NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP PLANNING COMMISSION
100 MUNICIPAL DRIVE, NEWTOWN, BUCKS COUNTY, PA 18940
Minutes of the meeting held on September 20, 2011
Present: Chairman Allen Fidler, Vice Chairman Robert Whartenby, Paul Cohen, Craig Deutsch, 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 Michael Hartey, Code Enforcement Officer.
Call to Order: Mr. Fidler called the meeting to order at 7:30 PM.
Approval of Minutes: Mr. Fisher moved to approve the minutes of September 6, 2011. Mr. Whartenby seconded and the motion passed 8-0.
Zoning Hearing Board
Steve Grosso, 522 Washington Crossing Road: Mr. Grosso and his future daughter-in-law, Sharon Martin were in attendance to review this application for relief from the rear yard setback requirement and for a special exception to construct a bedroom addition on the first floor of this house in the CM Conservation Management Zoning District.
Mr. Cohen asked whether the setback side of the house is wooded.
Ms. Martin said that the entire property is surrounded by woods and the new addition is not visible from neighboring properties.
Mr. Fisher asked whether the adjoining neighbors are aware of the plans.
Ms. Martin said that she has spoken to some of the neighbors; they have no objection.
Mr. Fidler suggested that letters of support from neighbors can be helpful when presenting to the Zoning Hearing Board.
The members were in agreement that this application should be forwarded to the Supervisors without comment.
Mr. Iapalucci moved to recommend that the Supervisors support this application to the Zoning Hearing Board. Ms. Driscoll seconded and the motion passed 8-0.
Newtown Business Commons Association, 3 Penns Trail/210 Penns Trail: Dick Weaver, Executive Director of the Newtown Business Commons Association was in attendance to review this application for relief to erect a monument sign closer than four feet from the right of way and within 1,000 feet of the Newtown Bypass. The proposed sign, at 48 square feet, also exceeds the permitted size.
Mr. Weaver explained that this sign would be placed on the Remax property at 210 Penns Trail, facing the Bypass and angled so as to be visible to vehicles traveling north from Woodbourne Road and east on the Bypass. The sign would include lettering for The Newtown Business Commons and the Hilton Homewood Suites logo and directional arrow.
Mr. Fidler explained that this sign had been contemplated during the planning for the hotel; it was listed as a condition for conditional use approval and escrow money was held for this and a second sign. The hotel name and logo had been part of discussion for the sign for many years.
Ms. Fountain read the condition from the 2005 approval to the members. She pointed out that this is the last remaining item before the project is certified as complete.
Mr. Fidler said that it is his understanding that the Newtown Business Commons Association is seeking approval for only one of the two signs, as the location of the second sign has not been approved by the property owners. Only Doug Terry has granted permission for a sign on his property.
Ms. Fountain reminded the Commission that the Township would hold escrow for the second sign.
In response to Mr. Schenkman’s question, Mr. Weaver said that the signs would cost about $14,000 each.
Mr. Schenkman said that it is his understanding that there is sufficient escrow withheld for both signs.
Mr. Weaver said that for many years, this location and the property at the intersection of Newtown Yardley Road and the Bypass had been chosen as appropriate locations for the signs.
Mr. Iapalucci said that he has some reservations about signage on the Bypass, but his main objection is to the hotel logo on the sign.
Mr. Cohen said that he was not sure this sign met the legal standard for a variance, as there is no undue hardship for the sign. He would not object to the size if the sign were located at the other entrance to the Commons at Terry Drive and Newtown Yardley Road.
Mr. Weaver reminded the members that this is not the only sign within 1000 feet of the Bypass. Ultrasound, Remax, Team Capital and Lockheed Martin have signs.
Mrs. Driscoll said that she is not supportive of the sign and would urge the Supervisors to uphold the Ordinance.
Mr. Iapalucci asked whether it would be possible to waive the requirement to construct the signs and return the escrow money to the hotel.
Ms. Fountain explained that the hotel would have to amend its conditional use application to remove the signage condition.
Mr. Iapalucci said that the current Supervisors should choose the location. The Township may decide to proceed with signage elsewhere.
Mr. Fisher moved to recommend that the current Supervisors oppose the location and the commercial advertisement on the sign. Mr. Iapalucci seconded.
Discussion of motion: Mr. Fidler said that the intention of the condition was well thought out. The location had been anticipated by the Supervisors at the time of approval. Mr. Weaver and former Township Manager Robert Pellegrino had worked to build a stronger, economically viable business park. He would support this variance.
