Board of Supervisors
Minutes of January 22, 2014
The Newtown Township Board of Supervisors met on Wednesday, January 22, 2014 in the Township meeting room at 7:30 PM. In attendance and voting were Supervisors: Chairman Michael Gallagher, Vice Chairman Ryan Gallagher, Secretary Matthew Benchener and Philip Calabro and Jennifer Dix, members. Also in attendance were: Kurt Ferguson, Township Manager and Jeffrey Garton, Township Solicitor.
Call to Order : Chairman Gallagher called the meeting to order with a moment of silence followed by the Pledge of Allegiance.
Changes to the Agenda: Mr. Ferguson reported that he has added two items to the Manager’s report: consideration of an electricity supplier contract and consideration of a contract with Pennoni Associates to update the Newtown Yardley Road plans for the PennDOT TIP project.
Board Member Reports
Mr. R. Gallagher said that in 2014, he would like the Board to begin to acknowledge accomplishments of community members and organizations. He asked residents to let him know of any achievements of community members that should be acknowledged by the Board.
Mr. R. Gallagher urged residents to be aware of elderly neighbors during this extreme weather and to pay attention to the many dangers, including black ice and frozen pipes. He also commended the Public Works Department for its excellent response to the snow.
Mr. M. Gallagher added his thanks to the Public Works Department, which has done a wonderful job of keeping the streets clear throughout the night.
The Birches, Certificate of Completion #3: Mr. Benchener moved to approve an escrow release to The Birches in the amount of $237,236.05. Mr. Calabro seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
DeLorenzo’s Tomato Pies, 671 Newtown Yardley Road: Mr. Garton reminded the Board that it had opened and continued a public hearing on the Conditional Use application of DeLorenzo’s Tomato Pies. DeLorenzo’s has withdrawn both its Conditional Use and Zoning Hearing Board applications. There is no further action required by the Board.
Applebee’s Restaurant, 3 West Road: Mr. Garton reminded the Board that in 2001 the Township Zoning Hearing Board granted Applebee’s relief for signage on its restaurant. The Township Board of Supervisors appealed that decision and subsequently entered into a stipulation agreement and court order regarding permitted signage. Applebee’s is now seeking to amend the Stipulation to move one of its signs to the north facing side of the building, facing the Newtown Bypass, in lieu of the sign facing the Acme Market.
Attorney John VanLuvanee represented the applicant, Jason Rose of The Rose Group.
Mr. Ferguson noted that at the direction of the Board of Supervisors he notified Continental Properties, which manages Tyler Walk’s Homeowners Association, of the request. That letter and a response from Continental Properties were placed in the Board packets.
Mr. VanLuvanee said that neither he, nor Mr. Rose, were involved at the time of the original stipulation. It is his understanding that the Rose Group had entered into the agreement under pressure to open the restaurant on time. This was the first pad site opened at the Newtown Shopping Center.
Mr. VanLuvanee presented the Board with a packet of photographs, including aerial photos of the shopping center and Tyler Walk, photos of other businesses in the shopping center and an image of the current north facing wall and one with the proposed signage superimposed. He noted that the side of the building where the proposed sign would be placed is not visible from Tyler Walk. There are no changes in the number of signs, nor would this be a new or different sign. The sign currently facing Acme will be moved. He noted that since Applebee’s opened, all of the other businesses in the shopping center have been permitted signs facing the Bypass. Applebee’s has no identification on the side of the building facing the entrance road into the shopping center from Durham Road. He noted that he understood that our Planning Commission had no objection to the amendment, although the minutes from that meeting have not yet been approved and made available. He also noted that Tyler Walk was not a party to the Zoning Hearing Board appeal or the Stipulation.
Mr. Benchener said that he understands that the shopping center has changed a great deal over the years, but asked whether Applebee’s has changed.
Mr. VanLuvanee said that Applebee’s had agreed to the stipulation because it was eager to open for business. Since then more businesses surround Applebee’s, making it less visible. He also noted that Tyler Walk’s letter in opposition references preservation of a rural atmosphere, however, that environment no longer exists. The sign will also not be visible to residents at the Birches. He asked the Board to table consideration and visit the site and surrounding sites to see how Applebee’s is not identified on the side facing the entrance drive to the shopping center. He said that Applebee’s did change its signage last year and had placed a sign on this wall, but when the Township said it was not permitted, the sign was removed.
Mrs. Dix asked whether the package of photographs had been shown to the Tyler Walk residents who have objected. She said that it might be beneficial for them to see exactly what is being proposed.
Mr. M. Gallagher said that he believes that the Tyler Walk objection is to additional glow of lights from the shopping center, which will be visible even if the letters of the sign are not.
Mr. VanLuvanee reminded the Board that Applebee’s topography sets it below the roadway and blocked from residential view by trees and shrubbery. The sign will be placed between two brick parapets on the façade of the building. Most of the glare coming toward Tyler Walk is coming from the new Birches parking lot lights.
