Board of Supervisors
Minutes of April 24, 2013
The Newtown Township Board of Supervisors met on April 24, 2013 in the Township meeting room at 7:30 PM. In attendance and voting were Supervisors: Chairman Michael Gallagher, Vice Chairman Matthew Benchener, Secretary/Assistant Treasurer Ryan W. Gallagher and Philip Calabro and Robert Ciervo, members. Also in attendance were: Kurt Ferguson, Township Manager, Jeffrey Garton, Township Solicitor and Michele Fountain, Township Engineer.
Call to Order : Chairman Gallagher called the meeting to order with a moment of silence followed by an invocation by Pastor Christopher Edwards of Northampton Presbyterian Church and the Pledge of Allegiance.
Changes to the Agenda: Mr. Ferguson said that a bill from GEO Services has been added to the bills list.
Public Comment: Resident Shawn Ward, President of the Sycamore Street Community Association, announced Welcome Day on May 5, 2013, 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM. Summer Fest and Corvette Show will be Saturday, June 1 from 2:00 PM to 8:00 PM; this will be in conjunction with Newtown Presbyterian Church’s Strawberry Festival from noon to 4:00 PM. He is also pleased to announce that the community’s businesses have again volunteered to maintain the flower beds on Sycamore Street.
Joe Swerk, President of Newtown Ambulance Squad, read a statement outlining events leading to the recent DUI arrest of one of the Squad’s drivers. He said that the driver, an alcoholic, sober for more than four years, was on call and reported for a patient pick-up after having “fallen off the wagon.” His partner was in the back of the ambulance with the patient who was being transferred from St. Mary to another facility for evaluation. This was not an emergency transport. The partner noticed erratic driving, notified Mr. Swerk and asked the driver to pull over. While pulling over, the ambulance jumped the curb and the tire was blown. Mr. Swerk arrived shortly after in another ambulance to transfer the patient and continue the transport. The driver was immediately fired from his job. Mr. Swerk understood that the driver would also lose his driver’s license and EMT certification.
Mr. Swerk said that the Squad does routine random drug testing, has an extensive and ongoing interview and training process and this particular driver had, up to this point, an excellent record with the Squad. On the day of the incident, his partner was in the back with the patient and had very limited direct interaction with the driver; once he noticed the erratic driving, he immediately took appropriate steps.
Dr. Ciervo asked whether this employee would be able to file a grievance or seek re-instatement.
Mr. Swerk confirmed that this is a non-union shop and there would be no further recourse. The incident was reported to the state; the driver would not be able to seek employment in another ambulance squad. This information is shared with New Jersey, Delaware and New York.
Mr. Calabro asked what procedures were followed to continue transport of the patient.
Mr. Swerk said that when the partner reported the incident to him he immediately brought another ambulance to the scene to continue the transport; the partner stayed with the patient throughout. The Squad’s chief came to the site to handle the driver. It was only a matter of a few minutes.
Mr. Benchener said that there are certain mistakes that cannot be tolerated; this could have been a matter of life or death. He said that the Squad should institute a checklist procedure before any driver takes the wheel, so that a partner would spot in advance if a driver was in any way impaired and catch in advance any potential difficulty. Such checklist procedures are commonplace in many workplace situations and help reduce mistakes.
Mr. Swerk noted that this is the only such incident in the Squad’s 63 year history. All employees are trained in substance abuse recognition and are now being retrained. He will discuss the matter with the police chief to learn whether there are any guidelines for this type of on-the spot procedure.
Mr. Calabro commended Mr. Benchener’s strict position on driving while under the influence but questioned his consistency, as any driver risks the lives of others when he drives impaired and Mr. Benchener has been more flexible with this in the past when dealing with drivers in positions of responsibility.
Dr. Ciervo noted that the Ambulance Squad employees are already health care professionals, well versed in ways to assess impairment. Instituting a routine quick check should add only a few seconds to the procedure before getting behind the wheel to respond to a call. He was sure that in light of recent events, the other members of the Squad will be hyper-vigilant.
Mr. Ferguson asked that Mr. Swerk review again for the residents the procedure in place for when a vehicle becomes disabled when responding to a call.
