NEWTOWN BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT COUNCIL
LUNCHEON MEETING AT GOODNOE FARM DAIRY BAR
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 6, 2003
APPROVAL OF THE FEBRUARY MINUTES: Mr. Byelich moved to approve the minutes of February 6, 2003 as presented. Mr. Terry seconded; the motion carried.
Present: Richard Weaver, Thomas Harwood, Judy Setar, Belinda Buras, Alesia Schaum, Paul Salvatore, Doug Terry, Bill Messick, Miguel Sison, Colleen Rees, Mark Byelich, Lorraine Sikora, Mark Weinstein, Marge Frederick, Denise Walsh, John Bissert, Ted Zabohonski, Paul Lewis, Stephen Schreiber, Brandon Wind, Hal Roberts.
CALL TO ORDER – Chairman Weaver called the meeting to order.
Marge Frederick announced that there will be a Business Card Exchange at Genesis Health Care in Southampton on May 1, 2003. She announced the Joint Business Expo on October 1, 2003 at the Radisson on Route 1; anyone interested in attending should contact her.
CODES DEPARTMENT BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT REPORT
Mr. Harwood distributed and reviewed the report for January 2003.
APPROVAL OF THE JANUARY MINUTES: Mr. Terry moved to approve the minutes of January 2, 2003 as presented. Ms. Frederick seconded; the motion carried.
LOWER BUCKS CHAMBER OF COMMERCE - No report.
Mr. Salvatore reported that a subcommittee to work on a vacancy listing on the JDNC website had been formed, and had met. There will be three parts to the available space listing: commercial, retail and office space. Shopping center information, including whom to contact, will be listed. Mr. Salvatore said the big job would be to identify smaller units available; they would like to make sure the site is user friendly. It was suggested that there be a link to a page or section providing information on where to go and who to speak to if one is interested in bringing a new business to town.
Mr. Salvatore suggested that a representative from each of the groups interested in vacancy listings, including the JDNC, Newtown Business & Professional Association, Economic Development Committee and this Council, meet to work cooperatively on the project. This could increase communication and reduce duplication of effort.
Mr. Salvatore reported that 75 people attended their last breakfast meeting, the largest attendance ever. He said the NBPA is looking forward to working with the other organizations, and said they had met with the newly formed Newtown Borough Retailers Association, who would like to meet with the JDNC.
Mr. Maeglin said he represented both the BCEDC and the Bucks County Industrial Development Authority. He explained that BCEDC was a non-profit corporation and that the County appoints Authority members. He said that the BCEDC maintains a website, www.bcedc.com, that contains demographic information and data of industrial and office real estate countywide. Realtors submit the listings to them and the database is searchable by the public.
Mr. Maeglin said he had researched the Newtown area to see how it compared to the surrounding areas, and found that Newtown had 307,000 sq. ft. of available space in 17 sites; he noted that he subsequently saw listings that were not in his database. He found that Newtown was an attractive setting with modern amenities, proper zoning, adequate parking, good highway access, and good technical capabilities (broadband, cable, etc.). Mr. Maeglin said that potential buyers compare such factors as the path of least resistance (least problems), cost of property, upgrade costs, approval process costs, risk, labor market and access such as public transportation or location relative to major roads. He said that, all things being equal, ultimately what incentives there are to locate to an area, such as low interest loans or grants, may be a deciding factor.
Mr. Maeglin compared the Newtown Industrial Park to several other industrial parks in the area, including the Keystone Industrial Park in Bristol, Johnson site in Warminster, and the Bucks County Business Park, which he felt were similar in the rental rates, type of industry, and relative ages of the buildings. He noted that the Newtown Industrial Park was light industrial in nature, with space that lends itself to office or flex usage. He said that the competition for class A office locations was in Lower Makefield, the Naval Air Station, and Horizon Corporate Center in Bensalem, noting that there is a lot of class A space available. He said that there is also a lot of competition for class B and B+ office space, including the Bucks County Business Park, Johnson site and the LaValle Building in Warminster. Competition for Flex space could be found in the Bucks County Business Park, Keystone Industrial Park, and locations in Ivyland and Trevose. He also compared office, light industrial and manufacturing rates in the various areas.
