Board of Supervisors
Minutes of March 23, 2011
The Newtown Township Board of Supervisors met on March 23, 2011 in the Township meeting room at 7:30 PM. In attendance and voting were Supervisors: Chairman Robert Ciervo, Vice Chairman Matthew Benchener, Secretary/Treasurer Jerry Schenkman and Philip Calabro and Michael Gallagher, members. Also present were: Joseph Czajkowski, Township Manager, Jeffrey Garton, Township Solicitor 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 Reverend Blake Blakesley of Newtown Presbyterian Church. This was followed by the Pledge of Allegiance.
Changes to the Agenda: Mr. Czajkowski said that a fire services review had been added to the Chairman’s report and the Police collective bargaining agreement has been added to the Manager’s Report.
Public Comment: Resident Jay Sensibaugh invited interested residents to attend the Newtown Creek Coalition’s visioning presentation on April 9, 2011 at 10:00 AM at the Chancellor Center Council Rock Administration Building. Additional information, photos and video about the creek can be found on the Web site of the Newtown Advance.
Resident Shannon Escalante asked the current General Fund balance, the expected high and low points and why the budget projects a $1 million general fund reserve.
Mr. Czajkowski explained that the balance fluctuates daily as revenues are received and expenditures are paid. The current balance is $602,000. More revenue is expected as the earned income tax and property tax are collected. The budget anticipates a year-end balance of $1 million, but does not anticipate having that amount consistently throughout the year.
Resident Allen Gamble said that he was speaking on behalf of residents of the Walnut Ridge development on Swamp Road. There is a small land development project next to his development. That land development’s approval required stormwater basins to be installed as a condition of variances granted. While construction is complete on one home, including a very large in-ground swimming pool and construction is underway for the second home, there do not appear to be any stormwater basins. Residents of Walnut Ridge are very concerned about possible flooding, as it appears that run-off is draining into the Walnut Ridge detention basin, which might not be capable of managing the three additional homes being built. Mr. Gamble said that he had spoken to assistant manager John Boyle and had also left messages with Mr. Czajkowski but has not received any reply.
Mr. Czajkowski apologized for not responding as he did not hear this message. He will investigate Mr. Gamble’s concerns.
Ms. Fountain said that at Mr. Boyle’s instruction, she had investigated the site and found evidence of appropriate piping and seepage beds for the first lot. As the second lot has not been completed, the beds have not yet been installed, but the disturbance is according to the approved plan.
Resident Pam Fitzpatrick thanked the Board members who attended a Council Rock School Board meeting to speak on behalf of preserving conservation management zoning and not selling its Melsky land to Toll Brothers. She reviewed the long history of the rezoning of the property as part of the Federal Cemetery Overlay (FCO) District, noting that she, along with many of her neighbors in Newtown and Upper Makefield, had been parties to a challenge to the FCO’s validity at the Zoning Hearing Board. That appeal had been discontinued when the applicant withdrew his challenge, but the parties in support of the challenge had asked the Courts to allow the Zoning Hearing Board to continue to take testimony. The courts recently remanded the appeal back to the Zoning Hearing Board, which will reopen the hearings on May 5, 2011. Ms. Fitzpatrick and her neighbors are eager to be heard on this matter and to see the ordinance struck and the zoning revert to conservation management to better control development.
Dr. Ciervo said that this will be discussed later in the meeting. It is possible that Toll Brothers might further appeal this decision.
Mr. Benchener thanked Ms. Fitzpatrick and the other residents who dedicated their time and effort to this case.
Minutes, Bills Lists and Reports
Minutes: Mr. Gallagher moved to approve the minutes of the regular meeting of March 9, 2011. Mr. Schenkman seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Bills: Mr. Schenkman moved to approve payment of bills totaling $245,184.81. Benchener seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Mr. Schenkman moved to authorize interfund transfers totaling $180,000. Mr. Gallagher seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Reports of Committees, Boards and Commissions
Chairman: Dr. Ciervo thanked the EMS and Fire Company for its efforts to control a fire in the Eagle Ridge development in early March. Responding to the fire were Firefighters Gundy, Chamberlin, Baer, Davis, Ischinger and Ratze, with assistance provided by Northampton Fire Department.
Appointments to Committees: Mr. Gallagher moved to appoint Dan Paramesh, Bob Pentland and Prasad Ramnath to the Technology Committee. Mr. Benchener seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Mr. Gallagher moved to appoint Aaron Borstein, Tom Dye and Scott Rosenberg to the Financial Planning Committee. Mr. Benchener seconded and the motion passed 3-2, with Messrs. Calabro and Schenkman voting nay.
