NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP PLANNING COMMISSION
100 MUNICIPAL DRIVE, NEWTOWN, BUCKS COUNTY, PA 18940
Minutes of the meeting held on June 21, 2011
Present: Chairman Allen Fidler, Vice Chairman Robert Whartenby, 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 Jerry Schenkman, Township Supervisor and Bucks County Planning Commission Executive Director Lynn Bush.
Application of Tsilya Mensh, 371A Washington Crossing Road: Tsilya Mensh was in attendance to review her application for a variance to erect a deer fence seven feet high to enclose her property. There are twenty or more deer coming very close to her house and she is worried about Lyme disease.
Mr. Fidler explained that the Joint Municipal Zoning Ordinance restricts height of fences and does not differentiate for deer fencing. There are also restrictions against any development in wetlands or waters of the Commonwealth. This property also has some easements, which would have to be respected.
Mr. Whartenby noted that deer fencing can be rolled back and are not considered permanent, as far as access to the easement is concerned.
Mr. Fidler said that he was not sure whether the Zoning Hearing Board could grant relief for construction in waters of the United States or waters of the Commonwealth.
Mr. Torrente said that he would speak to the Supervisors’ solicitor about whether this falls to the Zoning Hearing Board or whether some kind of permit from the DEP is required.
Mrs. Driscoll said that she has some reservations about disturbance of an environmentally sensitive area.
Mr. Iapalucci said that he has some concern about the enclosure of the entire property. This could have an impact on the entire environment and disrupt the other wildlife. He asked whether the applicant had considered only fencing the portion of the property her family uses regularly, the lawns and driveways.
Mr. Whartenby said that he believed that DEP permits might be required. He also noted that if the entire property, and the adjacent property, are entirely enclosed, the deer migration pattern would be disrupted, forcing the deer into the road.
Mr. Fisher agreed that he was concerned about the environmental impact of enclosing the entire property. He also asked whether the adjoining neighbors have any objections.
Ms. Mensh said that her adjoining neighbor is seeking the same relief. The nearest neighbor, Mrs. Spector, has not expressed any concern.
Mr. Torrente asked about the fence height, because the sample data attached to the application indicated that the fencing is 7.5 feet.
Mr. Fidler noted that the fence is folded under at the bottom to keep deer from going under the fence.
Bucks County Planning Commission Executive Director Lynn Bush said that some of the municipalities in the more rural areas of the County have exempted deer fencing from their fence ordinances. These fences are not really visible and they are used to protect farm crops. Exceptions have been added to many zoning ordinances for this type of fencing.
Mr. Iapalucci said that he would favor recommending that the Supervisors oppose this application, as presented.
Mr. Fidler said that he understood the applicant’s concerns about safety and the health of her children, so would not oppose a smaller enclosure.
Ms. Mensh said that she would work with the Zoning Hearing Board to come up with a smaller enclosure. She is willing to compromise. She said that her goal is to provide a safe environment for her children.
Ms. Fountain pointed out that the stormwater management plan for this property has recently changed to include stormwater berms. No fencing should be installed upstream of the new berms.
Mr. Fisher suggested that the Commission forward this application to the Supervisors, pointing out that if the enclosure size were reduced significantly and if any required permits from the DEP were obtained, the Planning Commission would not be opposed to the application.
Application of Yelena Zusina, 371B Washington Crossing Road: This application, for the property adjacent to the Mensh property, also sought permission for a 7 foot deer fence.
Mr. Fidler asked Ms. Zusina if she would agree to the same recommendations as her neighbor, to reduce the size of the enclosure to only include the portion of the property her family regularly uses and to seek any necessary permits from the DEP.
Ms. Zusina said that she would work with Ms. Mensh and with the Township to plan a smaller enclosure and would cooperate with any DEP requirements.
The Commission members agreed to forward this application to the Supervisors with the same comments as the Mensh application; that is to not oppose the application if the enclosure size were significantly reduced and if any required DEP permits were obtained.
Application of Bucksrocks, LLC, 2950 South Eagle Road: Applicants Paul and Janine Pollock were in attendance to review this application for a commercial school in the PC District. The proposed music school is one of 70 franchises of Philadelphia’s School of Rock. The proposed commercial school will offer music lessons, rehearsal and performance instruction. Any shows or recitals by students would be at an off-site location in Feasterville. Mr. Pollock pointed out that the proposed building is not part of the main Genuardi’s shopping center and has its own parking area. He noted that lessons can be as long as two or three hours, so frequently parents drop off their children then remain in the immediate area to shop or have dinner, so the school’s presence in the shopping center can bring additional customers to the existing businesses.
Mr. Iapalucci asked whether the school offers any scholarships.
Mr. Pollock said that he does not have a formal scholarship program, but makes lessons available to students whose financial situation might keep them from participating. This is done privately.
Mr. Whartenby said that he is supportive of the application because it will fill an empty space in the shopping center and the precedent has already been set with the karate school near Genuardi’s.
Mr. Fidler explained that the Zoning Hearing Board may have some questions about performances and about noise levels. He advised Mr. Pollock to be prepared to explain his off-site performance space and the proposed soundproofing for the space.
Mr. Whartenby suggested that Mr. Pollock should advise the other tenant in the building of his plan, and if possible, get a letter of support from him.
Mr. Pollock asked whether he would need an attorney or his contractor at the Zoning Hearing Board.
Mr. Torrente said that neither is required, but applicants have found that having professionals available to answer questions can be helpful.
The Commission members were in agreement that they would recommend that the Supervisors support this application.
