NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP PLANNING COMMISSION
100 MUNICIPAL DRIVE, NEWTOWN, BUCKS COUNTY, PA 18940
Minutes of the meeting held on June 1, 2010
Present: Chairman Allen Fidler, Paul Cohen, Peggy Driscoll, Dennis Fisher, and Michael Iapalucci, members. Also in attendance were: Michele Fountain, Township Engineer, John Torrente, Township Solicitor, Stacy Yoder, Township Planner and John Boyle, Township Assistant Manager.
Call to Order: Chairman Fidler called the meeting to order at 7:30 PM.
Approval of Minutes: Mr. Fisher said that although the minutes of April 20, 2010 show that he was late, his arrival is not noted. He said he remembered walking in during the Ace Hardware Zoning Hearing Board review.
Mr. Fisher moved to accept the minutes of April 20, 2010 with the above correction. Mrs. Driscoll seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Bucks County Planning Commission Executive Director Lynn Bush was in attendance to review some research she has done on amendments to the JMZO.
Historic Preservation Ordinance: Mr. Fidler explained that some years ago the Jointure had wanted to create a historic preservation ordinance to prevent demolition by neglect. A draft amendment had been circulated among the Jointure partners. The Planning Commissions had agreed that the proposed amendment could prove a burden to owners of historic homes who wished to make improvements or alterations for their continued use. The Commissions were more concerned with the demolition of historic structures either deliberately or through neglect at times of redevelopment of properties.
Ms. Bush explained that the Municipal Planning Code has provisions for zoning ordinances to protect historic resources. She had listened to the concerns of the Jointure about the previously drafted ordinance and had attempted to outline ideas for what should be included in a future ordinance and is asking the three Jointure Planning Commissions to provide some feedback before a new amendment is drafted.
The first principle Ms. Bush outlined is to require identification of Historic Resources as part of the development process. The Township has already completed its inventory of historic structures. By clearly identifying any structure on development plans, the Commission and Board of Supervisors will be better prepared to address the structure’s preservation as part of redevelopment. She said that currently plans for land development will have lightly outlined existing structures with notes saying, “to be removed.” When the Planning Commissions review these plans there is no indication whether the existing structures are historically significant and deserving of special consideration. By requiring the developer to mark “historic structure” the Townships can consider how and whether the structures should be preserved.
Mr. Fidler said that there have been a number of instances when the Township has required the historic structure to be preserved and sold as a separate lot. Frequently this process is not undertaken until the end of the project, at which time the structure has suffered additional deterioration, sometimes making preservation almost impossible. He suggested that the new ordinance should require that the preservation should be part of the earliest phase of development to insure protection.
Mr. Iapalucci said that he recalled an instance of a historic barn being dismantled with the aim of reconstruction or re-use of the boards elsewhere, but those boards were lost. He said that he would favor preservation at the original location.
Mr. Fidler agreed, noting that the stone house next to Newtown Rental had been moved to accommodate a development plan and that house has been falling into disrepair at its new, less desirable location for almost ten years.
Ms. Bush said that when attempting to preserve historic structures the amendment should have a provision to allow sufficient land to accommodate historic resources, to allow the historic structure to maintain the context, outbuildings and useful areas to make it a viable and desirable site. To accomplish this, some concessions involving lot size and setback within a development may need to be considered.
Mr. Iapalucci asked whether this would mean not including the historic structure in calculations for land use.
Ms. Bush said that when a new development is built for example, on half acre lots, but the historic farmhouse is renovated and also squeezed onto a small lot, it loses some of the significance of the original use. Perhaps it would be better to allow sufficient land around that one house, but allow the land surrounding to be counted against open space requirements.
Mr. Fisher said that he would be very supportive of providing some incentives such as this to preserve historic structures.
Ms. Bush said that any proposed amendment should have provisions to protect the physical characteristics of villages. This is of more concern to Wrightstown and Upper Makefield.
Ms. Bush briefly discussed providing additional use opportunities such as office uses, bed and breakfasts and libraries.
Mr. Iapalucci mentioned that some developments incorporate the historic structure in their common facilities plans, using the building as a clubhouse or meeting place. He had concerns about these structures becoming subject to the homeowners associations’ requirements, such as specific trim colors.
Mr. Cohen said that when the developer is preparing homeowners documents, the historic structure could be preserved and not subject to the same requirements. He said this would make sense particularly when the historic home remains a residence but is surrounded by the new construction, even if that home becomes a member of the HOA.
Mr. Cohen also said that it is important to provide some incentives to developers so that the developers feel a spirit of cooperation in the preservation of historic structures; this will avoid challenges to the ordinance.
The members were all supportive of the four principles outlined by Ms. Bush’s memo.
Energy Ordinance: Ms. Bush explained that the JMZO does not specifically address alternative energy sources such as solar, wind, outdoor wood-fired boilers or geothermal systems. She reviewed some existing ordinances as well as DEP requirements and made some recommendations dealing in particular with setbacks and height. She noted that the DEP has drafted a model ordinance for wood fired boilers as there is some concern about air quality.
Ms. Bush said that because of its lower elevations, Bucks County is not conducive to successful use of wind energy.
Mr. Fidler said that the existing ordinances would address windmills as accessory structures. These would require large setbacks. He had some concern about the economic viability of wind energy as well.
