NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP PLANNING COMMISSION
100 MUNICIPAL DRIVE, NEWTOWN, BUCKS COUNTY, PA 18940
Minutes of the meeting held on April 21, 2009
Present: Chairman Allen Fidler, Vice Chairman Jim Ott, Sue Beasley, Peggy Driscoll, Dennis Fisher (late), Fred Olivari, Jay Sensibaugh, Robert Whartenby and Brandon Wind, members. Also in attendance were: Michele Fountain, Township Engineer, John Boyle, Assistant Township Manager Jennifer McGrath and William Bolla, Township Solicitors and Mike Galla, Interim Codes Officer.
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 April 7, 2009. Mrs. Beasley seconded.
Discussion of motion: Mr. Sensibaugh asked that page 5, paragraph 2 read, “Mr. Sensibaugh suggested that eliminating the drive-through window for financial establishments may not be necessary if an internal drive is provided, as is the case at First Trust at Goodnoe’s Corner in the PC Zoning District.”
Mr. Ott amended his motion; Mrs. Beasley amended her second and the motion to accept the minutes as amended passed 7-0-1, with Mr. Wind abstaining.
Mr. Fisher arrived at this point.
Promenade at Sycamore Street Concept Plan: Attorney Ed Murphy, Architect Peter Stampfl and Engineer Scott Mills were in attendance to discuss this plan to develop the former Acme site for mixed retail and residential use. The concept plans shown were similar to those shown to the Board of Supervisors at its April 13 meeting. Since first presented, the applicant has signed a lease with Anthropologie for 12000 square feet, as the anchor tenant. This is a fifteen year lease with two five year extensions. The applicant now has an obligation to deliver the space by June of 2010 for a store opening in September 2010. The applicant will need relief from the Zoning Hearing Board for height, the mix of uses and a few other variances. Since meeting with the Board of Supervisors, the applicant has met with stakeholders on Sycamore Street including Allen and Craig Smith, owners of the shopping center across the street from the site, Newtown Presbyterian Church and the Sycamore Street Community Association. All have expressed their support for the project and have agreed to speak at the April 22, 2009 Board of Supervisors meeting.
Architect Peter Stampfl presented a comparison of the current design against plans shown at the September 2008 and January 2009 Board meetings. The current plan shows a mean height of 45 feet, where in September it had been 59 feet. The highest point is now 49 feet 10 inches. A mansard roof has been added to the south (Church) side with a height of 44 feet. The fourth floor has been completely eliminated and parapet walls have been reduced 2-3 feet. Some balconies have been opened to help reduce the mass of the building.
Mr. Stampfl showed a revised building footprint plan with minor adjustments, and an architectural rendering of the exterior. He pointed out the elements added to create the appearance of multiple buildings. Canopies and awnings have been added to the street level. The area over the Jefferson Street pass-through will be a common area with exercise room and meeting room for the condominium tenants. The number of condo units has been reduced to 27, although the underground parking has not been reduced. Surface parking is at the rear, with two access drives leading to 105 parking spaces, as required by the Ordinance. The height of the Jefferson Street pass-through is 14 feet, with pedestrian access to the shops inside the arcade. The building is set back 8 to 12 feet from the sidewalk.
Mr. Stampfl explained that, at the request of the Board of Supervisors, he has prepared comparisons with other buildings in Newtown Township and Borough. The Shops at Goodnoe’s Corner are of varying heights ranging from 35 to 42.5 feet; LaStalla Restaurant is 48.67 feet high from grade and 53.59 feet from the curb. Mr. Stampfl provided pictures and a map of the Township/Borough downtown area, showing a number of buildings in the 40-50 foot range. He provided a scale drawing to show the height of and distance from the Newtown Presbyterian Church, noting that if measured from the sidewalk, the Church is at the same height as the highest point of the proposed building.
Mr. Stampfl presented a new concept for the façade, addressing some of the concerns expressed by residents at the Board meeting. The façade now shows a mix of materials to create the appearance of a number of attached buildings, rather than one large building. The band at the retail level has been eliminated, awnings, shutters and canopies have been added, fenestration is now more varied. The entire site will be ADA compliant, however a portion of the promenade has been eliminated. The rear will have the same architectural treatment as the front.
