NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP PLANNING COMMISSION
100 MUNICIPAL DRIVE, NEWTOWN, BUCKS COUNTY, PA 18940
Minutes of the meeting held on July 17, 2007
Present: Shawn Ward, Chairman; Jay Sensibaugh, Vice-Chairman, Jim Bowe, Peggy Driscoll, Allen Fidler, Vincent Lombardi and Shannon Wilson, members. Frank Mendicino and Dennis Fisher were excused. Also in attendance were: Jerry Schenkman, Supervisor, Joseph Caracappa, Solicitor; Thomas Wilkes, Township Engineer; Judith Stern Goldstein, Township Planner, Matthew Johnson, Traffic Engineer and Michael Solomon, Code Enforcement Officer.
Call to Order: Chairman Ward called the meeting to order at 8:00PM
Approval of Minutes: Mr. Fidler moved to accept the minutes of June 19, 2007. Ms. Driscoll seconded and the motion passed 6-0-1, with Mr. Ward abstaining.
Traffic Engineer’s Report: In preparation for the 2007 TIP, Mr. Johnson reviewed the 2005 TIP:
- Newtown Yardley Road Improvements, creating a boulevard
- Stoopville Road Rehabilitation
- Trail from the Community College to the Schofield Bridge
- Rehabilitation of the R8 Electric Rail line
Mr. Johnson said that he is not optimistic about funding for the next TIP, but said that the State would hear oral presentations at the DVRPC headquarters in Philadelphia on August 16, 2007. He urged the Board to review the last round of requests and consider other areas where transportation improvements are needed. Written submissions are due in mid-September. He presented some aerial photographs with suggested projects. There has been some recent discussion of extending Terry Drive through the Newtown Business Commons to link with the Newtown Bypass as a right-in, right-out access. This would involve extending the road through an existing privately owned parking lot. It would alleviate some of the current congestion at Penns Trail and along Fountain Farm Lane.
The Commission agreed that this would be a good idea, noting that if the property owner were agreeable there is sufficient space to relocate his parking.
Ms. Goldstein briefly outlined a streetscape master plan she has developed for the Business Commons, which includes crosswalks, sidewalks, benches, street trees, and lighting. She believed that PennDOT might pay for certain features of the master plan as intersection improvements and crosswalks. Property owners who are involved in construction or renovation in the Commons are being required to include street trees and sidewalks as outlined in the master plan.
The Commission discussed including both the Terry Drive extension and the streetscape, expanding the original TIP request for Newtown Yardley Road, instead making it a Business Commons area improvement project.
The members reviewed the request for a trail through the Community College to the Schofield covered bridge. It was brought to the members’ attention by Park and Recreation Director Bill Wert that the existing trail, which appears to be in disrepair, had been created as an emergency exit from the park and college after September 11. The members discussed including the trail, but also attempting to have it incorporated into the already funded Swamp Road Improvement Project.
Mr. Fidler commented that in previous years, PennDOT had been interested in funding all modes of transportation, which is why the rail line and walking trails were included. He asked Mr. Johnson to research whether that would be the case this year.
Mr. Johnson suggested that the members review this evening’s discussion and the 2005 TIP, and return to the next Planning Commission meeting to finalize the TIP for this year.
Note: Because of the length of the agenda, Conditional Use applications and Zoning Hearing Board applications were taken out of order, but appear grouped together in the minutes.
Zoning Hearing Board Applications
- Julie Lambert - 11 Clearview: The applicant was not in attendance.This application was passed to the Board of Supervisors without Comment.
- Frank and Cindy McLane - 495 Linton Hill Road: Frank McLane was in attendance to discuss this application for setback relief to construct an addition to his house. This application was passed to the Board of Supervisors without Comment.
