NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP PLANNING COMMISSION
100 MUNICIPAL DRIVE, NEWTOWN, BUCKS COUNTY, PA 18940
Minutes of the meeting held on January 17, 2012
Present: Chairman Allen Fidler, Vice Chairman Robert Whartenby, Ted Chleboski, Paul Cohen, Peggy Driscoll, Larry Galley and Fred deVesa, members. Also in attendance were Michele Fountain, Township Engineer, Stacy Yoder, Township Planner and Michael Hartey, Code Enforcement Officer and Philip Calabro and Michael Gallagher, Supervisor Liaisons.
The meeting began with an introduction of the members.
Organization of Commission: Mrs. Driscoll nominated Mr. Fidler to serve as chairman. Mr. Whartenby seconded and the motion passed 7-0.
Mrs. Driscoll nominated Mr. Whartenby to serve as vice-chairman. Mr. Fidler seconded and the motion passed 7-0.
Mr. Whartenby nominated Mrs. Driscoll to serve as secretary/treasurer. Mr. Fidler seconded and the motion passed 7-0.
Approval of Minutes: Mr. Whartenby moved to accept the minutes of December 20, 2011. Mr. Cohen seconded and the motion passed 4-0-3, with Mrs. Driscoll and Messrs. Chleboski and deVesa abstaining.
Newtown Racquetball Club, 209 Penns Trail, Final Plan for Land Development: Engineer Luke Teller was in attendance to review this plan to remove a one story brick building and to construct an outdoor pool area with changing room and snack bar, a one story 37,167 square foot baseball academy and associated parking and stormwater management. In addition, the plan proposes consolidation of six tax parcels to form a single 18.034 acre parcel. A grass area is to be developed as a practice playing field with lights.
The plans have been revised to comply with the preliminary plan review letters. Mr. Teller provided artist’s renderings of the appearance and layout of the pool complex to help the members better envision the scope of the plan. The variances sought have been granted, however some clarification is needed from the Zoning Hearing Board because the Ordinance only permits sports lighting in the EIR district and it is unclear whether the variance now permits the field lights.
Ms. Fountain confirmed that all of her comments in her most recent review letter have been addressed and the applicant will comply.
Mr. Teller said that he has also met with Township Traffic Engineer Amy Kaminsky to review weekend traffic counts and Ms. Kaminsky’s concerns have been addressed. The Saturday peak is 30% less than the weekday PM peak.
Mr. Fidler asked about timing of lights on the practice fields.
Mr. Teller said that the lights will be on 50 foot pole, while 60 feet is the standard height for playing field lights. The field is for practice drills, only; no games will be played and no batting practices will take place. Ten poles are proposed, each with a separate switch, to allow greater flexibility to use only the lights that are needed. The lights would be used from dusk to 10:00 PM, in early spring and in fall. Each light is aimed down onto the field and shaded so there is no spillage or glare. The lights will measure one foot candle at Penns Trail, ½ foot candle at Pheasant Run and 45 foot candles on the field.
Mr. Fidler noted that it was his understanding that the variance granted was for setbacks only, not for the height of the lights.
Mr. Teller said that Attorney Don Marshall would be asking for clarification from the Zoning Hearing Board solicitor on this and also on the loading area nearest the pool.
Mr. Teller reviewed the pool layout plans, pointing out the lap pool, lazy river, splash-pad for little children, water slide, lawns, lounge areas, snack bar and locker rooms.
The members discussed the entrance through the mechanicals room. All agreed they would prefer that this entrance not be used by members, only employees and service personnel.
Mr. Teller said that there are two proposed member entrances, one from the parking lot and one directly from inside the club building.
Mr. Whartenby asked the height of the fence along Penns Trail.
Mr. Teller said that the fence will be on top of a berm; the top of the fence will be ten feet above the road.
Mr. Fidler said that the Supervisors had postponed consideration of sidewalks until final plan review.
Ms. Fountain provided the Commission with a map of the Business Commons with existing trails and sidewalks highlighted. She noted that there is a sidewalk in front of the hotel, which ends at the property line. If the NAC installed a sidewalk on its frontage of Pheasant Run, there would be a gap in between its property and the hotel. The other side of the street has sidewalks which end directly opposite the NAC.
