PARKS AND RECREATION BOARD
MINUTES OF MEETING OF MARCH 5, 2008
The Newtown Township Park and Recreation Board met on Wednesday, March 5, 2008, in the Newtown Township Building. In attendance and voting were: Andrew Levine, Chairman, Joel Grosso, Vice Chairman and Brian Bark, Michael Clancy, Kathy Kelly, Buck O’Neill and Susan Sutton, members. Also in attendance were Township Supervisors Robert Ciervo and Michael Gallagher and Park and Recreation Director Bill Wert.
Call to Order
Mr. Levine called the meeting to order at 7:00PM
Approval of Minutes
Mr. Bark moved to accept the minutes of January 30, 2008. Mrs. Sutton seconded and the motion passed unanimously.
Mr. Wert reported that the Little Tykes playground equipment company has featured the Roberts Ridge playground prominently in its new catalog, giving the equipment a title, “Roberts Ridge Playground of Possibilities, Newtown, PA” and an official model number.
Mr. Levine noted that a similar playground, also donated by the Have-a-Heart Foundation, is nearing completion in Doylestown.
Clark Nature Center
The Heritage Conservancy has completed its resource management report. Mr. Wert provided Board members with copies of the report on disc, noting that the report is over 300 pages long. He thought it would be easier for members to review on the computer. He is also placing the report on the Township Web site for residents to review. He asked the recording secretary to notify the Environmental Advisory Council that it is available on line. Mr. Wert said that a written summary is also included with the Board members’ discs. The park is broken into four areas, each treated separately. In summary, the two biggest issues facing the park are invasive species and damage caused by deer. No specific recommendations are made for management of the deer population. Mr. Wert reported that he has been in touch with Wrightstown Township, where a volunteer organization called “Greenbelt Archery Club” has been culling deer herds on some private properties. He will keep the Board informed of Wrightstown’s experience with the organization. He noted that the EAC is also investigating wildlife management.
Mr. Wert noted that one recommendation in the report is that the Township employ a full-time naturalist. Russell Strover has retired. Work that he did at Clark, and throughout the Township Parks, is now being addressed by the Public Works Department. Public Works employees will need to be trained to learn the correct way to plant and trim the various trees that Mr. Strover had been caring for. The Public Works employees have other priorities and have not been able to take over some of Mr. Strover’s other duties, including working on Eagle Scout projects with scout groups, selecting new trees, cleaning downed trees.
Mr. Grosso suggested that Mr. Strover be given some recognition by the Park and Rec Board, possibly at the same time that John Davis is acknowledged for his long years of volunteering for the Township. He spoke about the many volunteer contributions Mr. Strover made to the Township’s parks, including applying for various grants for trees. He is still frequently seen doing volunteer work in the Township parks.
Mr. Levine reported that there still seems to be a great deal of interest in a skate park for the Township, but a location still needs to be determined. Shannon Wilson had offered a piece of land in front of his store on Newtown Yardley Road. Although the property is connected by the Newtown Trail to the rest of the Township, it is very close to residential properties, and is at the farthest end of the Township. The land has some steep slopes which might make it difficult to prepare for installation of equipment. He said that including a skate park in the Woll tract might still be the best location, replacing one of the planned basketball courts with the skate park equipment.
In response to questions from Dr. Ciervo, the Board discussed the field near Staples for a possible location. One issue is that the Township only owns the playing field. The remainder of the unused property, including the parking area, belongs to the owner of the shopping center. The Board has also been reluctant to give up its only rectangular field. At the last meeting, a sub-committee had been formed to investigate placing additional rectangular fields in Tyler Park. If such fields became available, then using the Staples field for skate park equipment might be feasible.
Mr. Grosso expressed some concern about the skate park not being part of the final plan that is to be presented to the Board of Supervisors.
Dr. Ciervo said that he thought there would be enough support among the Supervisors to include the skate park. The plans currently show a paved area which could be used for any court sports, including a skate park. He did not think it would be a problem for the Supervisors if the plans were left open for a sport that would require a pad site, without naming the sport.