- KLS Ryan Goodnoe’s Corner N. Sycamore Street and Durham Road: (Chairman Ward recused himself from consideration of this application.) Joseph McGrath reviewed the application, which is seeking relief for two 15.9-foot monument signs, two façade signs per façade for each tenant, some size relief for signage for one tenant, and for relief to permit signs higher than 9 feet. Mr. McGrath said that the Board of Supervisors had already reviewed the application. He is proposing, in addition to the building signs, 2-foot square blade signs, visible to pedestrians, identifying each tenant. HARB has expressed support for all of the signage as historically appropriate. The application does not include Rite-Aid Pharmacy.
Mr. Lombardi confirmed that HARB did not object to the additional signage request, and was supportive of the designs. He noted that the Ordinance does not address hanging signs. HARB felt that these signs contributed to the historic flavor of the shopping center. HARB is recommending approval of the monument signs, which will be placed at the entrances on Ice cream Alley and on Silo Drive. The Planning Commission passed this application to the Board of Supervisors without comment.
PRD Variance Application
- Charles and Joanne Rosemarino – 318 Burgundy Lane: Joanne Rosemarino was in attendance to present this application for setback relief to construct a raised sunroom. She presented copies of letters of support from the Woods of Saxony Homeowners Association and from surrounding neighbors. The Commission passed this application to the Board of Supervisors without comment.
- Park and Recreation Board: Chairman Andrew Levine was in attendance to ask the Commission for input on three topics:
- Rezoning portions of the Woll Tract
- Location of a Skate Park
- Woll Tract Engineering
Rezoning portions of the Woll Tract: Mr. Levine explained that the Woll Tract is in two different zoning districts; POS –Park and Open Space, and CM – Conservation Management. The area of the park which is proposed for active recreation and parking is in the POS zoning district, which has a limit of 8% impervious surface. The 10-acre parcel donated by Elliott Builders is in the CM zoning district. This 10-acre parcel, which will have a walking trail and connection to the trail along Eagle Road, does not require rezoning. The Park and Recreation Board would like Planning Commission input on the 40 acres in POS. He suggested the following options: adding a new POS zoning district for active recreation with increased impervious surface, seeking variances from the Zoning Hearing Board, or rezoning the POS portion to EIR – Educational, Institutional, Recreational zoning, which allows for 30% impervious surface.
Mr. Fidler pointed out that the other partners in the Jointure would face similar problems if they begin to develop their open space for playing fields.
Ms. Goldstein said that the Jointure partners feel that open space should remain open space. It might be better to seek rezoning as EIR, which is a better fit for active recreation. There is still a need for POS zoning.
The Commission agreed that rezoning of the parcel to EIR would probably be the best approach.
Location for Skate Park: Mr. Levine reviewed the Park and Recreation Board’s assessment of locations for a skate park. He said that there has been a resurgence of interest in a skate park recently. There was a large turn-out of the public at the Park and Recreation Board meeting at which a high school student gave a presentation. A location is needed for a skate park, and the Park and Recreation Board has discussed available space in most of the Township’s park land, and at the Municipal Complex. Roberts Ridge Park had been considered, but it is very close to residential neighbors and it would require a great deal of re-grading work to install the equipment. At this time the Board is inclined to recommend locating the skate park at Helen Randle Park, at the end of the parking area in the buffer area. This location is not close to any residential neighbors. It would be fenced and there is ample parking and public restrooms. Children would have to be dropped off at the park. In response to Commission comments, Mr. Levine said that Carl Sedia Park and the field behind Staples, while both in walking distance to the middle and high schools, had been eliminated from consideration. The Township does not own sufficient land near the field behind Staples, and residents of Chandler Hall have been working with the Park and Recreation Board on renovating Carl Sedia Park for senior citizen recreational use.
Mr. Levine said that the Woll tract is still several years from completion, whereas a skate park could be installed rather quickly at a cost of about $175,000 depending on the equipment chosen. The Board of Supervisors has indicated that the park would have to be privately funded, but fundraising efforts cannot begin until a location is designated. Mr. Levine said that he has not heard any objections from neighbors in Tyler Walk to other park improvements, such as field lighting, and this location would not be close to any residential properties.
