NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP PLANNING COMMISSION
100 MUNICIPAL DRIVE, NEWTOWN, BUCKS COUNTY, PA 18940
Minutes of the meeting held on July 7, 2009
Present: Chairman Allen Fidler, Peggy Driscoll, Dennis Fisher, Jay Sensibaugh and Brandon Wind members. Also in attendance were: Michele Fountain, Township Engineer, John Boyle, Assistant Township Manager and Jennifer McGrath, Township Solicitor.
Approval of Minutes: Mr. Wind moved to accept the minutes of June 16, 2009. Mr. Fisher seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Clearwire US, LLC, 103 Penns Trail – Conditional Use: Attorney Nicholas Talvacchia was in attendance to review this application for co-location of three microwave dishes and three antennae and equipment cabinets at 103 Penns Trail for wireless internet service.
Mr. Talvacchia said that the applicant will comply with the CKS Engineering review letter dated June 29, 2009. The letter references need for an 8 foot fence around the site. There is already a 6 foot fence which would be adequate security, since this is a business area. Deliveries will be about once every six weeks. A technician will visit the site occasionally, for about 20-30 minutes. There will be no noise or fumes from the site. This is a co-location on an existing cell tower, so will have minimal visual impact.
Engineer Sael Boga said that the antenna and dish are used for wireless internet; they transmit for about ½ mile radius. Clearwire has 750 locations in the Philadelphia area. The operating frequency will not interfere with other transmissions.
Engineer Mario Calabretta explained that electricity does not travel up the tower. The plan does not extend the compound. This will be the fifth carrier on the tower.
In response to Ms. McGrath’s question, Mr. Talvacchia said that the site has 100 parking spaces, but only one space is required per carrier.
Ms. McGrath noted that the Ordinance requires an 8 foot fence.
Mr. Fisher noted that there is wire around the top of the existing fence. Perhaps the wire could be extended to 8 feet.
Mr. Talvacchia said that if the site has had a six foot fence, perhaps there was a variance or some other waiver granted to the owner of the tower. He would research this and if no such permission exists, Clearwire would extend the wire at the top of the existing fence.
Ms. Fountain noted that the application would have to be amended to include use I-2.
Mr. Sensibaugh moved to recommend that the Board of Supervisors approve Clearwire US, LLC’s application for conditional use for use I-1, Communications Antenna and use I-2 Communications Antenna and Equipment building, at 103 Penns Trail in the LI Light industrial zoning district, tax map parcel 29-10-95-1 , subject to the following conditions:
Mr. Wind seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Al Sambar, 76 Justice Drive – PRD Variance: Resident Al Sambar and contractor Bill Coyle were in attendance to review this application for a PRD variance seeking impervious surface relief for 31.2% where 25% is permitted for a new 581 square foot pool and for a 400 square foot patio. Mr. Sambar explained that he had built the patio some time ago and did not realize that a permit was required. The 31.2% variance request includes both the proposed pool and the existing patio. He included with his application letters of support from his homeowners association and surrounding neighbors.
Mr. Coyle said that the applicant would address drainage concerns of the neighbors by installing French drains.
Mr. Fisher moved to recommend that the Board of Supervisors approve Al Sambar’s application for a PRD variance for 31.2% impervious surface for a pool and patio at 76 Justice Drive, tax map parcel 29-27-2, subject to the following conditions:
Mr. Sensibaugh seconded.
Discussion of motion: In response to Mr. Sensibaugh’s question, Mr. Coyle said that details of the fencing for the pool would be shown on the permit application
Ms. Fountain explained that the Board of Supervisors could vote to approve the plan with the condition that stormwater be installed. It would not be necessary to complete the stormwater plan before the Supervisors meeting.
The motion passed 4-0-1, with Mr. Wind abstaining.
Subcommittee and Liaison Reports
Board of Supervisors: Mr. Schenkman reported that the Zoning Hearing Board had granted variances for the Promenade for a 40 foot height and 25 residential units. He does not know yet whether the applicant or any of the parties in opposition will appeal the decision. Parties can appeal within 30 days of issuance of a written decision.
Park and Recreation Board: The recording secretary reported that the Park and Recreation Board had voted to accept a fee in lieu of open space for Lockheed Martin and Rosebank Winery at its July 1, 2009 meeting. Letters advising of these decisions are in the Planning packets.
Newtown Creek Coalition: Mr. Schenkman reported that the Coalition had a creek clean-up on June 27. The Coalition has discussed some walking accesses along the creek, and some paths are included in a proposal for redevelopment of the Stockburger property. There will be a presentation of the Stockburger plans on Thursday, July 9 at 7:00 PM at the Stockburger dealership building.
Mr. Sensibaugh said that the Coalition has discussed possible future locations for footbridges over the creek. Some of the locations where there had been connections years ago are not appropriate now and some of the existing bridges need work.
Continued Discussion of Sycamore Street: Mr. Fidler reported that some of the Supervisors had expressed interest in seeing smaller residential units permitted as part of a multi-family use in the TC district. They felt that smaller, less expensive units, as either rentals or condominiums, might be attractive to downsizing older adults as well as to younger people looking to remain in Newtown after they are finished with their education. He reminded the members that at earlier meetings they had agreed that multi-family residential uses with units larger than 1500 square feet would be preferred.
The members briefly discussed the idea of smaller units, including one bedroom and studio apartments as well as small two bedroom apartments. Mrs. Driscoll noted that condominiums with two bedrooms might be attractive for young families with small children eager to move into the school district. This could have an impact on the schools.
