NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP PLANNING COMMISSION
100 MUNICIPAL DRIVE, NEWTOWN, BUCKS COUNTY, PA 18940
Minutes of the meeting held on August 19, 2008
Present: Chairman Allen Fidler, Vice Chairman Jay Sensibaugh, Jim Bowe, Peggy Driscoll, Dennis Fisher, Vince Lombardi, Jim Ott and Shannon Wilson, members. Also in attendance were: Jennifer McGrath, Solicitor; Michele Fountain, Township Engineer, Jerry Schenkman and Tom Jirele, Supervisor Liaisons, Michael Solomon, Codes Officer and Andrew Brown, Township Traffic Engineer.
Call to Order: Mr. Fidler called the meeting to order at 7:30 PM.
Approval of Minutes: Mr. Bowe moved to accept the minutes of July 15, 2008. Mr. Lombardi seconded and the motion passed 4-0-3, with Messrs. Fidler, Ott and Wilson abstaining.
Traffic Engineer's Report: Traffic Engineer Andrew Brown reviewed his report, updating the members on ongoing Township road projects. He noted that there has been some effort made to coordinate efforts on the Traffic Signal Enhancement on the Newtown Bypass with Lower Makefield Township.
In response to Mr. Fisher’s questions about the Swamp Road Improvement Project, Mr. Brown said that efforts to amend or remove the project from the TIP would have to be discussed with DVRPC.
In response to Mr. Fidler’s questions, Mr. Brown explained that PennDOT is asking for documentation to justify the right in/right out Terry Drive extension to the Newtown Bypass. Traffic counts will be conducted, which will include counts of traffic within the Business Commons and Newtown Gate, to show traffic that would use the extension, removing that traffic from local residential roads.
Mr. Bowe noted that residents have been asking about traffic concerns at the entrance to the Headley development. He requested that this be added to the Traffic Engineer’s report.
Mr. Brown said that a traffic light at the intersection of the Headley entrance/ Friends Lane and Newtown Yardley Road is on the TIP. There are also TSA funds available for the signal.The Commission discussed whether to move forward with the signal or wait until it is done as part of the TIP. Mr. Bowe pointed out that Newtown Swim Club is contributing to the traffic problem, and it will be closing in a few weeks. It might be possible to wait for the TIP project, and in the meantime, attempt to address the problem through adjusting the timing on the existing traffic lights on Newtown Yardley Road.
McLaughlin Minor Subdivision, 174 Durham Road - Final Plan for Minor Subdivision: Kenneth B. Oleksiak and James Tyson of D.S. Winokur Associates, and James McLaughlin, werein attendance to review plans for the minor subdivision of a 2.54 acre parcel on Durham Road in the R-1 Medium Density Residential Zoning District. Lot 1, which contains an existing single family dwelling, will be 1.24 acres; lot 2 will be approximately 1.3 acres. Lot 1 will have a new two-car garage; lot 2 will have a new house. The driveway will be widened to be shared by both lots. A rain garden is proposed for lot 2 to control stormwater run-off. A variance for front yard setback has been granted by the Zoning Hearing Board.
The Commission reviewed the letter of CKS Engineering dated July 1, 2008. There is some discrepancy between the front yard setback variance granted and the width at the entrance to the driveway. Clarification from the Zoning Hearing Board is needed.
Ms. Fountain noted that subdivisions that require easements are not considered minor subdivisions. The Commission agreed that it is very unusual to require an applicant to file a major subdivision for only two lots.
Mr. Fidler expressed some concern that there is no review by the Fire Marshal. He is concerned that the driveway might be inadequate in both width and weight bearing for a four home driveway. He asked that the applicant provide a Fire Marshal review.
Mr. Ott suggested that the applicant be required to provide a fee in lieu of sidewalks, or an easement to the Township for installation of sidewalks.
Ms. Fountain said that she is in disagreement with the applicant’s engineers on stormwater management. The Commission discussed infiltration or detention of run-off.
Mr. Tyson said that the water table is too high for infiltration.
Ms. McGrath asked that the plans show how the applicant has met the conditions of the Zoning Hearing Board to provide additional lighting and landscaping to benefit the adjoining neighbors.
Mr. McLaughlin said that lights have been installed at the entrance to the shared driveway; landscaping was to have included plantings in the proposed rain garden.
Mr. Fidler noted that the Bucks County Planning Commission letter dated May 9, 2008 references the need for a maintenance agreement for the shared driveway. He asked that this be provided.
