Newtown Township

Planning Commission 

Special Minutes

January 13, 2004


The Newtown Township Planning Commission met on Tuesday, January 13, 2004, in the lower level Township meeting room.  In attendance were: Chairman Shawn Ward, members Allen Fidler, Jay Sensibaugh, Frank Mendicino, Bob Dieterle, Vince Lombardi, and Sue Beasley.  Also in attendance were:  Supervisor Dick Weaver, Economic Development Commission representative Doug Terry, Township Engineers Chris Walker and Phil Wursta, and Public Works Director Tom Harwood.


CALL TO ORDER:  Chairman Shawn Ward called the meeting to order at 8:00 PM.


MINUTES OF PREVIOUS MEETING (1/6/04, ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT COMMISSION (EDC)-RELATED ONLY):  Mr. Sensibaugh moved to approve the EDC-related minutes from the 1/6/04 meeting with one change: In the 4th paragraph, Mr. Ward’s 5th point should read “Could proportioned limitations on certain uses…”.  The motion was seconded by Mr. Fidler and passed unanimously.


TRAFFIC ENGINEER’S REPORT:  Mr. Wursta distributed new and revised data on current and projected trip generation in the Newtown Business Commons (NBC).  He compared data in three scenarios:  100% General Office Use buildout, 100% Medical-Dental Use buildout, and a mix of the two uses.  He also provided data on existing and projected peak hour traffic volumes at several intersections in the NBC area, as well as the projected benefits of proposed road improvements on these traffic patterns.


Mr. Wursta stated that his analysis indicates that some of the road improvements he discussed at previous meetings will be needed within five years simply due to increased regional traffic as well as nominal development within the NBC.  If the NBC buildout is increased by more than 20%, additional major road improvements will be necessary within approximately five years.  Even without the zoning changes, these improvements will be eventually be necessary.


Mr. Wursta estimated the cost of all these improvements to be close to $2 million.  He recommended that the Township revise its Capital Improvement Plan to include these improvements, as well as the improvements proposed in the Newtown-Yardley Road Corridor project submitted for the TIP in 2003.


Mr. Sensibaugh asked if the need for the major improvements would be triggered if the 50% impervious surface limit was not changed to 65%; Mr. Wursta said the improvements would still be needed.


Mr. Wursta said that the primary source of funds for these improvements would be traffic impact fees from development of the NBC, and that income from these fees would be higher if the recommended zoning changes are implemented.  He suggested that the fee amount, currently $1,247 per peak hour trip, should stay about the same.  He thought there is a good possibility of obtaining PennDOT funds for a portion of this work, although the process will take at least eight years.


Mr. Walker commented that traffic impact fees for NBC projects that have been submitted to the Township would total about $150,000.  The Township might receive additional fees from the nearby Newtown Corporate Center project if they are not able to build their proposed bridge.  Mr. Lombardi said there also are some existing funds in the Traffic Impact Fund.  Overall, approximately $1 million in traffic impact fees are projected to be generated in the NBC area.


Doug Terry, a representative from the EDC and a property owner in the NBC, said it would take at least ten years for full buildout to occur in the NBC


ADAPTIVE RE-USE OF EXISTING VACANT BUILDINGS:  Mr. Ward asked how the changes proposed by the EDC would affect current vacancies.  Mr. Lombardi noted that about 398,000 SF of manufacturing space, and some office space, is currently vacant.  Mr. Terry said some large buildings just came onto the market, and the total amount of vacant space is now about 500,000 SF.


Mr. Sensibaugh asked what could be done to the buildings to make them reusable.  Mr. Terry said most buildings need to have windows installed for office use, which is major, costly work, or they could be scrapped and rebuilt.  Mr. Dieterle said a conversion to office use would also require more parking, which would justify the increase in the impervious surface.  Mr. Lombardi suggested the possibility of an overlay zone for existing buildings, in which impervious surface limits would be raised and smaller parking stalls would be allowed.


