NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP PLANNING COMMISSION
100 MUNICIPAL DRIVE, NEWTOWN, BUCKS COUNTY, PA 18940
Minutes of the meeting held on January 19, 2010
Present: Chairman Allen Fidler, Vice Chairmen Sue Beasley and Robert Whartenby, Paul Cohen, Peggy Driscoll, Dennis Fisher, Michael Iapalucci and Jay Sensibaugh, members. Also in attendance were Michele Fountain, Township Engineer, John Torrente, Township Solicitor and John Boyle, Township Assistant Manager.
Approval of Minutes: Mrs. Beasley moved to accept the minutes of January 5, 2010. Mr. Sensibaugh seconded and the motion passed 8-0.
Bradley McGowan, 12 Old Frost Lane, Conditional Use: Bradley McGowan was in attendance to review this application for conditional use approval for a B-16, residential conversion in the R-1, Medium Density Residential Zoning District . Mr. McGowan explained that he has tried to market this property for a number of years. Because of its unusual floor plan and its proximity to the Newtown Rental Center and TD Bank parking lots, it has been unattractive as a single family home. Neighbors objected when he attempted to convert it to an office use. The proposal he is seeking approval for would divide the house into two side by side rental units. He noted that it appears as though this building, originally built in the 1750’s, had at one time been a two family house. There are two front doors, two rear doors, a double staircase running from basement to the top floor, and an interior masonry wall through the entire building, dividing it in half. He said that when he brought the duplex concept to the Board of Supervisors for comment, the Board was very supportive of the idea, as it preserves the residential use.
The Commission reviewed the letter of CKS dated January 12, 2010. Ms. Fountain noted that variances were granted to Newtown Rental Center to subdivide its property creating this 10,000 square foot lot. The Township has a façade easement to preserve the historic exterior of the building. Ms. Fountain also pointed out that fire escapes may not be necessary because each unit will have two points of egress and the proposal calls for two units side by side, not one on top of the other.
The Commission reviewed the proposed parking. Each unit will require two parking spaces. Mr. McGowan pointed to four parking spaces toward the front edge of the lot. The Commission had some concerns about this arrangement, in part because of the Township’s access easement and walking trail. Mr. Iapalucci said that pedestrians and bike riders would have to walk between the cars.
The Commission members recommended placing two parking spaces in front of each unit and relocating the access easement to the ultimate right of way to make the needed room for two driveways and two parking pads. Mr. Fidler noted that there would not be an large an increase in impervious surface if the trail were relocated to the ultimate right of way.
Mr. McGowan agreed to move the trail at his own expense.
Mr. Cohen asked if the masonry wall ran through the entire building.
Mr. McGowan said it goes from the basement to the attic. There are currently doors between the two sides of the house, but these will be removed and the openings sealed to create the two units. One unit will have one bedroom, probably suited for only two people; the second unit would have two bedrooms, for at most 4 people. He would not object if a limit were placed on the number of residents per unit. He explained that he owns a number of rental units in the Newtown area; all are occupied by small families or young professional people.
The members discussed some of the usual conditions the Commission recommends to be placed on conditional use approval. Mr. Whartenby said he would not want to include the condition prohibiting “hazardous, flammable or explosive material to be stored or used in the building.” He said that while this makes sense for commercial properties, it would limit the residents of the units from having outdoor grills or gardening tools. The members discussed possibly placing a condition limiting the amount of hazardous or flammable materials, to allow some small quantity for a propane grill or gas for lawn mowers, but decided to eliminate this condition entirely.
Mr. Cohen said that there has been no mention of a possible condominium conversion. He suggested that the Commission consider whether to make any recommendation to prohibit this.
Mr. Sensibaugh said that he did not want to limit this, as sometimes owners have been more reliable tenants than renters. Such a condition could restrict the current owner.
The members agreed not to address this in its recommendation.
Mr. Fidler asked whether there are plans for any outdoor amenities.
