NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP PLANNING COMMISSION
100 MUNICIPAL DRIVE, NEWTOWN, BUCKS COUNTY, PA 18940
Minutes of the meeting held on July 19, 2011
Present: Vice Chairman Robert Whartenby and Paul Cohen (late), Peggy Driscoll, Dennis Fisher, Larry Galley and Michael Iapalucci, members. Also in attendance were Michele Fountain, Township Engineer, John Torrente, Township Solicitor, Kevin Kochanski, Township Planner and Jerry Schenkman, Township Supervisor.
Call to Order: Mr. Whartenby called the meeting to order at 7:30 PM.
Approval of Minutes: Mr. Whartenby moved to approve the minutes of June 21, 2011. Mr. Iapalucci seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
(Mr. Cohen arrived at this point.)
Wen-Hamilton, LLC – 54-84 Durham Road: Attorney Ed Murphy and Engineer Heath Dumack reviewed this application for relief for increased impervious surface, steep slopes and disturbance of a floodplain for construction of an assisted living facility in the R-1 zoning district. Because of additional right-of-way being included in the base site calculation, the percentage of steep slopes and of the impervious surface has changed.
Mr. Dumack reviewed the plans and noted that each individual lot at the site was originally terraced so that the entire property has a slope. The actual square footage of disturbance has not changed since Zoning Hearing Board relief was last granted.
Mr. Iapalucci asked whether the disturbance will impact the stormwater management.
Ms. Fountain said that the disturbance is addressed in the stormwater management plan. Floodplain soils, not floodplains, are being disturbed.
Mr. Kochanski said that there is no new disturbance since the last variance; only the percentage has changed.
The members agreed to pass this application to the Supervisors without comment.
Daniel Benster – 24 Cloverlee Lane: Daniel Benster was in attendance to review this application for a special exception for construction of two additions to his home, one in the front and one in the rear, on a non-conforming lot. He has lived in his home for 13 years.
Mr. Cohen asked about the non-conformity.
Ms. Fountain said that the home was built in 1952, predating the Ordinance. The minimum lot size and width is non-conforming.
Mr. Whartenby asked whether the additions will be two stories.
Mr. Benster said that the additions will be two stories and will match the existing roof line. The deck will wrap around the house.
Mr. Whartenby suggested that Mr. Benster bring some letters of support from his surrounding neighbors when he goes to the Zoning Hearing Board. This is not a requirement and the Township will be notifying all property owners within 500 feet of his property.
Mr. Fisher explained that the Township’s new stormwater management ordinance has taken effect and will require that the additional impervious surface be addressed by stormwater management. This might require some kind of tree planting or seepage beds.
Mr. Benster said that he would speak to his contractor about this.
The members agreed to forward this application to the Supervisors without comment.
Beneficial Bank, 34 South Sycamore Street– Preliminary as Final Plan and Conditional Use: Attorney John VanLuvanee, Engineer Joel Dellicarpini, Architect David Schultz and Joseph Coyle of Beneficial Bank were in attendance to review these applications for a bank at the intersection of Centre Ave/Richboro Road and Sycamore Street. This application shows a 3186 square foot two story branch bank building with associated parking, access drive improvements, landscaping and stormwater management facilities in the TC, Town Commercial zoning district. The existing auto showroom is to be demolished.
Mr. VanLuvanee explained that the applicant would like to proceed with the Land Development Approval and Conditional Use approval together. He has contacted the Township Solicitor about an extension to September 30, 2011. He said that after this evening’s review, the plans would be revised to comply with the review letters and the applicant would return to the Planning Commission for a second review and a recommendation for preliminary as final plan approval. The plans cannot be revised until two questions are addressed. Howard Avenue and German Avenue appear as private paper streets whose ownership goes to the center line. If the streets are deemed to be Township streets, then the property lines and base site calculations would be different. Calculation of natural resources, including steep slopes, will be impacted. The property has less than 4000 square feet of steep slopes, which are manmade. This is a legal matter to be discussed with the Township Solicitor.
Ms. Fountain noted that the Ordinance makes no distinction between natural and manmade steep slopes. The Township’s policy has been to send applicants to the Zoning Hearing Board for relief to disturb steep slopes, whether natural or manmade.
Mr. VanLuvanee discussed the conditional use application for use E-4, Financial Establishment. The expected number of employees would be an average of six and maximum of ten. The hours of operation the applicant is requesting would be 7:30 AM to 9:00 PM, Monday through Friday, and Saturday and Sunday from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM. It is not the applicant’s intention to remain open all of these hours, but to have flexibility to adjust the hours in response to the customers’ needs. The bank would have a twenty-four hour ATM in the vestibule. The use would not involve hazardous materials and would have no negative impact on the community. Deliveries would be by UPS type trucks a few days per week, and an armored car twice each week. For security reasons, the applicant would not want to designate a specific parking spot or loading berth for the armored car. The required parking is 32 spaces and the plan shows 41 spaces.
Mr. Coyle said that the additional parking would be offered to community groups to be used for overflow parking.
Mr. VanLuvanee said that the impervious surface is being decreased by 25%. Current stormwater management standards would be applied; no stormwater management exists at the site today.
