NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP PLANNING COMMISSION
100 MUNICIPAL DRIVE, NEWTOWN, BUCKS COUNTY, PA 18940
Minutes of the meeting held on October 15, 2009
Present: Chairman Allen Fidler, 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, Andrew Brown, Township Traffic Engineer, John Torrente, Township Solicitor, William Bolla, Special Counsel for Township, Matt Benchener, Jerry Schenkman and Phil Calabro, Township Supervisors, Richard O’Brien, Code Enforcement Officer and John Boyle, Assistant Township Manager.
Approval of Minutes
Mr. Torrente noted that page 2, condition #8 should read, “ paid to the Township.”
Mr. Whartenby moved to accept the minutes of October 6, 2009, as corrected. Mr. Olivari seconded and the motion passed 5-0-2, with Mrs. Driscoll and Mr. Sensibaugh abstaining.
Zoning Hearing Board Applications
Edmund Clark Grimes, 12 Harmony Way: The Commission reviewed this request for a setback variance of 14 feet to allow installation of a 14’ X 28’ patio.
Mr. Whartenby questioned whether a variance for impervious surface would also be needed.
Mr. O’Brien confirmed that the home was within its impervious surface allowance. Only setback relief was required.
Mr. Sensibaugh noted that the property appeared to back to open space.
Mr. Wind questioned the hardship, as a slightly different design would require less relief.
The members agreed to pass this application to the Board of Supervisors without comment.
George & Julia Hansbarger, Holland Floor Covering, 35 Swamp Road: Chuck Tompkins was in attendance to review the application of Holland Floor Covering for an additional sign on the roof of the Holland Floor Covering showroom. Mr. Tompkins explained that the business is set back over 150 feet from the road. The business has many out of town and out of state contractors, who find it difficult to locate the shop. He noted that the road changes its name from Washington Avenue to Swamp Road then to the Newtown Bypass, making it even more difficult to find. The second sign would help to identify the showroom.
In response to Mr. Wind’s question, Mr. Tompkins said that only one sign is requested and it would be 20 square feet. The application shows two possible locations for the sign, one above the entrance and one at the side of the entrance. The applicant is only asking for one sign, to be placed at either location.
Mr. Fidler said that the application refers to a sign on the roof. He suggested that the application be revised to state “over the entrance” instead. Asking for a roof sign gives the impression that the sign would stand on top of the rooftop.
The Commission agreed to pass this application to the Board of Supervisors without comment.
Fascella Construction Corp. on behalf of Stephen R. Saurman, 81 Vera Avenue: Attorney Ed Murphy represented the applicant for a special exception to rebuild a dwelling on a non-conforming lot and variances for setbacks and for an increase in impervious surface. Mr. Murphy explained that a year ago, a delivery of home heating oil was pumped into the basement of the home. The tank could hold only 50 additional gallons, so the excess flooded the basement with over 200 gallons of oil. The site was excavated and as part of the remediation process the building was torn down. The setback relief is required because this is a corner lot with two front and two side yards.
Mr. Fidler asked if the applicant would consider reducing the impervious surface requested.
Mr. Murphy said that the applicant would work with the Township Engineer to satisfy stormwater management concerns. If necessary, the applicant could possibly reduce the impervious surface.
Mr. Sensibaugh asked if the Saurmans have the support of their neighbors. He suggested letters of support from neighbors be presented to the Zoning Hearing Board.
Mr. Murphy said that the neighbors are very supportive and eager to see the Saurmans return to their rebuilt home.
The Commission members agreed to pass this application to the Board of Supervisors without comment.
Mr. Fidler noted that the Commission frequently reviews Zoning Hearing Board applications for which there is not strong feeling to recommend that the Board oppose or formally support the applicants. The Commission does, however, attempt to provide resident applicants with some guidance as they go forward through the application process.
Lithos LP, 10 Friends Lane – Final Plan: Attorney Ed Murphy presented this final plan for renovation of an existing 25,020 square foot building and the addition of 35,700 square feet of office space with additional parking, modification of stormwater facilities and public water and sewer facilities on 7.3 acres in the LI Light Industrial Zoning District. The plan was given preliminary approval January 28, 2009.
Mr. Murphy reminded the Commission that at the time of preliminary plan approval, the location of sidewalks was deferred. One option discussed at the Planning Commission had been to locate sidewalks on the opposite side of Walker Lane, within the existing right-of-way. The Walker Lane Condo Association did not support this suggestion.
Mr. Fidler said that the Business Commons has changed in recent years, with more Commons employees walking at lunch hour. It is a goal of the Township and the Business Commons Association to connect some of the sidewalks, creating a more pedestrian friendly environment.
