Board of Supervisors
Minutes of January 25, 2012
The Newtown Township Board of Supervisors met on January 25, 2012 in the Township meeting room at 7:30 PM. In attendance and voting were Supervisors: Chairman Michael Gallagher, Vice Chairman Matthew Benchener, Secretary Treasurer Ryan Gallagher and Philip Calabro and Robert Ciervo, members. Also in attendance were: Joseph Czajkowski, Township Manager, Jeffrey Garton, Township Solicitor and Michele Fountain, Township Engineer.
Call to Order : Mr. M. Gallagher called the meeting to order with a moment of silence. This was followed by an invocation by Pastor Gerry Newswanger of First Baptist Church of Wycombe and the Pledge of Allegiance.
Changes to the Agenda: Mr. Czajkowski said that discussion of the Prevailing Wage Act has been added to the agenda.
Special Actions: Dr. Ciervo announced that Newtown Elementary School has donated artwork to be displayed in the Municipal Building. He invited each student/artist to describe the work and he thanked each child for his gift. The children then posed with Supervisors for photographs. The children whose works were chosen are:
Jillian Bernstein – primary color work/cityscape
Eric Sohn – herd of giraffes
Tiah Zuzulo – interpretation of “A Peaceable Kingdom”
Leah Cerami – a monkey
Matt Eckerd – printmaking/flowers
Abby Semple – Lancaster PA landscape
Reed Forman – still life, leaves and apples
Reports of Committees, Boards and Commissions
Planning Commission: Chairman Allen Fidler reported that the Commission welcomed two new appointees and reorganized, electing him as chairman, Robert Whartenby as vice chairman and Peggy Driscoll as secretary/treasurer. Mrs. Driscoll has agreed to serve as liaison to HARB; this might require reappointment by the Supervisors, since this is a voting position.
The Commission reviewed Newtown Racquetball Club’s preliminary/final plan to remove a one story brick building and to construct an outdoor pool area with changing room and snack bar, a one story 37,167 square foot baseball academy and associated parking and stormwater management. In addition, the plan proposes consolidation of six tax parcels to form a single 18.034 acre parcel. A grass area is to be developed as a practice playing field with lights. The plans have been revised to comply with the preliminary plan review letters. The project’s engineer provided artist’s renderings of the appearance and layout of the pool complex to help the members better envision the scope of the plan. The Commission voted to recommend that the Supervisors grant final plan approval subject to a number of conditions, including compliance with the most recent review letters of our professionals and clarification of some zoning questions with the Zoning Hearing Board solicitor. In addition, the Commission is recommending that only a partial waiver for sidewalks be granted and that the applicant install sidewalks on the Pheasant Run frontage, that the entrance to the mechanicals building be restricted to deliveries only and not as a members’ entrance and that use of the pool facility be limited to NAC club members with no summer pool only memberships offered. The Commission did not wish to restrict all pool use and had no objection to Township swim programs, private parties or use of the facilities for charitable events.
The Commission reviewed the Zoning Hearing Board application of Corner Bakery Café, 3 West Road, for relief of impervious surface of 1%, and signage relief. The applicant is seeking relief to install four signs within 1,000 feet of the Bypass, and relief of 70.5 square feet for size and height relief. The members discussed the requests at length and agreed that the Board should not take a position on the height or proximity to the Bypass. The Commission did recommend that the Board oppose the relief for the signs’ size. Regarding the request for impervious surface relief, the applicant is seeking a 1% increase, which would equal 7,000 square feet. The request is to allow installation of a patio and a sidewalk to the Village at Newtown or some traffic calming. The Commission has asked the applicant to revise his application to only seek relief for the square footage actually needed, which would be well under 1,000 square feet. The Commission would recommend that the Board not oppose the impervious request for an amount under 1,000 square feet.
Mr. Gallagher noted that at the Planning Commission meeting, the members had suggested a change in the sign to place the words on top of one another.
Mr. Fidler explained that the Ordinance dictates that a box be drawn around the wall mounted letters and the measurement is based on the area of that box. By stacking the words, the area of the sign is reduced considerably.
Dr. Ciervo asked whether the Commission had any concerns about the sign’s location within 1,000 feet of the Bypass or the proposed lighting.
Mr. Fidler said that this area of the Township has many existing businesses with signage visible from the Bypass and the members had no objection; lighting was not discussed at the meeting. He noted that the Commission has seen many requests for signage size relief in recent years. In order to be more business friendly, the Township might want to consider reviewing the sign ordinances. Many of the applicants are attempting to comply with the Ordinance while also working with requirements of their franchise.
Mr. Fidler said that the Commission discussed the proposed JMZO alternative energy amendment but postponed review of the Sycamore Street amendment until its next meeting.
