NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP PLANNING COMMISSION
100 MUNICIPAL DRIVE, NEWTOWN, BUCKS COUNTY, PA 18940
Minutes of the meeting held on July 20, 2010
Present: Chairman Allen Fidler, Vice Chairmen Sue Beasley and Robert Whartenby, Peggy Driscoll, Dennis Fisher, Michael Iapalucci, Fred Olivari and Jay Sensibaugh, members. Also in attendance were: Michele Fountain, Township Engineer, John Torrente, Township Solicitor, Kevin Kochanski, Township Planner and John Boyle, Township Assistant Manager and Jerry Schenkman, Supervisor Liaison.
Call to Order: Mr. Fidler called the meeting to order at 7:30 PM.
Approval of Minutes: Mr. Sensibaugh moved to approve the minutes of July 6, 2010. Mr. Whartenby seconded and the motion passed 7-0-1, with Mr. Olivari abstaining.
Luis Flores Minor Subdivision, 595 Linton Hill Road – Sketch Plan: Attorney Charles Marte, Engineer Heath Dumack and Luis Flores were in attendance to review a sketch plan to subdivide a 13.31 acre parcel into three residential building lots in the CM Conservation Management Zoning District. Mr. Flores said that he would like to leave the area surrounding his home and accessory barns intact and create two additional lots in the wooded area to be used by his adult children for their homes. His adjacent neighbors’ properties have been similarly subdivided.
Mr. Marte said that the plans are not fully engineered, but some preliminary work has been done and the Township professionals have prepared review letters. It is apparent that some zoning relief will be needed.
Mr. Fidler said that at the sketch plan phase, the Planning Commission usually only reviews the concept for subdivision. Many of the members visited the site in preparation for this evening’s meeting. Mr. Fidler said that the property is heavily wooded in the area of the proposed subdivision. He questioned whether less relief would be required if the new lots were carved out of the open area where the existing accessory buildings are located.
Mr. Flores explained that his plan is to locate building lots for his children in the wooded area in order to keep his own home and accessory buildings intact. The additional homes, when built, will not impact his privacy as much.
Mr. Dumack explained that the property has a 1.5 acre pond, waters of the Commonwealth, steams and the existing home site. The plan creates two flag lots in the wooded area, connected by a shared 10 foot wide driveway with two passing areas and a teardrop shaped cul-de-sac where the two homes access the driveway. Relief will be needed to cross the waters of the Commonwealth and the stream, for disturbance of agricultural soils and for crossing wetlands and riparian buffers. The project will use a stormwater management system under the existing driveway.
Mr. Dumack said that the bridge at Linton Hill Road was recently reconstructed; the same engineering principles will be used for this project’s crossing. Flood studies will be needed.
Mr. Sensibaugh questioned whether the Ordinance limits the length of the driveways on flag lots.
Mr. Dumack and said that the Ordinance’s limit is upwards of 300 feet.
Ms. Fountain said that she would confirm the exact permitted flag driveway length, but this project’s driveway will probably be considerably shorter than the limit. The proposed driveway will straddle the lot lines to help reduce the impact of impervious surface on each lot.
The Commission briefly discussed emergency access to the two lots during bad weather as The Bucks County Planning Commission had asked about fire engine access.
Mr. Dumack said that the plans would need to be reviewed by the fire marshal, however it is his understanding that the largest equipment could turn around using a “K” turn if necessary.
Mr. Flores said that he is attempting to keep his home area intact, have minimal disruption to his neighbors and still create building lots for his children. He said that the neighbors to the north are also subdividing and building.
Mr. Fidler explained that while his desire to create homes for his children is understandable, the Planning Commission must keep in mind that once the property is subdivided and variances are granted, the property can be sold. The Commission must keep in mind the environmental impact the subdivision would have on the Township. He asked each member to comment on the concept before the review letters are discussed.
Mr. Olivari said that because the three lots will all be at least 3 acres each he would be supportive of the plan.
Mrs. Driscoll said that she is supportive of the concept but would like to see some effort made to reduce the number and scope of the variances needed as much as possible. She expressed some concern that the wooded area is very wet.
Mr. Marte said that much of the relief needed will be minimal, for example the wetland crossings are very close to what is permitted. He noted that Mr. Flores’ neighbors have been supportive of this concept.
Mr. Iapalucci asked about the proposed wetland crossings.
Mr. Dumack explained that there is a swale; the crossing will use a 15 inch pipe under the driveway.
The members briefly discussed the proposed driveway, suggesting possibly two different street entrances rather than one shared drive for the three lots. They also suggested using crushed stone rather than paving, or creating a shared driveway with the adjoining property, which is also being subdivided.