Mr. Ward said that Newtown-Yardley Road is a gateway into Newtown, and he is concerned that some green space remain along the road.  Mr. Fidler suggested that minimum front yard setbacks could be increased and rear yard setbacks reduced along the road.  Mr. Terry said there is only one undeveloped parcel in the O-LI District, so these suggestions would have minimal effect.  He said that there is an existing approved plan for the undeveloped parcel which would allow construction of about 73,000 SF of office space at 50% impervious; Mr. Terry’s plan, at 65% impervious, proposes construction of about 80,000 SF of office space.  Mr. Ward added that some green space along Newtown-Yardley Road would be lost as well.


PARKING STALL SIZES:  Commission members generally favored permitting smaller parking stalls in an overlay zone, which would be an incentive for adaptive reuse of existing buildings, perhaps with some 10’ X 18’ stalls available to accommodate larger vehicles.  Mr. Weaver suggested that striping between stalls is helpful to discourage drivers from parking to close to each other.  Mr. Sensibaugh commented that the Bucks County Planning Commission was not in favor of smaller parking spaces because cars have been getting larger in recent years.


INCREASED MAXIMUM IMPERVIOUS SURFACE:  Commission members generally agreed that the proposed increase in the impervious surface limit is not a stormwater management concern if developers are able to comply with ordinance requirements.  Mr. Walker referred members to his 12/11/04 memo on stormwater management in the Commons.


RENTAL RATES AND MARKETING STRATEGIES:  Mr. Ward asked what role current rental rates play in the problem of persistent vacancies in the NBC.  Mr. Terry said the NBC has lost industrial tenants because tenants can find much lower rates elsewhere.  He said another major problem for potential tenants of any kind is that the process of obtaining conditional use approval and an occupancy permit is much more difficult and time-consuming in the Township than it is in other municipalities.  He said that more administrative discretion should be given to the Fire Marshal and the Zoning Officer, which would streamline the process considerably.


Mr. Harwood said that some uses should always be reviewed by the Planning Commission to ensure that all aspects are considered.  Mr. Mendicino objected to removing elected and appointed officials from the review process.  Mr. Ward said he would support increasing the number of uses by right as long as the ordinance provides very specific controls.


PROPOSED CHANGES IN PERMITTED USES:  Commission members began discussing the EDC’s proposed changes in uses listed in Mr. Pellegrino’s 11/13/03 memo to the Board of Supervisors. 

·         A1 - Agriculture and Horticulture:  There were no objections to making this a permitted use in both districts.

·         C3 - Mr. Harwood said it will be important to differentiate between a public or nonprofit school and a private school. 


The Commission will finish their review of the proposed changes in uses at their 1/20/04 meeting.


REPORT TO THE BOARD OF SUPERVISORS:  Mr. Ward outlined how he will put together his report to the Board of Supervisors for 1/14/04.  Mr. Wursta agreed to get a memo to Mr. Ward summarizing the data and recommendations he presented earlier.  Mr. Ward said he heard most Commission members supporting the idea that the Township should focus on encouraging adaptive re-use of the existing buildings in the NBC, and that this might be accomplished with an overlay district in which smaller parking stalls, more impervious surface, and streamlined conditional use processes would be available to owners and tenants of existing buildings.  Mr. Ward suggested that a work session involving members of the Planning Commission, the EDC, and the Board of Supervisors could be helpful in determining what zoning changes should be made in the NBC area.


Mr. Dieterle asked what should be said about the undeveloped parcels in the NBC.  Mr. Ward said those parcels can be developed under the terms of the existing ordinance.  He added that he will not make any specific recommendations regarding the amount by which impervious surface limits should be raised in the proposed overlay zone.


ADJOURNMENT:  Without objections, the meeting was adjourned at 10:25 PM.



Respectfully Submitted,




Gretta Stone, Recording Secretary