NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP PLANNING COMMISSION
100 MUNICIPAL DRIVE, NEWTOWN, BUCKS COUNTY, PA 18940
Minutes of the meeting held on June 2, 2009
Present: Chairman Allen Fidler, Sue Beasley, Peggy Driscoll, Dennis Fisher, Jay Sensibaugh and Robert Whartenby, members. Also in attendance were: Maureen Griet, Township Engineer, John Boyle, Assistant Township Manager and Jennifer McGrath, Township Solicitor, Jerry Schenkman, Supervisor (late)
Call to Order: Mr. Fidler called the meeting to order at 7:30 PM.
Goodnoe Dairy Bar, 4 South Sycamore Street – Conditional Use: Colin Goodnoe and Skip Goodnoe were in attendance to review this application for conditional use for an E-5 Eating Place, for a 20 seat ice cream parlor, serving only ice cream products.
Colin Goodnoe said that he hopes to open in early summer with 2 employees and a maximum of 4. There are 30 parking spaces at the location.
Mr. Fidler suggested that the application be modified if Mr. Goodnoe expects the business to grow. It might be better to ask for a larger number of employees and longer hours of operation, in case he should decide, for example, to remain open later on weekend evenings at some time.
Mr. Goodnoe agreed to modify the application for a maximum of 6 employees and hours of operation until 11:00 PM, 7 days per week. Deliveries would be primarily by pick-up truck from the family ice cream manufacturing facility on Silo Drive. Most inventory would be stored at the plant. One box truck would deliver other supplies, such as paper goods, once a week.
Ms. McGrath pointed out that the CKS letter dated May 21, 2009 shows a discrepancy in the square footage of the building.
Skip Goodnoe said that there is a mezzanine area in the building that was not included on the plan, but is referenced in the application. The building had a spa in the basement, but the Dairy Bar will not use the basement.
Mrs. Beasley asked about reference to a residential use on the plan.
Skip Goodnoe said that there is an apartment in building “A”.
In response to Ms. McGrath’s question about buffering around the parking, Mr. Goodnoe said that the property already has a lawn, some mature bushes and trees.
Mr. Fidler said that since the parking area is set back from the street, he did not think buffering would be concern.
Mr. Sensibaugh said that he has some concerns about the proposed use, E-5, eating place. The proposed business would probably fit better into the E-6, eating place/drive-in use category. He asked about carry-out service.
Colin Goodnoe said that he plans to have inside seating, but would expect that there would be a lot of carry out, with customers walking away eating their ice cream. It is not the same kind of carry out as, for example, a pizza restaurant, where food is ordered and taken away to be eaten at home.
Mr. Sensibaugh said that the proposed business fits the E-6 definition better, and use E-6 is not permitted in the TC Zoning District.
Skip Goodnoe noted that there is no drive-in window proposed, although there is a traffic lane at the site for a drive-in. The building had originally been a bank with a drive-in window.
Ms. Griet asked about a comment she received from the Codes Department about EDU’s for the number of seats.
Mr. Goodnoe said that the site currently has 20 EDU’s, which would allow 20 seats. The Sewer Authority has indicated it would want additional EDU’s if seating goes beyond the proposed 20. He said that this will be a lease, not a purchase. He will provide a copy of the deed for the file. No major renovations are planned.
Resident Harriet Beckert asked whether gallons of ice cream or ice cream cakes could be sold with this E-5 use.
Ms. McGrath said that use E-5 does not prohibit purchase or take-out.
Mr. Sensibaugh said that he is supportive of the plan, and wished the applicant good luck, but he would be voting against approval because he believed E-6 use is the correct use.
Mrs. Driscoll moved to recommend that the Board of Supervisors approve Goodnoe’s Dairy Bar’s application for conditional use for an E-5 eating place at 4 South Sycamore Street in the TC, Town Commercial Zoning District, tax map parcel #29-011-106 , subject to the following conditions:
Mr. Whartenby seconded and the motion passed 5-1, with Mr. Sensibaugh voting nay.
Subcommittee & Liaison Reports
Board of Supervisors: Mr. Fidler reported that the Board had discussed the McGrath Zoning Hearing Board application at its last meeting and did not agree to send the Solicitor to the Zoning Hearing Board, either to support, oppose or, as the Planning Commission had suggested, attend to report to the Supervisors.
Later in the meeting, Mr. Schenkman confirmed this report. He also reported that he had attended the Borough Council meeting at which the majority voted to send the Borough Solicitor to the Township Zoning Hearing Board to oppose the application. At the Borough Planning Commission meeting that he attended there had been a presentation for a proposal for the Stockburger properties on State Street and Centre Avenue which would include demolition of the existing state store building, construction of a large office building with a multi-tiered parking garage at the rear as well as some retail and residential components. A walk along the Borough side of Newtown Creek is also proposed.
