NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP PLANNING COMMISSION
100 MUNICIPAL DRIVE, NEWTOWN, BUCKS COUNTY, PA 18940
Minutes of the meeting held on April 7, 2009
Present: Chairman Allen Fidler, Vice Chairman Jim Ott, Sue Beasley, Peggy Driscoll, Dennis Fisher, Jay Sensibaugh and Robert Whartenby members. Also in attendance were: Michele Fountain, Township Engineer, John Boyle, Assistant Township Manager and Mike Galla, Interim Codes Officer and Supervisors Philip Calabro and Jerry Schenkman.
Call to Order: Chairman Fidler called the meeting to order at 7:30 PM.
Approval of Minutes: Mr. Ott moved to approve the minutes of March 17, 2009. Mr. Whartenby seconded.
Discussion of motion: Mr. Fisher asked that page 5, paragraph 6 be changed to read “most members agreed” in the discussion of use E-8, hotel, motel inn.
Mr. Ott amended his motion; Mr. Whartenby amended his second and the motion passed to accept the minutes of March 17, 2009 as corrected 7-0.
JMZO 2008-10, Historic Preservation: Mr. Fidler reported that the Joint Zoning Council and Upper Makefield and Wrightstown’s Planning Commissions have begun consideration of this amendment. Our Jointure partners have some concerns about placing a financial burden on some owners of structures deemed historic, and are awaiting a completed inventory before moving forward on the amendment.
Mr. Fidler said that the Jointure is attempting to prevent demolition by neglect by drafting this amendment, but the members want to proceed cautiously, mindful that the financial burden could be onerous when attempting to preserve certain older structures.
Mr. Sensibaugh noted that under this draft there are some circumstances under which a historic structure could qualify for an adaptive re-use that might not fit well into its surrounding community. While allowing for certain commercial uses might work well for some, this is not always the case. He specifically mentioned Mr. Fidler’s barn, which is located in a residential community. Creating a commercial use at this barn could be a burden to the residential neighbors and the neighborhood.
The members discussed other such properties whose re-use might be objectionable to the neighbors. Neighbors had objected to the office use proposed for the stone farmhouse next to Newtown Rental Center.
Mr. Fidler noted that when a use is an accessory use to a residential use there is some Township control which might be lost if a structure and its surrounding property were subdivided and became a stand alone property.
Mrs. Beasley and resident Vince Lombardi asked what would constitute “historic” and whether the definition would include all structures more than 50 years old. Mr. Lombardi noted the old houses that have been vacated on Durham Road opposite Village at Newtown.
Mr. Fidler said that the Township has sometimes required a developer to restore a farmhouse as part of land development when subdividing a farm, but has not required this to be done first. This can lead to further deterioration. He suggested that the amendment be strengthened so that the historic restoration is done at the start of the development. He also agreed with Mr. Sensibaugh that perhaps the additional permitted uses for the historic structures should better reflect the surrounding neighbors.
Mrs. Beasley noted that the ordinance should say “an historic” not “a historic”. She also questioned a section of the definition which references sites that may become historic.
Mr. Lombardi suggested that the Historical Architectural Review Board review the amendment, as HARB is sometimes involved in looking at buildings that are being considered for demolition.
Mr. Fidler pointed out that each of the municipalities in the Jointure might view this amendment differently, for example Newtown is primarily concerned with historic structures whereas Upper Makefield has historic sites, where the land itself has a place in history.
The members discussed an inventory of historic structures for Newtown Township. At one time the Board of Supervisors had discussed asking the Joint Historic Commission to compile a list of historic structures located outside the historic district. If such a list has been completed, the Commission would like to review it when considering the amendment.
Mr. Lombardi said that the Township’s historic district was designated by the Department of the Interior in 1981. The Historic Commission already has façade easements on about 25 or 30 structures as well.
Mrs. Beasley said that she believed that Harriet Beckert of HARB might have records formerly kept by Elinor Campbell. These might be helpful in considering this amendment.
The members briefly discussed how this amendment might impact some of the preserved farm houses that belong to homeowners associations. A few years ago one homeowners association had considered allowing a nursery school to occupy its club house. Would this amendment allow for such commercial uses in residential neighborhoods?
Mr. Fidler said that he would bring the content of this discussion to the Jointure for consideration.
Subcommittee & Liaison Reports
Newtown Area Regional Planning Commission: Mr. Sensibaugh reported that the Regional Planning Commission has been discussing ordinances dealing with windmills. A traffic subcommittee is being formed.
Joint Zoning Council: Mr. Fidler reported that the Joint Zoning Council has also been discussing windmill regulations as well as ways to promote and also regulate “green” energy sources. There is some concern about heights of wind towers and solar panels. The Jointure has also discussed the possible removal of the Melsky tract from the Federal Cemetery Overlay District. Newtown Township Supervisor Robert Ciervo is concerned about density on the tract and would like it removed in the event that the appeal of the Toll Brothers approved plan is overturned. Our Jointure partners are in favor of waiting to see what the courts decide. They have concerns about additional challenges.
Environmental Advisory Council: Mr. Fisher reported that the EAC had been considering Environmental Impact Studies. Ms. Fountain has provided some information on these studies, which are currently only required as part of land development in the quarry districts.
Continued Discussion of Sycamore Street Planning Mr. Fidler reported that Township Solicitor Jennifer McGrath was unable to attend tonight’s meeting because she has been asked to attend Lower Makefield’s Zoning Hearing Board meeting on behalf of Newtown Township.