Mr. Levine said that nearby skate parks in Middletown and Hopewell, New Jersey have not reported any major injuries; the sport does not appear to be any more dangerous than other sports. The Township insurance carrier would not require monitoring of the premises. The Board has not yet completed study on whether to provide monitors, season passes, or how to collect signed accident waivers from participants.
The Planning Commission had no objections to locating a skate park at Helen Randle Park.
Resident Nancy Crescenzo spoke in opposition to locating the skate park at Helen Randle Park because it is not a location that children can walk to on their own, and it has a steep, dangerous entrance drive that skate boarders might attempt to ride down, into Swamp Road traffic. She favored locating the skate park at Roberts Ridge Park, which would be within walking distance from Goodnoe Elementary School, and is close to residential neighbors. These neighbors should be polled to learn whether they would object to locating a skate park in Roberts Ridge. She suggested that the Township acquire the former Preston House, currently owned by Council Rock School District, to provide meeting rooms and offices for the Park and Recreation Department, and to provide restroom facilities for the playground and skate park.
Mr. Levine indicated that a sale of the Preston House by the School District is not being discussed at this time. He said that further discussion of a skate park location would take place at the September Park and Recreation Board meeting. Input from neighbors of Roberts Ridge Park will be sought in advance of that meeting.
Woll Tract Engineering: Chris Green of Gilmore Associates, gave a brief PowerPoint presentation on the engineering for the Woll Tract, and provided members with printed copies of all slides. The plans are very similar to the original plans shown to the Commission. Changes included a modification of the parking lot, location of a maintenance shed and a wetland created for stormwater management. Playing fields have been aligned to keep field lighting as far from residential neighbors as possible.
After the presentation, Commission members asked about the wetlands. There was some concern about mosquitoes and about maintenance. Mr. Green said that the wetlands are designed to attract amphibians, which keep mosquitoes and West Nile disease down, and maintenance is less than a traditional detention or retention basin. Periodic erosion control is required, and once the wetlands have been established, other maintenance is minimal.
Resident Tony Lauro said that St. Andrew’s Briar would be interested in including its retention basin in the park.
In response to questions about field lighting, Tom Bush of Musco Lighting discussed the lighting system, which is designed to reduce spillage and glare. For better control, the lights are placed on 70-foot poles. The lights will produce a standard of 1/10 of one foot candle at the border with any residential property. He showed photographs comparing what would be visible from Musco lighting to traditional field lights. Since Musco last visited the Park and Recreation Board, Musco has improved its spillage and glare by 50%. With this increased efficiency, fewer light poles will be needed. Maintenance is built into the initial cost, and the lights have a 25 year warranty.
In response to Mrs. Crescenzo’s comments on glare into the homes of adjoining residents, Mr. Bush said that there is no glare from these lights into homes. She said that she has spoken to all of the residential neighbors, including Mr. Leck, and all are strongly opposed to lighting at this park.
Mr. Levine said that although all of the neighbors of the Woll Tract are opposed to field lighting, this parcel has been planned for active recreation, including lighted fields, long before these homes were built. These neighbors had been informed by the builder and by the Township, that a municipal park with lighted fields was intended for this property. In response to questions from the Commission, he said that neighbors have not had a demonstration of Musco lighting, but have been provided with lists of nearby locations where the lighting is used. It is certified by the International Dark Sky Association. The closest home is 287 feet from a light. There had been some discussion of painted light standards but the manufacturer recommends steel poles as less obtrusive in appearance. There will be a schedule for the timing of lighting of fields, but that has not been formalized.
The Commission discussed traffic concerns. The plans show 60 parking spaces along the access road from Wrights Road to the park, which should help with some of the parking congestion along Wrights Road. Mr. Levine said that a light at the Durham Road entrance might not be warranted, or if so, only on Saturdays. The School District has requested that no buffer be planted between the park and Newtown Elementary School.
Mr. Johnson commented that PennDOT would not install traffic signals for pedestrian use, only.
The proposed stormwater management should help decrease erosion at Clark Nature Center. Fully engineered plans have been submitted to the Codes Department. Mr. Levine said that he would return to the Planning Commission for a formal review at an August meeting.