The Commission agreed that the applicant should revise the plans to comply with the review letters and to return to the Commission after the following issues have been resolved:
Joseph Ralston, 16 Kingsley Court: Joseph Ralston was in attendance to review this application for a PRD variance for increased impervious surface and rear yard setback to install a patio. Mr. Ralston said that he had not been aware that his property, which is the largest in the development, has two easements, which are deducted from his lot calculations when determining the impervious surface. He would like to build an 846 square foot paver patio in his yard and is seeking relief of 618 square feet. As part of his plan he will be installing a seepage pit. The downspouts from the rear portion of his roof will run into the seepage pit. His property backs onto open space and the development’s stormwater management basins. He presented an approval from his homeowners association and letters of support from his adjoining neighbors.
Ms. Fountain said that there should be almost no additional run off from this plan; its impact will be de minimis.
Mr. Fidler suggested that Mr. Ralston present Ms. Fountain’s statement and information about his seepage pit when he appears before the Board of Supervisors.Mr. Wilson moved to recommend that the Board of Supervisors grant this application for a PRD variance. Mr. Fisher seconded and the motion passed 8-0.
Zoning Hearing Board Applications
Neil Morris – 429 Taylor Avenue: Attorney Maureen Carlton and Neil Morris were in attendance to review this application for an increase in impervious surface to 19.45% where 13% is the maximum and a variance granted on April 5, 2007 increased the impervious surface allowance to 17.04%, to enlarge an existing driveway by adding 642 square feet to it. The increased driveway size is necessary in order to back cars out of the side entry garage.
Ms. Carlton said that as a condition of the last variances granted, Mr. Morris was required to install a stormwater management system to accommodate the increased run off. Mr. Morris has installed a system that effectively reduces the ratio to 7.9%. With the proposed addition to the driveway, the effective ratio will be 10.85%.
In response to questions from the Commission, Ms. Carlton confirmed that it is a side entry garage and that no setback variances were required. She reviewed the plans to show the exact location of the existing and proposed driveways.
Resident Greg Lumpkin of 441 Taylor Ave. said that he lives next to Mr. Morris. When construction began on the addition to Mr. Morris’ home, Mr. Lumpkin thought that the digging was encroaching into the setback area. He contacted Mr. Solomon and the code inspector at that time, who confirmed that the project had been encroaching into the setback. They issued an order to cease the project. Mr. Lumpkin said that all of the data submitted with the application is incorrect. No demolition permit was issued when Mr. Morris began to demolish his house.
Mr. Lumpkin said that the garage/driveway issue should have been part of the initial application. He asked the Commission to recommend that Mr. Morris not be given a “second bite of the apple.”
Helen Lumpkin of 441 Taylor Ave. agreed with her husband’s statements. She and Mr. Lumpkin presented photographs taken within the past few weeks, which show drainage issues and mud along the property line with their property.
Mr. Lumpkin said that the new house and garage are much larger than any others in the neighborhood and is out of character with the neighborhood. The entire project is unsightly and he also questioned whether information presented as to setbacks and impervious surface calculations are correct.
Mr. Solomon said that a survey was not required for the Zoning Hearing Board application. When neighbors questioned the setbacks, a survey was conducted. The as built plans for the project show that it is in compliance with the Zoning Hearing Board decision. He noted that there is no side yard setback for a driveway.
Resident Harry Swanson said that he is a neighbor of Mr. Morris. He noted that the previous owner of the property was able to get his car into the garage. He asked that the Township oppose this application, as the new garage should have a front entrance.
Mr. Sensibaugh suggested that the neighbors work with the Township and Zoning Hearing Board to require some buffering if relief is granted.
Mr. Fidler explained that the Planning Commission only reviews the Zoning Hearing Board applications in order to recommend whether the Board of Supervisors should take any action to support or oppose an application. It is up to the Zoning Hearing Board to consider whether to grant a variance.
Ms. Carlton explained that the original engineer on this project had done a very poor job. That engineer has been replaced and the project is now in complete compliance with the Zoning Hearing Board’s decision. Mr. Morris has complied with all of the Township’s requests. She also said that the project is not complete yet; the unsightly mud area is part of the construction site. It will be graded, cleaned and plantings will be placed in the area.
In response to Mrs. Driscoll’s question, Mr. Morris said that he did not speak to his neighbors about his plans for the renovation and expansion.
Mr. Bowe said that it appears that the turn-around problem could be solved with about half of the requested increase. He would suggest the Board oppose this application.