Mr. Sensibaugh noted that the Jointure is considering an amendment eliminating service stations (E-10) and automotive sales (E-11). Our Planning Commission has not yet received a copy of the amendment for review, but he suggested that the Commission postpone review of E-10 and E-11 until the amendment is on our agenda.
Mr. Fidler said that an amendment would not impact existing service stations or dealerships. The members briefly discussed whether the use would be permitted if it had been vacated. Mr. Lombardi suggested that it might be six months, that if, for example a dealership closed the property could remain empty for six months and another dealership could then move in.
Ms. Fountain agreed that an identical non-conforming use could be located where one had vacated within six months.
The members also discussed whether the existing automotive shop on the corner of Sycamore and Centre Avenue still had gas pumps and tanks.
The Commission discussed currently permitted uses on Sycamore Street in the TC Zoning District. Mr. Lombardi noted that the east side of the street consists of the historic district and most of the parcels are small, with existing structures. This side of the street’s redevelopment potential is somewhat limited. The west side of the street has a number of larger parcels that are or could be the subject of future redevelopment.
Mr. Fidler suggested possibly narrowing the focus of discussion to the west side of the street, if the Board would agree. He said that of particular concern on the larger parcels would be parking and traffic. There have already been some problems with intense uses and unsuccessful “shared” parking. He said that the performance standards should be designed so that larger uses can be successful.
The members reviewed all of the currently permitted uses for the TC district, discussing their impact on small and large parcels. Most of the already permitted uses seem acceptable to the Commission on the smaller lots, but members had some concerns about these same uses built on a larger scale on the larger lots. The members discussed whether to completely eliminate these uses, or somehow control the intensity by more stringent performance standards. Of particular concern, primarily because of traffic and parking concerns, were the following:
Each of these uses, on a very small scale, could work well on the east side of the street. There are already successful business offices and medical offices there; however when large buildings are constructed for these uses, they could be a burden to the street. While a single medical practitioner might require only a few parking spaces, for example, a medical arts building would be a much greater burden. If parking calculations were refined to contain adequate parking on site, however, these could be successful on Sycamore Street. The same could be true for a funeral home and a small hotel or inn.
Mr. Sensibaugh suggested that drive-through windows for financial establishments might not need to be eliminated on Sycamore Street if an internal driveway were used, as is the case for First Trust at Goodnoe’s Corner in the PC Zoning District.
Mr. Lombardi suggested that the members consider decreasing the impervious surface permitted on the larger parcels. With less impervious surface available there could be better control over the size of a particular structure. The footprint size might also be reduced to create a less congested appearance. He noted that the separation of buildings at Goodnoe’s Corner has given the shopping area a more open appearance.
The members discussed use E-19, Funeral Home. It was noted that the traffic created for funeral processions already is occurring without incident at the churches. Members agreed that if parking were all contained on site and there was a limit to the size of the facility, or of the number of viewings permitted at one time, it might be an acceptable use.
The Commission discussed use G-10 trades. Mr. Ott questioned what constitutes “trades” and when does a trade become an industrial or manufacturing use.
Mr. Sensibaugh said that the Commission should consider whether “trades” fits into the vision for the future of Sycamore Street.
Mr. Fidler asked Ms. Fountain to provide more information on trades.
While certain artisans would be a welcome addition to Sycamore Street, and offices and storage for trades whose primary work is conducted off-site, such as carpentry and plumbing could be acceptable, the Commission members had concerns about noise and dirt when carpentry, for example, expands into larger scale furniture and cabinetmaking.
The Commission agreed that H-13 radio antenna might no longer be of interest in the community and might be removed, as it is an outdated technology.
Mr. Sensibaugh asked for a definition of use E-9.
Ms. Fountain said that would be skating rinks, bowling alleys, pool halls, movie theaters, and similar uses.
Resident Ivan Winegard questioned whether the Township could control the façade or exterior appearance of new buildings.
Mr. Fidler explained that only the size, height and setbacks could be controlled outside of the historic district. The appearance of the facades can only be controlled within the historic district.
Members discussed ways that the Township has worked with applicants during land development to seek cooperation on the outward appearance of structures. Sometimes, if an applicant is seeking certain waivers, for example, that applicant might be asked to create a certain appearance in exchange for favorable consideration of the waivers.
Ms. Fountain noted that waivers are part of the SALDO not the zoning ordinance.
The members briefly discussed the PRD, and whether there could be a PRD for commercial districts.
Going forward, Mr. Fidler asked the members to review the table of uses and to consider some that are not currently permitted in the TC district that could be viable addition. \Ms. Fountain agreed to research some successful main streets in other municipalities, to better understand uses that could add to the success of Sycamore Street. She will also research some successful artisan type uses on main streets elsewhere in the state.
Mr. Sensibaugh announced that Newtown Creek Coalition will give a presentation on the history and future of the Creek on Saturday, April 11, 2009 at 2:00 PM at the Newtown Theater
Mr. Sensibaugh said that State Representative Steve Santisiero has opened an office on Sycamore Street.
Mr. Sensibaugh announced that the Green Parrot restaurant will open on April 15, with a VIP celebration on April 14.
Mr. Ott moved to adjourn at 10:15 PM. Mr. Sensibaugh seconded and the motion passed 7-0.
Mary Donaldson, Recording Secretary