Board of Supervisors Work Session
Minutes of October 17, 2011
Members Present: Chairman Robert Ciervo, Vice Chairman Matthew Benchener, Secretary Treasurer Jerry Schenkman and members Philip Calabro and Michael Gallagher.
Also Present: TownshipManager Joseph Czajkowski, Township Solicitor Jeffrey Garton, Township Engineer Michele Fountain and Codes Officer Ronald Weaver.
Call to Order: Dr. Ciervo called the meeting to order at 7:30 PM.
Sidewalk and Driveway Apron Specifications: Ms. Fountain explained that the Township passed an ordinance in 2004 which requires repair and replacement of sidewalks and driveway aprons which have deteriorated, however the language of this ordinance does not clearly define deterioration. As the Township has had a number of complaints about some deteriorating sidewalks, Ms. Fountain, Mr. Weaver and Public Works Director Gary Crossland have been reviewing our ordinance and comparing it with similar ordinances in other Bucks municipalities, including Doylestown, Chalfont and Perkasie to help Newtown develop language to better aid residents and the Township in evaluating deterioration and offering some guidance as to repair and/or replacement methods.
Mr. Weaver provided copies of the information that appears on Doylestown’s Web site. This site also provides photographs of different degrees of deterioration. He explained that currently the Township does not routinely inspect sidewalks, but does respond to complaints. Two of the older developments, Newtown Crossing and The Ridings have had a number of complaints. The Ridings’ Homeowners Association has worked with the residents to bring in one contractor offering a group price and the Township has allowed one permit for all repairs, although each individual homeowner was responsible to pay for his own property’s repair.
Mr. Benchener asked what costs are involved in sidewalk repair.
Mr. Weaver saidthat repair can be very costly; he estimated that replacement of three blocks of concrete could cost more than $500. As the ordinance is currently written, replacement is the homeowner’s only option. Doylestown has allowed other, less costly, remedies, including lifting of sinking blocks, grinding and other repair methods. He also suggested changing the ordinance to allow a Township designee to inspect the sidewalk; currently only the Township Engineer is authorized to do these inspections. That can also be expensive.
Dr. Ciervo asked whether the Ordinance has been enforced for non-compliance.
Mr. Weaver said that he is unaware of any enforcement issues. There is an assessment fee outlined in the ordinance for non-compliance.
Ms. Fountain said that there have been 12 complaints about 12 different properties in Newtown Crossing. These complaints have not been enforced awaiting some clarification of the ordinance.
Mr. Benchener said that he has concerns about placing a burden on the homeowners who might suddenly be faced with costly repair bills. He suggested that the Board consider some kind of subsidy from the Township for repairs.
Resident Jim Clendennon of East Hanover Street in Newtown Crossing said that his and a number of his neighbors’ sidewalks are deteriorating. He would be interested in working with the homeowners association on a plan for the entire development.
Ms. Fountain suggested that any enforcement be postponed and a revised ordinance be authorized for advertisement with some kind of time frame for compliance to allow homeowners to plan for their repairs.
Mr. Schenkman suggested that the ordinance could be phased in or adopted with a generous time frame for compliance. He did not favor offering any subsidy for residents, as this could open up the Township to unanticipated expenses as other ordinances have requirements which cost money to comply with.
Mr. Garton reminded the Board that sidewalks are private property; Township funds cannot be used to benefit private improvements.
Resident Margaret Chleboski said that Newtown Grant’s Homeowners Association was faced with a similar issue when the Township required replacement of street trees. The Homeowners Association sought group pricing from certain vendors and homeowners who took advantage of the group rate were given a substantial discount to replace trees.
Mr. Schenkman said that he would be supportive of such a plan, but would not favor getting involved with bidding on projects.
Mr. Garton suggested offering a long time, up to one year, for example, to comply and offering a reduction in permit costs or group permits for a limited time. He said that he would draft a new ordinance for the Board to review. The ordinance would include the language suggested by Mr. Weaver and Ms. Fountain and would authorize a Township designee to conduct inspections.
Historical Architectural Review Board Design Guidelines: HARB member Harriet Beckert was in attendance to review her draft booklet of design guidelines for building and renovating in or near the historic district or when dealing with historic structures outside of the historic district. Mrs. Beckert pointed out that the book includes information on historic farm houses, some of which are located throughout the Township. The book references styles seen in Newtown Borough as well as in the Township.
Mr. Gallagher agreed that including information on historic styles will be helpful as a guide to developers planning to build in Newtown, although he understood that only construction in the historic district must be reviewed by HARB.
Mr. Garton said that once the Board has agreed to adopt the guidelines for the historic district, they would have to be formally adopted by resolution. This might also apply once the Jointure has completed its draft of a historic preservation ordinance.
Mrs. Beckert said that HARB was not exactly sure what form the Board would like the guidelines to take and how extensive they should be.
Dr. Ciervo said that he found the book to be thorough and comprehensive, but he would also like to see it partnered with a brochure for quick reference by residents contemplating renovations.
Mr. Schenkman agreed that a brochure could be helpful, but also suggested that the full text should be made available on the Township Web site. He noted that the material had been copyrighted and asked if the Township could post the guidelines as written.
Mrs. Beckert said that she had copyrighted the book for her personal use, possibly as a thesis for an advanced degree, however it would be available for the Township’s Web site.
Mr. Schenkman said that he would like to add some language to serve as a disclaimer, noting that there are differences between guidelines and the ordinances which govern the historic district.
Mr. Garton said that the guidelines should state that specifics are in the zoning ordinance.
Mr. Schenkman asked whether Mrs. Beckert has considered including modern construction in and near the historic district, such as Goodnoe’s Corner, which incorporates a number of different period elements.
Mrs. Beckert said that she has not but could add a section on new construction inside historic districts.
Mrs. Beckert said that HARB has been asked by letter from the Joint Historic Commission to participate in its efforts to expand the historic district. While HARB members have expressed interest in participating in the design aspects of such an expansion, HARB is not looking to take a lead position in this effort without direction from the Board of Supervisors.
Dr. Ciervo said that this question would have to be added to an advertised agenda for the Board to discuss and take a position.
Tree Bank Ordinance: Mr. Garton reminded the Board that he had been asked to research a tree bank ordinance to deal with issues such as The Birches. That project involved an ordinance requirement to replace more trees than can practically be accommodated on the property. It had been the Board’s thought that a fee in lieu could be collected to plant trees elsewhere in the Township. He provided the Board with information on similar ordinances in Warminster, Plumstead, East Rockhill and New Britain. He noted that a recent court decision had struck down a Solebury Township ordinance requiring one-to-one replacement. Mr. Garton cautioned that the
ordinance cannot be used as a moneymaker, but fees collected must be used for planting of trees. The ordinance can be used to combine tree replacement on site with fees, but it presumes that the site could not accommodate full tree replacement.
Mr. Garton said that he has asked Bucks County Planning Commission Executive Director Lynn Bush to work on a draft ordinance with him.
Old Business: Mr. Benchener asked for an update on traffic calming on Penns Trail North.
Dr. Ciervo explained that the Township has asked the Wiltshire Walk Homeowners Association to comment on proposed traffic calming suggestions before proceeding with installation.
Dr. Ciervo announced that the Board met in executive session to discuss matters of personnel and litigation prior to this evening’s meeting.
Mr. Garton advised Dr. Ciervo to repeat this announcement at the next regular Supervisors meeting.The meeting adjourned at 8:45 PM.
Christy Holley, Recording Secretary