Mr. Fidler suggested that the Commission members be polled for input first on the two major variances, height and mixed use.
Mr. Whartenby said that he likes the plan and has no objection to the height, as it compliments the design. He has questions and concerns about traffic, parking, deliveries, etc., matters that would be discussed during land development. He does not have any concerns regarding the Zoning variances being considered.
Mrs. Driscoll agreed with Mr. Whartenby, and said she would be supportive of a height.
Mr. Sensibaugh said that he would like to see the height reduced at least to 40 feet. This is much higher than any other buildings on Sycamore Street. Buildings of similar height are all located on State Street in Newtown Borough and are not reflective of the styles seen on Sycamore Street.
Mr. Fisher commended the applicant for the effort made thus far. He understands the desire for the third story, but would like to see that story set back somewhat, or the overall height reduced. He said he would be inclined to support a request for a height variance but not such a large variance.
Mrs. Beasley asked to review the ceiling heights inside the building.
Mr. Stampfl said that the retail story would have 16 foot ceilings and the two residential floors would have 10 foot ceilings. There are 2 feet between each story. The higher ceilings in the residential units will allow more light. The retail tenants are requiring at least 16 foot ceilings.
Mrs. Beasley had some reservations about the height and questioned the scale drawing of the Church, noting that the Church sits atop a steep slope and appears to be higher than as shown. As a member of the Church she has visited it many times and has concerns about the view from the front of the Church after construction of the building.
Mr. Ott said he has some concerns about the overall size of the structure, both height and mass. While he admired the roof line and the design of varied facades, he said that he has concerns about such a large structure so close to the street. He pointed out that the Staples/Bed Bath and Beyond building at Newtown Shopping Center is about 300 feet long but is only about 32 feet high. He suggested that perhaps if the building were shifted back farther on the lot, leaving a wider expanse between the curb and the building, the effect of the height would be softened.
Mr. Olivari said that he has no objection to the height. He said that the size of the building makes the project economically viable and its success is important to the Township.
Mr. Fidler said that he appreciates the efforts the applicant has made to work with the Township, but he also has concerns about the massive presence this building will have on Sycamore Street. He suggested that the promenade be eliminated or shortened and agreed with Mr. Ott’s suggestion to place it farther back from the street to soften its effect.
Mr. Murphy asked the Commission to discuss the use variance needed for a mixed use. This would be a new classification, not a primary and accessory use. A variance would also be needed for a retail space over 10,000 square feet.
Mr. Sensibaugh said that the mixed residential and retail use had been part of the Visioning Committee’s recommendation. He suggested that the Commission consider the mixed use for the entire TC district and not for this one property only.
Mr. Fidler said that he would be supportive of this variance. A residential component would add to the flavor of the Street; it is something to be considered going forward as other properties are redeveloped. He asked that the members limit discussion to this applicant first, however.
Mr. Ott said that he is supportive of the mixed use and large retail use and would prefer condominium ownership rather than rental properties. He asked whether the smaller retail spaces would be limited to retail only or whether some offices, such as travel agencies, might be permitted.
Ms. Fountain said that the application for variances would have to specify the proposed uses.
The Commission members all agreed that they were supportive of mixed use and large retail use. Mr. Wind asked about parking and access to the parking lot and underground parking garage.
Mr. Stampfl pointed out the two entrances and one exit to the rear of the building and the garage entrance. There would be 71 parking spaces for the 27 residential units and for use by some of the retail employees/managers. The underground spaces will be 9 by 16.5 feet. The garage would also contain storage units for the residents. 105 parking spaces are planned at the rear for the retail businesses. The spaces closest to the building will be 10 by 20 feet and the remaining spaces will be 9 by 18 feet. Variances will be required for parking stall size.
Mr. Fidler agreed with Mrs. Beasley that the Church seems to be higher than depicted in the sketch. He asked about the grade elevation.
Mr. Mills explained that the building is slightly elevated above grade to accommodate the underground garage. A ramp and steps are planned for the front doors. The property slopes slightly to the rear. He cannot be sure what the elevation will be until the site is graded.
Resident Harriet Beckert said that the materials used do not reflect the styles seen in Newtown. She also questioned the comparison with the Church height, as the Church sits on higher ground. She asked about working so close to the Church property lines.
