Planning Commission Minutes
March 19, 2002
MINUTES OF PREVIOUS MEETING (3/19/02): Mr. Fidler moved to approve the minutes of the 3/19/02 meeting; the motion was seconded by Mr. Kester and passed unanimously.
The Newtown Township Planning Commission met on Tuesday, March 19, 2002, in the lower level Township meeting room. In attendance were: Chairperson Karen Doorley, members Allen Fidler, Vince Lombardi, Paul Kester, Bob Dieterle, Jim Ott, Sue Beasley, Jay Sensibaugh and Jim Bowe. Also in attendance were: Supervisor Anne Goren, Township Engineer Gerald Smith, Township Solicitor David Sander, Township Planner Mike Frank, and Township Public Works Director Thomas Harwood.
Chairperson Karen Doorley called the meeting to order at 8:00 PM.
ANNOUNCEMENT OF APPOINTMENT: Mrs. Doorley announced that member Paul Kester has been appointed to the Bucks County Planning Commission. Mr. Kester said he will continue to serve on the Township Planning Commission.
MINUTES OF PREVIOUS MEETING (3/5/02): Mr. Kester moved to approve the minutes of the 3/5/02 meeting; the motion was seconded by Mr. Ott and passed unanimously.
CONDITIONAL USE - DURHAM ROAD ASSOCIATES - DURHAM ROAD - TMP# 29-13-36-2 & 29-3-35: Attorney John VanLuvanee and architects Maryellen Saylor and David Pinchuk were present to discuss the request for D-1 Office Use for 80,750 square feet in three buildings to be constructed on a 13.64 acre parcel in the PS-2 District. Mr. VanLuvanee explained that a conditional use approval was given on 3/24/99, and several variances were granted by the Zoning Hearing Board on 1/3/02. He said that several references on the plans to D-2 Office Use were in error; the applicant is seeking only D-1 Use.
The Heritage Conservancy letter of 2/6/02 was reviewed. Mr. VanLuvanee stated that a partial basement is planned for the buildings, and the basement is included in the square footage. He said that all the existing buildings will eventually be demolished. Several issues mentioned in the Heritage Conservancy letter will be deferred until individual tenants are identified; these include types of deliveries, numbers of employees, hours of operation, hazardous materials and potential environmental impact. Mr. VanLuvanee said that 18 wheel truck deliveries are not expected.
Mr. VanLuvanee said that 323 parking spaces are shown on the plan. The Zoning Hearing Board decision of 1/3/02 permitted the applicant to reduce 157 parking spaces to 9 feet X 18 feet, and to reduce 12 spaces to 9 feet by 20 feet. He stated that the smaller spaces will be further away from the buildings.
Mr. Lombardi said that the Zoning Hearing Board wanted to see reciprocal easements on the driveway to be shared with the 413 Office Center as a condition of Township approval. Mr. VanLuvanee said the applicant will comply.
Mr. Sensibaugh asked if the driveway connecting the two projects could be moved to the back of the lots. Mr. Pinchuk said that this can not be done on the 413 Office Center property because of the presence of wetlands at the rear of the property.
Mr. Lombardi said that Mr. Wursta reported that the signal at 413 and Municipal Drive may not meet warrant. According to Mr. Lombardi, Mr. Wursta felt that a signal at North Drive would at least provide breaks in traffic for this project. Mrs. Beasley suggested that a warning blinker be considered. Mrs. Doorley commented that both this project and the 413 Office Center are being planned with the assumption that there will be a signal at Municipal Drive; this will need to be addressed at the preliminary plan stage.
Mr. Ott moved to recommend that the Board of Supervisors approve the conditional use request for Durham Road Associates, for D-1 Office Use only, with the condition that the applicant comply with the 2/6/02 letter from the Heritage Conservancy, all three existing buildings will be removed, there will be no 18 wheel truck deliveries, reciprocal easements with the 413 Office Center will be shown on the plan, and individual conditional use applications will be made by tenants as they are identified. The motion was seconded by Mr. Kester.
Discussion of motion: The 3/15/02 letter from Pennoni Associates was discussed. Mr. Sander said that most of the letter describes conditions for receiving a zoning permit, and should not be a condition of the conditional use approval. Mr. Fidler noted that the letter states that parking areas must be screened, and said that this has been a sensitive issue on other projects. Mr. VanLuvanee said that the site is wooded and already has substantial natural buffering, but it is possible this can be supplemented.
Mr. Ott’s motion passed unanimously.