Mr. Swerk said that the County is notified if a vehicle becomes disabled and the nearest available ambulance responds to continue the transport. It never takes more than a few minutes to continue; this does happen occasionally and all squads are trained for this.
Mr. R. Gallagher thanked Mr. Swerk for speaking to the Board tonight and for taking responsibility. He is confident that the Squad will learn from this and put measures in place to serve as a double check.
Resident Shawn Ward said that he has known Mr. Swerk and worked with him and the Squad members many times and feels that Mr. Swerk has taken full responsibility and what happened is an aberration. This is a stellar organization.
Resident Allen Fidler agreed with Mr. Ward. The Squad has provided outstanding service to the community for over sixty years. He asked whether the Township has a checklist or safety check procedure in place before Township employees drive Township vehicles that could be shared with the Squad. It is essential to keep the public safe by being vigilant with fire, police and public works drivers as well as with the Ambulance Squad.
Mr. Benchener agreed with Mr. Fidler that any safety procedures instituted be shared with all of the Township’s driver employees.
Resident Jim Casey said that he is a retired SEPTA bus driver. He feels that drivers cannot be prevented from doing stupid things when “nobody is looking.” Mr. Swerk and the Squad leaders have done everything they can to hire good people and train them well, but this incident was out of their hands.
Mr. Benchener said that he appreciated Mr. Swerk coming forward and looks forward to an evaluation of current procedures to see if they can be improved in the future.
Historic Architectural Review Board: Mr. Benchener moved to approve a certificate of appropriateness for Mamita’s Restaurante Latino, 12 Cambridge Lane as outlined in a memo dated April 16, 2013. Dr. Ciervo seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Reports of Committees, Boards and Commissions
Park and Recreation Board: Chairman Andrew Levine introduced Eagle Scout candidate Brian Coccetti, whose project has been reviewed by the Park and Recreation Board which recommended approval.
Eagle Scout candidate Brian Coccetti explained that his project is to build a community herb garden at Clark Nature Center in the already fenced in garden area. He has worked closely with Park and Recreation Director Kathy Pawlenko to plan the garden. He will install raised beds and ADA compliant paths. He has consulted with Kirschner’s Nursery about selection of weed resistant herbs for use for medicinal properties and for cooking. The autistic support classes at Council Rock North will assist with spreading mulch on the paths and with ongoing maintenance. He has already worked with this class.
Mr. Levine assured the Board that one of the Park and Rec Board members, Mark McMenamin is a licensed landscape architect and has offered advice on weed resistant plants and has recommended approval of the design. Ms. Morris at Council Rock has been bring her classes to Clark Nature Center to do certain maintenance tasks and will continue to work on the herb garden, which will also be used by the Recreation Department for garden clubs and classes.
Mr. M. Gallagher expressed some concern about ongoing maintenance. He noted that there have been attempts to start a community garden in the past which have been unsuccessful. He is not eager to burden the Public Works Department with additional maintenance duties.
Mr. Levine said that weed resistant perennial plants have been chosen and between the Scouts and the autistic support class, the very minimal maintenance will be taken care of.
Dr. Ciervo suggested that perhaps the EAC might have some comment or suggestions.
Mr. Levine asked that EAC approval not be a condition of approval of this plan.
Dr. Ciervo moved to approve Eagle Scout Brian Coccetti’s plans for an herb garden at Clark Nature Center, as outlined in this evening’s presentation. Mr. R. Gallagher seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Mr. Garton noted that such a project may require a permit from the Township, which would possibly involve permit fees.
Dr. Ciervo moved to waive any permit fees for Brian Coccetti’s herb garden project. Mr. R. Gallagher seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Mr. Levine reported that he and Park and Recreation Director Kathy Pawlenko presented plans for Noah’s Playground in Veterans Park to the Bucks County Planning Commission’s Municipal Open Space Program, which was very supportive of the plan. The final steps to seek this matching fund are to finalize engineering and pricing. The plan is essentially the same as had already been approved by the Supervisors except that one climbing apparatus has been replaced by additional swings. The fund now has $55,000 – $60,000, with funds raised by the Cohen family, and two fundraisers sponsored by the Park and Recreation Department and Board and Newtown Little League. Once Noah’s Playground is complete, the Park and Recreation Board would like to develop additional projects for the MOSP matching funds, including an adult/senior fitness trail at Carl Sedia Park.
