NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP PLANNING COMMISSION
100 MUNICIPAL DRIVE, NEWTOWN, BUCKS COUNTY, PA 18940
Minutes of the meeting held on September 16, 2008
Present: Chairman Allen Fidler, Vice Chairman Jay Sensibaugh, Jim Bowe, Peggy Driscoll, Dennis Fisher (late), Vince Lombardi, Jim Ott, Shannon Wilson and Brandon Wind (late), members. Also in attendance were: Jennifer McGrath, Solicitor; Michele Fountain, Township Engineer, 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. Ott moved to accept the minutes of August 19, 2008. Mr. Bowe seconded and the motion passed 7-0.
(Messrs. Fisher and Wind arrived)
Traffic Engineer's Report: Traffic Engineer Andrew Brown reviewed his report, updating the members on ongoing Township road projects. He noted that bids for the signal revision at Newtown Yardley/Silver Lake Roads and at Lindenhurst Road on the Newtown Bypass would be open in early October. This work would be done during daytime hours. The members discussed the ongoing difficulties with timing of all of the signals on the Bypass and suggested that the Township Manager, Traffic Engineer and representatives of PennDOT meet to attempt to resolve these issues.
Mr. Brown provided copies of a letter to the Township Manager in which Carroll Engineering about the ongoing traffic difficulties at the Headley entrance on Newtown Yardley Road. Carroll has determined that coordination of the two existing signals to cerate more frequent gaps would be detrimental to the levels of service at the signalized intersections, and recommends that the best option would be to stripe the roadway to allow for a center left-turn lane at the intersection.Mr. Fidler expressed some concern about proposed land development on Friends Lane that might further exacerbate traffic difficulties for the Headley residents.
Lithos LP, 10 Friends Lane – Preliminary Plan for Land Development: Attorney Ed Murphy, Engineer Mark Havers of Pickering Corts and Summerson and Lucas Makras, the applicant were in attendance to review this plan for land development to build a 35,700 square foot addition to a 25,020 square foot building, with additional parking and modifications to existing stormwater facilities on a 7.3 acre parcel in the LI Light Industrial Zoning District. Variances have been granted by the Zoning Hearing Board for disturbance of steep slopes, parking and loading berths. The parking variances are for the D-1 office use only, not for medical use.
Mr. Murphy presented and artist’s rendering of the proposed new building, noting that the second floor is cantilevered over the first floor, and the applicant proposes some parking under the overhanging portion of the building, within 5 feet of the building. There is at least a 10 foot clearance, so that the area would be accessible for emergency vehicles.
The members discussed whether to require sidewalks. Mr. Murphy pointed out that the building has 2200 linear feet of frontage, and the ordinance does not require sidewalks. He provided a street map with existing sidewalks outlined.
Mr. Fidler said that the Township and the Business Commons have been attempting to create a more pedestrian friendly environment within the Commons. A streetscape plan was created by the Township Planner a few years ago.
Mr. Wilson agreed with Mr. Fidler. He said that sidewalks should be encouraged.
Mr. Haver noted that the frontage on Friends Lane includes the stormwater basins, and there is not sufficient room for sidewalks.
Mr. Lombardi suggested continuing the sidewalks on Walker Lane at the rear of the project, connecting with Grainhouse’s project on Friends Lane.
Mr. Murphy agreed to research this possibility before the applicant goes to the Board of Supervisors.
Mr. Haver explained that the dumpster will be screened from the streets but cannot be completely covered because of its location in the parking lot. It must be accessible for trash haulers.
Ms. Fountain reviewed the waivers requested. She said that she would work with the applicant’s engineer on the slopes of the basin.
All members agreed that the existing street trees will be adequate.
Mr. Murphy reviewed some discrepancies regarding calculation of a traffic impact fee. He noted that the Seventh Edition of ITE tends to overestimate the trip generation for smaller office buildings (less than 50,000 square feet), and he quoted” some of the regression curves for this land use may produce illogical trip end estimates for small office buildings”. It is a standard procedure to use the rates in Table 4 of the Fifth Edition ITE for small office buildings. There is more than a $50,000 difference in traffic impact fees using the two different editions.
Mr. Brown said that he will investigate this discrepancy further before a fee is calculated.