Mrs. Crescenzo complained that there is no pedestrian access to the Woll Tract from Newtown Grant.
Mr. Wert said that the trail along Eagle Road is to be extended from Amy Circle to Jonquil Drive this summer. This will provide a pedestrian link from a portion of Newtown Grant to the park.
- First Evergreen Revised Preliminary Plan for Land Development – 826-828 Newtown Yardley Road: Attorney Ed Murphy and Mary Ellen Saylor of Pickering Corts and Summerson were in attendance to review these plans. Mr. Murphy explained that the plans had been revised to comply with earlier review letters, but had been submitted to the Township only late on Thursday afternoon.First Evergreen is now seeking preliminary/final plan approval.
The Commission agreed to consider preliminary/final plan approval after the Township consultants have reviewed the revised plan.
Mr. Sensibaugh moved to table First Evergreen Revised Preliminary Plan to August 7, 2007. Mr. Lombardi seconded and the motion passed 7-0.
- La Stalla – 18 Swamp Road: Attorney Don Marshall represented the applicant, Vincent Masso. Mr. Marshall reviewed the application, which seeks to modify the conditional use approval of January 24, 2001. At that time approval was granted for 150 seats. The restaurant now has 210 seats, 130 indoors and 80 on the patio. The applicant seeks to extend the hours of operation beyond what had been originally approved at 11:30AM to 11:00PM, to allow the restaurant to remain open until 1:00AM on Friday and Saturday. The number of employees has increased from a maximum of 14 to a maximum of 20. There are 65 parking spaces allotted to this tenant. Employees are required to park remotely. Other aspects of the original application remain the same. The applicant’s lease with Newtown Center Associates runs through February 2011. Sale of alcohol is 20-30% of the business.
Mr. Marshall reviewed the parking for this section of the shopping center. He said that there are five users for 110 parking spaces. La Stalla has approval for 65 spaces, Rita’s Water Ice has 4 and Rouget has 13. The shopping center has 5.5 spaces per 1000 square feet. He provided copies of the conditional use approvals for Rouget and Rita’s. Mr. Marshall noted that, while there are 210 seats in the restaurant, they are not all occupied. During warm weather, most diners are outside, with the indoor seats empty, and in the winter the patio is closed. December is the restaurant’s busiest month. He contended that the parking problems are because of Rita’s, not La Stalla.
Mr. Sensibaugh expressed concern for safety in the parking lot, where children are running to buy ice cream.
Mr. Lombardi said that part of the problem is the mix of uses at that end of the shopping center, with so many food uses in close proximity to one another. There needs to be cooperation to alleviate this parking problem. He asked about valet parking.
Mr. Marshall said that La Stalla is not the type of restaurant for valet parking. He said that there is a parking problem caused by La Stalla. The possibility that this restaurant, if successful, would expand, had been anticipated. For this reason 65 parking spaces were allotted to La Stalla.
Mr. Fidler noted that the Sewer Authority had some issues with the EDU usage, which had been based on 150 seats; there are now over 200 seats.
Mr. Lombardi said that the issue is not specifically with La Stalla; he recommended that the owner of the shopping center be required to develop parking spaces currently held in reserve.
Mr. Sensibaugh continued to have concerns about safety, as diners must walk across the driving lanes to enter the restaurant, and Rita’s customers are in danger.
Mr. Ward disagreed, noting that in all shopping centers, customers walk across drive lanes to go into buildings.
In response to Mr. Fidler’s question, Mr. Marshall said that the later weekend hours were being requested for late diners and for bar customers.
Mr. Solomon said that the empty storefront that had been the flower shop is to be a maternity clothing store. This would be an administrative conditional use, which would not require Planning Commission review.
Mr. Marshall said that the applicant had always anticipated expansion; he has been allotted adequate parking to accommodate the increased size. He again stressed that, although there are 210 seats in the restaurant, inside and out, the outdoor area is closed during the winter, including the restaurant’s busiest month. In warm weather, the dining room is frequently empty, with customers preferring the patio.