Mr. Benchener moved to appoint Brian Miller to the Historic Architectural Review Board. Mr. Gallagher seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Mr. Gallagher moved to appoint Carol Richardson to the Joint Traffic Committee. Mr. Schenkman seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Mr. Gallagher moved to appoint Brian Shea to the Traffic Impact Fee Advisory Committee. Mr. Benchener seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Mr. Gallagher moved to appoint Carol Klaus to the Township Traffic Committee. Mr. Benchener seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Mr. Calabro asked whether there is an opening on the Zoning Hearing Board; if someone is running for public office can he still hold a position on another board.
Mr. Garton said that it is his understanding that a person could not serve in another Township office if elected. This does not mean that a person currently serving on a board must resign from the position to run for office in another position.
Skate Park Discussion: Mr. Czajkowski explained that due to reports by residents of excessive noise from the skate park, the Public Works Department and Park and Recreation Department have begun to investigate ways to address the problem using ramp enclosures and insulation. Discussions with American Ramp Company (ARC) are ongoing. The Township is trying to ascertain whether the needed work can be done in-house. It is hoped that the work can be done very shortly. Until this work can be completed, the park has been closed by a temporary fence.
Mr. Schenkman said that he is pleased that appropriate action has been taken to address the problem, but is concerned that the proposed measures might not be effective.
Mr. Gallagher expressed some doubt that the steps being taken will completely fix the problem. He has visited the site and the surrounding neighborhoods to confirm the situation. It is his opinion that the loudest sounds come from skateboards as they hit the ramp going up from the pavement. Perhaps the grading could be addressed to make a smoother transition. He also suggested that berms or plants could help muffle the sound.
Mr. Czajkowski said that ARC will be addressing the gap at the bottom of the ramp Mr. Gallagher has referred to. The Township has also been investigating the possibility of berms and trees and has asked the Township Engineer to review that possibility.
Ms. Fountain said that to be effective the berm would need to be very large with very tall trees planted to help absorb the sound.
Mr. Calabro said that he has also visited Tyler Walk while the park was in use. He expressed similar concern that the sound might not be eliminated. He suggested that some compromise should be sought to reduce the sound.
Brian Nugent of Trenton said that he is an adult advocate for skate parks and skaters and has been involved in many community outreach efforts for skaters. He suggested that concrete ramps would be much quieter. He urged the Board to try to return the metal ramps and install concrete, as the proposed enclosures and insulation will not be effective in addressing the noise. For more information on skate park advocacy, visit www.skatepark.org (skaters for public skate parks).
Resident Sean Cardonick, a resident of Tyler Walk, thanked the Board for closing the park. He said that most metal skate parks are farther away from residential areas, so the noise was not anticipated and had not been reported to the ramp companies as a problem. ARC did not do a good job advising on the structure or on installation. He suggested that the equipment be returned for a refund and the park closed, or the equipment moved to the municipal complex or some other Township owned property. He also said that the Board should have notified the Tyler Walk Homeowners Association of the plan.
Dr. Ciervo said that the noise had not been anticipated during the many years of planning for the park. Some Tyler Walk residents and Homeowners Association members served on the skate park committee. Relocating to another Township property would not solve the problem, as all available land would be within close proximity to residential areas.
Mr. Cardonick said that in addition to being bothered by the noise, he has concerns about the dangers posed by the park at this location. Children are being dropped off on Durham Road; many of the park users are not Township residents. The metal ramps will be hot in the summer and could cause burns. He feels the park should be permanently closed and no additional money should be spent on it.
Resident Todd Stanbaugh, said that he lives in Tyler Walk and is very disturbed by the noise from the park and wants it permanently closed. He is opposed to planting trees near his house. Because the park cannot be made completely quiet, he wants the Township to close it and not spend any more money on it.
Jesse Clayton of Middletown Township said that he owns a company which designs and installs concrete skate parks. He has been involved in many municipal projects involving both concrete and prefabricated ramps. He is aware that ARC has many dissatisfied customers because of both noise and the quality of the products. He urged the Board to ascertain that any measures taken to remedy the noise will not void the ARC warrantee. He noted that Radnor Township had a similar noise problem; enclosures did not eliminate the problem. Mr. Clayton also noted that skaters are no longer frequenting the Middletown skate park because the “cookie cutter” design of the prefabricated parks become boring to the skaters and they do not keep up as skaters advance their skill levels. He suggested that adding a concrete skate-able berm could help deaden sound and add an interesting feature to the park.
Dr. Ciervo noted that the skate park committee had chosen ARC because they underbid other ramp manufacturers. The committee had found that the concrete parks were prohibitively expensive.
Mr. Benchener asked Mr. Clayton to discuss the skate-able berm in more detail.