Board Members: Mr. Gallagher announced that the Newtown Business Commons Association’s quarterly lunch would be held on February 15, 2012 at LaSalle. Additional information is available at www. newtowncommons.com
Prevailing Wage Act: Mr. Calabro said that this had not been on the original agenda and he had concerns that interested members of the community would not have an opportunity to participate in the discussion.
Mr. Czajkowski said that it had been inadvertently left off the agenda and added on Monday; the revised agenda was posted on the Township Web site.
Dr. Ciervo said that PSATS has been lobbying for either an amendment or elimination of the prevailing wage act. This act, adopted in 1961 sets the threshold for compliance for municipal projects at $25,000. Prevailing wage is determined by the state, not by the county where work is to be done. This requirement puts small contractors at a disadvantage. When the Township built the skate park, for example, there were very few bids because of the costs associated with compliance with the prevailing wage.
Dr. Ciervo moved adopt Resolution 2012-R-7, urging the General Assembly to eliminate or amend the Prevailing Wage Act,(Act 442 of 1961) as advocated by the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors. Mr. Benchener seconded.
Mr. Calabro moved to table the motion.
Mr. Calabro said that this is an important issue and he would have liked this posted in a timely manner to allow sufficient public comment.
The motion failed to be seconded.
Discussion of original motion: Dr. Ciervo said that the prevailing wage, as set by the general assembly, is sometimes between 25 and 40% higher than the local labor rate. The rate is not set by the County or the surrounding municipalities but at the state level per occupation. While painters might be paid $22 per hour in the private sector, for example, the prevailing wage is set at $36.50. There is additional paperwork and levels of bureaucracy adding to both the cost and burden to bidders. He cited the Township’s annual roadway project bids as coming in artificially high compared to similar work in the private sector. He would like to see the bidding practice opened to all responsible contractors. These artificially high labor rates are passed on to taxpayers, keeping municipal projects at a costly rate, and in some instances limiting the size of projects.
Mr. Benchener said that he supports this resolution because the act was passed in 1961 with no adjustment for inflation. He would favor bringing the threshold for compliance to $200,000 to keep pace with inflation. This would allow the Township to get better rates on smaller projects and provide more competition among contractors.
Mr. R. Gallagher said that this resolution is not a binding action; it only shows the Township’s support of PSATS’ efforts in asking the State Legislature to amend the Act.
Mr. M. Gallagher said that he supports the resolution because elimination of the prevailing wage would allow municipalities choice when considering bids for contracted work. He would prefer to choose the lowest responsible rate after inquiring about the quality and reputation of the bidders. He compared hiring contactors for municipal work to hiring contactors for his own home.
Mr. Calabro said that the Prevailing Wage Act protects municipalities from shoddy and unscrupulous contractors. The process helps insure quality workmanship by union trained and apprenticed contractors. Frequently the lowest bidders are using cheap, unskilled labor. The Board is responsible to the taxpayers to hire contractors who are skilled and offer the best quality at the lowest bid price. This should not be compared to hiring contractors to work at home, where we are free to cut corners and settle for less. He said that he is concerned about an anti-union attitude on the Board.
Dr. Ciervo said that this resolution is asking for an amendment to the prevailing wage act; it has nothing to do with unskilled or skilled labor. When the municipal building was built, some bids were from non-union shops; the act dictates the wage the workers are paid, not whether they are union workers. For some jobs, the prevailing wage is 50% higher than the going rate at the local level. Many contractors who bid on municipal projects have open shops.
Mr. Benchener said that the prevailing wage artificially inflates the market.
Resident John D’Aprile said that he is ashamed that his party has become anti-union. He agreed with Mr. Calabro that this is an anti-union move. When contractors do not pay prevailing wages, they can use non-union labor, and in some instances unskilled, untrained and even illegal immigrant labor. This country was built by union labor. It is unfair to compare municipal projects to home repairs, as homeowners are free to settle for less skilled work. Our road projects are funded by state fuel tax money, not only Newtown money. As a former union president he said that it is important to support the unions, which protect the working people. This resolution is equivalent to union busting.
Le Sheppard of Wrightstown said that this act was passed many years ago to protect the public safety. He supported updating the act, not eliminating it. There should be room for compromise.
The motion passed 4-1, with Mr. Calabro voting nay.
Penns Trail Storage Certificate of Completion: Ms. Fountain said that this project still has a few punch list items to be addressed. She recommended only a partial escrow release at this time, not the final payment requested.
Dr. Ciervo moved to authorize escrow release #2 in the amount of $11,807.25 to Penns Train Storage. Mr. Benchener seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Zoning Hearing Board – Corner Bakery Café, 3 West Road: Mr. Garton said that this application is for a café in the former Blockbuster store in Newtown Shopping Center. The applicant was granted conditional use approval some months ago, subject to conditions including addressing pedestrian safety by means of sidewalks or interconnections with the adjacent shopping center’s parking. To that end, the applicant is seeking an impervious surface variance to address the pedestrian walkways and also for future installation of an outdoor patio. In addition the applicant is seeing three sign variances, to erect a sign within 1000 for of the Bypass, for height and for one sign 90 square feet and three signs of 40 square feet where 20 square feet is the maximum. He said that he has spoken to the applicant’s attorney, Don Marshall, who indicated that the impervious surface exact amount needed had not been calculated when the application was prepared. The application will be amended to seek relief only for the impervious needed for the walkways and patio. In addition, the applicant will withdraw his request for a sign within 1000 feet of the Bypass.