Mr. Cohen asked whether the parking would be available to the public.
Mr. Coyle said that the parking area would not be gated or locked. The bank would not object to public use of the lot during off hours, for example for restaurant overflow parking in the evenings or for community events.
Mr. Whartenby asked about a discrepancy in the building’s square footage on the application and on the plan.
Mr. Dellicarpini said that the building has an overhanging roofline and the covered porch area was included in the square footage of the plan.
Mr. Fisher noted that the Boucher and James review letter, under general comments, references the possible historic significance of the existing showroom.
Mr. VanLuvanee said that the applicant is aware of the Joint Historic Commission’s interest in the building and of the FDIC’s regulations regarding historic preservation. Mr. VanLuvanee has contacted the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, which has concluded that the demolition of the existing structure will have no effect on the Newtown Historic District and that Beneficial is in complete compliance with the applicable FDIC regulations.
Mr. Cohen said that design elements do come into play as part of conditional use requirements.
The Planning Commission moved to the reviews for land development.
Mr. VanLuvanee said that the applicant will comply with the review letter of the Fire Marshal dated May 17, 2011 and with the traffic engineer’s review dated May 25, 2011. Six parking spaces near the drive through will be marked as “employees only” and a note shall be added to the plan.
Mr. VanLuvanee agreed to provide the Township with a traffic study.
Mr. Iapalucci said that he has some concern about this plan as it relates to expected traffic from Newtown Borough’s proposed construction at the Stockburger property on State Street.
Mr. VanLuvanee said that this is addressed in the traffic study.
Mr. VanLuvanee again discussed the paper streets, Howard Avenue and German Avenue. It is his position that these have not been accepted and that there might have been a quiet title filed many years ago, He will be researching this as well as an easement with the Derry property for access to Sycamore Street. This will be further discussed with the Township Solicitor.
Mr. Iapalucci asked about the proposed use of the driveway onto Sycamore Street, as it will impact traffic.
Mr. VanLuvanee said that this property is private and is not accessing a State road, so is permitted access. The applicant can meet the design standards for a driveway or for a street, if it is determined that this is a street. He noted that the traffic is controlled by signals on the intersections and the access points are located away from the intersections.
Mr. Whartenby said that perhaps discussion of traffic concerns should be postponed until the members have seen the traffic study. It might also be a good idea to have the Township Traffic Engineer in attendance when Beneficial returns for a second review.
Ms. Fountain noted that Newtown Borough has asked to be notified when traffic matters are being discussed. She suggested that Borough officials should also be supplied with a copy of the study.
Mr. VanLuvanee said that the applicant will comply with all lighting requirements.
Mr. Whartenby suggested that lighting be similar in appearance to the fixtures at Goodnoe Corner and with the Sycamore Street lighting.
Mr. VanLuvanee said that the applicant would agree to that.
The members reviewed the waiver requests, which include use of an aerial photograph in lieu of a survey, grading within 5 feet of the property line, preliminary as final review, scale of plans, existing ground cover to be used as pre-development in lieu of meadow condition, and release rates for stormwater. The members had no objections to the waivers.
Mr. VanLuvanee discussed the front yard setbacks. He explained that the Ordinance requires that the front yard setback be no further from the ultimate right of way than the minimum front yard, which is six feet, plus ten feet, unless the Supervisors approve a different setback. The proposed plan shows a 39 foot setback.
Mr. Schultz showed a series of photographs of the site from different locations and a digital model of the design. The model shows a two story brick building with coping, dormers and a sloped metal roof. The front entrance faces Richboro Road. At the intersection of Sycamore Street and Richboro Road is a brick plaza with benches and a flagpole and pedestrian access to the building.
The members discussed the drive through traffic circulation. Mr. Whartenby noted that the drive through aisle faces Sycamore Street and has a fence to shield the traffic from the street, although the Commission had asked for a wall to shield the drive through traffic.
Mr. Dellicarpini explained that the existing wall along Sycamore Street would remain in place, with s sloping lawn area. At the top of the slope would be the fence and hedge row. The bank’s drive through and parking will be 8 feet higher than the Sycamore Street sidewalk and fully shielded from the street. The fence will match the architecture of the building and will comply with other ordinance requirements. The fence could be chosen to match the surrounding area’s fences. The goal had been to avoid repeating the Sycamore Street wall.
Mr. Galley asked if there are other roofs in Newtown or at other bank branches that could be viewed for comparison to the proposed metal roof.
Mr. Coyle said that the Warrington branch building is very similar and has the same metal roof.
Mr. Coyle briefly discussed a room on the bank which serves as a financial library and would be available for community groups for meetings. There are such rooms in three other branches which have been shared with community groups; there have been no security concerns with the public use of the library rooms.
Ms. Fountain asked if the only use is financial establishment or whether a community meeting room use would also be sought.
Mr. Coyle said that the room would primarily be used for banking and financial education, only, with occasional meetings of other organizations.
