Newtown Township

Planning Commission Minutes

January 21, 2003


MINUTES OF PREVIOUS MEETING (1/21/03):  Mr. Ott moved to approve the minutes of the 1/21/03 meeting; the motion was seconded by Mr. Lombardi and passed unanimously. 


The Newtown Township Planning Commission met on Tuesday, January 21, 2003, in the lower level Township meeting room.  In attendance were:  Chairperson Karen Doorley; members Allen Fidler, Bob Dieterle, Jay Sensibaugh, Jim Ott, Paul Kester, Vince Lombardi, Sue Beasley and Shawn Ward.  Also in attendance were Township Planner Judith Stern Goldstein, Township Engineer Chris Walker, Township Solicitor Dave Sander and Director of Public Works Tom Harwood. 

Chairperson Karen Doorley called the meeting to order at 8:00 PM.  She welcomed Judith Stern Goldstein, the new Township Planner. 

MINUTES OF PREVIOUS MEETING (1/7/03):  Mr. Ward moved to approve the minutes of the 1/7/03 meeting; the motion was seconded by Mr. Kester and passed unanimously, with Mrs. Beasley abstaining. 

REVIEWS 

CONDITIONAL USE - PRYDA LLC - 159 N. SYCAMORE STREET - TMP# 29-12-15:  Thomas Crawford, owner of the property, was present to discuss his proposal to use 2900 square feet of an existing building on a site of 11,057 square feet in the TC District for D-1 Office Use.  Mr. Crawford stated that his engineer, Jeffrey Skinner, will arrive about 8:30 PM. 

Mr. Crawford distributed a letter from Mr. Skinner, dated 1/20/03.  The letter was in response to the11/21/02 Heritage Conservancy review of the conditional use application and site plan Mr. Crawford submitted to the Township on 11/15/02.  Mr. Crawford also provided two copies of a revised site plan dated 1/17/03. 

Mr. Crawford said his proposal was reviewed by HARB, and they seemed pleased by it.  He said the proposed improvements will not change the property much.  He is removing a dilapidated garage in the rear, and extending an existing addition all the way across the back of the building, enclosing the stairs to the basement.  He stated that the building is not suitable for residential use, and has always been used for commercial purposes.  Mr. Crawford intends to use the offices for his own business.  He noted that Office Use is a permitted use in the TC District, and the improvements to the building will benefit the whole area. 

Mrs. Doorley asked if Mr. Crawford would be the only tenant.  Mr. Crawford said he would most likely be the only one.  Mr. Sander noted that Mr. Crawford could rent any space he was not using without coming back to the Planning Commission. 

Mr. Crawford said the ordinance requires 15 parking spaces but he can provide only eight on the property and two on Sycamore Street.  He said that there will be a maximum of nine employees, but they will rarely be there at the same time because many are part time or have duties outside the office.  Mrs. Doorley suggested he could show the additional five spaces in reserve if he does not think they will be needed.  Mr. Crawford said he does not have room for the five additional spaces on his property, but he is looking into a shared parking arrangement with the Township House restaurant on an adjacent property, and using the old Acme property across the street.  He said that his peak hours and the restaurant’s peak hours did not coincide, so the arrangement would work well. 

Ms Goldstein said that the ordinance does not refer to shared parking, but to the possibility of leasing space from neighbors.  She said that leasing spaces from the Township House might jeopardize the restaurant’s compliance with the ordinance.  Mr. Crawford said he believes there is another section of the ordinance that does permit shared parking. 

Mr. Lombardi said that Mr. Crawford cannot use the Acme property for parking.  The Township is using it currently as a staging area for Sycamore Street construction, and later development will probably have parking to meet only that property’s needs. 

Mr. Sander said the applicant will need to get a variance on the parking requirements.  Mr. Crawford said he believes he also needs a variance regarding the building’s setback from the ultimate right of way on Jefferson Street, which actually goes through the building. 

Mr. Fidler asked if the Planning Commission can make a recommendation before the applicant obtains relief from the Zoning Hearing Board.  Mr. Sander said the Commission could recommend conditional use approval with the condition that the applicant must meet the requirements of the ordinance. 

Mr. Skinner arrived at the meeting. 

Mr. Crawford said he does not believe he has to go through the land development approval process, since the changes he is proposing are minimal.  Mr. Sander said it is necessary if the footprint is changed.  Mr. Crawford said that if land development approval is necessary he will request a waiver. 

Mr. Sander said that the applicant needs to request the following waivers:

·         Section 514.9, to allow parking within 20 feet of the building

·         Section 511. B, to omit fire lanes 

Mr. Sander said the applicant also needs to request the following variances:

·         Section 1001.F.4, to allow parking within five feet of a property line

·         Section 803.D-1.5, to allow ten parking spaces where 15 are required 

Mr. Sander also said that it is unclear whether the plan will meet buffering requirements.  If it does not, the applicant will need Zoning Hearing Board relief for those requirements.  Mr. Crawford said he has not yet developed a landscape plan, but he is sure he can meet requirements. 

Mr. Ward said the applicant needs to do more work and come back to the Commission, after Ms Goldstein has had an opportunity to review the revised plan.  He stated he would not vote to recommend approval at this point. 

Mr. Kester asked if Mr. Crawford will provide handicapped access to the second floor.  Mr. Crawford said he cannot.  Mrs. Doorley said he is not required to have it for the second floor. 