ZONING HEARING BOARD APPLICATIONS:
a. Variance Requests 531-02 and 532-02 - 1 Amy Circle and 3 Amy Circle: Both requests concerned exceeding the maximum impervious surface in order to build pools and related structures. Mr. Ott said the Township should anticipate requests like this when developments are approved. Buyers of upscale homes always want to add structures like pools and decks, but the development is already at the maximum impervious surface ratio. Mrs. Doorley noted that the increase sought is nearly 50% for 1 Amy Circle, and approximately 30% for 3 Amy Circle.
Mr. Fidler said perhaps the Township should require stormwater management plans that can accommodate runoff from the increased impervious surface, or require developers to reserve some of the impervious surface allowance for the homeowners. Mr. Frank said that Lower Makefield Township has a requirement like the latter idea; he will get a copy for the Commission.
Mr. Sensibaugh asked if requiring the homeowner to add stormwater management capacity when the impervious surface maximum is exceeded is a possibility. Mr. Sander said it is not realistic to expect each homeowner to provide drainage for his or her individual lot. Mr. Sander suggested an amendment to the ordinance similar to Lower Makefield’s provision.
Mr. Smith suggested requiring that the detention basin be enlarged, but asked who would pay for that work. Mr. Fidler said the Homeowners Association should bear this cost.
Mr. Harwood said that pools are considered impervious surface except in PRDs, and decks are not impervious unless they have plastic or cement under them. He added that the Zoning Hearing Board is also concerned about this issue, and often cuts back on the size of pools and patios when they grant variances.
Mr. Kester noted that the side yard and rear yard setbacks are not clearly shown on the plan. It was difficult to tell whether the outer edge of the deck or the water’s edge is ten feet from the property line. Mr. Harwood said he will look into this issue before the hearing.
Mr. Kester moved to recommend to the Board of Supervisors that they oppose these two variance requests because of the size of the proposed increase in the impervious surface, and because of questions about the side and rear yard setbacks. The motion was seconded by Mr. Bowe and passed unanimously.
b. Variance Requests 527-02 and 530-02 - 107 Penns Trail and 826 Newtown-Yardley Road: Mr. Sander noted that these are requests for Use variances, which are more serious. Both applications seek to permit D-2 Medical Office Use in the LI District. Mr. Frank said that Use D-2 was once permitted in the LI District, and was removed because of concerns about parking requirements, traffic and turnover of visitors.
Mr. Lombardi said that allowing D-2 Use would help older buildings, like those in the Newtown Industrial Commons (NIC), find tenants. He said he is concerned about the number of vacancies in the NIC. Mrs. Doorley said that allowing this use would set a precedent, and cause the problems mentioned by Mr. Frank. Mr. Lombardi suggested allowing it only in older buildings. Mr. Sensibaugh said that all buildings become older buildings eventually.
Mr. Harwood suggested that the Commission might recommend a reduction in the square footage being requested. Mr. Sander suggested a recommendation to send Mr. Harwood to the ZHB meeting to recommend a reduction in the request, based on the need for adaptive reuse of older buildings.
Mrs. Beasley moved to recommend to the Board of Supervisors that they not oppose either request. The motion was seconded by Mr. Bowe.
Discussion of motion: Mr. Sensibaugh stated he feels the Township should not make exceptions; Mr. Kester agreed. Mr. Lombardi said the problem of vacant commercial and industrial space is more important.
Mr. Bowe asked if “not oppose” is the same as approval; the consensus of the members was that it is not. Mr. Fidler said that Mrs. Goren can explain the concerns of the Commission to the Board of Supervisors.
Mrs. Beasley’s motion failed 3-6, with Mr. Bowe, Mr. Fidler and Mrs. Beasley voting “yes”.
Mr. Kester moved to recommend to the Board of Supervisors that they oppose both requests. The motion was seconded by Mr. Sensibaugh and passed 5-4, with Mr. Bowe, Mr. Fidler, Mrs. Beasley and Mr. Lombardi voting “nay”.
Mr. Fidler suggested that the issue of vacant commercial and industrial buildings be discussed with the Business Development Council. Mr. Kester suggested a discussion with the Joint Downtown Newtown Corporation also.
c. Variance Request 528-02 - 62 German Avenue: Mr. John Weir is requesting a special exception to build an addition to his home on a nonconforming lot.
