NEWTOWN BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT COUNCIL
LUNCHEON MEETING AT GOODNOE FARM DAIRY BAR
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 1, 2001
APPROVAL OF THE NOVEMBER MINUTES: Mr. Terry moved to approve the minutes of the November meeting as presented. Ms. Kruse seconded; the motion carried.
In attendance: Lilly Bartholomew, Helen Bojko, Belinda Buras, John Callaghan, Hal Roberts, Dave Marcolla, Dick Weaver, Lisa Kruse, Walter Leck, Judy Setar, Gary Meeks, Mary Lou Schaffer, Brad Schwartz, Doug Terry, Frank Tyrol, Denise Walsh, Linda Mitchell, William Mlkvy.
CALL TO ORDER – In the absence of the Chairman, Dick Weaver called the meeting to order.
INTRODUCTIONS - As there were many new attendees, those present introduced themselves briefly.
CODES DEPARTMENT BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT REPORT
Mr. Harwood distributed and reviewed the report for October 2001. Mr. Harwood noted that AT&T Wireless PCS has been continued indefinitely by request of the applicant, and that QualTek Molecular Laboratories was new. There is no Planning Commission meeting this month. Mr. Harwood said that four applications requesting variances were scheduled for the Zoning Hearing Board on December 6, 2001: SEPTA, for bus transit signs; Keller Williams Preferred Real Estate for a freestanding sign; Durham Road Associates, for construction of a 2-story office building; and ICT Group, for a wall-mounted sign.
Mr. DiJulio gave a brief history of the 50-year old cable industry, which Pennsylvania claims credit for starting. He said the initiation of satellite service fueled development in the cable industry, and for a while premium channels were the largest portion of the service.
New developments include two-way, interactive service. Comcast has spent over $60M in Bucks County to build the infrastructure for the fast growing modem service. New fiber optics have been added; fiber will not reach homes until perhaps 2010. Comcast is moving into digital service, where digital cable now can carry 12 channels in the space of one channel. Comcast has a visual TV guide available, and additional channels are available with digital service. Mr. DiJulio said that last November Comcast began high-speed modem service, which over 10% of their customers have presently. Many are interested, and they can barely keep up with installation demands.
Comcast is working particularly on improving customer service, which has not been exemplary in the past. Now they offer 24-7 service, including Saturday and Sunday installation service and scheduling within 3-hour windows. New services being developed are:
Comcast is also working on CBC – Comcast Business Communication, Internet service for small business. They are presently working on building infrastructure to bring Internet service to business areas and locations. Easements from property owners and a survey of the business districts are necessary; bringing cable to those areas is still too expensive. A telecommuter product is also being developed, to connect employees at home into their company’s system, via a Virtual Private Network modem. This would be a quite secure connection. High Speed Direct Fiber Data service is now available, and is more for larger businesses.
Comcast is the third largest multiple service operator (MSO); AT&T is discussing a merger with Comcast now.
Mr. Leck expressed a fear of monopoly by the cable company, and asked if there was a way to choose only some of the channels from those available. Mr. DiJulio said that programming is purchased for the entire system, and that restrictive contracts keep the cable company from selling programs “a la carte”; the cable company is only the middleman. They are required to sell the Basic and Standard tiers of services separately.
Mr. DiJulio said wireless service might never be available residentially. He said HDTV services would soon be offered through cable, on five channels.
APPROVAL OF THE OCTOBER MINUTES: The minutes of the October meeting were approved as presented.
LOWER BUCKS CHAMBER OF COMMERCE:
Lisa Kruse noted the following upcoming events:
Ms. Kruse said that anyone could attend as a guest of the Chamber; registrations may be faxed to the Chamber. Copies of the Chamber publication Outlook are available from Ms. Kruse.
SIGN ORDINANCE: The Planning Commission is still considering the sign ordinance.
They have all been mailed. Extras are available at the township and the borough. It was decided that they would be available to those requesting copies, limited to 10 copies per person. Judy Setar and Ms. Dunleavy are collecting updates/corrections at the township, for publication periodically in the township newsletter Newtown News.