The Commission discussed the need to address the parking in the entire shopping center. It was agreed that the reserve parking is now needed. Mr. Lombardi suggested denying this and all future applications for Village at Newtown South, until the parking situation has been addressed.
Mrs. Driscoll said that she has some concerns about traffic flow in and out of this end of the shopping center at the Rita’s entrance.
Mrs. Crescenzo complained about speeding issues on South Eagle Road and about the crowded bar area in La Stalla.
Mr. Schenkman said that a traffic light has been approved for the intersection of South Eagle Road and Swamp Road, which, when installed, should help with traffic flow.
Ms. Goldstein and Mr. Solomon discussed asking the landlord to assign specific numbers of parking spaces to each tenant. This could help to trigger installation of parking currently held in reserve.
Mr. Lombardi moved to recommend that the Board of Supervisors deny the conditional use application of La Stalla, 18 Swamp Road, and all future conditional use applications for the Village at Newtown South. Mr. Bowe seconded.
Discussion of motion: Mr. Fidler said that this applicant has made a provision for parking with his original application. He is concerned about hurting a successful local business, but he does not support the request for extension of hours of operation to 1:00AM on weekends. He said that the parking issue is the landlord’s problem. The Sewer Authority also should “go after” the property owner.
Mr. Marshall said that the applicant is looking to the Township for help with a solution. He does not think that the Township wants to close La Stalla; La Stalla has parking approvals. The issue is parking for the entire shopping center.
Mr. Ward said that this applicant has complied with his existing approvals. He would like the applicant to consider valet parking, but would vote nay on this motion. It is not this applicant’s problem; the original conditional use allots adequate parking.
The motion passed 4-2-1, with Messrs. Ward and Wilson voting nay, and Mr. Sensibaugh abstaining.
Mr. Lombardi moved to recommend that the Board of Supervisors not issue a Cease and Desist order against this applicant. Mr. Bowe seconded.
Mr. Solomon said that a Cease and Desist has already been issued, because of the number of seats. There is approval for 150 seats, and there are 235 seats.
Mr. Lombardi withdrew his motion and Mr. Bowe withdrew his second.
Mr. Lombardi said that he would not like this order enforced at this time. The Commission should recommend that the landlord address the parking issue.
Mr. Ward suggested that the Commission comment to the Supervisors that it recommends that the Cease and Desist order should not be enforced at this time. The Commission agreed to this suggestion.
- JMZO 2006-02 – Accessory Contractor: Ms. Goldstein explained that this amendment has been revised to allow for accessory contractor use on parcels smaller than 10 acres by conditional use. There had been a request by Upper Makefield to require 10 acres for contractor use on residential properties. Newtown and Wrightstown had concerns about creating non-conforming uses among existing contractors. Newtown had recommended a 3-acre minimum lot size.
Mr. Wilson commented that this would create too many non-conforming uses. There is already enough regulation of home business. He suggested that regulation of accessory contractor would be better addressed in each municipality’s SALDO rather than in the JMZO.
Discussion was tabled.
- JMZO 2006-05 Agricultural Accessory Use: Ms. Goldstein explained that this amendment has incorporated the last recommendations of Newtown, and specifically addresses roadside farm stands. There is no minimum acreage requirement for a farm stand.
Mr. Fidler moved to recommend that the Board of Supervisors approve JMZO 2006-05, Agricultural Accessory use. Mr. Bowe seconded and the motion passed 7-0.
- Joint Zoning Council: Mr. Fidler reported that the Joint Zoning Council has set up a committee to review the Comprehensive Plan. Each municipality is sending two Supervisors and two Planning Commissioners. The subcommittee meets one hour before the regular Joint Zoning Council meeting. Mr. Ward agreed to attend the next meeting, along with Mr. Weaver and Mr. Schenkman, on August 14, 2007 at 6:00PM.
Mr. Wilson moved to adjourn at 11:45 PM. Mrs. Driscoll seconded and the motion passed 7-0.
Mary Donaldson, Recording Secretary