Newtown Township

Planning Commission 

July 11, 2006


Members, except for Mike Piazza who abstained from the vote, unanimously accepted the Minutes of 07/11/2006 with these changes.


Present: Chairman Shawn Ward, Vice Chairman Vince Lombardi and members, Jay Sensibaugh, Allen Fidler, Shannon Wilson, Jim Bowe, Frank Mendicino and Beth Sanderlin-Weachter. Also present were Solicitor Paul Beckert, Township Engineer Edward Koehler, Township Planner Judy Stern Goldstein, Traffic Engineer Matt Johnston and Rich O’Brien of Keystone Municipal Services. Mike Piazza was excused from the meeting.

1. Call To Order – Chairman Ward called the meeting to order at 8:07 p.m.

2. Conditional Use – The Promenade at Sycamore Street

Chairman Ward gave an overview of the issue for members of the public, noting that there were various concerns expressed in previous meetings that needed to be resolved before the Planning Commission could vote on the applicant’s Conditional Use application. He further advised that several interested parties were present to express their opinions regarding the proposal, i.e., the Fire Marshall, members of the Sycamore Street Committee and representatives of the Presbyterian Church (adjacent to the property).

David J. Sander, Esq., counsel for the Elliot Group, introduced L. Scott Mill of Van Cleef Engineering Associates, Jill M. Palazzo of MKSD Architects and Jeffrey A. L’Amoreaux, also of Van Cleef, to assist in his presentation to the board.

Mr. Sander advised that the chief concern of the Planning Commission appeared to be the access/egress of the project. Meetings were held to see if a second access/egress could be constructed. To the rear, the slope/grade is too steep thereby eliminating the ability to achieve this alternative. Further, the ambulance squad was adverse to this and did not want conflict with general traffic and their vehicles. However, access to the property will be provided for emergency vehicles via an extension to the parking lot providing for a staging area; a standpipe and hydrant will be included for water supply. Jay Sensibaugh asked what EMS thought about the Planning Commission’s inquiry about access on the southern end of the property and Mr. Sander responded that they preferred not to have any vehicular access via their property that butts up against the entire rear of the project. No one from the ambulance squad was present at the meeting. Frank Mendicino noted that the elevation of the parking garage changed from one end of the project to the other; L. Scott Mill agreed and advised that there was a 10-foot difference. Edward Koehler asked if they had looked into changing the elevation of the parking garage and Mr. Mill advised that the elevation was dictated by the front of the building; in essence, if the front of the building were lowered, the parking garage could be lowered. Mr. Koehler suggested raising the 2nd level of the parking garage; this would bring the property up to the same elevation as the rear property and allow for larger vehicles on the first level. Mr. Mill advised that there would still be a problem with the internal slopes.

Jay Sensibaugh noted that changes appeared to have been made from the agreement that was signed/dated on May 25, 2005 by the Board of Supervisors. Mr. Sander advised that the project proposed had numerous departures from the original agreement signed; many of them being the result of meetings with township staff and professionals. The applicant was given direction as to what the Township wanted to see, feeling it was better to propose something that the Township was comfortable with, rather than having to make considerable adjustments to their own plan. Frank Mendicino noted that if the changes to the original agreement had been the result of meetings and discussions with staff, then the original agreement was still in tack being that the Supervisors never voted on any of the changes. Mr. Sander added that the Supervisors agreed to the concept, to uses, to access, to the residential element and to a parking garage; therefore, changes have been made to the sketch that the Supervisors had signed on to. Allen Fidler asked if the agreement referenced the amount of square footage for the project; it was his understanding that the size of the project had been determined and that it would not change.

Frank Mendicino was concerned about the access to the property shown on the sketch plan, with no details, being approved when that access is not in compliance with the requirements of Conditional Use. Under Conditional Use, health, safety and welfare have to be considered; if the Planning Commission deems this has not taken place then the Conditional Use can be denied. He noted that the applicant did not appear to be making an effort to bring such items as access into compliance. Mr. Sander denied it and advised that they had taken all of the Planning Commission’s comments into consideration; however, with respect to the 2nd access, it was deemed unachievable. He felt that while he had prefaced his statements with the fact that changes had been made to the sketch, he was being held to the parameters of the sketch plan.