Mr. Sensibaugh moved to recommend to the Board of Supervisors that they not oppose this request. The motion was seconded by Mr. Kester and passed unanimously.
d. Variance Request 526-02 - 19 Millstone Drive: Mr. and Mrs. Ronald Wexler are requesting a variance to allow them to exceed the 5,292 square foot maximum impervious surface by 505 square feet for the construction of an inground swimming pool and spa. Mr. Lombardi said this represents a 10% increase. Mr. Harwood said the neighbors will be notified of the ZHB hearing and will have a chance to express their concerns. Commission members agreed to make no comment on this request.
SUBCOMMITTEE AND LIAISON REPORTS:
a. BOARD OF SUPERVISORS: No report.
b. NEWTOWN AREA REGIONAL PLANNING COMMISSION: Mr. Kester reported that he was unable to attend the last meeting; the next meeting is 3/21/02.
c. JOINT ZONING COUNCIL: No report.
d. SYCAMORE STREET COMMITTEE: Mr. Lombardi reported that the project is nearing completion. The two major tasks remaining are the utility clearances and the construction easements.
e. HISTORIC ARCHITECTURAL REVIEW BOARD: Mr. Lombardi said the Board reviewed two projects at their last meeting, and recommended approval for a Certificate of Appropriateness for a new roof for 123 Sycamore Street.
f. PARK AND RECREATION BOARD: Mrs. Beasley reported that she could not attend the last meeting of the Board, and will not be able to attend the 4/3/02 meeting.
g. SWAMP ROAD SAFETY IMPROVEMENT PROJECT: Mr. Ott reported that the Advisory Committee meets on 3/20/02.
h. PLAN EXPIRATIONS: No report.
LETTER RE: LOT 21 OF HIDDEN LAKE: All members of the Planning Commission received a letter from attorney Morris J. Kaplan asking that he, Richard DePaola and Gerry Torres be notified of any scheduled hearings before the Board of Supervisors, the Planning Commission or the Zoning Hearing Board relating to this lot. Mr. Harwood was asked to take responsibility for notification.
SIGNATURE ON PLAN APPLICATION - NEWTOWN COMMONS EXPANSION: Commission members received in their packets a copy of the signature page for the preliminary plan for the expansion of Newtown Commons (aka Newtown Corporate Center).
WASHINGTON CROSSING AND LINTON HILL ROADS INTERSECTION: Mrs. Beasley said that the sight distance approaching the Washington Crossing and Linton Hill Roads intersection is not good. She said the planned traffic signal may make it worse by making drivers who have a green light less cautious.
PROPOSED ORDINANCE - DISCLOSURE TO PROSPECTIVE PURCHASERS: Mr. Sander provided Commission members with a revised draft of the ordinance, dated 3/15/02. He explained that the revisions address comments from the Bucks County Planning Commission (BCPC), which recommended that the ordinance stand alone, rather than be part of an existing section. Otherwise the provisions are not substantially different from the version distributed with members’ packets.
Mrs. Doorley said that the National Association of Realtors is developing a set of similar disclosure requirements for realtors.
Mr. Harwood said he feels making this a stand alone ordinance is a mistake; it should be under the Occupancy Permit section. He said he fears it will be overlooked if it is not connected with a routine process.
Mr. Kester asked how the ordinance will be enforced. Mr. Sander suggested that it be a standard condition of final plan approval.
Mr. Harwood said the Solicitor should include it in his letter listing conditions of final approval. Mr. Sander said he could do this, and will also include something about submissions in CAD format.
Mr. Kester referred to page 10 and said the ordinance should have an effective date and a statement of applicability. He also recommended that the penalty for violation not involve a criminal proceeding.
Mr. Harwood asked if the ordinance covers single lot developments. Mr. Sander said it does. He added that the Solicitor normally is never involved with single lot developments, so Mr. Harwood’s office will need to take the lead on enforcing the ordinance for this type of development.
Mr. Sander said the ordinance could be part of the JMZO, but that would need to be approved by the Jointure. He said he will discuss this possibility with Maureen Wheatley at the BCPC. Mr. Sensibaugh said he will discuss this with the Jointure.
Mr. Kester moved to table the issue of the proposed disclosure ordinance until the next meeting. The motion was seconded by Mr. Sensibaugh and passed unanimously.
Mrs. Goren asked Mr. Harwood how much it would cost for the Codes Office to produce the information the developer is required to disclose. Mr. Harwood said a $50 fee would cover the cost. Mrs. Goren suggested that Codes could charge developers for this work, and ensure that the information is accurate. Mr. Sander said he will study this suggestion.
GENERAL DISCUSSION: None.
ADJOURNMENT: Mr. Lombardi moved to adjourn. With no objections, the meeting was adjourned at 10:20 PM.
Gretta Stone, Recording Secretary