NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP PLANNING COMMISSION
100 MUNICIPAL DRIVE, NEWTOWN, BUCKS COUNTY, PA 18940
Minutes of the meeting held on December 16, 2008
Present: Chairman Allen Fidler, Vice Chairman Jay Sensibaugh (late), James Bowe, Peggy Driscoll, Dennis Fisher, Vince Lombardi, Jim Ott and Brandon Wind, members. Also in attendance were: Jennifer McGrath, Solicitor; Michele Fountain, Township Engineer and Mike Calla, Interim Codes Officer.
Call to Order : Mr. Fidler called the meeting to order at 7:30 PM. Mr. Fidler asked the Planning Commission members to join him in extending sympathy to the family of Thomas Harwood, who had served the Township for many years as Director of Codes and Zoning, who has passed away after a brief illness.
Approval of Minutes: Mr. Ott moved to accept the minutes of December 2, 2008. Mr. Lombardi seconded and the motion passed 6-0-1 with Mr. Bowe abstaining.
(Mr. Sensibaugh arrived)
Zoning Hearing Board Applications
Dr. Timothy Ireland, Newtown Veterinary Hospital, 107 Penns Trail: Dr. Ireland was in attendance to review this application for a variance to place a 20 square foot sign with a height of 6 feet in front of the new location of the veterinary hospital. The permitted size is 16 square feet and the permitted height is 5 feet. Dr. Ireland said that he wanted to use a sign similar to the sign at his Newtown Yardley Road location, as he is moving his offices to this location. The sign is similar in size to other signs along Penns Trail.
The Commission forwarded this application to the Board of Supervisors without comment.
OHB Homes, Inc., Goodnoe Tract, Eagle Road: Attorney Ed Murphy and Bill Breigel of Orleans were in attendance to review this application for relief to disturb agricultural soils and manmade steep slopes for construction of a 40 twin home development. Mr. Murphy reminded the Commission that Orleans had submitted an application for a B-14 plan, referred to as the “large lot plan”. At that time Zoning hearing Board relief was granted. That approval for the large lot plan was overturned by the Court of common Pleas.
This plan, a B-14 use, contemplates disturbance of agricultural soils of 32.73% where 25% is permitted, a relief of 7.73%. The disturbance of steep slopes is the same as in the large lot plan. All steep slopes are man made, along the Eagle Road frontage and along the existing driveway. In response to Mr. Lombardi’s question, Mr. Murphy said that without the granting of these two variances the plan would not qualify for a B-14 use, and the maximum new lots that could be created is possibly two.
In response to Mr. Sensibaugh’s questions, Mr. Murphy compared this plan to the large lot plan. The large lot plan disturbed 45% of the agricultural soils, and provided 35 acres of open space. This plan shows 45 acres of open space out of the 63 acres on the site.
Mr. Sensibaugh discussed the value of the preserved acreage, comparing it to the Melsky appraisal of $60,000 per acre.
In response to Mr. Lombardi’s questions, Mr. Murphy said that most of the property has not been used for agriculture in recent years. The pine tree fields visible from Eagle Road are not part of this property.
Mr. Breigel and Mr. Murphy showed the plans, noting that forty twin units are planned. They reviewed the locations of steep slopes, along Eagle Road and along the existing driveway. Mr. Murphy pointed out that most of the parcels are made up of agricultural soils and the flowage easement along the creek. There are three existing parcels which must be included in the site calculations. More than one half of the permitted disturbance is contained on the three existing lots.
Resident Jim McCrane of Blayze Court asked Mr. Murphy to point out the preserved open space on the plan. Mr. McCrane noted that the area designated by Mr. Murphy would not be accessible to residents, as it is located at the far end of the property, and not visible from the road.
In response to Mr. McCrane’s question, Mr. Murphy explained that the open space area will be preserved, and either deeded to the Township or retained by a homeowners association. It would be the Township’s decision whether to accept dedication.
Mr. McCrane said that the residents of Newtown, particularly those living in the vicinity of this proposed development, support preservation of open space and are opposed to over development in the area, as it would place a strain on the infrastructure of the Township and burden the School District. He said that if the Planning Commission supports the granting of variances for this project it is supporting the higher residential density.