Mr. Clayton said that he is involved in building an 8000 square foot concrete park in Ambler for $60,000. If the existing pad at Newtown were surrounded on two sides by a concrete berm, it could deaden sound and keep it from traveling upwards toward the residential areas. In addition, spray foam could reduce, but not eliminate, some sound. Based on a measurement of 125 feet by 75 feet, he estimated that materials for concrete berms would cost about $10,000. He would be willing to donate labor. The berms would not impact the existing warrantee.
Board members asked Mr. Clayton to leave contact information with Park and Recreation Director Kathy Pawlenko so that this concept could be explored further.
Resident Michele Heaton of Tyler Walk said that she wants the park permanently closed or moved. The noise is unbearable.
Resident Claire Wilson of Tyler Walk asked that if the Board and Park and Recreation Department are to meet with Mr. Clayton, representatives of the Tyler Walk homeowners be included in the meetings. All decisions should be made in public.
Mr. Gallagher explained that the Supervisors are required to make all decisions in a public forum. Going forward, the Board will keep the Tyler Walk residents informed as this matter is discussed.
Dr. Ciervo said that at this time the Township is still waiting for responses from ARC about the warrantee and other questions.
Resident Kathy Strabula of Tyler Walk said that in addition to the noise, she is bothered by skaters passing through the common ground next to her house or through her yard to walk to the skate park. Some of the skaters are walking and running across Durham Road to get to the park. The Township should have placed the park in a location where people could walk safely.
Dr. Ciervo said that the Board cannot prevent young adults from walking to the park. There are many paths and sidewalks throughout the Township near the park.
Resident Ryan Gallagher said that while this is an unfortunate situation, he hopes the Board will strive for compromise to muffle the sound and re-open the park. He understands that that noise had not been an issue ever mentioned during the planning stage, but hopes that going forward every idea is explored to find some remedy.
Mr. Sensibaugh said that the Township was negligent in not notifying the residents of the park plans as part of its land development obligations.
Mr. Garton said that this was not a land development project. It was a lot line change and construction by permit. No advertisement or other notification was required.
Mr. Schenkman said that while there was not a legal requirement to notify residents, it should have been a public relations consideration.
Resident John D’Aprile said that he questions how residents could not have been “notified” of the park. It has been discussed at televised Township meetings, rebroadcast on television and on the Township Web site, for many years. There have been articles in the local newspapers, including the Bucks County Courier Times and the Newtown Advance. Regarding the perceived dangers, not all accidents can be prevented in parks and playgrounds.
Mr. Schenkman suggested that the Board discuss an action plan to address the problems.
Dr. Ciervo said that the Township is still awaiting responses from ARC. At the same time, perhaps Mr. Garton should review the warrantee documents.
Mr. Czajkowski said that Public Works would continue to research enclosures and insulation while Mr. Garton investigated whether the equipment can be worked on in-house or whether it can be returned to ARC for a refund.
Fire Service Review: Mr. Czajkowski reported that at the Board’s direction he had gotten three proposals for a review and evaluation of the current fire services provided by the Township’s professional and volunteer fire departments. The Board conducted interviews with Matrix and Altamont, the two lower bidders. Matric had more experience with combined fire departments.
Mr. Benchener said that he is eager for the opportunity to gain an objective perspective on best practices for our fire and EMS services. There might be an opportunity to save some money.
Mr. Schenkman said that the combined volunteer/paid professional fire department has evolved without review over many years. Fire service is about 10% of the annual budget. It is a good idea to conduct a review and evaluation at this time to learn if or whether any improvements or economies can be made.
Mr. Schenkman moved to retain Matrix Consulting Group to provide a review and evaluation of the Township’s fire services. Dr. Ciervo seconded.
Discussion of motion: Mr. Calabro said that he is concerned that Mr. Gallagher and Dr. Ciervo did not participate in the interview process. He wants to be sure that they are comfortable with the choice.
Dr. Ciervo said that he read all of the proposals and is relying on the recommendations of the Board members who participated in the interviews as well as the recommendations of the Township Manager and Fire Marshal Don Harris, all who favor Matrix.
Mr. Gallagher said that it is impossible to attend every meeting; he will agree with the recommendations of those who were able to participate.
The motion passed 5-0.
Reports of Committees, Boards and Commissions
Nancy Garcia Kyle, 127 South Sycamore Street: HARB member Harriet Beckert presented this application for a certificate of appropriateness for a two-story addition to a single family home and the addition of shutters to the building. HARB voted to recommend approval.
Mr. Gallagher asked if the addition would require land development for a home office.
Mr. Garton said that this would be a building permit, only.
Ms. Kyle said that she is extending the existing house for a family room and bathroom for residential use. The building has a home office in the basement, which the previous owner used as a psychologist’s office. It is not in use at this time. Ms. Kyle indicated that if she were to use the home for her interior design business, she would use the existing office.