Ms. Fountain said that the adjoining property has similar plans, with a driveway at the northern portion of the lot, farther away from this proposed driveway.
Mr. Iapalucci asked about a sign on the property indicating that it is a wildlife preserve.
Mr. Flores said that the original owner of the property had been a member of an environmental club which posted the property, restricting hunting and trapping. This was not any official action and the property is not in any way registered as a wildlife preserve, nor is it deed restricted.
The members discussed stormwater concerns and plans for a system under the proposed driveway. Mr. Whartenby said that with more detailed topography information, the applicant might be able to reduce the need for some of the variances. He asked whether the wetland delineations have been accepted.
Mr. Dumack said that he is awaiting acceptance on the wetland delineations.
Mr. Flores said that water flows toward his pond. He has never had flooding problems.
At Mr. Sensibaugh’s suggestion, the members briefly discussed preservation of the property, perhaps through the County’s natural lands program.
Mr. Flores would like to preserve as much of the wooded area as possible while leaving his home and accessory buildings intact, but still creating lots to keep his family close by.
Mr. Fisher noted that the plans call for disturbance of agricultural soils, which has been an issue with other proposed development plans.
The Commission reviewed the letters of CKS Engineers and Boucher and James. Mr. Marte indicated that many of the points are “will comply.” The applicant will widen the driveway to 12 feet and add bump outs for vehicles to pass. A survey has not been completed so there are no base site calculations yet. Infiltration testing will be done to determine whether the proposed stormwater system under the driveway will be acceptable.
Mr. Sensibaugh asked about floodways, floodplains and the 100 year storm.
Ms. Fountain confirmed that a floodplain study will be required. The wetland delineation must be approved by the Army Corps of Engineers and given a jurisdictional determination.
Mr. Fidler asked whether the property will be served by public water and sewer.
Mr. Dumack said that each lot will have on-lot well water but will connect via a forced main to the man hole on Linton Hill Road.
Residents Mark and Chi Wanichi Haber said that they appreciate that the plans have kept development to the north portion of the lot. They had some concerns about the impact on the stream, which flows through their property and they were concerned about the removal of large trees.
Mr. Flores again stated that he will attempt to preserve as much of the woodlands as possible.
Mr. Schenkman said that he visited the site and appreciates the Planning Commission’s discussion of ways to reduce the need for variances and ways to preserve the woodlands. He will report to the Board of Supervisors about the discussion.
Mr. Fidler said that, as this is a sketch plan, no formal vote of recommendation will be made for the Board of Supervisors. The goal of this evening’s discussion is to make the applicant and the Township’s consultants aware of areas of concern. The Township’s professional consultants will determine the next step.
The Barn/LaStalla, 18 Swamp Road – Continued Review: Attorney Don Marshall was in attendance to ask the Commission to continue its review until the August 3, 2010 meeting. LaStalla has contracted with a sound consultant who will be running tests next week. Mr. Marshall would prefer working with the Planning Commission after it has been determined whether the sound can be reduced and the impact mitigated.
Mr. Fidler said that he had received a letter from Julia Woldorf, Newtown Borough Council President, urging the Commission to recommend that the conditional use amendment be denied, as the loud amplified music has a negative impact on Borough residents. Mr. Fidler said that the issue of concern to the Commission is not the extended hours of operation, as many of LaStalla’s competitors have late night hours. The outdoor entertainment and amplified music is a nuisance. The change in the hours might not be a hurdle if the noise issue could be resolved. The Commission members agreed that the applicant might be more successful if each issue were pursued separately.
Mr. Marshall said that he would proceed to the Board of Supervisors on both issues after the sound engineer has measured levels and the Commission has had an opportunity to discuss ways to mitigate the noise. It would be the Board’s decision whether to consider each issue separately. Mr. Marshall provided copies of a map outlining all of the recent police complaints about noise and reviewed the twelve calls on nine dates. He noted that on three of the calls, the police found no issue.
Mrs. Driscoll said that both previous conditional use approvals did not permit outdoor music. She urged the applicant to move the entertainment indoors. She also asked about the requirement to provide valet parking.
Mr. Marshall said that the applicant had provided a valet, but it was not necessary, as parking has been adequate. Should it become necessary again, the valet will be re-instated.
Mrs. Beasley asked that the applicant attempt to comply with the requirements of HARB to preserve the historic barn. The original plans approved by HARB did not have the outdoor bar. Some of the conditions agreed to by the previous owner have not been implemented.