In response to Mr. Bark’s questions, Mr. Levine and Dr. Ciervo reviewed the Township’s interest in providing a skate park. Residents have consistently expressed support for the park over many years. The Board is considering a moderate sized park.
Mr. Levine reported that the plans had been given preliminary plan approval subject to a number of conditions. The plans are currently being revised to comply with the conditions.
Mr. Wert said that certain concerns of the School District, including issues involving closing of the park, have been ironed out, and he expects that the District will sign an access easement agreement very soon.
Mr. Levine said that there is still an outstanding issue of rezoning of the property to meet impervious surface requirements.
Dr. Ciervo indicated that he would like a scaled back plan presented to the Supervisors.
The Board discussed possibly phasing in the various elements of the park over time, but were reluctant to re-draft the plans as scaled back. Mrs. Sutton and Mr. Clancy each expressed concern about having to begin the engineering process and review process again to present a scaled back plan.
Mr. Grosso felt very strongly that the current design will work as-is. The Supervisors have the option of funding only certain portions of the plan right now, but he agreed that he did not want to begin the design process again.
Mr. Levine discussed the impervious surface and the costs associated with an internal trail system. He said that the original plan calls for 9 foot wide trails throughout the park, and these trails have landscaping requirements to satisfy the Ordinance. If the trails were not built now, the impervious surface would be reduced substantially, as would some of the costs.
Mr. Wert said that with an approved plan there would be opportunities for certain DCNR grants. He would investigate whether a phase-1 archeological study would be necessary for grant applications. He noted that the Helen Randle Park plan was approved with the park built in phases over time.
Dr. Ciervo said that he was not sure whether the plan would have the full support of the Board of Supervisors in its current form. There is concern about funding and costs, impervious surface, the trails and access via Route 413. He did not think the current Board of Supervisors would support funding for lights, although he did think there would be support for playing fields.
Mr. Levine explained the expense involved in redesigning and re-engineering the plans. Certain features could be postponed, including the walking trail and the Rte 413 entrance. The Board members agreed that they would like to submit this plan for approval, and allow the Board of Supervisors to withhold approval of certain features. The members discussed preparing a budget that would include a breakdown of what could be built with the existing Woll tract capital fund.
Mr. Levine said that he had requested that the portion of the Woll tract currently zoned POS be rezoned as EIR, which allows 35% impervious surface. The 10 acres currently zoned Conservation Management would remain CM, which allows 15% impervious surface. POS zoning only allows 8% impervious surface. If playing fields and parking were installed the impervious surface would exceed the 8%. He had considered seeking a variance from the Zoning Hearing Board but the rezoning of the parcel seemed more in keeping with the plans for an active recreation facility. The plans do not come close to the full 35% impervious surface, but if at some time in the future artificial turf is used on the fields the additional impervious surface would be used. The Park and Recreation Board would accept a condition that there would be no additional buildings beyond the pavilion and storage on the current plan and that the additional impervious surface allotment could only be used for artificial turf.
Resident James McCrane asked that any rezoning include a condition that only a certain percentage of impervious surface could be used for the park, with additional up to 35% only permitted for artificial turf.
Mr. Levine explained that such conditions are not part of the rezoning process but the land development approval process. The Park and Recreation Board would be amenable to such a condition.
Paul Furlong of 11 Blayze Court asked about the proposed parking ratio. He said that he understood that the Ordinance requires one parking space for every four people, but that the plans show one space for every two people. He asked if the impervious surface could be reduced if not all of the parking were built. He also asked whether the parking spaces close to the residential neighborhood could be eliminated.
The Board members reviewed the planned parking, noting that people tend to park as close to the fields as they can, whether the parking is paved or not. They had some concern about eliminating spaces that would be closer to the fields. Mr. Levine said that he would speak to the engineers about possibly holding some spaces in green unless or until needed. He said that after the plans have been approved there would be meetings with residents to discuss berming and landscaping to serve as buffers.