Mr. McGowan said that he will still have about 90 square feet for additional impervious surface, which would be needed for stoops for the four doors. He might want to add a deck or porch.
Mrs. Beasley moved to recommend that the Board of Supervisors grant conditional use approval to Bradley McGowan for 12 Frost Lane for a B-16 residential conversion use subject to the following conditions and variances granted by the Township:
Mr. Whartenby seconded.
Discussion of motion: The members again discussed whether to restrict or limit storage of flammable or hazardous materials, but decided not to include reference to this as a condition.
The motion passed 8-0.
Subcommittee & Liaison Reports
Joint Zoning Council: Mr. Fidler reported that at its last meeting the Joint Zoning Council reorganized, naming Chester Pogonowski as chairman and Jerry Schenkman as treasurer. Newtown Township’s Solicitor, Jeffrey Garton, will serve as Jointure Solicitor for the next two years. The Council discussed possible amendments to be brought to the Jointure in 2010, including zoning ordinances addressing green energy. There was also some discussion of removing the Melsky tract from the Federal Cemetery Overlay District ordinance. Wrightstown and Upper Makefield were not supportive of this idea, in part because each municipality has had its zoning impacted by the FCO; Wrightstown will have two schools and Upper Makefield has concerns about public water. Both municipalities are waiting to see whether Toll and Leo Holt complete the purchase of the Melsky tract and to see whether the County purchases the open space adjoining the cemetery.
Mr. Sensibaugh said that there was also some discussion about moving forward with the historic ordinance. There are concerns about placing burdens on owners of historic properties but also concern that some historic structures will experience demolition by neglect. It is expected that the ordinance will be sent back to the individual planning commissions for further review.
Historic Architectural Review Board: Mrs. Driscoll reported that HARB has moved its meeting to the second Thursday at 9:30 AM.
Other Business: The Planning Commission received an invitation from Borough Council member Mike Sellers to attend, along with the Borough Planning Commission, a visioning presentation by the Newtown Creek Coalition on February 2, 2010. Mr. Sensibaugh said that he expected the presentation to include some reference to plans for the redevelopment of the Stockburger property. He reviewed the content of a previous presentation by the Newtown Creek Coalition which included some slides of other municipalities’ redevelopment of properties facing rivers and streams. Mr. Sensibaugh urged the Commission members to attend this meeting, as it would give the members an opportunity to interact with the Borough counterparts in an informal setting to discuss the concept plan being proposed for the Stockburger property.
Mr. Fidler noted that the Borough is considering a phasing in of the plan which would not only be developed in phases, but also reviewed and approved in phases. The portion of the plan which would move the state store from Centre Avenue to the Stockburger Chevy showroom property would be expedited.
Mrs. Beasley asked whether the Planning Commission’s participation in the Creek meeting would have to be directed by the Board of Supervisors.
Mr. Fidler confirmed with the recording secretary that the Planning Commission would not have any applications for review on February 2, 2010 and asked that reference to the meeting be included in the written synopsis to be submitted to the Board of Supervisors. He would then ask for Board input at the January 27, 2010 meeting.
The members agreed that if the Board was not opposed, attendance at the meeting could be beneficial.
In response to Mrs. Beasley’s question, Mr. Sensibaugh said that the Newtown Creek Coalition is an informal organization currently under the umbrella of the Newtown Corporation. Interested Township and Borough members participate in the monthly meetings to discuss the future of the creek as an asset to the community.
Mr. Sensibaugh announced that the Newtown’s 21 st Century Voice group would sponsor a town hall meeting on February 28, 2010 at the George School at 2:00 PM to discuss the SEPTA R-8 rail line. It is expected that the Borough Council and Board of Supervisors will attend.
Mr. Iapalucci announced that the skate park committee would meet on Wednesday, January 27, 2010 in Community Room #2.
Mr. Fisher moved to adjourn at 8:50 PM. Mrs. Driscoll seconded and the motion passed 8-0.
Mary Donaldson, Recording Secretary