Mr. Levine reported the Park and Recreation Department’s summer camps are now taking registrations. There are still a few slots open in Teen Camp and Camp Newtown. Registration ends May 1. While the Department has lower revenue this year than last year at this time, for the first time it has accepted down payments on camp registrations. Once that money is collected we it be ahead on revenues compared to last year.
Mr. Levine asked residents to keep long time Park and Recreation Board member Buck O’Neill in their thoughts and prayers as he faces some serious health issues.
Mr. M. Gallagher asked how newtownfun.com has worked out for the Department.
Mr. Levine said that while many residents still prefer direct contact with someone in the Recreation Department, use of the Web site and on-line registration continues to grow. There is a slight cost incurred by the Department for on-line registration. Mrs. Pawlenko has been considering ways to address this.
Mr. Benchener said that a cost analysis could be done to compare the additional charge against the cost of an employee’s time to process a check, although the cost is probably insignificant.
Mr. Levine noted that newtownfun.com allows the Department to generate a number of useful reports on programs and registrants.
Technology Committee: Chairman Kyle Davis reported that the Technology Committee has been developing a list of priorities for the Township to focus on in the coming years and is seeking some Board input. The priorities the Committee is currently researching are:
Mr. Davis noted that all of these priorities should also be included as the Committee continues its work on a five year plan for the Township’s technology.
Mr. Ferguson said that the Township staff has begun to investigate use of Google to possibly eliminate some licensing fees and for document management. Even with use of the Cloud for storage, there would always be some need for on-site servers. He will prepare a summary of his research for the Board.
Mr. M. Gallagher said that he had spoken to the Committee about using Cloud Sherpa for word documents and e-mail. This is not very expensive and contracts would include in-person training and tech support. This would allow the Township to move away from some on-site servers and would allow future purchase of less expensive computers with less storage capacity.
Mr. Benchener asked whether there are any concerns with remote storage of government documents.
Mr. Davis said that he has been researching Google Docs for Governments. He believes that this provides very secure storage, and Government Docs are always stored within the United States.
Mr. Calabro asked whether the Technology Committee had already developed and presented a five year plan.
Mr. Davis said that this has been on the committee’s agenda for many years but has been constrained by recent changes in the Township capital budgets. The committee has decided to focus on smaller issues separately, although addressing these issues would be a part of a larger, all encompassing, five year plan.
Mr. Benchener noted that during Hurricane Sandy many residents were reliant on social media for immediate information, such as road closures and downed power lines, which was constantly changing. A Township Facebook presence during emergencies might be more helpful to residents than a static Township Web site.
Mr. Davis agreed, noting how useful Facebook and Twitter had been in the Boston area during the recent search for the alleged Marathon bomber. He noted that a policy should be in place before use of social media by the Township begins.
Planning Commission: Chairman Allen Fidler reported that at its April 16, 2013 meeting the Commission reviewed three Zoning Hearing Board applications. The Commission reviewed the Application of Sunoco, 549 Washington Avenue, to replace the existing Sunoco sign with an LED sign panel which will display gas prices. Members were in agreement that the JMZO specifically prohibits electronic message centers, including those with static displays, and felt that this ordinance should be upheld. The applicant did not have a hardship, since it already has very large, lit signs and the historic nature of Washington Avenue should be preserved. The Commission voted unanimously to recommend that the Township send the solicitor to oppose this application. Newtown Borough’s solicitor, James McNamara, was in attendance and indicated that the Borough may seek party status to oppose the application as well.
The Commission reviewed the application of Doug Haines, 66 Richboro Road, for relief for height, size and number of signs at Newtown Chocolatier. The applicant was not in attendance, but the members attempted to consider reasons for the large number of signs. This shop is at the end of the CC Convenience Commercial Zoning District, near the residential area, and the building is set back from the street, so the members did not object to the request for size and height relief for the free standing sign. The awnings seemed to be necessary to protect the products from the sun and they make the building look more attractive; however, the members were concerned that, since the ordinance considers logos on awnings as signs, and since it limits this address to only two signs, some of the signage might be unnecessary. Without the applicant in attendance, the members were unable to make a recommendation as to which, if any, of the signs, could be eliminated. The Commission’s recommendation is to send this application to the Zoning Hearing Board without opposition.
