Minutes of the meeting held on July 21, 2009

Present: Chairman Allen Fidler, Dennis Fisher, Jay Sensibaugh, Robert Whartenby and Brandon Wind members. Also in attendance were: Michele Fountain, Township Engineer, John Boyle, Assistant Township Manager and Jennifer McGrath, Township Solicitor and Jerry Schenkman, Township Supervisor.

Mr. Fidler informed the members that Vice Chairman Jim Ott has resigned the Planning Commission due to conflicts with his work schedule. His contributions will be greatly missed.

Traffic Engineer’s Report: The Commission reviewed a written report provided by Carroll Engineering.

Mr. Sensibaugh noted th at a number of projects were awaiting direction from the Township to proceed. Of particular concern was the Terry Drive extension.

Mr. Fidler noted that PennDOT seems to now be requiring new information and additional traffic data before a decision will be made on the project.

Mr. Schenkman said that discussion of traffic projects and outstanding items on the Traffic Engineer’s report will be on an upcoming Board agenda.

Mr. Sensibaugh said that there should be funds available from traffic impact fees to cover costs of some of the projects in the report; some of the projects should have authorization to move forward.

Mr. Fisher reported that the Swamp Road Residents Group will be providing information requested by the Board for a response to PennDOT.

Mr. Fidler said that at the last Board meeting there had been discussion of an agreement with PennDOT for the Township to maintain the planted median buffers to be installed on Stoopville Road. As a horticulturalist, he had some concerns about the Township’s liability and insurance with such a maintenance agreement. He also had concerns about the work involved in maintaining the buffers. Stoopville is a very busy road and maintenance workers would have to be protected by flagmen when they work. It could become an onerous task to keep planted medians well maintained and safe. He urged the Township to reconsider taking on this responsibility.

Mr. Schenkman said that the Township has a number of concerns with the agreement and has asked the solicitor to review it.

Ms. Fountain reported that the South Eagle Road project has been put out to bid and will be on the next Board agenda for an award of bids for the traffic signal and for the realignment of the Newtown Plaza parking entrance.

Zoning Hearing Board

Dina Brilliant/George Segel, 391 Eagle Road: Dr. Brilliant and Dr. Segel were in attendance to review this application for an addition to their home. They plan to add bedrooms to the second story of the house. This addition will connect to the existing dental office. This is a non-conforming lot.

Mr. Sensibaugh suggested that letters of support from the immediate neighbors could be helpful at the Zoning Hearing Board.

The Commission passed this application to the Supervisors without comment.

Susanne Brennan, 509 Washington Crossing Road: Suzanne Brennan was in attendance to review this application for a home occupation beauty salon in her detached garage on a 3.5 acre parcel. She explained that she would like to keep her existing client base and would have only two chairs. There is ample parking.

Mr. Fidler explained that the home occupation use is typically for occupations that do not have visiting customers and do not require signage. He suggested that, since this home is on an arterial highway, the Zoning Hearing Board might not be as concerned about traffic. He also suggested that letters of support from the neighbors could be helpful. He advised Ms. Brennan that at the Zoning Hearing Board she may be asked to accept certain conditions to any approval. It is not unusual for the Zoning Hearing Board to limit signage or to require that the business not expand beyond two chairs.

Mr. Wind asked whether renovations to the garage would require land development.

Mr. Fidler said that there would be some permits required but land development is based on the size and it appears that no exterior changes are planned.

The Commission passed this application to the Supervisors without comment.

Michael & Michelle Reilly/Woodway Construction, 4 Hillview Drive: The applicant was not in attendance to review the application for relief for setbacks for a deck. The Commission passed this application to the Supervisors without comment.

Grainhouse Developer, LLC, 11 Penns Trail: Karen Miller was in attendance to review this application for relief for a directory sign of greater than 20 square feet for an office building in Newtown Business Commons. Ms. Miller explained that she had been told by the Code Enforcement Officer that only a permit was required. After the sign had been installed the Code Department staff explained that a variance would be needed. She said that because she has multiple tenants the larger sign is needed to be visible to passing motorists.

The Commission passed this application to the Supervisors without comment.

Subcommittee Reports

Board of Supervisors: Mr. Schenkman reported that at its most recent work session the Board discussed a new labor solicitor, work for renovations for the police department’s building and possible vacation of the German Avenue paper street.

Continued Discussion of Sycamore Street: Mr. Fidler said that he had attempted to discuss the real estate market for the various residential unit sizes the Commission had been considering for a Planned Commercial Development (PCD). Mr. Fidler reported that he had a conversation with Paul Salvatore, a local realtor active in the community, who had indicated that small, two bedroom units are very popular, as they appeal to single parent families eager to move into or remain in the School District with school age children. They are popular as both rentals and purchases. These units might be the most economically viable in the current market. Mr. Salvatore did not differentiate among types of small units, whether townhomes, rental apartments or apartments on second floor over retail. He defined small as having two bedrooms and about 1200 square feet.

