any escrow is released.
Mr. McBride said that in addition to the landscaping items, two homes do not have permanent Certificates of Occupancy.
Resident Ron Kaizar said that he had recently read of a proposal made by State Senator Santarsiero which would allow those who have been unemployed for three months to be excused from paying real estate taxes. He questioned how such a proposal would impact municipalities such as Newtown and how such a program could be monitored.
Mr. Gallagher explained that our real estate taxes fund the fire department and the debt service fund, which pays the bond for the new municipal complex. The tax is more static than Township revenues from other sources. It would have some impact if large amounts of real estate taxes were uncollected. It had been his understanding, however, that this was a proposal to defer, not forgive the tax.
Dr. Ciervo said he had seen the same article Mr. Kaizar referenced, but has not found any bill pending. The article later said that the tax would be paid by the State, but it was not clear how municipalities would collect. He asked Mr. Boyle to see if there is any additional information available on this proposal through PSATS.
Resident John D’Aprile congratulated the Board on the new building and wished them luck in making good decisions in the new setting. He said that he agreed with Mrs. Brask about the medians for traffic calming on Stoopville Road, which seem dangerous. He mentioned that he would be supportive of a decision to freeze the salaries of Township employees in the current economy.
Resident Ann Robert thanked the Board for its efforts to calm traffic on Stoopville Road. She said that she lives on Stoopville Road and would like to see more and better enforcement of the speed limit.
Mr. Gallagher said that with the traffic calming in place speeds might be reduced, after which the Township could ask the state to lower the speed limit. He said that speed limits are set in part by the average speed traveled by 85% of motorists.
Minutes, Bills Lists and Reports
Minutes: Dr. Ciervo moved to accept the minutes of the regular meeting of January 13, 2010. Mr. Benchener seconded and the motion passed 4-0.
The recording secretary pointed to a typo on the second page, which will be corrected.
Bills: Mr. Benchener moved to authorize payment of bills totaling $322,943.24. Mr. Gallagher seconded
Discussion of motion: Dr. Ciervo questioned a bill from the League of Cities, whose membership the Board had voted to discontinue.
Mr. Gallagher asked Mr. Boyle to provide additional information on this bill. He noted that sometimes League of Cities provides certain training for employees. It could be that someone attended a class or a training program.
Dr. Ciervo asked that this payment be withheld until the information is presented to the Board.
Mr. Benchener amended his motion to remove the payment to League of Cities in the amount of $450.00. Mr. Gallagher amended his second and the motion passed 4-0.
Mr. Benchener moved to authorize interfund transfers totaling $200,000. Dr. Ciervo seconded and the motion passed 4-0.
Reports of Officials
Board Members: Mr. Calabro said that the dais should not be used for political campaigning; he felt that the exchange among Mr. Gallagher, Mr. Kaizar and Dr. Ciervo was meant as an opportunity for Dr. Ciervo to discuss his political position. He asked Mr. Gallagher, as chairman, to more carefully monitor political discussion.
Mr. Gallagher said that he had not considered that the discussion would be taken as political commentary, but instead was a response to a resident’s concern about Township revenues. He agreed with Mr. Calabro that the dais and podium should not be used as campaign forums and would be careful to monitor discussion.
Dr. Ciervo agreed with Mr. Calabro but said that in this instance he felt he was responding to a resident’s question, only.
Dr. Ciervo reported that the compost toilets will be installed in Roberts Ridge Park shortly. The installation was delayed because the Public Works Department has been very busy with snow removal, pothole repairs and the move to the new buildings. He noted that the Department has been doing an excellent job of filling potholes quickly. Public Works Director Crossland has indicated that Linton Hill Road at Washington Crossing Road will be the focus of road improvements this year.
Mr. Benchener said that he saw a recent newspaper article pointing out that Newtown Township has the lowest tax rates in this part of the County; this is a tribute to previous Boards, which have worked hard to keep expenses down.
Mr. Gallagher thanked the administration and staff for the extra work they did for the move; many employees gave up their Martin Luther King Day to help with the move.
Chairman Allen Fidler reported that at its January 19, 2010 meeting the Planning Commission reviewed the application of Bradley McGowan, 12 Old Frost Lane for conditional use approval for a B-16, residential conversion in the R-1, Medium Density Residential Zoning District. The members were very supportive of the effort to convert this historic structure to a duplex and recommended that the Board approve the application, subject to certain conditions. The Commission discussed at length the inclusion of a condition that “no hazardous, flammable or explosive materials shall be stored or used in the building” which is usually recommended for CU approvals, but agreed that such a condition could limit the residents of the two units from having outdoor grills or lawn care equipment. The Commission has not included that condition in the recommendation. The Commission also discussed whether to make reference to any restriction on a future condominium conversion, but decided not to restrict the property owner. The Commission recommends that two parking spaces be located in front of each unit, rather than the proposed four spaces together. This will require the applicant to relocate, at his own expense, the Township’s trail easement to the ultimate right-of-way. Any renovations to the façade of the structure must have HARB approval.