Mr. M. Gallagher said that the Township has had numerous discussions with the businesses at the shopping center about lighting on the signs. Most have agreed to use gooseneck lights to help reduce glare.
Mr. VanLuvanee again asked the Board to table consideration of the request and revisit the site and surrounding area to confirm that the Applebee’s sign would not contribute additional glare and would not be visible to Tyler Walk residents.
Resident Michael Iapalucci, a member of the Tyler Walk Homeowners Association, said that he had been present at the original hearings and at the time of the stipulation. At that time, Applebee’s elected to place its three signs on the south, east and west facing walls and leave this wall without signage. He is concerned that if they are given three signs facing the Bypass, then other businesses in the shopping center will also seek to place three signs facing the Bypass. He also noted that when the signs were changed last year, Applebee’s left the sign up for nine months after the Township issued a violation notice. He said the building is lighted and very recognizable without any additional signs.
Mr. Benchener said that Applebee’s had agreed to the current signage in the stipulation, and he has not heard that Applebee’s business has changed. He agreed with Mrs. Dix’s suggestion to take the photos of the proposed signage to the Tyler Walk Homeowners Association and see if they are comfortable with the proposal.
Mr. Rose said that since Applebee’s opened, it has been surrounded by other businesses with signs facing the Bypass.
Mr. VanLuvanee also noted that the sign would not “face the Bypass” but be visible from the Bypass.
Mr. Calabro said that he did not feel this was a hardship to the business. The other businesses in the shopping center with signs facing the Bypass all have the signage over their entrances. Applebee’s does have a sign on its entrance wall. It is a freestanding building with a recognizable design, not part of a strip of shops.
Mr. VanLuvanee noted that the 2001 Zoning Hearing Board did recognize the hardship of not having identification for patrons entering the shopping center.
Mr. Benchener asked whether Applebee’s would consider using gooseneck lights over the sign rather than backlighting.
Mr. VanLuvanee said that this would be considered. They would try to arrange something similar to what other businesses in the area have been using.
Mr. Calabro moved to grant an amendment to the Stipulation Agreement to permit a sign on the north face of the building.
The action died with lack of a second.
Mr. M. Gallagher urged Mr. VanLuvanee to work with Tyler Walk, perhaps addressing lighting on the sign.
Mr. Calabro asked whether the awnings on the building are considered additional signage.
Mr. M. Gallagher said that this is up to the interpretation of the code enforcement officer. He noted that Newtown Chocolatier had a letter on one of its awnings which was considered a sign, but the Zoe’s Kitchen awnings’ stripes were not counted as signs.
Mr. VanLuvanee said that when Qdoba Restaurant came in with plans for a restaurant in the adjacent shopping center, its awning decoration was not considered additional signage. He believed that this was the case with Applebee’s awnings as well.
Hudson Energy Agreement: Mr. Ferguson reminded the Board that in 2011, it had entered into a three-year agreement with Dominion Energy Solutions to provide electric generation and transmission to the Township at a cost of $0.092 per kilowatt hour. He has researched other available vendors and is recommending that the Board contract with Hudson Energy for three years at a cost of $0.0880, a 3.68% decrease over the current rate, or about $1500 per year.
Mr. Benchener moved to authorize the Township Manager to contract with Hudson Energy for electric generation and transmission at $0.880 per kilowatt hour. Mr. R. Gallagher seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Mr. M. Gallagher thanked Mr. Ferguson for his ongoing efforts to save money.
Agreement with Pennoni Associates for Newtown Yardley Road TIP Project: Mr. Ferguson reminded the Board that it had agreed to accept PennDOT’s Newtown Yardley Road TIP project, with the Township responsible for the cost of updates to the plans. The plans had been originally drafted by Pennoni Associates, which has agreed to do the update for a lump sum of $95,250.
Mr. R. Gallagher asked if this is a guaranteed cost.
Mr. Ferguson said that this would be as outlined by PennDOT. If PennDOT later alters its requirements, that would not be included. The amount would be paid as the project moves along.
Mr. Ferguson reminded the Board that this project will widen Newtown Yardley Road and improve the intersections with Terry Drive and Lower Dolington Road, add a traffic signal at Friends Lane and synchronize the signals. This engineering fee is paid from the TSA fund, not the general fund.
Mr. M. Gallagher explained that TSA funds are traffic impact fees collected from developers to improve traffic when new construction takes place.
Mr. R. Gallagher moved to authorize the Township Manager to enter into an agreement with Pennoni Associates to update the Newtown Yardley Road TIP plan for a cost not to exceed $95,250, pending review of the agreement by the Township Solicitor. Mr. Benchener seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Manager’s Other Business: Mr. Ferguson said that so far this year, there has been more snow than in the past two years combined. The Township has spent $48,000 of the $50,000 budgeted for rock salt. In addition, an extra shift of EMS has been added from 6:00 PM to 6:00 AM during the snow emergency. EMS, Police, Public Works and PennDOT have been working round the clock to keep residents safe. Yesterday, he declared a snow emergency, which was lifted at noon today. During a snow emergency, all vehicles must be removed from the streets so that the plows can work efficiently.