Mark Haver of Pickering Corts and Summerson reviewed an option which would place the sidewalk on the Lithos side of Walker Lane, which would cross Walker Lane at the intersection and continue within the right-of-way along Friends Lane to the existing sidewalk at the far end of the adjacent property. A portion of the sidewalk would have a reduced width of four feet and would be located only 1.5 feet from the roadway, in order to avoid impacting the existing PECO transformer and the existing stormwater basin.
Mr. Fidler said that because the sidewalks would be in a business park and would be used by adults, the reduced width or the location close to the cartway should not be of great concern.
In response to Mr. Sensibaugh’s question, Mr. Murphy said that the project is well below the permitted impervious surface. The sidewalks would not increase the impervious surface significantly.
Mr. Murphy reminded the Commission that still unresolved was the matter of which edition of ITE Trip Generation should be used to calculate the traffic impact fee.
The Commission members agreed that Edition #7 should be used, giving the higher calculated traffic impact fee.
Mr. Sensibaugh moved to recommend that the Board of Supervisors approve the final plan of Lithos, LP., for the premises located at 10 Friends Lane, Newtown, Pennsylvania, 19840, being Bucks County Tax Parcel NO. 29-10-99-4 prepared by Pickering Corts and Summerson., comprising Sheets 1-13 last revised June 23, 2009, subject to the following conditions, all of which the applicant has agreed to:
Mrs. Beasley seconded and the motion passed 7-0.
Promenade at Sycamore Street – Preliminary/Final Plan: Attorney Ed Murphy presented a plan for land development for this proposed development of 1.96 acres for six retail stores and 25 residential condominiums with associated parking and stormwater facilities in the TC Town Commercial Zoning District. Revisions to the plan had been made to comply with the suggestions made at the preliminary review of September 29, 2009.
Mr. Murphy noted that since the September 9 meeting, the architects have met with HARB and have begun to make façade changes with the goal of receiving a favorable recommendation from HARB for a certificate of appropriateness.
Karl Janetka of Van Cleef Engineering said that he has spoken with Ms. Fountain about her review letter dated October 12, 2009. The applicant will comply with that review. At the last review, Mr. Sensibaugh had made some suggestions for connecting the stormwater discharge pipe in such a way as to avoid additional disruption to Sycamore Street. Those suggestions have been incorporated into the revised plan.
Resident Vince Lombardi said that the street will still need to be opened at different points for water and sanitary sewer connections. He pointed out that all materials must be replaced “in kind and in quality.”
Mr. Fidler said that he has some concern about back flow into the underground detention facility.
Ms. Fountain discussed the emergency spillway provided. She agreed with Mr. Janetka that the chance of back flow is extremely remote.
Ms. Fountain said that the underground garage has some parking spaces that are being allocated to the retail uses. She asked how patrons would be made aware of this additional parking.
Mr. Murphy said that the underground parking would be accessed with a key system. The residents of the residential units would be assigned these parking spaces. The extra 18 spaces would be for employees of the retail spaces; retail managers would be given the access keys.
Mr. Wind asked whether the residents would be assigned specific parking spaces.
Mr. Murphy said the spaces would be numbered and each unit would be allocated two spaces.
Ms. Fountain asked about the construction easement with the Church.
Mr. Murphy said that he has spoken to representatives of the Church. The garden will be re-landscaped. The existing garden will be included in the easement.
Mr. Janetka reviewed the need for an additional waiver from Section 522.4.A, for a slope of 3:1. He said that this would eliminate the retaining wall. It would be stabilized with landscaping plants and grass.
Mrs. Beasley asked about the steps leading to the Church.
Landscape Architect Scott Mill said that a walkway and garden path would lead from the stairs to the entry to the Church. The steps will be replaced and the garden is being modified at the request of the Church to be less formal. An irrigation system is being installed.
Mr. Fidler suggested that any plants to be transplanted into the new garden be in the care of a horticulturalist until construction is complete.
Mr. Mill agreed to make such arrangements.
Mrs. Beasley noted that portions of an older cemetery are still at the rear of the Church and must also be considered when planning for renovations to the Church gardens.
Mr. Sensibaugh pointed out a tree planned for the parking area, near the garage ramp and loading area. He said that he has some concern that a tree at this location would interfere with sight distances.
Mr. Mill said that a honey locust tree is planned; its branches would be high and would not interfere with views. If it were not planted a waiver would be needed.
Mr. Whartenby mentioned that the root system for a tree at this location could also be a problem. He agreed that perhaps it should be eliminated.
The members agreed that a waiver should be granted, however the tree should be planted elsewhere in the Township.
In response to questions from the members about emergency access to the garage, Architect Peter Stampfl reviewed the locations of stairs and elevators. Each side of the Promenade archway will have an elevator and stairwell. Both elevators will go to the underground garage. Both are large enough to accommodate emergency equipment, including a gurney.
Mr. Whartenby asked about downspouts and trench drains for the stormwater management system.