Mr. Iapalucci said that he was disappointed that the new design was not in keeping with the Sycamore Street visioning which has been ongoing in the Township for a number of years. The bank is a single use; its main entrance is on Richboro Road; it does not contribute to the pedestrian friendly environment. After the first discussion with the applicant, he had expected a plan similar to Goodnoe’s Corner.
Mr. VanLuvanee said that there has been a great deal of marketing activity on this lot. It is not very large and multiple uses will not fit.
Mr. Galley asked whether the building could be oriented with the front door on Sycamore Street.
Mr. Cohen mentioned that the visioning had been for buildings closer to the sidewalk, creating a window shopping environment. He had concerns about the drive through windows facing Sycamore Street.
Mr. VanLuvanee said that the site will not accommodate the bank and drive through window and required parking with the front entrance on Sycamore Street. The building could be placed within the smaller setbacks, but that would eliminate the street corner public amenities.
Mr. Schenkman asked why Beneficial wants to build in Newtown.
Mr. Coyle said that many of the bank’s customers and competitors are in Newtown. This site would replace the site on the Bypass at Summit Square.
Resident Shawn Ward, representing the Sycamore Street Community Association, said that he had asked to be advised when this application is to be reviewed. His organization has spent a great deal of time and effort working with the Township on the visioning for Sycamore Street. He said that the plan is not in keeping with that vision and that the building should face Sycamore Street and have the streetscape setbacks closer to the sidewalk.
Resident Vince Lombardi, member of the Sycamore Street Community Association, said that he is concerned about the traffic on Sycamore Street, feels the fence is not appropriate and questioned whether the proposed use meets the requirements of the conditional use approval.
Mr. Dellicarpini said that if the orientation of the building were changed, customers would be forced to walk from their cars in the parking lot across the drive through stacking lanes. It could also create a dangerous circulation pattern in the parking lot.
Mrs. Driscoll said she is disappointed that the front entrance faces Richboro Road and the side wall and drive through aisle face Sycamore Street.
Mr. Ward read the requirements for conditional use approval from the Ordinance and noted that Section 1301 requires that the proposed use be “in the best interest of the community.” He felt the proposed bank was not in the community’s best interest and did not meet the conditional use criteria.
Mr. VanLuvanee said that approval cannot be withheld on such subjective considerations.
Mr. Cohen said that the Ordinance does permit the Planning Commission to consider subjective criteria when considering a conditional use.
Mr. VanLuvanee noted that the Sycamore Street visioning has not been made part of the Ordinance. The plan does meet the requirements of the Ordinance as written.
Mr. VanLuvanee said that he will be asking the Supervisors for approval of the 39 foot setback. He would like the Planning Commission to consider this and make a recommendation to the Supervisors.
Ms. Fountain again reviewed the Ordinance requirement of a 16 foot setback at this location. The Supervisors could approve a larger setback; the applicant is seeking an additional 20 feet from Sycamore Street. The building meets the setback requirements on Richboro Road.
Mr. Cohen said that if this is the only choice and the plans are to move forward, he would favor recommending that the Supervisors approve the additional 20 foot setback because it better shields the drive through aisle and preserves the additional greenspace and public amenities on the corner.
Mr. Fisher agreed to the additional setbacks for the same reasons.
Mr. Iapalucci asked whether any sign variances would be sought.
Mr. VanLuvanee said that he has not yet addressed signage for this location.
Mrs. Driscoll and Messrs. Whartenby, Cohen, Fisher, Galley, Iapalucci were in agreement that if the plan is to move forward, they would recommend to the Board of Supervisors that an additional 20 foot setback for the Sycamore Street side of the building should be granted.
Mr. Kochanski asked if the applicant could provide more information on his attempts to orient the building facing Sycamore Street or at an angle facing the intersection.
Mr. Schultz said that he could show these attempts at the next review. He again showed the design as seen from the south end of Sycamore Street, approaching the intersection of Richboro Road, to remind the members of the building’s appearance when driving into Newtown.
Board of Supervisors: Mr. Schenkman reported that the Supervisors had discussed the TC District Zoning with Bucks County Planning Commission Executive Director Lynn Bush. She is expected to begin drafting an ordinance shortly.
Environmental Advisory Council: Mr. Fisher reported that the EAC has begun drafting a pamphlet to address changes in the Stormwater Ordinance to help homeowners with their home improvement projects requiring stormwater mitigation.
Joint Historic Commission: Mr. Schenkman reported that the Commission has been considering extending the historic district to the end of Sycamore Street.
Mrs. Driscoll asked for an update on the signs inside the Beautyland shop in Newtown Shopping Center.
Mr. Hartey said that he has investigated this and the signs are not neon.
Mr. Iapalucci asked for an update on the signage at Applebee’s.
Mr. Hartey said that he has passed this to the Township Solicitor.
Ms. Fountain said that there is to be a meeting of the Solicitor and representatives of Applebee’s.
Mr. Iapalucci asked whether the approval for Ace Hardware in any way restricted displays on the sidewalk. He is concerned that so many products are placed outside in front of the store.Mrs. Driscoll moved to adjourn at 10:35 PM. Mr. Cohen seconded and the motion passed 6-0.
Mary Donaldson, Recording Secretary