In light of this discussion and other recent sign variance applications for businesses in commercial districts, the Planning Commission recommends that the Supervisors consider reviewing the sign ordinance as it applies to Newtown’s business districts.
The Commission reviewed the application of Clifton Homes for Philip and Patricia Shotts, 4 Windrow Lane, for relief to increase the impervious surface by 1% to build a sunroom. The Commission advised the applicant to provide the Zoning Hearing Board with letters of support from surrounding neighbors and to consider ways to mitigate additional run-off from the increased impervious surface. Ms. Fountain also noted that there was a discrepancy on the plan regarding side yard setbacks. She asked the contractor to confirm that the chimney meets setback requirements. The Commission recommends that this application proceed to the Zoning Hearing Board without opposition.
Mr. Calabro noted that the Board of Supervisors had recently reviewed an awning for a chain restaurant and did not consider it a sign. He questioned why the Township would recommend opposing Newtown Chocolatier’s awning application.
Mr. Fidler explained that the Ordinance considers logos on awnings as signage; awnings are permitted. The Zoning Officer advised this applicant to leave his awnings in place when they were mistakenly installed with logos, and to seek relief from the Zoning Hearing Board. The Planning Commission did not recommend opposition, but only noted that the Ordinance requires that the applicant seek Zoning Hearing Board relief.
Mr. M. Gallagher said that he had some concerns about the Ordinance considering logos used as decorative elements on awnings as signs.
Mr. Fidler said that this is just one of the concerns the Planning Commission would like to address in the sign ordinance. He asked the Supervisors to support a Planning Commission review of the JMZO with a goal of amending the sign ordinance.
Mr. M. Gallagher urged the Commission to take up this review and bring recommendations to the Supervisors.
Board of Supervisors Report
Mr. M. Gallagher noted that in addition to the large number of variances sought for signage, the Zoning Hearing Board sees many applications for fence height. Our ordinance only permits five foot fences, but the home improvement stores sell only four and six foot fences ready-made. He suggested that the Board propose that the Jointure amend the maximum fence height to six feet.
Mr. Ferguson said that he has had many conversations with residents and with the code enforcement officer about this. He agreed that it should be considered.
Mr. R. Gallagher said that he would support such a change. Many of the homes in the Township are also under homeowners association restrictions. It would then fall to the HOA’s to regulate fence heights, but at least those wanting taller foot fences would not have to custom order them.
Ms. Fountain confirmed that fence height is addressed in the JMZO, not in the Township’s SALDO. Change would require Jointure approval.
Mr. M. Gallagher moved to direct the Solicitor to draft an amendment to the JMZO to allow a maximum fence height of 6 feet. Mr. Benchener seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Dr. Ciervo said that he wanted to comment on the excellence of our police training. He had noted that during the search for the Boston Marathon bomber, it was the local Watertown police who were conducting the search. We tend not to think that major police events will happen here, but recent events like the Boston Marathon and Sandy Hook have shown that the dangers faced by municipal police forces. Ours has been trained well for all such emergencies, thanks to the guidance of Chief Pasqualini.
Newtown Corporation: Mr. Garton explained that Newtown Corporation had been formed many years ago, with members appointed by Newtown Township and Newtown Borough. It has been struggling lately and Newtown Borough has agreed to relinquish its interest and release Newtown Corporation and the Township from any claims of monies and or liabilities provided the Township and Borough enter into an indemnity agreement. The Borough has signed that indemnity agreement.
Mr. Benchener asked whether Newtown Corporation currently has any litigation or if any is pending.
Mr. Garton said that there is no pending litigation, to his knowledge.
Mr. Benchener said that he is eager to move forward; this action will help focus Newtown Corporation on economic development for Newtown Township.
Mr. M. Gallagher agreed and said he was eager to schedule a work session to address Newtown Corporation’s mission.