Mr. Sensibaugh said that the Board of Supervisors has submitted a grant application with Doylestown Borough for replacement of streetlights with LED lights.
Joint Zoning Council: Mr. Fidler said that he is unable to attend the next meeting, at which the JMZO amendment which removes uses E-10 and E-11, automotive sales and service stations, from the TC District, is to be considered. He asked Mr. Sensibaugh to attend the meeting in his place, to discuss the reservations that some Planning Commission members have about this amendment.
Resident Vincent Lombardi said that the amendment had been discussed by the Board of Supervisors. He has concerns that property and business owners should be notified before this is adopted. He is also concerned that automotive sales is not permitted elsewhere in the Jointure.
Ms. McGrath said that the Jointure Solicitors have been preparing some legal opinions on these concerns.
Historic Architectural Review Board: Mrs. Driscoll reported that at its last meeting the HARB had reviewed a few sign applications for Sycamore Street. Mrs. Beckert reported that work has begun on a booklet outlining appropriate facades, windows and doors for the historic district.
Newtown Creek Coalition: Mr. Sensibaugh reported that the next Creek Clean-up event would be on June 20 at 9:00 AM beginning at Greene Street behind Newtown Bicycle Shop.
(Mr. Schenkman arrived)
Continued Discussion of Sycamore Street: The Commission reviewed a comparison chart of permitted uses in our TC district and other, similar, downtowns in the area, including Princeton, Metuchen, and Stone Harbor in New Jersey, and New Hope, Doylestown, Skippack and Lansdale in Pennsylvania. Ms. McGrath reviewed residential uses and our own Ordinance’s definitions, which might differ from some of the other municipalities’ uses. It appears that our Ordinance does not permit “multi-family” described as “6 or more families,” but does allow boarding or rooming houses. The Ordinance also does not allow nursing, senior or group homes.
Mrs. Beasley said that multi-family would probably fit in with the “mixed use” category the Commission has been discussing in past meetings. She briefly discussed a trend to create boarding or rooming house arrangements for senior citizens.
Mrs. Beckert said that in studying historic districts, the HARB members have learned that successful historic districts almost always have a residential component to keep the area attractive and vibrant.
The members discussed whether boarding or rooming house is still an appropriate use for Sycamore Street. Ms. McGrath read the definition, which included the renting of a room to one person. The members were reluctant to remove this from the permitted uses, noting that occasionally a homeowner might want to rent out an extra room to a student or a business person with a home elsewhere and work in the Newtown area.
The members asked about definitions and standards for senior housing. Our ordinance addresses “elderly housing” which would more closely resemble assisted living facilities involving a staff, rather than “age qualified” which is independent living for those over a certain age, frequently over age 55.
Mr. Fidler said that before moving forward with this discussion, it would be important to have a clearer picture of the definitions of each type of dwelling for more than one family, including multi-family dwellings, such as small apartment buildings, with more than two but fewer than six families. The Commission should also consider whether to add multi-family dwellings only when combined in a mixed use setting.
Ms. McGrath found in the Ordinance a number of definitions, including attached dwellings and multi-family dwellings for 3-8 families. She agreed to research the various types of multi-family dwellings in the Jointure and elsewhere, perhaps consulting with the Bucks County Planning Commission.
The members agreed to postpone discussion of public, private, trade and commercial schools until the performance standards are reviewed at a later meeting. These uses are permitted by conditional use, but members, while supportive of small scale commercial schools, had some concerns about very large, busy commercial schools in the TC district. The members also agreed that small fitness uses, including some physical therapy, yoga and exercise studios, might fit well. Mr. Whartenby pointed out that “Curves” on State Street fits well in the Borough commercial district.
Regarding restaurants, the members focused discussion of drive-in windows, which are currently not permitted. Mr. Sensibaugh noted that take-out is becoming increasingly popular, not just for fast food like pizza and burgers. He said that the building that Goodnoe’s will occupy has the capacity for a drive-in with all traffic coming onto the site and the window exiting onto the site. It might not cause the same traffic concerns that a very busy burger stand with its window exiting directly onto the street might cause. He briefly discussed a dairy store with drive through that he has visited often in another municipality. This store sells basics only; milk, butter, eggs, bread, etc. This might be a good use to consider for the TC district.
Resident Vince Lombardi said that drive in uses fit better in the PC and CC Districts, as they can cause traffic back-ups and discourage pedestrian traffic.