Chairman Ward noted that the proposed plan showed +/- 95,000 SF compared to the original proposal of 62,500 SF; the fundamental question was where this change had come from. The parking/garage situation is a direct result of the increased square footage of the building. Jay Sensibaugh added that since the board has not seen a Land Development Plan, it appears the project is not in conformance with the original signed agreement. David Sander reiterated that the plan before the board was the result of meetings with Township staff/professionals; at their request, the building was moved out to the street and a 20-foot setback was required between the parking garage and the rear of the building. Mr. Sander noted that Judith Stern Goldstein, Bob Pellegrino, Chris Walker, Steve Harris, Tom Harwood, Don Harris, Chris Fazio and Ed Koehler had all, at one time or another, been involved in the consultation meetings with the applicant. When Jay Sensibaugh asked if any of the professionals had been consulted on the increase in the square footage, both Judith Stern Goldstein and Edward Koehler said they had not.

Chairman Ward advised that the agreement was based on a concept calling for the applicant to make Land Development plans in accordance with the Newtown Ordinance, subject to waivers. A plan has been submitted and the job of the Planning Commission is to decide if it is in compliance. He then presented an email from Mike Piazza, who was unable to attend the meeting, outlining his concerns regarding access/egress, internal garage circulation, location of trash dumpsters, security/safety and handicap access. The duty of the Planning Commission is to make sure the application is in compliance with the agreement, the concept and the ordinance, taking into consideration the health, safety and welfare of the community. In his opinion, the Planning Commission does not believe the proposed plan meets that criterion. Frank Mendicino expressed his concern over changes that had been made to the project with the input of executive staff/professionals only. Change recommendations are only recommendations until elected officials vote on them; none of that discussion appears to have taken place. Mr. Mendicino continued, advising that in his opinion, the decision made by the Board of Supervisors to support the applicant at the Zoning Hearing Board should be re-evaluated since they were not properly informed on the project as it was being presented. David Sander noted that when the plans were revised to bring the building out to the street, the increased square footage was shown. Judith Stern Goldstein added that the square footage on the engineering/land development plans never matched the architectural plans and still don’t. David Sander dismissed that as a drafting error.

Chairman Ward advised that based on the plans submitted and the applicant’s presentation that the Conditional Use would probably be denied. He then asked if the applicant wanted additional time to revise their presentation and Allen Fidler added that the applicant needed clear direction from the Planning Commission. Vice Chairman Lombardi noted that there were additional questions to resolve, one being the height of the building at 55 feet; the building is too high compared to the surrounding properties. Mr. Sander advised that a report was being done on the comparative elevation and a variance would be needed. Vice Chairman Lombardi added that the board still did not have a traffic impact study, a resolution to the need for a second access, the deficit of 180 parking spaces, the lack of adequate internal circulation in the parking garage, a safety plan for the 17 residential units, adequate trash collection facilities and private security. In his opinion, Vice Chairman Lombardi felt this was a big-city project proposed for a small town. Frank Mendicino asked if Mr. Sander felt he had all the information to get a Conditional Use approval at this time and Mr. Sander advised he did. Mr. Sander reiterated from previous meetings that each occupant would need their own Conditional Use approval, that Phil Wursta of Pennoni had agreed that 274 parking spaces were adequate with the concept of shared parking and that no traffic study would be done since a traffic study of the Sycamore Street area had already been done by the Township.

Allen Fidler, due to a prior commitment, excused himself from the meeting at 9:08 p.m.

Chairman Ward advised that the concept was good, but that the board needed the specifics; the overuse of the land appears to have a negative impact on other areas, i.e., traffic, safety, parking and congestion. David Sander advised that there were other issues to discuss, but from the tenure of the meeting, he felt there was nothing more to explain that would change the decision of the Planning Commission. He felt that all the Conditional Use requirements had been met and that the project would be advantageous to Newtown. He added that prior to receiving the building permit, the applicant was required to meet the fire code and other health, safety and welfare issues; however, Vice Chairman Lombardi noted that all of this information was needed for the Conditional Use, not after the fact. Beth Sanderlin-Weachter advised Mr. Sander that in her opinion, the applicant was not interested in Newtown, but in what they would get out of it only. She added that the applicant, as a result of previous meetings, was offering small concessions and Newtown was being left with a nightmare. Edward Koehler advised that comments had been sent to the applicant as a result of a meeting including himself and Judith Stern Goldstein some weeks ago, to which neither a response nor a revision to the plan, had yet been received. Mr. Sander advised a response was forthcoming, awaiting the Township traffic engineer’s letter and added that he felt Ms. Sanderlin-Weachter’s comments were overstated. Frank Mendicino expressed his concerns over the process of this development being flawed. Not being put thru the Planning Commission and the Zoning Board for recommendations; the Visioning Committee did their job with the sketch plan, but had no details. Vice Chairman Lombardi added that the Visioning Committee never had the proposed square footage and number of residential units; the mix is too great and while the vision is good, the proposed size is bad. He felt that the applicant was overdeveloping the site.