Mr. Ott agreed that the request seems excessive and the Board should oppose the application.
Mrs. Driscoll agreed with Mr. Bowe and Mr. Ott.
Mr. Wilson said that he has no comment on opposition to the application.
Mr. Sensibaugh said that other than to recommend that some buffering be provided to shield the driveway from the neighbors, he had no comment.
Mr. Fisher recommended that the Board oppose the application, which seems to lack good faith efforts to comply with the ordinances.
Mr. Lombardi had no comment.
Mr. Fidler said that he has no comment, but suggested that the neighbors make their concerns known to both the Board of Supervisors and the Zoning Hearing Board.
Emmanuel Fashakin, 11 Waterford Place: The Planning Commission reviewed this application for a variance for a 10 foot fence around a tennis court where six feet is the maximum permitted height and had no comment. Mrs. Driscoll noted that she lives in this development and knew that the Homeowners Association had no objection to the request.
Robert Hughes & David Rominiecki, 82 Swamp Road: The Commission had no comment on this application for a variance to increase impervious surface to install a swimming pool.
Erik & Stephanie Molden, 4 Foxhall Road: Erik and Stephanie Molden were in attendance to review this application for increased impervious surface to install a swimming pool.
Mr. Sensibaugh suggested that the applicants provide information to the Board documenting their neighbors’ and their homeowners association’s support for the project.
Mr. Ott suggested that the applicants consider reducing the request somewhat, making the project slightly smaller.
The Commission passed this application to the Board with no comment.
Vahakan Derassouyan ( Newtown Plaza), 21 -33 Swamp Road: Mr. Solomon confirmed that the existing freestanding sign at this location is to be removed. The Planning Commission passed this application for a variance for a freestanding joint use sign without comment.
Alex Zhitomirsky, 12 Old Frost Road: Attorney Barbara Kirk was in attendance with the applicant to review this application to allow a D-1 office use at this location in the R-1 Medium Density Residential Zoning District. The old stone farmhouse is currently vacant. It had been moved from its original location some time ago.
Mr. Wilson recused himself from voting on this application, as the property adjoins his business and he had once been the owner of the property.
Ms. Kirk explained that the applicant would renovate the interior and restore the exterior of the building, and install a circular driveway and a parking pad for Mr. Zhitomirsky’s IT software development business. He would work there with two employees. There would be no other traffic to the site; no clients would call. If the applicant were to reside at the site, this would be permitted as a home occupation.
Ms. Kirk presented an artist’s rendering of the site as it would be renovated, along with some photographs of the existing site. In addition to the use variance, the applicant would need an increase in impervious surface to accommodate the circular driveway. The parking pads would be instead of a garage. The site also requires a side yard setback variance, as the building was relocated within the setback. The applicant will install a stormwater management system to accommodate the increased impervious surface.
Mr. Solomon noted that there is a change in the variance request; the application will need to be re-advertised.
Mr. Fidler said that he is eager to see this farmhouse refurbished, but expressed some concern about business uses coming into this residential area. H asked about the two entrance doors.
Ms. Kirk pointed to the photographs of the building and noted that the doors are already in place. She noted that there are three stories on one section of the building.
Mr. Lombardi said that business uses should not be permitted in this residential area.
Mr. Bowe said that he also had some concerns, but the proposed use would have a very low impact on the surrounding community. He would be inclined to not oppose the application if the circular driveway were eliminated and there was some input from the surrounding residential neighbors.
Mr. Ott said that he would not have opposed a home office use; he also thought the impervious surface was excessive.
Mrs. Driscoll said that she would like to see the building refurbished but would want input from neighbors about permitting a business use at this location.
Mr. Wilson said that when the house was moved, he had promised the Township and the neighbors that the house would be residential. He noted that the property has only been on the market a short while.
Mr. Sensibaugh said the he is opposed to crossing uses and permitting business uses in residentially zoned areas.
Mr. Fisher said that he agrees with Mr. Sensibaugh. He also agrees that the driveway seems excessive for a three person office.Mr. Fidler said that he would like to see this stone farmhouse restored and would prefer to see a home occupation, however he would not recommend that the Board oppose the application. His poll of the members, however, shows that the majority of the Planning Commission recommends that the Board oppose this application.
JMZO 2008-04 – Wetland Transition Areas : Ms. McGrath said that there have been some changes in the language of this amendment since the Planning Commission had recommended approval.