Mrs. Beckert noted the problems a bank on State Street had created with a drive-in window.
Mr. Fidler said that he does not see any problem with restaurants offering take-out service. Drive through windows on some restaurants might fit well if the parcel were large enough to provide an internal traffic pattern for the window.
After some further discussion, the members agreed that a high volume drive through business does not really belong in the TC District, however, there could be some businesses for which it might be appropriate as a conditional use, which would allow the Township to carefully consider and control the use.
Mr. Lombardi expressed some concern that drive-in businesses were not a good match for the TC district or for the historic district. He suggested that the Commission should begin with a long range vision for the district, and consideration of the uses should be framed by that vision. He suggested that the Board of Supervisors should be involved in that visioning.
Mrs. Beckert said that the main concern of the historic district is appearance. The façade of the building should be historically accurate, but that does not mean that a drive-in window could not co-exist. She noted the bank at the end of Sycamore Street near Durham Road, whose drive-thru lane is in the rear parking lot.
Skip Goodnoe said that the Main Street Program was initiated some years ago along Sycamore and State Streets to bring vitality to the downtown area and it is working very successfully on State Street. Drive-in or drive-thru businesses could be compatible with the historic district. The Commission should consider the economics, as successful businesses add to the vitality. The downtown area has to be competitive or customers will go elsewhere in their cars.
Mrs. Driscoll said that if the parcel is large and there is no traffic back-up directly onto the street, drive-thru could be considered.
The Commission briefly discussed use E-17, tavern. Most did not object, but felt that this should be discussed further at another meeting. The tavern use is different from the E-5 restaurant use, which can have a bar or a barroom, but relies on food sales for a larger percentage of its business.
All agreed that arts and crafts studios would be a good addition to the TC District.
The members reviewed a few other retail uses that had been separated out in the other municipalities’ ordinances, including antique shop and bakery. These are allowed in our ordinance under E-1 retail and/or E-14, specialty retail. The members discussed these uses as an asset to the pedestrian atmosphere.
Members agreed that liquor store might not be a good fit to the downtown, although Mr. Whartenby noted that wine shops do well in New Jersey in downtown districts. The members also thought that convenience store, printing and dry cleaning would be better suited to other zoning districts.
The members discussed some of the entertainment uses that are permitted in other downtowns. Theater is not clearly defined on the list. Members agreed that a small community theater with a stage could be successful, but would be in competition with the Langhorne Players near Tyler Park and Newtown Arts on State Street. A multiplex movie theater would be better suited to the other commercial districts. They briefly discussed pool halls and arcades as places that might appeal to children and younger adults, but questioned whether these uses might also be better suited to the other commercial districts.
The members agreed that museums and art galleries as well as community centers should be left as permitted uses, but did not thing that social halls should be added to the permitted uses. The members also agreed that antennae for non-commercial use should not be permitted any longer. Forestry, and roadside agricultural stands should remain as permitted uses.
Mr. Fidler said that the next step would be to review and finalize this list of uses for recommendations to the Supervisors, then the Commission should more carefully consider performance standards for the permitted uses. He said that he would seek some direction from the Supervisors on their vision for the future of the street before proceeding with the performance standard review.
Mr. Fidler asked Ms. McGrath whether the Commission could create a building height standard that is contingent on the distance from the right-of-way. A building set farther back on a property might not appear to tower over the street and might be more palatable.
Ms. McGrath said that she did not think there would be any impediment to creating such a standard.
Mr. Lombardi cautioned that a longer front setback could lead to plans with parking in the front yard.
Resident Pam Fitzpatrick asked whether there has been any consideration of extending the Historic District to the west side of the street.
Mr. Fidler said that there has been some discussion of expanding the historic district or of creating an overlay district, which would impose some design standards. The Solicitor would have to investigate whether this could be done.
Mr. Lombardi suggested creating performance standards in keeping with 18 th and 19 th century architecture.
Mrs. Beckert said that HARB has been looking into this but is not sure whether to expand the historic district, which would require people to adhere to certain standards when renovating their properties.
Mr. Fidler said that at the next meeting the Commission would review performance standards. He has some reservations about a strict historic district, as there are sometimes constraints against using modern materials in an attempt to preserve history.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick asked whether there would be any consideration of tree preservation or any easy pedestrian access to Sycamore Street from the High School.
Mr. Fidler said that the Ordinance already has tree protections and natural resource protections. The Commission could consider including tree preservation in performance standards.
Mr. Fisher moved to adjourn at 10:30 PM. Mr. Whartenby seconded and the motion passed 6-0.
Mary Donaldson, Recording Secretary