Mr. Calabro asked whether the applicant had indicated he might convert to condominiums.
Mr. Fidler said that was not the case; the Commission did not want to create a future hardship by adding additional constraints, but would defer to the Solicitor on this.
Mr. Fidler said that the Commission hadreceived an invitation from Borough Council member Mike Sellers to attend, along with the Borough Planning Commission, a visioning presentation of the Newtown Creek. The Commission feels this would be an opportunity to learn about some of the plans surrounding the Stockburger properties, which abut the Creek, as well as allow members to interact with Borough counterparts on issues of concern to both municipalities. The meeting has been scheduled for March 2, 2010 at the Chancellor Center. At this time it is not known whether the Commission would have a full agenda that evening but Mr. Fidler asked for Board input on the Commission’s proposed attendance and participation if regular Planning Commission scheduling permits it.
Mr. Benchener said that it would be a good idea for our Planning Commission to attend this meeting because of the impact the redevelopment of Stockburgers could have on the Township.
Mr. Gallagher said that he supports the Commission’s participation if the scheduling can be arranged. He reminded Mr. Fidler that the Township has acquired an easement for access to the Creek at the preserved open space at the Rockbridge property. This might be of interest in discussion of the Creek.
Mr. Fidler noted that Mr. Schenkman had approached the Borough about the Commission’s possible attendance at meetings when Stockburger is on the agenda. The Borough has indicated that our Planning Commission would be welcome to attend.
Historic Architectural Review Board
HARB member Harriet Beckert said that HARB is an advisory board which is authorized only in the Historic District if Sycamore Street. While its members are willing, and eager, to offer guidance to people who are renovating historic homes, HARB does not have any authority outside of the Historic District. She was not sure whether the Board could require HARB approval of the old farmhouse at 12 Frost Lane.
Mr. Garton said that HARBs are created by State Statute when historic districts are designated. He noted that the Jointure has been reviewing an amendment to the JMZO which would create an overlay for historic structures and properties.
Mr. Gallagher and Mr. Benchener suggested that HARB only offer some informal guidance for the renovation of 12 Frost Lane.
Dr. Ciervo suggested that representatives of HARB might want to attend when the historic overlay is on the Joint Planning Commission or Joint Zoning Council agenda.
The Green Parrot, 240 North Sycamore Street: Mrs. Beckert presented the application of The Green Parrot, 240 North Sycamore Street for certificates of appropriateness for six signs. She explained that HARB voted 5-1 to recommend that the Board approve the signs, but had concerns that the logo sign is not necessary and is not, as presented by the applicant, an architectural element. The applicant had also presented the total square footage of all signs as less than what would be permitted for four signs. The ordinance does not consider total square footage, but only per sign square footage. Mrs. Beckert also said that it is difficult and to some extent unfair for the Zoning Hearing Board to allow additional signage, as other businesses in the historic district feel they should be permitted an equal number of signs. There is some confusion as to whether HARB or the Zoning Hearing Board has authority on this issue.
Mr. Garton said that the Zoning Hearing Board’s decision takes precedence over HARB or the Board of Supervisors as to the number and size of the signs. HARB governs appropriate colors, etc.
Mr. Calabro asked whether the gates on the porch of The Green Parrot are meant as an entrance.
Mr. Boyle said the gates serve as an emergency egress, not an entrance.
Applicant Shawn Ward said that the gates are open from inside for emergency egress, but are not meant as an additional entrance. They are self policed as well as policed by the Fire Marshal.
Mr. Ward said that Mrs. Beckert was the only HARB member to have concerns, yet in her presentation she said “we.” Five members voted to approve the signage. He acknowledged that the parrot logo is not an architectural element; this was a characterization mentioned by Planning Commission members. He mentioned the total square footage of all signs not to indicate he is entitled to additional signs, but to illustrate that he has been conservative in his request, attempting to keep the signs tasteful in size. He had demonstrated to the Zoning Hearing Board that the extra signage is necessary in part because The Green Parrot’s main entrance is in the breezeway between buildings. The logo sign over the stairs will help identify the building to approaching motorists and pedestrians. Mr. Ward showed the Board some photographs of the building taken from Sycamore Street and noted that neither the Planning Commission nor the Board had comment when reviewing the Zoning Hearing Board application.
Mr. Benchener moved to authorize a certificate of appropriateness for The Green Parrot, 240 North Sycamore Street, as outlined in a memo dated January 19, 2010. Dr. Ciervo seconded.
Discussion of motion: Dr. Ciervo said that the applicant has gone through the entire process for approval of the signage; variances have been granted. The Board should support this applicant.
Mrs. Beckert noted that although the entire sign package was recommended for approval by a vote of 5-1, she was not the only HARB member to have some concerns.