Mr. Gallagher said that he was concerned because this is not a commercial property. He asked about the size of the addition.
Ms. Kyle noted that the building is in the TC Town Commercial zoning district; certain home office uses are permitted in this district. The addition is 750 square feet; the total size of the building will be about 2500 square feet.
Mr. Gallagher said that the building seems too large for this location.
Mr. Schenkman noted that the addition will block the view of the creek from the street. He asked if Ms. Kyle was aware of the plans for construction on the other side of the creek.
Ms. Kyle said that she has seen plans for the Borough properties on the other side of the creek. They will improve her view, which now faces the municipal parking lots.
Mrs. Beckert said that the HARB members were supportive of the plans, as they reflect the common historic architectural practice of expanding buildings with different additions. The building will be on four levels, with the streetscape portion of the building remaining as it is now. The smallest portion of the building faces the street.
Mr. Benchener moved to approve the certificate of appropriateness for an addition and shutters for 127 South Sycamore Street, as described in a memo dated March 16, 2011. Dr. Ciervo seconded and the motion passed 4-1, with Mr. Gallagher voting nay.
Mrs. Beckert said that the Board had been provided with a copy of the draft book of appropriateness created as a guide for renovations by HARB. The book stresses the streetscape close to the sidewalk and the use of infill building. If the Board has changed its view about the appearance and future development in the historic district, she asked that these changes be discussed for inclusion in the book.
Mr. Schenkman said that the Board needs to make the book and ideas for Sycamore Street a priority and should add it to an upcoming work session agenda.
Reports of Officials
Harold Beck and Sons Development Agreement: Mr. Garton reminded the Board that Harold Beck and Sons had been granted land development approval one year ago.
Mr. Benchener moved to approve the development agreement for Harold Beck and Sons. Mr. Schenkman seconded.
Discussion of motion: Dr. Ciervo asked if all fees have been paid.
Mr. Czajkowski said fees are to be paid with the issuance of permits. There is no traffic impact fee because the proposed addition does not involve additional employees.
Kurt Geiselhart of Harold Beck said that a recreation fee of $31,000 has been paid and $15,000 has been escrowed.
The motion passed 5-0.
Rosebank Winery Development Agreement: Mr. Garton said that the Board is being asked to approve the development agreement, a revised stipulation agreement regarding the tent to be consistent with the JMZO winery ordinance and an access easement through Township property for public sewer access.
Mr. Schenkman moved to approve the development agreement for Rosebank Winery. Mr. Gallagher seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Mr. Schenkman moved to approve the sewer access easement agreement between Newtown Township and Rosebank Winery. Mr. Gallagher seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Mr. Benchener moved to approve the modified stipulation agreement for a tent to be consistent with the JMZO Winery Ordinance. Mr. Gallagher seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Federal Cemetery Overlay District: Mr. Garton reported that the Courts have remanded a challenge to the FCO to the Township Zoning Hearing Board. The FCO has been re-enacted. The Zoning Hearing Board must first consider whether the re-enactment makes the challenge moot, and if not, to resume hearing testimony of the residents who were parties to the challenge. Hearings are to resume on May 5, 2011. It is Mr. Garton’s understanding that Toll Brothers may appeal this decision.
Police Collective Bargaining Agreement: Mr. Czajkowski presented an addendum to the Police Collective Bargaining agreement extending the contract for three years, through 2013, with a new health plan and a salary increase of 2.5% for 2011.
Mr. Benchener moved to approve the addendum to the Police Collective Bargaining Agreement. Mr. Gallagher seconded.
Discussion of motion: Mr. Schenkman said that this agreement represents a good move for all involved. When management and the bargaining unit act in good faith, it is beneficial to both. The changes represent significant savings to the Township while insuring the positions of the bargaining unit.
Dr. Ciervo noted that the agreement was unanimously approved by the 26 member police department, the largest group of employees.
The motion passed 5-0.
Public Comment: Mr. D’Aprile asked when renovations to the police building will be completed.
Mr. Czajkowski said that work is ongoing.
Mr. D’Aprile suggested that the Tyler Walk Homeowners Association build a berm along Durham Road to improve the view for its residents.
Mr. Sensibaugh asked when the $400,000 in pension benefits in this year’s budget is paid.
Mr. Czajkowski said that this contribution is scheduled for the fall every year.
Old Business:Mr. Benchener asked for an update on traffic calming for Penns Trail North.
Mr. Czajkowski said that the posts were on back order and have finally arrived but cannot be installed in freezing weather. The Public Works Department will install them when the weather is consistently warmer.
Dr. Ciervo said that the Board had met in executive session before the meeting and would stay for an executive session to discuss matters of personnel and litigation.
The meeting adjourned at 10:10 PM.
Mary Donaldson, Recording Secretary