Ms Goldstein said that when he returns, the applicant should describe plans for buffering, note the calipers of the trees on the property, and provide other specific information about the proposed renovations.  Mr. Sander said he needs to advertise this for public hearing at the Board of Supervisors meeting on 2/12/03, but he doubts that Ms Goldstein’s review can be done and considered by the Commission before then.  He said he will suggest that the Board open the hearing and continue it on 2/12/03. 

DISCUSSION - LI AND O-LI DISTRICTS ZONING - BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT COUNCIL:  

Doug Terry, a member of the Business Development Council, was present to discuss the Council’s proposals, made at their 11/7/02 meeting and transmitted to the Commission in a 11/27/02 memo from the Township Manager: 

·         To increase the impervious surface ratio in the O-LI District from 50% to 60%

·         To permit medical office uses in the LI District

·         To increase the impervious surface ratio in the LI District from 50% (60% with conditional use approval) to 65% to 70%. 

Mr. Sander distributed copies of the ordinance that created the O-LI District. 

Mr. Terry said the Council is very concerned about the existence of approximately 400,000 square feet of vacant space in the Newtown Industrial Commons (NIC), and is proposing these changes to address this problem.  He said he heard that medical uses were taken out of the LI District because of concerns about traffic in the NIC, but he felt traffic is very light in the LI District.  Mr. Terry also mentioned that medical uses used to be permitted in the LI District as part of D-1 Office Use, before a separate D-2 Use was created.

Mr. Terry said the NIC was built for light industry.  There is much cheaper space elsewhere in the County now for industry, and the NIC is no longer competitive.  Most of the buildings are “flex” buildings, designed to be used for either warehouses or offices, but many need extensive renovation or demolition.  He said that more parking will be needed if the buildings are converted to office use.  Mr. Terry estimated the occupancy rate is about 60%.   

Mr. Terry said he checked with several other municipalities and found that the impervious surface maximums in their LI Districts are as follows: 

·         Lower Makefield                           70%

·         Northampton                                 70%

·         Middletown                                   60%

·         Lower Southampton                      70% 

Mr. Lombardi said the NIC is based on an obsolete concept.  He said the Township should look at the zoning and other aspects of the entire area, which is prime real estate, and decide what should be there.  He said he would not like to see a big expanse of macadam.  Mr. Ward added that just looking at the impervious surface issue is a band-aid approach.  

Mr. Terry said that the conditional use process is particularly lengthy and complicated in this Township.  He said that in other municipalities, most uses are permitted by right; in Newtown, most involve conditional use approval.

The following comments and suggestions were made during the discussion of the issues raised by Mr. Terry: 

·         Perhaps some use other than offices would be appropriate, since the spaces in the NIC are smaller than new offices being built today. 

·         Medical uses can vary greatly in intensity; for instance, a pediatrician’s office will generate a lot of traffic.

·         An increase in impervious surface would require increased buffering and stormwater management.

·         The Township is really looking at adaptive reuse, and sometimes it is cheaper to demolish and rebuild than to renovate.

·         Some kind of municipal incentives might help attract businesses to the NIC.

·         The Township could consider making this an overlay district.

·         The Codes Officer could be given more discretion regarding approval of uses. 

Mr. Fidler noted that an Economic Development Committee is expected to be appointed on 1/22/03 by the Board of Supervisors.  Commission members agreed to recommend to the Board that the Committee include one or more members of the Commission, as well as Ms Goldstein. 

INFORMAL SKETCH PLAN DISCUSSIONS:  Mrs. Doorley said she and Mr. Harwood had recently discussed the advisability of allowing applicants to discuss their proposals for land development informally with the Planning Commission, before making a formal sketch plan submission.  Mr. Harwood noted that this has been done occasionally, but he would like clarity about whether to encourage it. 

Mr. Sander and Ms Goldstein said this is done more frequently in other municipalities.  It is often useful because an applicant can receive guidance at a stage when he or she can make fundamental conceptual changes with few consequences.  Ms Doorley said she has some reservations about accidentally misleading an applicant about the viability of a proposal, but she supports the idea that residents should be able to talk with the Commission without making a formal submission.  Ms Goldstein said applicants who have preliminary discussions with the Commission should still have a formal sketch plan review. 

Mrs. Doorley said the consensus is that the Commission does not have a problem with informal discussions of proposed land developments. 

SUBCOMMITTEE AND LIAISON REPORTS 

a.      Board of Supervisors - no report 

b.      Newtown area Regional Planning Commission - Mr. Kester said the Commission will meet on 1/23/03. 

c.      Joint Zoning Council - no report. 

d.      Sycamore Street Committee - Mr. Lombardi said the Committee will meet on 1/28/03. 

e.      Historic Architectural Review Board - Mr. Lombardi said HARB met with Mr. Crawford at their most recent meeting, and recommended a Certificate of Appropriateness for his renovations. 

f.        Park and Recreation Board - Mr. Ott reported that he and Mr. Dieterle were confused about the dates and times of the meetings.  Mrs. Beasley said the Board usually meets on the first Wednesday of the month at the Martindell House.  Mr. Ott asked if he and Mr. Dieterle are voting members, and Mrs. Beasley said they are not. 

g.      Plan Expirations - Mrs. Doorley said the only plan to be addressed is the Pryda conditional use, which was discussed previously. 

GENERAL DISCUSSION 

JMZO AMENDMENTS - SWIMMING POOLS AND FENCES:  Mr. Sander distributed some materials about this ordinance from Pat Scully.  Mrs. Doorley agreed to put this item on the agenda for the next meeting (2/4/03).

ADJOURNMENT:  With no objections, the meeting was adjourned at 10:15 PM.

  

Respectfully Submitted,

 

____________________________
Gretta Stone, Recording Secretary