Mr. Murphy said that the Church Board of Trustees has agreed to the project and will sign construction easement agreements. Plans are in place to restore the area after construction is completed.
Mr. Wind asked about the setback variances needed, particularly along the Church side of the building, about setbacks and emergency access.
Mr. Mills said that some Norway Maple trees would be removed during construction and replaced with indigenous species. The memorial garden plantings would be preserved and replanted after construction is complete. A sidewalk and steps are to be installed to allow congregants to use the retail parking lot for services. Side yard setbacks will be 2-3 feet. The entrances can accommodate emergency vehicles.
Mr. Sensibaugh said that he had some concerns about the lack of greenspace and the high impervious surface. The permitted ratio is 80% impervious, but he would like it to be less for residential uses. He also expressed some concern about stormwater management.
Mr. Fidler said that Mr. Sensibaugh’s concerns would be discussed in depth during land development.
Mr. Murphy said that the height of the mean height of the building is 45 feet. It could be less with a flat roof; the architectural features add to the height. The site is currently 88% impervious surface and the applicant is entitled to keep that ratio.
Mrs. Beasley agreed that setting the building farther back on the site would soften the effect, especially its effect on the other side of Sycamore Street.She asked about the distance from the building wall to the retention basin on the adjoining property and about use of “green” materials.
Mr. Mills said the distance from the retaining wall to the retention basin is 40 feet.
Mr. Stampfl said that a full evaluation for use of “green” materials has not been completed, but sustainability will be considered carefully as the project moves forward. In response to further questions from the Commission he said that the arcade is 24 feet wide with 6 foot sidewalks. The façade varies in distance from the sidewalk from 4 feet to 12 feet. The balconies will be functional for the residents.
Mrs. Beasley again expressed concern about the building’s impact on the Church, and suggested that the project be reviewed by HARB, although this is not required.
Mr. Fidler noted that the cemetery on the Church property will not be affected by the construction. He said that he had some concern about the width of the sidewalks inside the arcade, but would discuss that and some of his other concerns at land development.He would also like the promenade reduced in size. Since the property does not abut any other residential uses, he was not concerned about the proposed setbacks.
Resident Karen Katz said that a number of residents have been meeting to discuss their concerns about the future of Sycamore Street and would like to have continued opportunity for input. She is still concerned about the proposed height of the building, and asked Mr. Stampfl to repeat the ceiling heights. The heights were then reviewed.
Paul Salvatore of Newtown Borough said that he is eager to see this site developed and felt this latest iteration is a great step forward.
Resident Shelly Warren said she would like to see action soon on the development of the site and hoped that the Planning Commission will continue to work to help the developer with an acceptable plan.
Resident Vince Lombardi of the Sycamore Street Community Association said that he and the Association wholeheartedly support this plan. The continued delay of the project is negatively impacting the other properties on Sycamore Street. Concerns about deliveries, etc., would be addressed during land development.
Resident Pam Fitzpatrick said that the owners of the property knew the zoning requirements in place at time of purchase and should adhere to the current zoning to preserve the character of Newtown. She expressed concern about parking, which is already difficult in that area.
Mr. Ott said that it is important for the eyesore on the site to be remedied. He is eager to support the project and for it to be a successful venture, but has concerns about its massive size. He repeated his suggestion to set the building back a little farther on the lot.
Mr. Sensibaugh reviewed the current and proposed impervious surface for the 1.963 acre site. Currently the site has 7,368 square feet of impervious surface, and as proposed would be 74,760 square feet. While it is slightly reduced it is still above the permitted 80%. He an Mr. Fisher questioned whether with a land development the already existing non-conformity would carry over.
Mr. Fidler said that these concerns would all be reported to the Board of Supervisors at the April 22, 2009 meeting.
JMZO 2009-01 Changes to TC District: Ms. McGrath explained that this amendment would remove use E-10, service station and use E-11, automotive sales from the TC Zoning District. Both uses are currently permitted by Conditional use. She confirmed that existing uses would be grandfathered.
Mr. Ott asked about recently abandoned uses. He said that he had concerns about considering this change without notifying owners of recently abandoned uses. Stockburger’s auto sales use only recently ceased, and there is an automotive repair business that had been a gas station at Sycamore and Centre Street.