Mr. Maeglin said that one of Newtown’s strengths was more advanced technology, and that companies with light technical uses such as light medical equipment, biotech and wireless, have been contacting BCEDC looking for space. He said that the Newtown area is looked at as an alternative to Princeton and New Jersey.
Mr. Maeglin offered some recommendations regarding making Newtown a desirable place to locate business:
v Be better aware of what is available. He said that available office and commercial space could be posted with BCEDC, and noted that there is no charge for their services.
v Make sure zoning is favorable. He said that Newtown has a tough reputation and that the conditional use approval process is seen as problematic.
v Review zoning and make sure uses that persons are looking for are allowed.
v Consider what the township/borough could offer as incentives to businesses.
v Form a township committee, start an active marketing campaign, engage brokers and persons involved in commercial and retail real estate.
v Consider if Newtown qualifies as a LERTA (Local Economic Real Estate Tax Act) zone, which would allow increased assessments to be abated.
Mr. Maeglin said that about three years ago Quakertown implemented the Main Street Program, and they produced a handbook for new businesses that described how to develop and process projects and who to call in the municipality. He presented a copy of the handbook and suggested that Newtown might like to produce a similar document.
Mr. Terry asked if Mr. Maeglin had studied absorption rates. Mr. Maeglin said it was difficult to do and said he has inquired about such a project. Mr. Terry explained his theory of why the Industrial Park has so many vacancies, and said that had requested and received an increase of allowable impervious surface to 60% from the Planning Commission. He said he is presently working on parking standards, and is trying to do a comparative study of zoning in different municipalities. Mr. Maeglin said that they have zoning information in their files, and that comparing zoning and conditional use processes was a good idea.
Mr. Byelich asked Mr. Maeglin if he had any suggestions regarding simplification of the conditional use process. Mr. Maeglin said he was not a zoning expert, but that he had found sections detailing the conditional use process unclear, and said it was difficult to define some of the aesthetic factors and community requirements. Mr. Terry said the conditional use process needed to be reviewed and perhaps even eliminated; he felt it was an outdated process. He added that the process is quite lengthy, expensive and costs landlords and owners revenue. Mr. Salvatore noted that the process still took months, even when someone was utilizing a property for the same use as the prior owner. Mr. Roberts said that, in fairness to the township, the conditional use process has improved considerably, and that the atmosphere is growing towards more changes. Mr. Salvatore said that Newtown should work towards an easier conditional use process.
Mr. Maeglin suggested a link on the township website to tell new businesses who to talk to and what they need to do to come into Newtown. Mr. Zabohonski said that covenants and limitations are put into place to protect everyone, but that some restrictions seemed ludicrous, such as a business having to worry about having lights on if employees are working late. Mr. Terry explained that the buildings in the Industrial Park all had deed restrictions and were required to be brick; Mr. Maeglin said this probably helped maintain the good condition of the buildings.
Mr. Schreiber from Law School Admissions applauded Mr. Weaver for putting together the Economic Development Committee. He said that the Board of Supervisors was not backing up Law Admissions in the appeals process; residents are appealing the Board’s approval for the Law Admissions expansion. Mr. Schreiber felt the Board should be more supportive, and that the community should realize the advantage that business brings. Mr. Byelich said that officials should look at the township as a whole, not as separate areas.
Ms. Dunleavy reported that the brochure was ready to print, and wanted final confirmation to go ahead with the printing of the brochure and mailing. Consensus of the Council was for Ms. Dunleavy to proceed with the printing and mailing of the brochure.
Letter to Endorse the Stockburger Proposal
A final draft of the Stockburger letter was circulated.
Mr. Terry moved that the Business Development Council approve the letter to the Newtown Township Board of Supervisors endorsing the Stockburger proposal. Mr. Salvatore seconded; the motion carried. Ms. Dunleavy will deliver the letter to the Board.
The next luncheon meeting is scheduled for Thursday, March 6, 2003 at the Goodnoe Farm Dairy Bar at 12:00 PM. The cost is $10; please RSVP by March 4, 2003 to the recording secretary (contact information is included on the attached agenda. Agenda topics will include the conditional use process and rapid access key boxes.
ADJOURNMENT: Without objection, the meeting was adjourned at 1:38 pm.
Leslie P. Dunleavy, Recording Secretary