Mr. Iapalucci said that he is opposed to the presence of a commercial business logo on the sign. If approved, other businesses will want similar advertisements on the Bypass.
Don Marshall, present at the meeting on another matter, said that he had been the attorney for the developers of the hotel, although he does not represent the current owners or managers. He noted that Mr. Weaver had worked tirelessly to revitalize the Business Commons and to attract a hotel to the Commons. Zoning was changed to permit the hotel use. It is essential to the hotel’s success to have signage on a major roadway, especially since the Township has not permitted a rooftop sign or any neon lighting to direct travelers to the location. The developer had agreed to pay for the monument signs because the hotel logo would also appear on the signs.
Mr. Schenkman said that although he had not been on the Board at the time of this approval, he has been the liaison to the Newtown Business Commons Association for many years. It has been the NBCA goal to erect a monument sign at this location for many years; it will help visitors find the Commons. This is the premiere business park in the County and we need to support it. There are over 175 businesses in the Commons and they need to be easily located. Homewood Suites is an important part of bringing national and even international businesses to the Commons. The Township needs to be more welcoming to encourage economic growth. While he appreciated the Commission’s concern to protect the Ordinance, this is an appropriate case for making an exception to the rule.
The motion passed 7-1, with Mr. Fidler voting nay.
Corner Bakery Café, 3 West Road: Attorney Don Marshall represented the applicants, Jeffrey Boardman and Jason Rose, for conditional use for an eating place, uses E-5 and E-6 for a 119 seat café in a 5,000 square foot building in the Newtown Shopping Center in the PC, Planned Commercial Zoning District. This is the location of the former Blockbuster store. Mr. Marshall noted that the applicant had included a patio to be constructed with seating for 40 patrons. As this would involve land development and some possible zoning relief, the patio has been removed from the application at this time.
Mr. Marshall referred to the review letters of the Township Consultants, Boucher and James and CKS Engineers. The applicant intends to comply with those letters, noting that the total number of employees would be 20, with a maximum of 10 per shift. Hours of operation will be 7:00 AM to 9:00 PM Monday through Saturday and 8:00AM to 7:00 PM on Sunday. The shopping center has shared parking for 1122 parking spaces; 174 parking spaces remain in green. Deliveries will be by one box truck per day and three tractor trailer deliveries per week. Tractor trailer deliveries will be during off peak hours. Deliveries will be to the side of the building.
Mr. Marshall explained that the plans show a “community room” which was questioned by the consultants. The shop has more space than needed for the business, so intends to hold one room for use by private parties, such as business breakfast meetings. That room will not be used for additional seating during the day.
Mr. Marshall showed sample menus and photographs of other Corner Bakery Cafes. The building will be adapted for the use, but the exterior will remain the same color. There is already a corral for the trash dumpster. A 1999 Zoning variance had been granted to the shopping center for 51% impervious surface and for 10’ X 18’ parking spaces. No drive through service will be offered; the E-6 use is for carry out.
Mr. Whartenby asked whether the building would require any exterior renovation to look like the sample photo.
Mr. Marshall said that only cosmetic changes would be made to the exterior, no structural changes. The proposed patio would be new land development; that is being postponed at this time.
Mr. Deutsch asked about doors, as this use might require more points of egress.
Mr. Marshall said that the doors already exist.
Mr. Kochanski provided the members with a series of photographs of the building, noting that all the doors shown on the plan already exist.
Mr. Whartenby noted that the door which is to be for deliveries has only a small pad and no paved path from the parking area. That would mean that delivery hand trucks would have to be pulled across grass.
Mr. Fidler said that he has some concern about the adequacy of the parking. Since the shopping center was built, the uses have changed. He would like an inventory of all of the uses to be sure there is sufficient parking.
Mr. Marshall said that the 174 parking spaces held in green are close to this building, but he does not think there is a parking problem in this section of the center.
Mr. Cohen said that he is concerned with the traffic on West Road at this section of the shopping center. People might choose to walk from the other section of the parking lot to the restaurant and the curve in the road would make crossing dangerous. He asked if any traffic calming is planned.
Mr. Galley agreed that the road has very poor visibility and if the other parking areas near the Gap are used, pedestrians crossing would be at risk.
Mr. Marshall said that this is an issue between the shopping center owners and the Township.
Mr. Iapalucci noted that there is additional parking in the parking field on the east side of the building. Perhaps a walkway could be installed between the two lots.