Mr. Lombardi noted that property owners have rights to develop their properties and to seek variances.
Resident Marty Sommer of Eagle Road said that he is also concerned about the traffic impact of forty additional homes on Eagle Road, bringing eighty or more additional cars.
Mr. Fidler said that the Planning Commission would discuss traffic impact at the land development phase of the plan. This evening’s discussion is only the Zoning Hearing Board application for disturbance of agricultural soils and steep slopes.
In response to Mr. Fisher’s question, Mr. Murphy said that there will be twenty buildings with forty housing units. He is not aware of any other twin homes in the immediate area. Hidden Lake is a village home development with each home on a 6500 square foot lot.
Mr. Fidler suggested that he would poll the members on their opinions before the Commission would decide whether to frame a motion for a recommendation to the Supervisors.
Mr. Ott said that he is opposed to the agricultural soils variance but not the steep slope disturbance. He is concerned about the waivers that will be needed to build the development.
Mr. Bowe said that he is opposed to both variances and would recommend that the Board of Supervisors oppose them.
Mrs. Driscoll said that she is opposed to the development, and opposed to both variances. She did not think the proposed development is in keeping with the area.
Mr. Lombardi said that he is not opposed to either variance request.
Mr. Sensibaugh said that he is not opposed to either variance request. He supports the plan because it will preserve 45 acres of open space.
Mr. Fisher said that he was opposed to the disturbance of agricultural soils, primarily because of the points noted by residents.
Mr. Fidler said that he is not opposed to either variance because the property has not been used for agriculture in many years and the steep slopes to be disturbed are man made slopes.
Mr. Wind said that he is opposed to the variance for disturbance of agricultural soils but not steep slope disturbance. He said that he is concerned that the preserved open space will be useless to the residents of the Township and will really only be visible to or accessible to the owners of lot number 43. He would have been more supportive if the open space were along Eagle Road or somehow accessible for use by Township residents.
Mr. Sensibaugh said that the open space is valuable to the Township because of its proximity to the creek and other already preserved open space. Once preserved it cannot be developed. It provides aquifer recharge and a habitat for wildlife. While he agrees that it would be more desirable if it were visible from the roadways or accessible, open space that is not intensively used still provides benefit to residents. He noted some recently acquired Township open space that will contribute only to the environment.
Mr. Murphy noted that when other plans for this property were reviewed by the Environmental Advisory Council, its members were supportive of the open space because of its location along the creek and contiguous to other preserved open space owned by the Township and the County.
Mr. Fidler said that, since the eight members of the Planning Commission have not reached consensus, rather than ask for a formal motion for a recommendation, he would report to the Board of Supervisors the split opinions and the supporting reasons for the different opinions.
Mr. Lombardi said that the original intent of the ordinance had been to preserve farming in the Jointure. In this case, the property has not been farmed for many years. The ordinance is now standing in the way of property owners making use of their land.
Subcommittee & Liaison Reports
Joint Zoning Council: Mr. Fidler reported that the Joint Zoning Council has begun discussion of protection of historic structures and historic properties within the Jointure. This will continue in 2009. At Newtown Township’s request, the road classifications will be reviewed in the coming year. The Council will also begin investigating regulations for wind and solar power.
Historic Architectural Review Board: Mr. Lombardi reported that HARB has been working on sidewalk signage.
Open Space Subcommittee: The recording secretary reported that documentation for the updated open space comprehensive plan has been submitted to the Bucks County Planning Commission for additional information and comment.
On behalf of the Planning Commission members, Mr. Fidler presented gifts to Mr. Bowe and Mr. Lombardi and thanked them for their many years of service to the Township’s committees, boards and commissions. He noted that their contributions to the Planning Commission have been invaluable in helping the Commission carve out compromises to best guide the Township through development.
Mr. Bowe and Mr. Lombardi thanked the Commission members for their gifts and their sentiments. Each said that he has enjoyed the opportunity to work with the Commission and particularly valued the open minded discussion and respectful sharing of ideas.
Mr. Bowe moved to adjourn at 8:30 PM. Mr. Lombardi seconded and the motion passed 8-0.
Mary Donaldson, Recording Secretary