Chairman Ward asked Mr. Sander to respond to the following:

Chairman Ward introduced Don Harris, Newtown Fire Marshall and asked if he had reviewed the plans. Mr. Harris advised he had not seen the formal plans and was concerned with the access/egress to the property via one driveway. He advised that having fire vehicles in and under the parking garage presented a problem, that he was not happy with the design of the building/garage and that he was concerned with a panic situation occurring if the public had to flee the area. Further he had concerns with the location of the fire hydrants and had advised the applicant that they needed to have sprinklers, which the applicant agreed to. Chairman Ward asked Mr. Harris if he felt the proposed property adequately protected everyone from danger. Mr. Harris responded advising that the sprinkler system, alarms and access/egress was adequate; however, the parking garage was a major problem. He noted that the fire department had equipment to reach the top floors of the building. When Edward Koehler asked if a second rear egress-only for the property would alleviate some of Mr. Harris’ concerns, he advised it would. Mr. Harris added that the volunteers manning the fire department at night were adequately trained to handle any fire in the Township. Mr. Sander advised that some concessions have been made in accordance with Mr. Harris’ concerns; however, the secondary rear access/egress is not possible.

Chairman Ward introduced Terry McLean of the Newtown Historical Architectural Review Board, who expressed his concerns regarding the height of the building, particularly in relation to the Presbyterian Church on the south side of the property. Paul Beckert advised that the HARBoard had jurisdiction over property adjacent to a historical site, which the church is. Mr. McLean noted that a 5-story building, in terms of scale, was too great in relation to the other properties along Sycamore Street.

Chairman Ward introduced Walt Jamison, a member of the Board of Trustees for the Presbyterian Church. Mr. Jamison advised that he had concerns with the height of the building, with the building being within 3 feet of the church boundaries and with construction impeding upon the garden and memorial area of the church. Buffering between the church and the building is in the plans; however, there appears to be nothing between the church and the intended restaurant. He felt that the concept of redevelopment was good, but the building was too large. Paul Beckert noted that the church was not obligated to give a construction easement to the developer. Mr. Jamison felt the proposed building would be a great detriment to the church that is on the National Historical Registry. He introduced Tom Beresford, President of the Board of Trustees for the church who applauded the Planning Commission for their work and agreed that the property was being overdeveloped for the benefit of the applicant and not Newtown.

Mike Sellers, Chairman of the Newtown Boro Planning Commission, expressed his concerns about the proposed development and when asked by Jay Sensibaugh if the Boro would approve a 55-foot building on State Street, he advised they would not.

Nancy Crescenzo, a resident of Newtown, expressed her concerns about the parking, traffic on South Eagle Road and stormwater management.

When given the option to continue discussions or make a motion by Chairman Ward, David Sander requested a motion be made. Chairman Ward framed a motion to recommend denial of the Conditional Use application to the Board of Supervisors, based on the following:

The board noted that recommending approval was of no benefit to the community, citing non-compliance with the following sections of 13.01 General Conditions in the Ordinance for Conditional Use approval:

Frank Mendicino presented the motion to the board and Beth Sanderlin-Weachter seconded. The motion was unanimously approved.

Jay Sensibaugh motioned to recommend to the Board of Supervisors that they consider defaulting on the May 25, 2005 agreement based on the information presented tonight. After Chairman Ward advised it was not within the scope of the Planning Commission’s review to do this, Mr. Sensibaugh withdrew his motion. However, Chairman Ward agreed to inform the Board of Supervisors of this.

Jay Sensibaugh motioned to recommend to the Board of Supervisors that they reconsider and oppose the variances requested, in light of the denial of the Conditional Use application. Paul Beckert noted that the Board of Supervisors had agreed to some of the variances already. Mr. Sensibaugh added to his motion that the Board of Supervisors only support those variances agreed to the in the original agreement of May 25, 2005. Beth Sanderlin-Weachter seconded the motion and members approved it by a vote of 6 to 1.

Jay Sensibaugh motioned that the Planning Commission designate a member to attend the Zoning Hearing Board meeting and represent any items missed and to defend the ordinances. Members discussed the legality of doing this and Mr. Sensibaugh withdrew his motion.

3. Adjournment – Chairman Ward adjourned the meeting at 11:00 p.m.

 

Respectfully submitted by:

 

___________________________
Susan M. Dalman, Recording Secretary