Ms. Kruse reported that JDNC is becoming increasingly involved with the Chancellor Street Project. Ms. Kruse is a member of the Organization Committee, and she said that they are looking into the development and expansion of the website newtowncalendar.com, which would contain a comprehensive calendar for Newtown activities. The committee is working on criteria for inclusion on the calendar.
Committee Vice Chairman Frank Tyrol was present, and reported that PECO is beginning its work, and should be finished soon. The committee is attempting to move PennDOT along, and expect to hear more and more regarding fundraising for streetscape. They are now trying to prepare the street for winter.
INVITATION TO BUSINESSES
Ms. Dunleavy reported that nearly 700 brochures had been mailed, resulting in about a dozen responses and new attendees to today’s meeting. Mr. Roberts spoke about the past accomplishments of the BDC, and encouraged attendance at the monthly meetings. Ms. Mitchell offered to share the brochures with the Newtown Business and Professional Association members at their meetings; she will ask if anyone would be interested in being appointed as the association’s representative to the Council.
Doug Terry distributed packets regarding the study to be done by the YMCA and including a letter from the group Newtown Businesses, Employees and Citizens Committed to Making the Community Center a Reality. Mr. Terry said that he thought that the possibility of YMCA coming to Newtown was an issue for the BDC, since the mission of the Business Development Council is to promote and encourage business. He said that the YMCA would hurt businesses in Newtown. He cited the letter in the packet, which contained a list of concerned businesses and individuals that were concerned about a YMCA presence in the township. In the letter, Jim Worthington said that he is concerned with an un-level playing field, as the YMCA would not pay income taxes and so would have financial advantages that would enable them to offer lower costs to residents, possibly putting existing local small businesses out of business.
Mr. Terry said that no one is disputing the need for a community center, as recommended in the report of the Ad Hoc Community Center Committee, a result of eighteen months of study. He said that many businesses are saying that they could raise funds for a community center; the township would retain control of the facility. He felt that it was appropriate for the BDC to take a position on this issue.
Mr. Terry said one concern is that the township would give land to the YMCA or offer them a favorable lease. This, and the fact that as a nonprofit corporation the Y is subsidized by United Way, would give the YMCA unfair advantage over local businesses.
Dr. Mlkvy said that this would be the first time that the BDC has taken a position on an issue such as this. He said that it was the charge of this committee to help the Board of Supervisors, and that a position would have an impact. As part of the BDC’s mission, it should come to a vote.
Mr. Tyrol said he thought it would be prudent to have someone from the YMCA speak to the Council before voting on a position. Mr. Weaver noted that the YMCA study, funded by the Y, has a 30-60 day timetable. Ms. Mitchell said that she would be willing to change her speaking date to the BDC January meeting, in order to schedule a speaker from the Y. Ms. Dunleavy will contact Greg Briscoe from the Lower Bucks YMCA regarding speaking at the December BDC meeting, and then will contact BDC members about the meeting.
Mr. Terry said the township should let local businesses raise money for a community center. He said that 30-34% of township residents belong to clubs in the area, which is higher than the national average, and that over 50% use local facilities. Ms. Mitchell questioned whether the YMCA would meet the needs identified in the Community Center Committee’s report. Dr. Mlkvy was concerned about the possible co-mingling of funds between the YMCA and the township. Ms. Kruse expressed concern about the future of the township’s Recreation Department summer camps if a YMCA were to come to the township.
Ms. Dunleavy will contact Greg Briscoe, confirm his appearance at the December BDC meeting, and then inform BDC members, Community Center Committee Chair Allen Fidler, Recreation Director Bill Wert, and others about the meeting.
The next luncheon meeting is scheduled for December 6, 2001 at the Goodnoe Farm Dairy Bar at 12:00 PM.
ADJOURNMENT: Without objection, the meeting adjourned at 2:00 pm.
Leslie P. Dunleavy, Recording Secretary