Dr. Ciervo said that while he is eager to get Newtown Corporation back on track he does have some concerns. He would also like to review the current mission statement and bylaws and to establish some specific goals. While Newtown Corporation had been very active in sponsoring events it did not have sufficient focus on economic development. He would like to set a work session agenda soon which would establish two year goals.
Mr. Benchener moved to approve the agreement on Newtown Corporation. Mr. R. Gallagher seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Beneficial Bank Settlement Agreement: Mr. Garton reminded the Board that it had held conditional use hearings for Beneficial Bank for a branch bank on South Sycamore Street and had denied the application. Beneficial appealed that decision to the Court of Common Pleas. Vince Lombardi, Frank Tyrol, Shawn Ward and the Sycamore Street Community Association joined the appeal as intervenors with the Township. During executive sessions a settlement stipulation was agreed to and prepared by Beneficial’s attorney, John VanLuvanee. The stipulation identifies a plan with the building parallel to Sycamore Street, with two drive through lanes, two access points, one on Sycamore Street and a second access on Richboro Road with right out exit only, pedestrian friendly teller pods, signage identified and an agreement to coordinate with the Township Traffic Engineer on a center lane to address traffic concerns.
Dr. Ciervo said that he is unwilling to sign the stipulation with only a sketch plan having been submitted. The attached sketch does not show parking.
Mr. VanLuvanee said that the full sized plan has been submitted. It could be attached to the stipulation if the Board would like.
Joel Della Carpini, engineer with Bohler Engineering, showed the originally submitted plan and the revised plan included with the stipulation agreement, pointing out that one drive through aisle has been eliminated, employee parking which backed into that drive aisle has also been eliminated. The building has been reoriented on the lot so that it faces Sycamore Street. The parking meets Township requirements. A waiver is required for setbacks to allow for green space at the front and side of the building.
Dr. Ciervo said that the main reason for rejecting the original plan had been traffic concerns. The new plan still shows left turns from Richboro Road into the bank. He asked that the Richboro Road entrance be right in/right out.
Mr. VanLuvanee said that the applicant is unwilling to agree to that. Both the Township Traffic Engineer and the applicant’s traffic engineer have agreed that traffic studies do not support the need for right in only.
Mr. Garton said that Traffic Engineer Amy Kaminsky sketched a center lane to address this concern and the applicant’s traffic engineer has agreed to it.
Dr. Ciervo continued to express concern about backed up traffic, especially when combined with cars exiting 7-11. He also did not agree that signage should be addressed in the stipulation agreement. He objected to bypassing the Zoning Hearing Board for possible signage relief.
Mr. VanLuvanee said that the new plan addresses the Township’s and the Sycamore Street Association’s main objection; a drive aisle has been eliminated which was visible from Sycamore Street and the building has been oriented toward Sycamore Street. The traffic concerns discussed are not supported by traffic studies; there is no significant queuing and the bank will not exacerbate traffic. This stipulation helps to avoid a lengthy litigation; the Township has worked for over a year with the applicant to provide a compromise which addresses all of the Township’s concerns. The signage is included because of the “Welcome to Newtown” sign which impacts the permitted signage allotted to the location.
Mr. Benchener said that there has been some give and take in the compromise to address traffic concerns, however he does not support bypassing the Zoning Hearing Board on signage.
Mr. M. Gallagher also did not support a waiver of sign requirements. Much of the proposed signage is directional. The Zoning Hearing Board is more familiar than the Supervisors as to how to handle a request such as this.
Dr. Ciervo and Mr. Calabro discussed their concerns with already existing problems surrounding the Richboro Road exit from 7-11, suggesting restrictions on turning out of 7-11 or possibly adding delayed traffic light timing.
Mr. VanLuvanee said that the “welcome to Newtown” signage is a major component of the bank’s signage package. The bank is unwilling to build the sign if it is included in the bank’s allotted signage calculations.
Mr. Garton asked whether variances would be required if the “welcome to Newtown” sign were not included in calculations.
Mr. VanLuvanee was not sure. A height variance would not be required for the chimney sign.
Dr. Ciervo said that it is not the height but the lighting on the chimney sign that he is concerned with. The Township has already addressed a similar concern with another business.