Ms. Fountain said that she thought a study had been done on the viability of wind energy for the Township building.
Mr. Cohen said that wind turbines could be regulated because of the noise they generate.
Mr. Cohen said that there is nothing in the ordinance to prohibit or regulate solar panels.
Ms. Driscoll said that she lives in a development with a homeowners association. One of her neighbors is interested in putting solar panels on his roof and exterior wall. Some of her neighbors are a little unhappy with the appearance.
The members agreed that the ordinance should address solar fields.
The Commission discussed outdoor wood fired boilers. Mr. Fidler said that he is aware of a few of these in use in Wrightstown.
Ms. Bush said that because of concerns with air quality, the DEP has some model ordinance language available. DEP’s recommendations include:
The members briefly discussed geo-thermal systems. Mr. Fidler asked about whether these systems would require more than 10,000 gallons of water, as the Delaware River Basin Commission would require a permit.
Ms. Bush said that she was not sure.
Ms. Bush said that she would recommend that when the Jointure is ready, each alternative energy form should be addressed by a separate ordinance.
Municipal Services Agricultural Overlay Zoning District: Mr. Fidler reminded the Commission that this ordinance had already been reviewed a few months ago. The members had some questions about the proposed five foot setbacks. None of the members is familiar with the dimensions of the property, the existing structures or the plans Wrightstown has for alternative uses.
Ms. Bush suggested that she would try to get aerial photographs of the property.
Mr. Fidler said he would speak to Wrightstown’s Board of Supervisors Chairman Chester Pogonowski about Wrightstown’s plans for the property.
The recording secretary said that she also covers Wrightstown’s Planning Commission, which had recommended that the ordinance be redrafted to leave wider setbacks along Second Street Pike. She said that perhaps this is not the most recent draft. She would contact the Jointure Solicitor about this.
Sycamore Street Visioning: Ms. Bush said that she would return during the summer to discuss this project in greater detail. She will be formulating some questions to guide the Commission’s discussion, including setback and height restrictions.
Mr. Fidler said that he would like to include discussion of the paper streets. In the concept presentation Ms. Bush gave, these streets were opened to traffic. He questioned whether opening Howard Avenue would be realistic. He also said that he would like to include discussion of the economic viability of some of the concepts presented.
Mrs. Driscoll said that there are some homes in the area of the Howard Avenue paper street. She also thought there might be some drainage issues.
The members briefly discussed whether the Stockburger Chrysler site will be developed as a bank and if so, whether Howard Avenue would be used as an access point.
Subcommittee & Liaison Reports
Joint Zoning Council: Mr. Iapalucci reported that the Joint Zoning Council had begun consideration of a possible “adult entertainment” ordinance. The Jointure does not have any specific ordinance addressing this but in light of some recent issues elsewhere in the County, the members want to begin consideration of some amendment which would set aside a particular area for adult entertainment.
Mr. Fidler said that the Jointure Solicitor had circulated some sample ordinances from other municipalities but he suggested that the Planning Commission should wait until the Board of Supervisors asked for Planning Commission input.
Park and Recreation Board: The recording secretary reported that an Eagle Scout is proposing a project to build a monument honoring Veterans at the Woll tract park.
Mr. Fidler reported that he has received two DVD copies of Newtown Borough’s draft comprehensive plan. He said that the recording secretary will keep one copy to be made available to any interested member, while he would keep one to review in the next few weeks.
Ms. Fountain said that at recent meetings the Planning Commission had expressed interest in working with the Codes Department and the Environmental Advisory Council on a Newtown Township pamphlet which will advise residents on ways to mitigate the impact of increased impervious surface when they are considering home improvement projects such as patios and additions. She provided copies of a Philadelphia Water Department pamphlet and Whitpain Township’s residential handout on stormwater management for the members to review and discuss during our summer meetings.
Ms. Fountain shared with the members a draft of Bucks County Planning Commission’s Small Projects Site Plan Alternative Proposal, which is being developed to assist those proposing applicable projects to meet the requirements of the Neshaminy Creek Watershed Stormwater Management Plan.
Mr. Fidler reported that he has received an e-mail from a resident complaining about the lack of a left turn lane at the newly reconfigured intersection of Stoopville and Washington Crossing Roads. He suggested that the Commission discuss this with the traffic engineer who is scheduled to attend the July 20, 2010 meeting.
General Discussion: The members reviewed the calendar to plan for upcoming meetings. A few members have some scheduling conflicts on June 15, 2010 and July 6, 2010.
The recording secretary reported that no plans are scheduled for review until July 20, 2010. There are a few Zoning Hearing Board applications for the June 15, 2010 meeting.
Mr. Boyle reviewed a new, streamlined Zoning Hearing Board process, whereby, unless the Planning Commission recommends that the Board take action on an application, or two Board members have concerns about an application, applications will no longer be reviewed publicly at the Board of Supervisors meetings. Copies of applications will be circulated among the Board, however.
Mr. Boyle reviewed the applications which will go to the Zoning Hearing Board in July.
Mr. Fidler suggested that since the applications do not involve future land development, perhaps the Planning Commission could also review the applications and communicate via phone or e-mail any concerns they may have with other members of the Board of Supervisors. He asked that the recording secretary provide copies of the applications in the next packets.
Mrs. Driscoll moved to adjourn at 9:15 PM. Mr. Fisher seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Mary Donaldson, Recording Secretary