Minutes, Bills Lists and Reports
Minutes: On the Reorganization minutes of January 6, 2014, Mrs. Dix noted that the vote for Secretary/Assistant Treasurer should read, “4-1, with Mr. Calabro voting nay.”
Mr. Benchener moved to accept the minutes of January 6, 2014, as corrected. Mr. M. Gallagher seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Mr. R. Gallagher moved to accept the minutes of January 8, 2014. Mr. M. Gallagher seconded and the motion passed 4-0-1, with Mr. Benchener abstaining.
Bills: Mr. Benchener moved to approve bills totaling $163,998.74. Mr. M. Gallagher seconded and the motion passed 4-1, with Mr. Calabro voting nay.
Mr. Benchener moved to authorize interfund transfers totaling $200,000. Mr. R. Gallagher seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Mr. M. Gallagher announced that the Board would remain for an executive session at the conclusion of the meeting.
Mr. R. Gallagher reminded residents that the Township is still accepting applications for a new economic development committee.
Mrs. Dix asked Mr. Ferguson whether the Township has considered adding a stop sign to Penns Trail at the intersection with Pheasant Run.
Mr. Ferguson said that he has spoken to the Traffic Engineer about this intersection. She will review traffic patterns and incident reports with Public Works and Police to determine whether any adjustments would be beneficial. Her review would include the surrounding roadways to determine whether there would be additional impact on vehicles coming from the Bypass to the Business Commons.
Mr. M. Gallagher reminded Mr. Ferguson that at one time there had been discussions with the NAC about traffic improvements at this intersection, but he did not recall whether any funds were specifically set aside in escrow for future improvements or if any formal agreements had been made.
Mr. Ferguson said he would research this and have an update before the next meeting.
Mrs. Dix asked for an update on the Act 537 Plan.
Mr. Ferguson said that the DEP approved the Act 537 proposal in December and so it is moving forward. He has also been coordinating with Bucks County Water and Sewer Authority, which has accepted the estimated sewer needs of the Township for the next five years. He expects that there will be some movement on the moratorium in the spring.
Mrs. Dix asked for an update on the use of the funds allocated to Newtown Township in the County’s Municipal Open Space Program.
Mr. Ferguson said that Park and Recreation Director Kathy Pawlenko and Park and Recreation Board Chairman Andrew Levine have been working with the County to get a portion of the funds to complete Noah’s Playground in Veterans Park. The original intent of the program was to preserve open space, so there have been some delays in the playground approval. Mr. Garton has also been working on this. There has been a change in the County’s staff, and where initially, the County had been very receptive to using the funds for the playground, it now seems that some additional requirements may be added. The Township has not been successful in acquiring conservation easements on some of the private properties identified in the Comprehensive Plan. The funds require a Township match.
Mrs. Dix asked that the Open Space Comprehensive Plan be placed on the Township Web site and that uses for the funds be explored further, as the funds expire at the end of 2014.
Mr. M. Gallagher asked Mr. Ferguson to arrange for a work session with Fire Chief Glen Forsyth to discuss the emergency management plan.
Mr. Benchener announced that he would be resigning his position as supervisor on February 1, 2014. He is sorry to leave but has had additional responsibilities at work involving more travel, has a young son and is enrolled in very demanding MBA program at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. He will no longer be able to give the Township the attention it deserves from a supervisor. He said that he is very proud of his time with the Board. The Board had weathered a serious economic downturn, maintaining the same excellent level of service with no tax increase. He thanked all of the Board members he has served with and has learned from. From Mr. Schenkman he learned to listen carefully to all sides of an issue before making a decision, from Dr. Ciervo he learned to always come prepared, from Mr. Calabro he learned to consider the human impact of decisions facing the Board, from Mr. R. Gallagher he learned to balance practicality and from Mr. M. Gallagher he learned that the best way to lead is through hard work. He wished Ms. Dix success as a new supervisor. And he thanked the residents for allowing him to serve the community.
Mr. Garton wished Mr. Benchener much success, and explained to the Board that it would have thirty days from Mr. Benchener’s resignation to fill the position. If a replacement is not found, on the 31 st day the vacancy board would be convened to fill the position. He reminded the Board that it would need to advertise for the position and conduct public interviews. The interviews do not need to be televised, but must be announced in advance and open to all.
Mr. M. Gallagher thanked Mr. Benchener for his time on the Board and for his many valuable contributions, especially bringing his knowledge of finances and investments to the Board and his help with labor relations.
Mr. R. Gallagher thanked Mr. Benchener for his commitment to the Township and for his help in financial and budgetary matters. He will be greatly missed.
Mr. Calabro wished Mr. Benchener the best in his future endeavors, saying that he knows this was a carefully considered decision, but he expects to see him again in public service to his community.
Mr. Ferguson said that he would work with Mr. Garton to craft an advertisement to run later in the week and early next week, with an interview schedule during the week of February 10.
The meeting adjourned at 9:20 PM.
Mary Donaldson, Recording Secretary