Mr. Schenkman suggested that the Planning Commission be provided with copies of the Joint Zoning Council’s minutes, as there had been some discussion about whether the additional 50 to 100 feet of property being restricted might be encroaching too much on homeowners rights to use their properties.The Commission agreed to table this discussion.
Subcommittee & Liaison Reports
Board of Supervisors: Mr. Bowe said that Headley has recently been repaving the internal roads, and Township Public Works Director Gary Crossland has been very helpful.
Mr. Jirele said that the homeowners associations can request help from Public Works or the Township Engineer. At Mr. Fidler’s suggestion, he said that he would look into planning a meeting of homeowners association officials to discuss ways that the Township resources can be of help.
Joint Zoning Council: Mr. Schenkman reported that the Jointure celebrated its 25 th anniversary with a special meeting and presentation of the updated comprehensive plan.
Environmental Advisory Council: Mr. Fisher reported that, in cooperation with Open Space Committee, the EAC is updating the Township’s Open Space inventory.
Open Space Subcommittee: Mr. Sensibaugh reported that BCPC Director Lynn Bush attended the last Open Space meeting to discuss ways that the County can help with updating of the comprehensive plan in order to apply for County Open Space funds.
Mr. Fidler asked that discussion of highway classifications be added to an agenda in the fall.
Proposed Revisions to OR Office Research Zoning District: Ms. Fountain presented a letter that she had prepared at the request of Supervisor Ciervo, outlining the rezoning of certain parcels in the Office Research Zoning District. It had been suggested that the Villas at Newtown be rezoned as R-2 High Density Residential, the Reserve and Norwalk developments be rezoned as CM, Conservation Management. The McGowan/Sterling tracts, 33.8 acres currently used as A-1, agriculture/horticulture, would also be rezoned as CM. If this property were developed for residential use under the current OR zoning, the same number of lots would result, as residential uses in the OR district are required to conform to CM regulations. If this parcel were developed for office (D-1) or research (G-2) use, development would be governed by the Natural Resource Protection requirements and parking requirements. It could be possible for a parcel this size to be developed for a 60,000 square foot office building with four stories, totaling 240,000 square feet of office space, with 1200 parking spaces.
Ms. Fountain noted that the current agriculture use on the McGowan/Sterling property is a permitted use in the CM zoning District, and that a change to CM zoning would be consistent with surrounding uses.
Mr. Fidler said that he has reservations about changing the zoning of a parcel to zoning with a lesser desirable value. He said that he would only support such change if it were at the request of the property owner. While the surrounding area has been developed as residential, this change would restrict flexibility for the current owner. He would be inclined to consider, with the support of the property owner, a change to R-1 or R-2 residential zoning.
Mr. Lombardi said that this change would constitute a taking and he would not recommend supporting it.
Mr. Ott said that this has been discussed periodically by the Township. He agrees that it will have a negative impact on the value of the property, and he would not recommend supporting it.
Mr. Fisher agreed that he would not recommend support of such a change.
Mr. Wilson said that he is strongly opposed to changing this zoning.
Mr. Sensibaugh said that he is opposed to further discussion that does not include the property owners.
Mr. Will Sterling, co-owner of the property under consideration, said that he was unable to obtain a copy of the letter Ms. Fountain wrote explaining the rezoning. He has not been consulted about the proposed change, which will reduce the value of his land. He thanked the Planning Commission for its support.
Mr. Paul Sterling, co-owner of the property under consideration, said that he and his brother were not informed formally that this discussion would take place. He did not think that the Township should consider rezoning his, or any other property, without the participation of the owners of the property.
Mr. Bowe and Mrs. Driscoll agreed that no rezoning should be considered without the participation of the property owners.
The Commission agreed that the rezoning of this property constitutes a taking and is inherently unfair to the land owners.
Proposed Ordinance to Permit Sidewalk Signs on Sycamore Street: The Commission reviewed a draft ordinance which would permit licensing of sandwich board signs for businesses that front Sycamore Street.
Mr. Lombardi provided sample sign stands with sign inserts which could be changed. He said that HARB would develop a standard of approval for signage to be placed in the sign stand, but that each individual sign would not need to be reviewed. The samples he provided showed signs made in the HARB approved colors for the businesses, along with the business logo and contact information. The Business owner could have variations on this approved template, with different information such as sale events or brands of products carried. The Zoning Officer would be involved in the initial approval and would approve the placement of the sign either on or near the sidewalk. The Sycamore Street Association would monitor compliance; the Codes department would enforce the ordinance. An annual renewal of the license would be required; businesses in violation of the ordinance would not be permitted to renew the license.