Mr. Garton suggested removing the “welcome to Newtown” sign from the total signage calculation and addressing other signage through the Zoning Hearing Board if necessary.
Mr. VanLuvanee said that he would need approval from the bank’s Board before he could agree to it.
Mr. Ward, speaking on behalf of Sycamore Street Community Association and Messrs. Tyrol and Lombardi, said that he and his clients have reviewed the stipulation agreement and are supportive of it. The orientation of the building addresses their original concerns. He did not think restricting the entrance to right in only would help with traffic. The elimination of one drive through aisle will be helpful. The wall and “welcome to Newtown’ sign will be a very nice amenity for Sycamore Street, serving as a gateway to the business district. The stipulation will avoid the Common Pleas court, whose decision is unknown. He urged the Board to sign the stipulation. He noted that the sign ordinance has been an issue of concern to the entire business community and he is supportive of efforts to revise it.
Mr. M. Gallagher said that while he agrees that the sign ordinance should be reviewed, he is not supportive of bypassing the Zoning Hearing Board in this case.
Mr. Benchener moved to approve the stipulation agreement with Beneficial Bank, revised to remove approval of all signs so that it bypasses the Zoning Hearing Board. The stipulation should be revised to remove the “welcome to Newtown” sign from the bank’s signage calculation. Mr. Mr. Gallagher seconded.
Discussion of motion: Dr. Ciervo said that the traffic is still his biggest concern and he is not eager to rush to settle. He feels the Township could be successful in court.
Mr. R. Gallagher did not think the plan had been changed enough to address the Townships concerns regarding Sycamore Street and traffic.
Mr. Benchener said that he was not sure the Township could be successful in court. The two traffic engineers agreed that the center lane alternative would address traffic issues.
Dr. Ciervo said that he has not heard from the Township Traffic Engineer by memo or letter that the issues have been resolved to her satisfaction. He has also not heard from Mr. Wursta, the Sycamore Street Association’s traffic engineer.
The motion passed 3-2, with Dr. Ciervo and Mr. R. Gallagher voting nay.
Mr. Garton confirmed to Mr. VanLuvanee that he would be authorized to sign the stipulation once it has been revised.
Gasoline and Diesel Bids: Mr. Benchener moved to accept gasoline and diesel fuel bids as outlined in a memo from Ron Weaver dated April 12, 2013. Mr. M. Gallagher seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Other Manager’s business: Mr. Ferguson reported that the Townships recycling event had 385 participants and collected 34,918 pounds of electronics to be recycled. The next such event, co-sponsored by the Township and Leck & Son, is scheduled for September 21, 2013.
The Township has retained a bond rating of AA3 in Moody’s. This is based on the Township’s fund balance, debts and its growth. The rating had been downgraded two years ago but conditions have stabilized. The ratings are set by reviewing conditions over a period of years.
Mr. Benchener said that the bond rating indicates the likelihood that the Township will pay its debt; a good rating allows for borrowing at a lower rate of interest. The Township is not anticipating additional debt and should not manage its finances solely with a goal of a higher bond rating.
Mr. Ferguson reported that the general fund balance is $1,780,838. In addition, the Township has collected $312,324, which goes to fire protection and debt service funds. The audits for the Township and fire department should be completed by the end of May.
Minutes, Bills Lists and Reports
Minutes: Mr. R. Gallagher moved to approve the minutes of the meeting of April 10, 2013. Mr. Benchener seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Bills: Mr. R. Gallagher moved to approve payment of bills totaling $137,033.25. Mr. Benchener seconded. The motion passed 5-0.
Mr. R. Gallagher moved to approve interfund transfers totaling $177,864.83. Mr. Benchener seconded. The motion passed 5-0.
Mr. Ferguson asked the Board to authorize payment of $19,512.65 to GEO Services, which provided expert testimony during the Newtown Artesian/PUC hearings. With legal fees, the total cost to the Township to participate in the hearings will be about $50,000.
Mr. Benchener moved to authorize payment of $19,512.65 to GEO Services. Dr. Ciervo seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Mr. Garton said that there would be no executive session.The meeting adjourned at 10:20 PM.
Mary Donaldson, Recording Secretary