NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP PLANNING COMMISSION
100 MUNICIPAL DRIVE, NEWTOWN, BUCKS COUNTY, PA 18940
Minutes of the meeting held on April 20, 2010
Present: Chairman Allen Fidler, Vice Chairmen Susan Beasley and Robert Whartenby, Paul Cohen (late), Peggy Driscoll, Dennis Fisher (late), Michael Iapalucci, Fred Olivari and Jay Sensibaugh, members. Also in attendance were Michele Fountain, Township Engineer, John Torrente, Township Solicitor, Kevin Kochanski, Township Planner, John Boyle, Township Assistant Manager and Jerry Schenkman, Township Supervisor.
Approval of Minutes: Mrs. Beasley moved to accept the minutes of March 16, 2010. Mr. Whartenby seconded and the motion passed 4-0-3, with Mrs. Driscoll, Mr. Fidler and Mr. Sensibaugh abstaining.
(Mr. Cohen arrived at this point)
Zoning Hearing Board Applications
Smith, Ace Hardware, 2670 South Eagle Road: George Smith was in attendance to review this application for variances for an individual establishment sign 84.2 square feet where 20 square feet is the maximum and with a height of 22 feet where 9 feet is the maximum. He presented a picture showing a sign which would meet the permitted size requirements and one showing the 84.2 square foot sign.
Mr. Cohen asked how the sign compares in size to the Petsmart sign.
Mr. Smith showed a photograph with the Ace sign projected and the Petsmart sign visible. The sign appears to be similar in size and height to the Petsmart sign.
Mr. Sensibaugh noted that there are two other slots on the building over the portion to be occupied by Ace Hardware.
Mr. Smith said he only intends to use the one sign. The other two slots will not be needed. He said that the building is set back from Eagle Road and the large sign is necessary to make the store visible to passing motorists.
Mr. Sensibaugh asked whether the sign would be lighted.
Mr. Smith said that the sign will have LED lighting from behind, similar to the Petsmart sign.
Mr. Olivari said that he agreed the sign needed to be visible from Eagle Road because the building is behind the bank building.
Mr. Fidler suggested that Mr. Smith make it clear to the Board of Supervisors and to the Zoning Hearing Board that the business will only have one sign.
(Mr. Fisher arrived at this point.)
The members agreed that they did not object to the size or height provided this is the only sign for the business. The size is necessary to be visible from Eagle Road. The Commission passed this application to the Board without further comment.
DMJ & Associates on behalf of Paul Lang, 201 Pheasant Run: the applicant was not in attendance to review this application for a variance to allow an 8 foot diameter roof mounted satellite dish without screening in the LI light industrial zoning district.
Mr. Whartenby said that he had some questions about the weight of the antenna and whether it could be supported by the roof. It appears that the dish will need to be tethered with concrete weights. He thought that the Zoning Hearing Board would need to be provided with information about the weight and the ability of the building to support the dish.
Mrs. Fountain said that she had similar questions, however she has learned that detailed structural information would be part of the permit application. The information would be reviewed and verified before any permit could be issued if the variance were granted.
Mr. Sensibaugh noted that this is a very large dish. He would have wanted a better understanding of the proposed use before making a recommendation to the Supervisors.
Ms. Fountain said that the use is H-12, and it is her understanding that the applicant has a television commercial editing business.
Mr. Cohen said that he has some question about the hardship. The owner of the building will not permit the roof to be penetrated to install screening. The applicant might have rented space elsewhere if this property cannot accommodate the needs of the business.
Mr. Iapalucci questioned whether some kind of screening would be possible.
Mrs. Beasley said that she has concerns that the dish will be visible from the Bypass. She also wondered whether the dish could be located elsewhere on the property in a location that could be screened.
The members were in agreement that there are a number of questions that should be answered before the applicant goes to the Zoning Hearing Board.
Mr. Sensibaugh moved to recommend that the Board of Supervisors send the solicitor to the Zoning Hearing Board to uphold the Ordinance unless the applicant provides the Board with sufficient details to reverse opposition. Mrs. Beasley seconded and the motion passed unanimously.
Sycamore Street Visioning: Buck County Planning Commission Executive Director Lynn Bush and her staff, Dave Sebastian and Maureen Wheatley were in attendance to review a conceptual design plan for Sycamore Street. The Bucks County Planning Commission first reviewed an inventory of Sycamore Street’s current land uses and existing setbacks and streetscape.
Ms. Bush said that Sycamore Street, which includes a historic district, is a mix of retail, residential and commercial uses. The aim is to continue with the mix of uses. On the east side of the street are a number of small parcels. The BCPC envisions allowing for infill in the style of Sycamore Center, the mixed use development on the northern end of Sycamore Street. This style preserves a streetscape, with parking in the rear.
For the west side of the street, BCPC created some sample concepts for the four largest parcels which could at some point become subject to redevelopment, including the former St. Andrew’s School, Goodnoe homestead, Bill Marsh Ford and Stockburger’s/McBride Chrysler. Included in the possible redevelopment is opening of the paper street known as Howard Avenue, which runs parallel to Sycamore Street and opening the path which runs between Newtown Presbyterian Church and Bill Marsh Ford. This path, if opened would cross over to Greene Street in Newtown Borough via a pedestrian bridge.
The presentation was accompanied by slides and a printed pamphlet with pictures of the various concept designs. Some of the large parcel designs featured rear entrances to businesses, parking accessed through “Howard Avenue” and public amenities such as pocket parks and piazzas.