Ms. Fountain asked the Commission to discuss a multi-family dwelling use, either a B-10, garden apartment, which would be 6-16 units, or as part of the PCD. She also asked about parameters, such as size of structure, number and size of units, parking requirements.

Mr. Fidler said that he did not think multi-family should be prohibited as a stand alone use.

Mr. Sensibaugh disagreed, noting that the expectations of residents in a mixed use environment combined with retail uses would be different than residents of a strictly residential development.

The members discussed Mr. Sensibaugh’s point and agreed that multi-family dwellings should only be permitted as part of a mixed use development. In considering the performance standards the members discussed possibly requiring a certain percentage of units to be no larger than 1200 square feet, for example. The members decided that they did not want to place restrictions that might hinder the economic viability of a project. They did agree that multi-family should be permitted in combination with office or retail uses.

Resident Harriet Beckert, HARB liaison, spoke about mixing residential with restaurant uses. She said that in some communities there have been difficulties with rental units over restaurants because of noise and odor problems.

Resident Vincent Lombardi disagreed, noting that Allen Smith has always had tenants in his apartments over restaurants in his shopping center in the PC District on Sycamore Street. He suggested that Mr. Smith be invited to a meeting to discuss his experience.

The members agreed that any commercial use permitted in the TC district should be permitted as part of the PCD.

The members discussed possible parking requirements for the residential use and agreed that two spaces per unit would probably be acceptable, but that there could be some credit for shared parking or consideration to banking some parking in green unless or until needed.

In further discussion of the PCD, members agreed that the PCD should have at least a mix of two uses and should be limited on lots of 2 or more acres. In considering the other performance standards, Mr. Fidler suggested that the structures’ footprints should be carefully considered. Perhaps there could be some adjustment to increase the maximum permitted height for some percentage of the buildings, but not for the entire PCD. He also suggested that perhaps the Commission could consider allowing only a certain percentage of the frontage to be at the minimum setback. It might help to avoid a “canyon” feel and could provide some public areas or green spaces if structures had staggered frontages and rooflines.

The members briefly discussed whether to require that all of the mixed uses be within one structure, using, for example the first floor for retail, upper floors for other uses, or whether to require more than one structure.

Mrs. Beckert said that it would be important to also consider how the PCD fits into the surrounding historic district. Taller buildings at the rear would not be consistent with Newtown’s style.

Mr. Fidler and Mr. Sensibaugh agreed that they would like to see opportunities to promote green spaces on Sycamore Street.

Mr. Fidler said that he still has some concerns about medical uses on larger lots.

Mr. Lombardi noted that with performance standards in place to control the number of offices and number of parking spaces, medical arts buildings could be a good match for Sycamore Street. He noted the Dentists of Newtown building, which has about a half-dozen dentists sharing facilities.

Mr. Fidler reminded the members that at previous meetings they had discussed the current E-1 retail use, which is for retail up to 10,000 square feet. Use E-2, retail greater than 10,000 square feet, is not permitted in the TC district. The Commission had discussed possibly altering the E-1 to be retail up to 7,500 square feet. A new use could be created for retail between 7,500 and 12,000 or even 15,000 square feet.
The members agreed that a new, medium size retail use might fit nicely in a PCD. It was agreed that if such a use were created, that it would only be permitted as part of a PCD.

The members continued previous discussion of entertainment venues. All agreed that a small theater for live performances, with fewer than 100 seats, could make a valuable contribution to the vitality of the street, as theater goers might make use of shops and restaurants before or after attending a performance.

Mr. Wind suggested that if a performance venue for live music or comedy, with service of drinks as an accessory, were not to be permitted, perhaps the Commission should recommend to the Supervisors that live entertainment as an accessory to a restaurant use could be permitted, provided the performances were indoors only, with no amplified music. Restaurant, not tavern, should be the primary use for the live entertainment venue. The members did not object to entertainment as an accessory.

Mr. Fidler said that the next step should be consideration of performance standards for the PCD. A draft ordinance might be helpful in further discussions.

Mr. Schenkman said that some direction from the Board of Supervisors will be needed before asking the Solicitor and Engineer to begin a draft ordinance.

Mr. Fidler said that it might be helpful to have some input from the Supervisors about what their vision for Sycamore Street would be. He said that he would ask for a joint meeting, either at a work session or at a regular Planning Commission meeting for an open discussion. It might be helpful to have this input before beginning to draft a new ordinance for the TC district or for the PCD and multi-family uses. He suggested that if a joint meeting with the Board is planned, representatives of HARB should be included in discussion.

Other Business: Mr. Fidler said that in September he would be taking a short leave of absence from the Planning Commission. With Mr. Ott’s resignation, Ms. Driscoll would be the acting chairman during his absence. Hopefully the Board of Supervisors will appoint someone quickly to replace Mr. Ott and the Commission will need to appoint a third officer as Ms. Driscoll moves to acting chairman.

Mr. Sensibaugh moved to adjourn at 10:15 PM. Mr. Wind seconded and the motion passed 5-0.


Respectfully Submitted:


Mary Donaldson, Recording Secretary