Mr. D’Aprile said that this is a very large building and the signage proposed is conservative. He urged the Board to support the request.
The motion passed 4-0.
Marisa, The Art of Apparel, 250 North Sycamore Street: Mrs. Beckert said that the applicant was unable to attend this evening’s meeting and wishes the application to be continued. The applicant has already painted the columns in front of the building, so Mrs. Beckert asked that the matter not be continued too far ahead.
Dr. Ciervo moved to continue the application of Marisa, The Art of Apparel to a meeting in February, 2010. Mr. Gallagher seconded and the motion passed 4-0.
Milk Money, 123 North Sycamore Street: Mr. Benchener moved to authorize a certificate of appropriateness for Milk Money, 123 North Sycamore Street, as outlined in a memo dated January 19, 2010. Dr. Ciervo seconded and the motion passed 4-0.
In response to questions from Mr. Benchener, applicant Jennifer McDonald said that this is an upscale consignment shop for children’s clothing and toys and infant equipment such as strollers.
Goodnoe’s Corner. Certificate of Completion #12: Ms. Fountain explained that the applicant’s attorney has requested that of the escrow to be released, $14,200 be released directly to Pickering Corts and Summerson, engineers on the project.
Dr. Ciervo moved to authorize escrow release in the amount of $97,436.62, with $14,200 of that amount to be paid directly to Pickering Corts and Summerson. Mr. Benchener seconded and the motion passed 4-0.
Mr. Benchener moved to set the mileage rate for reimbursement to $0.50 per mile, as per the Internal Revenue Service recommendation. Mr. Gallagher seconded.
Discussion of motion: In response to Board questions, Mr. Garton explained that the rate set by the IRS is less than it had been last year. To calculate some other rate could be difficult.
The motion passed 4-0.
Park and Recreation Board: Mr. Garton reminded the Board that it has decided to expand the Park and Recreation Board to nine members. To do so will require an Ordinance, which will have to be advertised. The proposed ordinance would appoint members for three year terms, with three terms expiring each year.
Dr. Ciervo moved to authorize advertisement of an ordinance expanding the Park and Recreation Board to nine members. Mr. Gallagher seconded.
Discussion of motion: Dr. Ciervo said that the Board would like the Park and Recreation Board to have representatives of the various sports leagues. He requested that residents interested in serving on this Board contact either the Township Manager or one of the Supervisors. The ordinance would be adopted at the second regular meeting in February, at which time, appointments could be made.
The motion passed 4-0.
Sandwich Board Signs: Mr. Garton reminded the Board that when it adopted an ordinance authorizing the issuance of licenses for the placement of moveable sidewalk signs on Sycamore Street, the ordinance provided that no licenses shall be issued that will terminate beyond December 31, 2009 unless the Board shall vote to extend the permits.
Mr. Benchener asked how many permits have been issued.
Mr. Boyle said that he does not know the exact number but he believed it is less than ten. The Sycamore Street Community Association has been supportive of the permitting process as a way to monitor appropriate signage.
Dr. Ciervo moved to extend the sandwich board sign ordinance for an additional year. Mr. Gallagher seconded and the motion passed 4-0.
Dr. Ciervo reminded the Board that he would like further discussion on the field swap between Helen Randle and the Woll tract. Still to be resolved is whether the Township or the sports leagues would be responsible for the costs associated with conversion of the two fields.
Mr. Calabro said that it had been his understanding that this would be discussed at the February work session, with action to be taken at the February 24, 2010 regular meeting. He said that it would be better to discuss the swap in the less formal setting of the work session.
Dr. Ciervo asked Mr. Boyle to notify the representatives of Little League and Rock Softball of this timetable and ask that they attend the meetings.
Mr. Calabro announced that the Borough and Township would meet jointly with the Newtown Corporation on January 28, 2010 at the Township Municipal Building at 7:00 PM. This meeting is open to the public.
Mr. Benchener said that a number of residents have expressed some dismay about very early morning trash pick-ups. He asked whether there are any ordinances restricting this noisy activity.
Mr. Boyle said that trash pick up is permitted between 7:00 AM and 7:00 PM. He would contact the trash haulers to remind them of the ordinance. Any residents still having difficulties can contact the Township by telephone or e-mail.
Mr. Gallagher said that some of the Homeowners Associations have questioned whether the Township permits or prohibits parking of commercial vehicles on local streets. There have been a number of complaints about overnight parking of landscaping trailers and other commercial vehicles.
Mr. Garton said that he would need to discuss the existing ordinances with the Township Manager and would report back to the Board.
Public Comment: Mr. D’Aprile said that speakers at the podium cannot be heard by those sitting in the audience behind the podium. He also asked that the Township seal be placed on the center of the dais.
Mr. Gallagher announced that the Board would meet in executive session after the meeting.
The meeting adjourned at 9:15 PM.