Mr. Bowe suggested that if a fee is collected for the license, it be dedicated for beautification of Sycamore Street, maintaining the flower beds or hanging plant baskets.
Mr. Fidler questioned whether the ordinance should be limited only to those businesses fronting Sycamore Street. He did support the HARB approved standard, as he had some concerns about white sign boards with changeable letters and blackboards used by restaurants to display the daily specials.
Mr. Lombardi said that the buildings along Sycamore Street were not originally built for commercial use, and lack such features as shop windows to display products. The buildings are close to the street, making it difficult for passing motorists to see signs over the doors of the businesses or on awnings. He said that businesses in other commercial areas could come to the Board of Supervisors and request a similar permission. He noted that the ordinance extends to the new businesses on Sycamore Street at Goodnoe’s Corner.
The Commission discussed whether to extend the ordinance to the entire PC and TC zoning districts, or to restrict it to those in the historic district or only on Sycamore Street.
In response to Mr. Lombardi’s comment that the Sycamore Street merchants are trying to create “a look”, Mr. Wilson said that this gives the Sycamore Street businesses an unfair advantage. He said that all businesses should be treated equally, and that the Township should not have jurisdiction over the content of the signs.
Mr. Sensibaugh suggested striking reference to Sycamore Street from the ordinance and permitting the signage in the PC and TC districts.
Mr. Fisher said that this ordinance was modeled after the Doylestown Borough ordinance. He asked whether Doylestown limits the signs to certain streets.
The members discussed whether to permit the signs elsewhere in the TC and PC districts, agreeing that business owners in these other areas could approach the Board of Supervisors seeking the same accommodation. The Commission would work with the Board on additional accommodations. Mr. Bowe noted that the signs would contribute to the appearance and ambience that Sycamore Street is trying to create.
Mr. Lombardi noted that the Sycamore Street signs would have HARB approved colors and appearance. He questioned whether businesses outside the historic district could be held to a similar standard. He also noted that the proposed Sycamore Street ordinance would require that the signs be placed directly in front of the business. This might not be feasible or desirable to shopping center businesses.
Mr. Jirele said that some of the businesses along Richboro Road and in the shopping center behind 7/11 might want similar accommodation. There would need to be some consideration of the most sensible approach to extending the ordinance to other areas.
Mr. Sensibaugh moved to recommend that the Board enact the sign ordinance as presented, with the deletion of “on Sycamore Street”. Mr. Bowe seconded.
Discussion of motion: Mr. Solomon noted that the ordinance for Sycamore Street would require HARB approval. If extended to other areas, different language would be needed, or the ordinance could require businesses outside of the historic district to apply to HARB for approval.
Mr. Wilson suggested that the Commission form a sub-committee to review the sign ordinances throughout the Township.
Mr. Lombardi said that, rather than postpone action until an ordinance had been crafted that addresses the entire Township, he asked that the Commission move forward with this ordinance, with additional recommendations to follow.
The motion failed 2-6, with Mrs. Driscoll, and Messrs. Fidler, Lombardi, Fisher, Wilson and Ott voting nay.
Mr. Wilson moved to form a subcommittee to review the Township’s sign ordinances to craft an ordinance that would extend licensing to more areas. Mr. Bowe seconded.
Discussion of motion: Mr. Sensibaugh said that he had concerns that this could cause too much delay in getting the immediate concern addressed.
Mr. Schenkman suggested forming a committee, but also approving the Sycamore Street ordinance temporarily, until a new ordinance could be in place.
Mr. Bowe and Mr. Wilson agreed to serve on a subcommittee.
Mr. Solomon said that he could provide a sample draft, based on the Sycamore Street ordinance.
Mr. Fidler suggested that the drafts be included in the Planning packets, and those interested in serving on the committee meet a half-hour before the regular meeting to discuss the issue.
Resident Shawn Ward offered to attend the subcommittee and help.
The motion passed 8-0.
Mr. Sensibaugh moved to recommend that the Board of Supervisors approve the ordinance for sandwich signs on Sycamore Street, as presented, for a period of one calendar year. Mr. Wilson seconded and the motion passed 8-0.
Mr. Fisher moved to adjourn at 10:30 PM. Mrs. Driscoll seconded and the motion passed 8-0.
Mary Donaldson, Recording Secretary