Mr. Wind noted that when considering smaller units, the Commission should also consider lot size, as some of the larger lots on Sycamore Street could contain a large number of small apartments. None of the members knew whether such housing would be marketable. Mr. Fidler suggested inviting someone from the real estate business to attend a future meeting to discuss the housing market now and looking ahead.
Mr. Sensibaugh said that there is a regional movement among planners to increase residential uses in downtown areas. DVRPC has documents discussing this as a way to reduce some suburban sprawl.
Ms. Fountain asked whether the Commission would want to consider garden apartments, use B-10, as a permitted use. These are multi-family dwellings of 6-16 units. When considering this use, the members should consider whether to permit the use as a stand alone or as part of a mixed use or PCD. The members could also place percentages on the size of units, for example, either limiting or requiring a certain number of units to be a certain size. She suggested that the members consider adding use B-10 with certain conditions, including limiting the use to conditional use for parcels over 2 acres or requiring a compliance with certain HARB requirements. Another consideration would be whether to allow first floor apartments, or to only permit apartments on upper floors, above commercial uses.
The members agreed that they did not object to first floor residential units. Other considerations would be postponed to a later meeting with a real estate professional in attendance.
Mr. Sensibaugh suggested creating a new eating place use that would incorporate restaurants with walk up windows or a heavy take-out component, but without drive thru windows. Mr. Sensibaugh said that he did not object to drive thru service if the drive aisle were contained on the property.
The members discussed some of the negative aspects of a drive thru, which could create traffic back-up with frequent in and out trips. Resident Harriet Beckert noted that drive-thru service can be disruptive to pedestrian aspects, as walkers would have to pass across the driveways.
Ms. McGrath noted that the Ordinance currently references drive thru in the E-6 use. The E-5 use allows the “sale and consumption” of prepared food, which would include take out.
Ms. Fountain agreed that the Ordinance prohibits drive-thru with E-6 in the TC District, but that carry out is not prohibited with E-5. She noted that in the Ordinance there is no specific reference to seating in the E-5 use. She and Ms. McGrath agreed that carry out is incidental to the E-5 use.
Mr. Sensibaugh urged that if a new use is not to be created, he would like the E-5 use clarified on carry out and walk up windows.
The Commission members agreed that they did not want to add E-6 to the TC district, but did not object to walk-up windows or carry out for E-5.
Mr. Wind suggested that the Commission consider some kind of entertainment venue, such as a tavern with live music performances. The sale of alcohol would not be the primary business, but a cover charge or ticket sales would provide the bulk of the income. He said that there is not much to do in Newtown and a small entertainment venue could bring vitality to the street at night.
Mr. Sensibaugh said that he has concerns about a night club or entertainment venue when the Commission is attempting to promote residential uses.
Mr. Fidler said that it might be a good idea to discuss this further in conjunction with existing restaurants and bars, as an accessory use.
Mrs. Beckert agreed that an establishment which provides music entertainment in the evenings could bring younger people, who might want to live in smaller apartments in a vibrant town.
Ms. Fountain suggested creating a new use with entertainment as an accessory use to a restaurant or tavern.
The members discussed changing the Ordinance’s retail uses. Currently retail is divided into small, below 10,000 square feet and large, above 10,000 square feet. Mr. Fidler suggested considering a medium size retail use and at the same time reducing the maximum size for small retail, E-1 to about 7,500 square feet. The TC District could be a good location for some medium size retail establishments, especially in conjunction with a mixed use PCD.
Mr. Schenkman noted that while allowing one or two larger retail uses might be good, it could be a traffic concern if all of the larger parcels were developed for large retail.
Ms. Fountain agreed to investigate this further.
Mr. Sensibaugh mentioned that bake shop is currently permitted as an E-1 retail use. He asked whether a bake shop would be allowed to sell baked goods to be consumed on the premises, or would that make it an E-5.
Mrs. Beckert said that she is familiar with bake shops with a few tables for eating purchased pastries. That portion of the business is much smaller than the sale of baked goods which are baked on the premises and taken home.
Ms. McGrath reminded the members that they had not decided on studio uses such as yoga and exercise studios.
The members said that if the use were less than 2,500 square feet it would fit in nicely on Sycamore Street. None had an objection to allowing such a use on the second story of a building.
Mr. Schenkman noted that in the comparison list with other municipalities, philanthropic uses are not included as permitted uses in Newtown.
Ms. Fountain said that in our Ordinance, it would depend on what exactly the use would be, for example, headquarters or offices would fit in with the D-1 office use. Collection locations for organizations like Salvation Army might not fit in.
Mr. Schenkman asked whether push carts are permitted.
Ms. Fountain said that they are not permitted now. She would investigate further whether they are permitted as part of a sidewalk sale or a promotional event for businesses which already have a storefront.
Ms. Fountain asked the members to consider use F-2, Emergency Services.
The members agreed that this would not be a good match for the TC district because of accessibility.
Ms. Fountain asked the members to consider use E-14, specialty cultural retail. This use, currently permitted, allows for most of the retail uses already permitted. The only use permitted in E-14 but not permitted in the TC district is repair shop.
The members agreed that since almost all of the possible cultural retail uses are already permitted, use E-14 should be removed.
Ms. Fountain reported that the strip of land between Bill Marsh Ford and the Newtown Presbyterian Church is part of Village at Newtown’s detention basin land. It is 382 feet by 80 feet and extends to Sycamore Street. This could be a possible future location of a linear park which connects the shopping center parking lots to Sycamore Street.
The members agreed to discuss mixed uses and performance standards at the next meeting.
Mr. Fisher moved to adjourn at 10:15 PM. Mrs. Driscoll seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Mary Donaldson, Recording Secretary