Jeff Henley of the Rose Group was in attendance to review the application. He provided the Board with copies of a revised signage plan. He noted that Mr. Fidler was correct that it is difficult to satisfy the franchise requirements. These plans show smaller signs, but they will still need zoning relief. He has withdrawn the sign facing the Bypass. The impervious surface relief is needed for a 529 square foot patio; the dimensions of the walkway have not yet been determined. The application will only seek the impervious surface needed for the patio and walkway.
Dr. Ciervo said that he did not object to the sign facing the Bypass; other businesses in the shopping center already have such signs. He is, however, concerned about lighting of that sign. Residents in that area have objected to internally lighted signs.
Mr. Henley said that the signs will be internally lighted. If a sign is placed facing the Bypass, it could be illuminated by gooseneck lamps. Because this is a new brand for this area, it is critical to the success of the business that the signs be lighted.
Mr. M. Gallagher reviewed the new signage package, noting that the largest sign now measures 48 square feet, with the words of the café name placed on top of each other in separate boxes.
Mr. Henley said that the letter size has also been reduced. The height will be the same as was on the Blockbuster signs.
Mr. Benchener said that he did not oppose the signs as presented. He would like to see this business be successful.
Dr. Ciervo said that if the sign facing the Bypass has gooseneck lighting, he has no objections to the variances sought. The applicant has been very cooperative with the Township.
Mr. Garton said that he would contact the Zoning Hearing Board solicitor to convey the Supervisors’ understanding that the applicant will only seek the impervious needed for this project, to a reduction in the size of the signs as shown in the package presented this evening and that the sign facing the Bypass will have gooseneck lighting.
Resolutions Changing the Length of Appointments to Township Committees: Mr. Benchener moved to adopt Resolutions 2012-R-8, 2012-R-9 and 2012-R-10, extending the length of appointments to the Technology Committee, the Township Traffic Committee and the Joint Traffic Committee to three years. Mr. R. Gallagher seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Mr. M. Gallagher said that the terms would be staggered; this will be addressed at a future meeting.
Minutes, Bills Lists and Reports
Minutes: Mr. Benchener moved to approve the minutes of the regular meeting of January 11, 2012. Mr. R. Gallagher seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Bills: Mr. R. Gallagher moved to approve payment of bills totaling $246,436.33. Mr. Benchener seconded and the motion passed 5-0
Mr. R. Gallagher moved to authorize interfund transfers totaling $185,277.76. Dr. Ciervo seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Mr. Gallagher said that he recently visited some homes which back onto the Bypass in Newtown Place development with State Representative Steve Santarsiero and State Senator Chuck McIlhinney to discuss the noise coming from the Bypass. They discussed adding sound reducing barrier walls to the Township’s TIP list. The noise seemed excessive and he would support adding some noise abatement to the TIP. He asked the other Board members if they would agree.
Mr. Benchener asked how this funding and the TIP work.
Mr. Gallagher explained that each municipality creates a list of traffic priorities for state funding. That list is reviewed by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, then forwarded to PennDOT for funding. Right now the only item on our TIP is the widening of Newtown Yardley Road from Terry Drive to the Newtown Bypass.
Mr. Czajkowski said that both the Bucks County Planning Commission and DVRPC must agree that this should be a priority. The municipality is sometimes responsible for some of the funding, depending on the project.
Dr. Ciervo said that he has researched sound barriers and has learned that walls are not very effective; landscaping buffers and berms seem to do more to muffle sound. In addition, the walls are very expensive and only seem to help properties directly adjacent to them.
Mr. M. Gallagher said that he is not specifically advocating sound walls, but only noise abatement.
Mr. Calabro said that he is supportive of learning more about noise abatement and of adding this to the TIP, but we have had some projects on the TIP for many years. He would like to review the other projects before prioritizing this one.
Mr. M. Gallagher moved to ask the Township Manager to add noise abatement to the TIP. Mr. Calabro seconded.
Discussion of motion: Mr. Benchener said that he is not opposed to adding this to the TIP but would like to learn more about noise abatement before prioritizing it.
The motion passed 4-0-1, with Dr. Ciervo abstaining.
Mr. M. Gallagher announced that the Board had met in executive session prior to this evening’s meeting to discuss matters of personnel and would remain after the meeting for a second executive session.
The meeting adjourned at 9:15 PM.
Mary Donaldson, Recording Secretary