JMZO Proposed Energy Ordinance: BCPC Executive Director Lynn Bush reminded the members that they had already begun to review proposed energy ordinances over one year ago. She provided members with a February 28, 2011 memo which each of the Jointure partners’ Planning Commissions will be considering. She explained that the proposed ordinance would address:
Mr. Iapalucci noted that under “solar energy equipment” there is a restriction on roof mounted panels, requiring that they be no more than one foot above the plane of the roof. He questioned whether the panels would still operate properly if they could not be angled toward the sun.
Mr. Whartenby said that solar technology is changing very fast and the one foot restriction would probably not be a problem. If any panels were to be more than one foot, they would need approvals or variances.
Ms. Bush said that there had been some discussion of a provision which would not require neighbors to trim or remove trees which block sunlight from the panels.
Mr. Fidler said that the proposed setbacks should address that concern. He also noted that the proposed ordinance would prevent homeowners associations from using their common ground open spaces to provide energy for the development.
Mr. Iapalucci asked whether homeowners associations could override the ordinance.
Ms. Bush said that the homeowners associations have different restriction abilities in different zoning districts, but that they probably can restrict solar energy panels which would be allowed by the ordinance. She would research this further.
Mr. Fidler said that he is concerned that the ordinance is only addressing larger parcels; this could restrict smaller properties from taking advantage of alternative energy sources.
Ms. Bush said that the ordinance is only setting the setback restrictions on ground mounted panels. There are no property size restrictions on rooftop mounted panels.
Regarding wood fired boilers, Mr. Fidler asked about the restriction of use from October 15 through April 1. This would prevent the use of the boilers for heating hot water or for pool heating. He asked about using other fuels, such as coal and corn pellets.
Ms. Bush said that the concern with using the boilers in the warmer months had been with smell and smoke. She would research this and other fuels further.
Mr. Fisher suggested having the same setback requirements for both solar and wood fired boilers.
The members discussed wind energy. Mr. Fidler said that the draft prohibits using open space for wind generation. This might be challenged by homeowners associations which want to generate energy for the developments. He asked whether the vertical or horizontal wind generators have different setback requirements.
Ms. Bush said that she met with Omni Wind to discuss the proposed ordinance. Omni Wind felt the proposed setbacks would be sufficient for a monopole of 75 feet. The draft ordinance does not suggest a minimum lot size, only setbacks. She will provide engineering information for catastrophic events.
Mr. Fisher and Mr. Schenkman briefly discussed the need for some kind of inspection for wind turbines.
Mr. Fidler said he would like to see some flexibility in regulating solar panels on flat roofs in the commercial districts. He did not think that wind farms would be economically feasible in the Jointure.
Ms. Bush said that she will take Newtown’s comments and include them in the next draft of the ordinance.
Dr. Mark Weglos, 759 Newtown Yardley Road – Preliminary as Final Plan: Attorney Ed Murphy and Engineer Heath Dumack were in attendance to review the plans for a 2067 square foot, single story building with associated parking, stormwater management and landscaping and driveway access improvements for a dental office. The site will have public water and sewer. The existing abandoned house is to be demolished. The applicant has been granted variances by the Zoning Hearing Board for the medical office use and a special exception for construction on a non-conforming lot.
The Commission reviewed the CKS letter dated May 11, 2011. Mr. Murphy said that the applicant is entitled to take advantage of the existing setback non-conformity.
Mr. Dumack referred to a comment on parking for a “warehouse” use. This was a misunderstanding; Dr. Weglos intends to store his own files in the basement of the building. It is not a warehouse, but a storage area. No additional parking will be required for this.
The Commission discussed the rights-of-way. The existing structure is in the ultimate right-of-way.
Mr. Fidler explained that some years ago the Township had planned to widen Newtown Yardley Road to create a boulevard from Terry Drive to the Bypass. This plan had been on the TIP for a time.
Mr. Dumack said that the building will be similar in appearance to the First National Bank of Newtown. The façade facing the street will be an emergency access, only. The main entrance will be through the rear of the building. The handicapped parking space is being reconfigured to allow sufficient room for emergency access to the rear of the building.
Mr. Murphy said that the plans will be revised to comply with the CKS letter, the Boucher and James letter and the fire marshal’s letter. The applicant has attempted to work with Newtown Swim Club on a shared access point. While Mr. Platt is supportive of the plan, he has not agreed to an access agreement. This had been referenced in the traffic consultant’s letter.
Mr. Murphy said that he would return to the Planning Commission with revised plans seeking a recommendation of preliminary as final land development approval.
Board of Supervisors: Mr. Schenkman reported that at the last Board meeting there were some lengthy comments about skate park noise.
Mr. Fidler said that the Supervisors chairman had asked for a more detailed review of the Newtown Borough Traditional Neighborhood Ordinance than the Commission had given. Mr. Whartenby has agreed to take a second look at the Ordinance and will attempt to give some idea of the maximum yield under this ordinance.
Newtown Area Regional Planning Commission/ Joint Zoning Council: Mr. Fidler reported that the two groups would be reviewing the energy ordinance and the historic preservation ordinance.
Historic Architectural Review Board: Mrs. Driscoll reported that HARB had reviewed the proposed colors and materials for the new deck on the Saloon.
Park and Recreation Board: The recording secretary reported that the Park and Recreation Board had reviewed and voted to recommend a fee in lieu of open space for the Beneficial Bank plans for the Stockburger property on Sycamore Street.
Environmental Advisory Council: Mr. Fisher reported that the EAC has been drafting a pamphlet to help residents address the new stormwater management requirements when they do home improvement projects.
General Discussion: Mr. Schenkman reported that he has been in discussion with some developers interested in building a hotel/conference center facility on the Bypass on the Stockburger property. If this plan moves forward, it may require a zoning change, adding the E-22 use to the Office Research zoning district.Mrs. Driscoll moved to adjourn at 10:20 PM. Mr. Fisher seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Mary Donaldson, Recording Secretary