Mr. Kochanski said that these are two different shopping centers with two different owners. He also pointed out that a walkway would increase impervious surface. Perhaps it could be considered at the land development for the proposed patio.
Ms. Fountain and Mr. Kochanski pointed out that “community room” has a separate use code and as such would be considered an ancillary use.
Mr. Marshall said that the applicant does not need the space for the restaurant. It will not be used for additional seating but could be made available for community groups who want to hold private meetings.
Ms. Fountain said that the plans should be changed to call the room by another name.
Mr. Fidler said that if the room is set up with tables and chairs, it could alter the parking calculations and sewer EDUs.
Mr. Marshall said that the applicant has provided the Sewer Authority with a number of seats that included the patio, so there are sufficient EDUs.
The members discussed their concerns about the parking area and safety of pedestrians walking to the restaurant from the other side of the parking lot.
Mr. Marshall said that these concerns should be addressed by the Township with the owner of the shopping center and not with this applicant.
Mr. Schenkman said that the Township has had some experience with this kind of issue. The Board was able to work with the owners of Village at Newtown Shopping Center to install some of the parking which had been held in green. Perhaps this shopping center’s green parking should be re-evaluated.
Mr. Cohen said that he is more concerned about the safety of pedestrians who elect to walk from elsewhere in the shopping center. He does not think parking will be inadequate. He would like the traffic reviewed for possible traffic calming.
Mr. Iapalucci and Mr. Whartenby had some concerns about deliveries by tractor trailers, as the large trucks would block the entrance to the parking area.
Mr. Marshall said that the applicant would agree to a condition that all tractor trailer deliveries would occur off-peak or when the business is not open.
Mr. Iapalucci asked about proposed signage. He said he is concerned because the current applicant has ignored signage regulations at its other restaurant in this shopping center. He would want a condition added that the applicant would not seek any sign variances.
Mr. Rose said that when the non-compliant signs were called to the Rose Group’s attention, the signs were removed. The Rose Group has been a compliant neighbor.
Mr. Marshall said that the applicant has not seen the signage package yet and does not know whether any additional variances will be needed.
Mr. Fidler reminded the Commission that if any additional sign variances are sought, the Planning Commission would have an opportunity to review the application.
The members all agreed that they would like the parking reviewed to determine whether the reserve spaces should be installed.
Mr. Marshall said that the Township has the authority to require installation of the reserve parking, but reminded the members that the parking has been held in green to reduce any unnecessary paving and to preserve more green space.
Mr. Cohen moved to recommend that the Board of Supervisors approve Corner Bakery Café’s application for conditional use for an E-5 eating place and E-6 drive-through/carry out eating place at 3 West Road, in the PC, Planned Commercial Zoning District, subject to the following conditions:
Mr. Galley seconded and the motion passed 8-0.
Subcommittee and Liaison Reports
Board of Supervisors: Mr. Schenkman reported that the Supervisors had denied the request for increased setbacks on Sycamore Street for Beneficial Bank. The Supervisors urged the bank to change its appearance to be more in keeping with the focus on a Sycamore Street streetscape. The Joint Historic Commission visited the site as part of its review for the demolition permit for the showroom.
Regional Planning Commission: Mr. Cohen reported that the Regional Planning Commission has not had agenda items and has not met recently, but he understands that a meeting may take place shortly to review the County Comprehensive Plan and to discuss the Neshaminy Watershed. He does not know whether the Commission’s professional consultants will participate in the meeting.
Park and Recreation Board: Mr. Fidler reported that he had received a letter stating that the Park and Recreation Board reviewed plans for McDonald’s at Village at Newtown and recommended that the Supervisors accept a fee in lieu of open space for this application.
Mr. Fidler said that looking ahead, the Commission will have some intense agendas before the end of the year. He had been hoping to have some training sessions, but it might be better to postpone them until January.
Mrs. Driscoll said that had heard that Our Lady of Fatima Church and School property had been sold to Parx Casino.
Mr. Iapalucci asked whether the Planning Commission could recommend sign restrictions in advance of applications.
Mr. Fidler said that many in the Township would like the current sign ordinances reviewed as the uses in the various zoning districts have been changing.
Mr. Iapalucci disagreed, noting that Newtown is a desirable community for business and customers/clients will find the businesses without elaborate signage.
Mr. Fidler moved to adjourn at 10:30 PM. Mrs. Driscoll seconded and the motion passed 8-0.
Mary Donaldson, Recording Secretary