Newtown Borough resident Noelle Finley urged the Commission to not recommend approval of the outdoor entertainment. She noted that she has reviewed the police reports and most are for loud music after 1:00 AM on weekday evenings. Outdoor entertainment and late weekday hours are not permitted in the 2007 conditional use. The restaurant has ample indoor space to move the entertainment indoors. Ms. Finley noted that there have been no complaints of noise for the Green Parrot, Lily’s or the Clubhouse, all which have outdoor patios. She expressed concern that if LaStalla is permitted outdoor entertainment, all of the other venues will want the same.
Borough Resident Janet Beasley said that her family is kept awake by loud thumping and whooping at her home on Court Street. She urged the sound consultant to take measurements at this and other locations in the Borough.
Mr. Iapalucci asked whether Ms. Beasley is ever bothered by music at The Temperance House, which is only one block away.
Ms. Beasley’s husband, Brian Titus, said that when he was first bothered by the music he walked around the neighborhood to trace the source, which he had assumed was the Temperance House. The music is definitely coming from LaStalla’s outdoor patio.
Borough Council President Julia Woldorf said that she has spoken to Borough Police who have told her that complaints are coming from as far away as Elm Street in Newtown Borough. She asked that the consultant take measurements throughout the area of the complaints. She said it is possible that the topography is contributing to sound traveling through the Borough but not disturbing closer neighbors.
The Commission agreed that the sound consultant should take measurements at the property line and at various locations in both the Township and Borough where complaints have been made.
Mr. Boyle said that the noise ordinance as well as the conditional use approval addresses both noise and vibration.
Borough Resident Justin Lewis said that he has been disturbed by the thumping bass sounds until 2:00 AM on weekdays at his Chancellor Street home. He urged the Commission to work toward some kind of compromise to reduce the late night music.
In response to Borough residents’ questions, Mr. Fidler explained that although the Township has issued violation notices, the applicant has elected to appeal by way of amending its conditional use. Once the conditional use approval has been decided, the applicant will have to comply with either a new approval or cease its activity and comply with the 2007 approval. He said that he would hope that some compromise solution will be reached.
Mr. Marshall invited Commission members to observe the sound measuring procedure.
Ms. Woldorf said that she has some concern about the expanded entertainment uses which might become part of the Sycamore Street visioning.
Mr. Fidler said that the Commission has been discussing promoting a mix of retail, restaurant, business and residential uses for the Sycamore Street area. When including residential uses in a business district there is added concern about noise, glare and odor. The Commission will be considering these concerns as they make recommendations on future permitted uses.
Mr. Fidler reminded those in attendance that the Commission would continue its discussion at the August 3, 2010 meeting and the Board would hold a hearing on August 11, 2010.
Subcommittee & Liaison Reports
Board of Supervisors: Mr. Schenkman reported that the Board approved the Honey Baked Ham conditional use. The Board has been reviewing the Township Employee Pension Investment Policy Statement.
Mr. Schenkman said that he has been acting as liaison to the Joint Historic Commission. He suggested that a liaison to this group from the Planning Commission might be beneficial.
Newtown Area Regional Planning Commission: Mr. Sensibaugh reported that the Commission and Joint Zoning Council, with the aid of Lynn Bush and Maureen Wheatley of the Bucks County Planning Commission and Jointure Solicitor Jeffrey Garton are fine tuning language for the Historic Preservation ordinance. It has been suggested that if historic structures are noted on plans before the transfer of land occurs, there might be less demolition by neglect of historic structures.
Historic Architectural Review Board: Mr. Fidler reported that he informed the Board of Supervisors that none of the Planning Commission members is available for the morning meetings of HARB. He suggested that HARB schedule afternoon or evening meetings, however the Board did not respond.
Mrs. Beasley noted that the Flores property had been owned by the Funk family, which subdivided its 23 acres to provide flag lots for the Funk grandchildren. Only one of the Funk grandchildren has remained at the property. She said that when considering Mr. Flores’ application, the Commission must keep in mind that the subdivision will be permanent.
Mrs. Driscoll asked if there are any updates on the Acme/Promenade property.
Mr. Schenkman said he has only heard unconfirmed speculation but no actual updates.
Mr. Fidler reported that he, Mr. Sensibaugh and Mr. Fisher have received copies of a brochure from DVRPC addressing planning for the future. The brochure encourages municipalities to re-evaluate their 537 plans to accommodate development for the next twenty years.
Mr. Sensibaugh noted that DVRPC considers Newtown a Town Center with a high density downtown district.
Mr. Iapalucci moved to adjourn at 10:10 PM. Mr. Whartenby seconded and the motion passed 8-0.
Mary Donaldson, Recording Secretary