Mr. Wind said that the use would be considered abandoned after six months, but he questioned whether the “clock starts ticking” after the use stops or after the ordinance is adopted. He agreed that property owners in the TC district should be notified that this amendment is being discussed.
Mr. Sensibaugh said that he is opposed to eliminating currently permitted uses.
The members briefly discussed the possibility of redeveloping some of the larger properties as large service stations.
Mr. Ott moved to recommend that the Board move this amendment forward to the Jointure for consideration, subject to the condition that TC District property owners are notified of the proposed amendment. Mrs. Beasley seconded and the motion passed 5-4, with Messrs. Fidler, Fisher, Olivari and Sensibaugh voting nay.
Mr. Fidler said that he would prefer to include these uses in the continued discussion of Sycamore Street rather than address individual uses separately.
Zoning Hearing Board Applications
Michael P. DiMicoli, 19 Delaney Drive: The members reviewed this application for relief to build a deck with a 24.94 foot rear yard setback where the minimum is 30. Mr. Wind questioned the hardship.
It was noted that the property backs to open space and the yard is not very deep. The members agreed to pass this to the Supervisors without comment.
Friends Lane LLC (Penns Trail Storage), 104 Penns Trail: The Commission reviewed this application for relief to permit disturbance of 5200 square feet of the floodplain for the installation of a street/driveway, sidewalk and utilities.
Mr. Fidler said he was concerned about possible environmental impact and would like to be sure that the Township Engineer has reviewed the plans before any work is done.
Mr. Sensibaugh noted that the property also gets water from a neighboring property. He agreed that the project should be reviewed by the Township Engineer to make sure proper controls are in place.
Mr. Whartenby questioned whether the driveway could be relocated so that the floodplain is not disturbed.
Mr. Ott noted that the driveway aligns with the driveway on the opposite side of the street.
The Commission agreed to pass this application to the Board of Supervisors without comment but suggested, as the applicant is seeking disturbance of the floodplain both on-site and on an adjoining property, that the Board recommend that if a variance is granted it be subject to the condition that the Township Engineer reviews it and is satisfied that all environmental issues are addressed.
Continued Discussion of Sycamore Street: Due to the lateness of the hour, Mr. Fidler said that the discussion would be limited to public comment.
Mrs. Katz suggested that the Township consider extending the historic district to the other side of Sycamore Street. She said that the McGraths have been cooperative with HARB on their other project but it was by choice, not a requirement.
Mrs. Beckert said that any change would not impact existing conditions. The Borough is also considering extending its historic district.
Warren Waldorf of Newtown Borough Planning Commission and its HARB liaison said that the Borough is considering expanding its historic district beyond State Street into the surrounding neighborhood. This is in the very early stage of investigation.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick said that she would like the community at the forefront of the planning.
Mr. Sensibaugh moved to ask the Solicitor to draft a JMZO amendment to include mixed use, including performance standards, into the TC Zoning District. Mr. Wind seconded.
Discussion of motion: Mr. Fidler said that this could begin, but that the addition of the mixed use should proceed slowly and carefully. He had concerns about moving forward too quickly.
Mr. Sensibaugh agreed and said that a draft could serve as a template for the Planning Commission to focus discussion on mixed uses.
The motion passed 9-0.
Mr. Ott said that during Mr. Fidler’s absence, the Board had directed the Planning Commission to review the uses on Sycamore Street with recommendations to be presented at the end of June.
Mr. Schenkman said that any recommendations from the Planning Commission would still need careful consideration by the Board of Supervisors. The Board would like to protect Sycamore Street, but if progress is being made, he did not think the Board would want to rush the Planning Commission to do something incompletely.
Mr. Fidler said that he would seek input from the Board on the direction of future discussions.
Liaison reports were postponed due to the late hour.
Mrs. Beckert said that the Joint Historic Commission had completed and submitted a list of historic structures to the Township. This should be available through the Township Manager as the Planning Commission considers the Historic Preservation amendment.
Mr. Sensibaugh asked Mrs. Beckert to please keep the Planning Commission informed of possible expansion of the Historic District.
Mr. Fidler moved to adjourn at 10:30 PM. Mr. Fisher seconded and the motion passed 9-0.
Mary Donaldson, Recording Secretary