Mr. Murphy said that the applicant will comply with both the Bucks County Planning Commission letter of August 28, 2008 and the Fire Marshal’s letter dated August 14, 2008.
Mr. Ott noted that the Bucks County letter suggests a better alignment of the Walker Lane entrance with the driveways on the opposite side of the street.
Mr. Murphy said that an attempt would be made to better align the entrances.
Mr. Sensibaugh moved to recommend that the Board of Supervisors approve the preliminary plan of Lithos, LP., for the premises located at 10 Friends Lane, Newtown, Pennsylvania, 19840, being Bucks County Tax Parcel NO.29-10-99-4 prepared by Pickering Corts and Summerson., comprising Sheets 1-12 dated June 30, 2008, subject to the following conditions, all of which the applicant has agreed to:
Mr. Ott seconded and the motion passed unanimously.
Zoning Hearing Board Applications
Kevin McPhillips, 40 Amaryllis Lane: The Commission reviewed this application for a variance for setback relief to install a deck and had no comment for the Board of Supervisors.
Brad Bernstein, 31 Camellia Court: The Commission reviewed this application for setback relief to install a patio and had no comment for the Board of Supervisors.
Christopher & Gina Crooks, 6 Hillview Drive: Christopher and Gina Crooks were in attendance to review their application for a variance to increased impervious surface to install an inground pool with spa, coping, decking and a retaining wall. Mr. Solomon confirmed that no relief is required for setbacks on this application.
Mr. Fidler advised that applicants that the Zoning Hearing Board has required some stormwater management to be installed to control run-off from additional impervious surface on similar projects in the Foxhall development. He suggested that the Crooks speak to their neighbors in advance of the meeting and to be prepared to address the additional run-off.
The Commission had no comment for the Board of Supervisors.
JMZO 2008-04 – Wetland Transition Areas: Mr. Fidler said that this ordinance had been reviewed and recommended for approval by the Newtown Township Planning Commission. Some slight changes have been made in language, and the ordinance now accommodates underground utilities.
Mr. Sensibaugh moved to recommend that the Board of Supervisors adopt JMZO 2008-04- Wetland Transition Areas. Mr. Bowe seconded.
Discussion of motion: Mr. Fidler said that he had some concern that this ordinance might be in conflict with weed ordinances.
The motion passed unanimously.
JMZO 2008-05 – Detention Basins: Ms. McGrath explained that the Newtown Planning Commission had already voted to recommend that the Board approve this amendment. The recent changes clarify language regarding exclusion of detention basins from site calculations for open space.
Mr. Bowe moved to recommend that the Board of Supervisors adopt JMZO 2008-05 Detention Basins. Mr. Ott seconded and the motion passed unanimously.
JMZO 2008-06 – Permits for Disturbance of Protected Resources: Ms. McGrath said that Newtown Township had already recommended approval of this ordinance. The most recent revision addresses replacement of disturbed resources.
Mr. Fidler said that there is some concern in Wrightstown about disturbance of natural resources gradually over time, removing a few trees every few months, for example, by owners who anticipate future development or subdivision of the property.
Resident Will Sterling said that he considers woods a crop, for which there is a harvest schedule.
Mr. Lombardi said that he is concerned about placing restrictions on owners of smaller properties. He suggested that the Jointure consider amending the draft to only apply to parcels over a certain acreage, such as larger than 5 acres or 10 acres.
Mr. Wilson expressed some concern about over-regulation of the use of owners’ properties. He supported Mr. Lombardi’s suggestion.
Mr. Ott agreed with Mr. Lombardi.
Ms. Fountain reviewed the ordinance, which would allow removal of up to 5 trees of 12 inch diameter per acre per year.
Mr. Solomon said that a permit application would probably require an applicant to provide a survey.
The members agreed to request the Jointure partners to consider an exclusion on parcels under 10 acres.
JMZO 2006-19- CM District Revisions: Ms. McGrath explained that this ordinance would eliminate the B-14 use from the CM district and would change the minimum lot area for B-12 use to 30,000 square feet.
Mr. Sensibaugh expressed some concern that this change could negatively impact property values.
Mr. Fidler said that he would like to explore ways to eliminate the B-14 use without devaluation of property values. He expressed some concern that the document, as written, does not fully address the concerns of the Planning Commission.