In response to Mr. Furlong’s question about whether the Township would take possession of St. Andrew’s Briar’s retention basin, Mr. Levine said that the Park and Recreation Board is neutral on this issue. It is a decision of the Board of Supervisors. The Planning Commission had discussed this and had some serious reservations about setting precedent.
Open Space Comprehensive Plan Update
Mr. Levine reported that the Township’s Open Space Comprehensive Plan must be updated in order to apply for any of the open space funds the County will be distributing. Newtown has been allocated between $500,000 and $680,000 to be used for open space. The existing Comp Plan needs to be updated, not redrafted. The Heritage Conservancy might be available to help with the work. The Board of Supervisors is requesting two volunteers each from the Park and Recreation Board, the EAC and the Planning Commission.
Mr. Levine and Mrs. Sutton agreed to represent the Park and Recreation Board on the Committee.
Mr. McCrane, as a member of the Township Finance Committee, reported that the Committee has set the following goals: planning for the Municipal Complex expansion, better budgeting, use of forecasting tools and revenue enhancements.
Board of Supervisors
Dr. Ciervo reported that the Supervisors are eager to break ground on the Woll tract project and to begin working on acquisition of open space.
Environmental Advisory Council
The recording secretary reported that the EAC is continuing its investigation into wildlife management and is creating an inventory of the Township’s open space. Dr. McEachron and Mr. McGuigan of the EAC have volunteered to serve on the Open Space Committee.
Parks and Recreation Director’s Report
Mr. Wert reported that the Recreation Department has seen a 16% increase in revenue over last year. This is due in part to early summer camp registration. The department is working to overcome some participation decrease caused by the School District’s use of e-folders. The Superintendent has agreed to allow two more paper distributions in the schools, one in March and one before the end of school but there will not be any more distribution during the next school year. The Department is working on some ideas to enhance the use of e-flyers to past participants and to develop a more interactive Department Web site, including a “kids corner” on the current site in addition to providing information and updates on programs.
Regarding Senior Programming, Mr. Wert reported that he and Mrs. Sutton conducted interviews and visited various senior facilities throughout the Township and neighboring communities. They found that there does not appear to be a strong interest among seniors for senior specific programming right now. Most Township seniors who are interested in activities either have them available on site at their senior housing facilities or are active in Church sponsored activities or the Council Rock Senior Center. Many senior citizens also participate in our adult classes and activities that are not restricted to senior citizens. This issue will be revisited and re-evaluated periodically as our population demographics change.
Mr. Wert reported that he is working toward two partnerships with Wrightstown Township. Wrightstown has expressed an interest in contracting with Newtown for recreation programming, as Wrightstown does not have a recreation department. Newtown Park and Recreation Department will also be partnering with the Bucks County Food Shed Alliance to present some appropriate programs at the Wrightstown Farmers Market at Chippawa Farms.
Mr. Wert reviewed the current projects underway in the parks. In response to Mr. Grosso’s question, Mr. Wert said that he would speak to the Public Works Director about needed repairs to Chandler’s front field.
Mrs. Sutton asked that the members participate in this year’s Arbor Day celebration on April 25 in Newtown Borough and at Goodnoe Elementary School. Children will plant a tree at Roberts Ridge Park and participate in some games and crafts. Messrs. Clancy, Grosso and O’Neill agreed to participate.
Mr. Clancy asked the members to join committees for the First Fourth Celebration.
Resident Patrick Flanagan asked the Board to consider building a dog park on Township owned property. He briefly discussed the need for a place for residents to bring their dogs to play off-leash. He did not think it would require a large outlay of funds, and would benefit many in the Township.
Mr. Wert said that he has attended workshops on dog parks at recent conferences. He explained that typically these parks are double gated to prevent pets from escaping. The fenced areas are sectioned off to segregate large and small dogs. Some have benches for pet owners and some provide running water or troughs. There is usually a station for pet waste, and daily trash pick-up is required. He would provide the Board members with additional information.
Mary Donaldson, Recording Secretary