Ms. Fountain said that the applicant will comply with her review of stormwater management. The system detains 75% of pre-development run off as required by the Ordinance.
Ms. Fountain noted that a “mon well” appears on sheet four of the plans. The purpose should be verified and it should be verified that it can be removed.
Mr. Murphy said that this is being researched.
Mr. Fidler said that he has some concerns about sewer service; the Sewer Authority will calculate the needed EDU’s for 25 residential units, but the manifold system might not be adequate.
Mr. Janetka said that a submission to Gannet Fleming has been made; details are being worked on.
The Commission discussed traffic concerns, suggesting perhaps including a “right on red” for the intersection of Jefferson with Sycamore Street or restricting left turns from Jefferson Street onto Sycamore.
Joe DeSantis of McMahon Associates, reviewed some of the concerns. He indicated that the applicant will comply with the review of Carroll Engineering. He did not recommend allowing right on red at Jefferson Street because signage and shrubbery interfere with sight distances. He suggested instead to provide more green time to Jefferson to help alleviate back-ups. He said that it might be helpful to ban left turns from Jefferson onto Sycamore Street. He urged the Commission to first adjust the timing of the traffic light, then re-evaluate the traffic before eliminating the left turn.
Mr. DeSantis said that in discussing the traffic report with the Newtown Borough Traffic Engineer, they had considered making Jefferson a one way street, but they agreed that this might burden the other intersections, particularly Washington Avenue.
The Commission discussed restricting left turns from Jefferson onto Sycamore Street only during peak hours.
Mr. DeSantis said that this might be helpful with appropriate signage.
Mr. Calabro asked if delayed green lights could help.
Mr. DeSantis said this was considered, but it did not benefit traffic flow.
Mrs. Beasley expressed some concern about eliminating the left turn. Motorists might then go straight into the Promenade to make a U-turn.
Mr. DeSantis said that local residents quickly learn and adapt to changed traffic patterns. This might only be an issue for a short while.
Mr. Fidler said that it is important that any possible solutions to traffic concerns be part of the approval, even it they are to be implemented after completion of the project.
Mr. Stampfl reviewed discussions held with HARB about the exterior design of the project. HARB had favored different, more muted colors. HARB has recommended some changed balcony railings and roof details and dormer changes as well as some changes to the retail facades. The overall changes make for a more Victorian appearance.
HARB member Harriet Beckert confirmed that HARB is recommending that the Board grant a certificate of appropriateness with certain conditions. The applicant has agreed to comply with those conditions.
The Commission discussed the possibility that blasting could be necessary if rock is found during excavation.
Mr. Murphy said that a baseline study on the Church property will be done. A certificate of insurance will be issued.
Mr. Boyle said that there is a blasting permit process with the EMS department.
Ms. Fountain said there is also a formal insurance procedure.
Mrs. Beasley expressed some concern that all of the various procedures and processes might not be good enough, as the Church is a very old historic property.
Mr. Fidler agreed that perhaps the Township should put certain provisions into place to protect properties in the Historic District.
(Mr. Fisher arrived at this point.)
Mr. Sensibaugh moved to recommend that the Board of Supervisors grant preliminary/final land development approval to the Promenade at Sycamore Street, being known as Bucks County Tax Parcel No. 29-10-7 prepared by Van Cleef Engineering, dated July 24, 2009, last revised October 6, 2009, subject to the following conditions, all of which the Applicant has agreed to:
Mr. Whartenby seconded.
Discussion of motion: Mrs. Beasley said that there had been no discussion of lighting.
Mr. Mill said that lighting is shown on the plan. It is shielded to prevent glare into the residential units. Lights on the retail business signs would be part of each retail unit’s conditional use approval.
Mr. Fidler said that he is very please that the applicant has worked with the Commission and with the concerned residents. He is eager to see this project move forward to the Board of Supervisors. He said that he would urge the applicant to revise the plans to comply with the review, rather than present a long list of “will complies” to the Supervisors.
Mr. Bolla said that he was very impressed with the Planning Commission’s knowledge and the work they have done.
The motion passed 7-0-1, with Mr. Fisher abstaining.
Mr. Fidler suggested that the reports be tabled due to the late hour.
Old Business/New Business
Mr. Fidler reminded the members that the November 3, 2009 meeting would be canceled because of election day.
Mr. Fidler announced that the Board of Supervisors had approved a proposal by Lynn Bush of the Bucks County Planning Commission to work with the Commission and Board on plans for a vision for Sycamore Street.
Mr. Fidler reminded the members that he would not be available for the next Board of Supervisors meeting. Mrs. Beasley and Mr. Whartenby would report to the Supervisors on this evening’s meeting.
Mrs. Beasley moved to adjourn at 10:45 PM. Mr. Wind seconded and the motion passed 8-0.
Mary Donaldson, Recording Secretary