It was confirmed by the recording secretary that Wrightstown’s Planning Commission tabled discussion of this ordinance because it was not a completed draft.
Mr. Bowe moved to table discussion of JMZO 2006-19. Mr. Ott seconded.
Discussion of motion: Mr. Will Sterling thanked the Planning Commission for watching out for the rights of property owners. He is very concerned about his rights being infringed on.
The motion passed unanimously.
Subcommittee & Liaison Reports
Newtown Area Regional Planning Commission: Mr. Sensibaugh reported that the Regional Planning Commission has begun to discuss windmills and solar panels.
Environmental Advisory Council: Mr. Fisher reported that the EAC had expressed interest in the Wetlands Transition ordinance. The EAC co-sponsored a recent event with Newtown Borough about sustainable communities.
Open Space Committee: Mr. Sensibaugh reported that the Committee would make its first presentation to the Board of Supervisors on September 24, 2008. The Committee would present completed maps of trails, parks and Township owned open space, along with the proposed goals and objectives to be included in the Comprehensive Plan update. He said that the EAC has completed its preliminary draft inventory of open space. This draft will have to be carefully reviewed for accuracy, as it is based on some slightly outdated maps; some recent developments still appear as individual parcels.
Proposed Revisions to OR Office Research Zoning District: Mr. Fidler said that the Board of Supervisors has requested that the Planning Commission continue to discuss the rezoning of OR properties north of the Newtown Bypass to CM. The Board has asked the Planning Commission to consider the pros and cons of the proposal.
The Commission agreed that there is no objection to rezoning the already developed parcels. The surrounding community of residential neighbors would probably consider the rezoning a plus, as it would eliminate the possibility of commercial development of the property.
Mr. Sensibaugh said that from a planning perspective, the Jointure must be considered when discussing rezoning. Would this change have an effect on the Jointure’s zoning?
Mr. Fidler said that for the most part, at the State level, balanced zoning has mostly been concerned with affordable housing. He is not sure whether the concept of “fair share” has been a concern with commercial zoning.
Mr. Wilson said that the proposal would only directly impact the Sterling property. He would be opposed to any change except one that would not diminish the value of the property, such as a change to R-2 zoning.
Mr. Ott expressed some concern about the value of the Sterling property as OR, as CM, as CM without the B-14 use, as R-1 or R-2. He agreed that it should not be rezoned in such as way that it would be devalued.
Mr. Sensibaugh noted that to preserve open space. Property owners can be compensated for preservation.
Mr. Wilson said that in this particular case, the property owners have asked to be left alone; he said that discussion should be stopped.
Resident Tom Ames said that there are certain pros to leaving the parcel as currently zoned. Only office use, not storefronts or retail use could be built on the property. Office use brings employment, tax revenues without burdening the School District. He also noted that rezoning requires the time of Township paid professional consultants.
Mr. Fidler noted that the Township has benefited, as the OR properties have been slower to develop than residentially zoned properties. A change to residential zoning might promote quicker development of the parcel.
The members briefly discussed possibly allowing age qualified R-2 development as a permitted use.
Mr. Ott suggested that if the Board would like to continue discussion, the Planning Commission could hold a joint meeting, or the Planning Commission could attend a Board work session.Mr. Paul Sterling said that he was surprised that the Supervisors asked the Planning Commission to revisit this question. He said that with the Board’s focus on open space, he is concerned that the Board might intend to devalue his property then attempt to take it at its lower value.
Mr. Sensibaugh said that there have been recent newspaper reports on West Nile Virus in the Township. He asked whether the EAC is monitoring this or if they can make any recommendations to homeowners on treatment of areas of standing water.
Ms. Fountain briefly discussed a recent review of the detention basin in Newtown Walk, noting that the sediment basin is required by the BCCD and DEP. The basin is treated with granular herbicides. She agreed to provide information to the Planning Commission and the EAC on treatment of standing water.
Mr. Fidler said that the Township might want to consider monitoring and possibly treating standing water areas for West Nile Virus from April through November.
Mr. Wilson asked that Mr. Fisher discuss this with the EAC,
Mr. Lombardi moved to adjourn at 10:00 PM. Mrs. Driscoll seconded and the motion passed unanimously.
Mary Donaldson, Recording Secretary