Mr. Fidler say that he was supportive of the concepts as presented, particularly the front and rear entrances to businesses and the public amenities. His main concern was the additional vehicular accesses.
Mr. Schenkman said that the Board of Supervisors had seen this presentation at a recent work session. The members were open to possible future consideration of Howard Avenue but had some reservations about exposing the Church to increased traffic.
(Mr. Cohen left at this point)
Mr. Fidler said that he would like to see easier pedestrian access between the Borough and Township across the creek, but this would involve working with a number of private property owners, some who have concerns about access to the rear of their properties.
Mr. Sensibaugh said that these concepts will provide discussion points for long term planning.
The members discussed including access to the creek as part of long term planning for walkways or for outdoor dining.
Mr. Iapalucci had some concern about safety if all parking is at the rear of the buildings away from the streets.
Mr. Whartenby said that he did not think security and safety would be a concern because the plans as shown envision businesses with both front and rear entrances. These parking areas would not be deserted places.
Mr. Olivari questioned whether these plans would be economically viable for a developer.
Mrs. Driscoll said that in a better economy the plans could be very attractive. If the economy changes the plans and appropriate zoning will be in place.
Mr. Iapalucci noted that the Bill Marsh Ford property is a focal point of the plan and it does not seem that Bill Marsh Ford will leave Sycamore Street.
Mr. Whartenby suggested that Newtown Borough should be considered in discussions of long term planning such as this. The two municipalities would need to have plans supportive of one another. Certain aspects such as parking and pedestrian accessibility will require cooperation between the two municipalities.
The members briefly discussed ideas which had been part of the Stockburger property, including parking facilities.
Mrs. Beasley said that she has some concerns about the through street proposed next to the Church. In addition to bringing traffic so close to the Church, she also noted that the entrance is really a very short distance from Jefferson Street. This could have a very serious impact on traffic flow.
Paul Salvatore of Newtown Borough said that the he is very supportive of the concept but agrees with Mrs. Beasley about the cut through at the Church.
Ms. Bush said that the next step would be to review the current ordinances and eventually draft revisions. She would work with the Planning Commission to develop a series of questions to help the members focus on the uses, performance standards and possible bonuses to be offered to developers in exchange for providing the public amenities.
Subcommittee & Liaison Reports
Joint Zoning Council: Mr. Fidler reported that the Council spoke about the removal of the non-cemetery parcels from the Federal Cemetery Overlay District. There is some concern among the Wrightstown representatives that in order to create the FCO, Wrightstown agreed to take two schools on the Howe tract. The proposal to remove the parcels, including Melsky in Newtown, from the FCO would not change Wrightstown’s acceptance of the two schools although the other Jointure partners would no longer have the housing density on their parcels.
The Council also discussed addressing solar energy in an ordinance/
Newtown Area Regional Planning Commission: Mr. Sensibaugh reported that the Regional Planning Commission also discussed the FCO. The members continued discussion of an ordinance dealing with Chippewa Farm in Wrightstown. Although our PC recommended support of the amendment, Wrightstown would like to make some additional changes.
The Commission and Joint Zoning Council discussed some redundancies in the content of the meetings and the expense of having the solicitor participate in both meetings.
Park and Recreation Board: Mr. Whartenby reported that he is no longer able to serve as Park and Recreation liaison. Mrs. Beasley agreed to take this responsibility.
Environmental Advisory Council: Mr. Fisher reported that the EAC chairman gave a report to the Board of Supervisors about wildlife management. This report included data on deer/vehicle collisions. The EAC has been interviewing some wildlife management firms, including those conducting hunts in Upper and Lower Makefield. The chairman asked the Board to authorize the EAC to begin inquiries into a controlled hunt on Township owned land.
Mr. Fidler said that the report should be available on the Township Web site. He would ask the Board to post it when he gives his report next week.
Mr. Fisher said that he had discussed with the EAC the Planning Commission’s recent reviews of Zoning Hearing Board applications for increased impervious surface on residential expansions. During these reviews the Planning Commission had suggested that the applicants consider ways to address stormwater management on these small projects. The EAC members briefly discussed some simple solutions such as rain gardens and tree planting.
Ms. Fountain said that she discussed this with Mr. Fisher and had found a few printed guides, one from the city of Philadelphia and one from Whitpain Township. She will arrange for additional copies for the members of both the Planning Commission and EAC to review.
Mr. Fisher said that it might be helpful to residents planning home improvements to be given this information when they apply for permits and variances.
Newtown Creek Coalition: Mr. Sensibaugh reported that the Coalition is planning a clean up day on May 8 at 9:00 AM at the Centre Avenue Bridge. The clean up will focus on removal of invasive species.
Commission reviewed the letter of Carroll Engineering dated March 17, 2010 in response to PennDOT’s letter regarding the Terry Drive extension. The members discussed the economic benefits for the extension and thought the Newtown Business Commons Association might be able to provide some concrete information on the economic impact that traffic has on development in the Commons. Mr. Fidler aid he would ask Traffic Engineer Andrew Brown to focus his next quarterly report, at the first June meeting, on Terry Drive.
Old Business: Ms. Fountain reported that the Act 157 Neshaminy Creek Plan is moving along. New stormwater ordinances will have to be approved. Existing stormwater facilities will be grandfathered.
Mrs. Beasley moved to adjourn at 10:00 PM. Mr. Iapalucci seconded and the motion passed 8-0.
Mary Donaldson, Recording Secretary