Mr. Teller said that it is his understanding that the applicant is willing to install the sidewalk on Pheasant Run on his own property, not on the property across the street. He would prefer to postpone the installation until the adjoining parcel is redeveloped and the sidewalks can be joined.
Mr. Fidler said that the Commons was originally planned without sidewalks, but as the uses have changed to more office uses the Township would like the sidewalks added on new construction and redevelopment. He suggested that the Commission waive the Penns Trail sidewalks, only.
The members agreed that they would like the sidewalks added to Penns Trail.
Mr. Cohen said that he is concerned about parking and traffic if the club offers summer memberships for the pool.
Mr. Teller said that a variance has been granted for parking. The applicant’s plan is to offer the pool as an additional amenity to members but not to offer summer memberships or pool only memberships.
Mr. Whartenby noted that non-members are using the facilities now for parties and special events.
Mr. Cohen suggested that the approval have a condition that no pool or partial year memberships be offered or that use be restricted to members only. He asked whether the Zoning Hearing Board had considered such a restriction.
The recording secretary noted that the Zoning Hearing Board hesitated to add this condition because the club is used for charitable events and fundraisers and it partners with the Township on recreation programs open to non-members.
Mr. Galley asked whether there is a limit on pool capacity set by the fire marshal.
Mr. Teller said that it is limited to 420 people. There will be security at the gate to keep a count.
Mr. Fidler said that he is also concerned that the practice field will be used as overflow parking if summer memberships are offered.
The members agreed that they would favor a condition that no summer or pool only memberships be offered. This would still allow for hosting of events.
Mr. Fidler said that s. Kaminsky did not have any concerns about the field lights being a traffic concern, but he would want assurances that the lights would not be a problem for nearby residential neighbors.
Mr. Teller said that he could provide computer generated plans of the lights as seen from residential areas.
Mr. Fidler asked that Middletown, Headley Trace and Wiltshire Walk be included in the lighting plan.
Ms. Fountain noted that the soil beneath the Dunmore building had not been tested and will have to be tested after the building is demolished. The stormwater management may have to be altered.
Mr. Chleboski asked if historical borings are available.
Mr. Teller said these have not been found.
Mr. Cohen moved to recommend that the Supervisors grant final land development approval to Newtown Athletic Club for the premises located at Penns Trail being known as Bucks County Tax Parcel Nos. 29-010-137-140 and 29-10-39-1 prepared by Langan Engineering and Environmental Services, comprised of 36 sheets, dated June 24, 2011, with a revision date of December 22, 2011, along with a Post Construction Stormwater Management Plan Narrative prepared by Langan Engineering, seven supplemental plan sheets prepared by Cairone and Kaupp, Inc., and six supplemental sheets prepared by Innovative Electrical Systems dated December 22, 2011subject to the following conditions:
Mrs. Driscoll seconded.
Discussion of motion: Ms. Fountain noted that the signage is to be removed from the plan and will be addressed at a later date.
The motion passed 7-0.
Mr. Fidler thanked Ms. Yoder and Ms. Fountain for their efforts to quickly review the revisions.
Zoning Hearing Board
Corner Bakery Café, 3 West Road: Jason Rose of the Rose Group and Jeff Henley, franchisee, were in attendance to review this application for relief of impervious surface of 1%, and signage relief. The applicant is proposing a sign within 1000 feet of the Bypass, one sign of 90.5 square feet and three signs of 40 square feet where 20 square feet is the maximum. All signs will be at a height above the permitted 9 feet.
Mr. Rose explained that the increase in impervious surface is for installation of a patio and a walkway to the Village at Newtown parking lot and some traffic calming, which is a requirement of the conditional use approval. The details of the walkway are still to be worked out.
Ms. Fountain said that an easement agreement with Village at Newtown has not been worked out at this time. If the walkway is installed, then the traffic calming measures will be removed from the conditional use approval. She noted that the impervious surface request of 1% equals about 7,000 square feet.
Mr. Fidler said that he would prefer to see the application amended to only seek the square footage needed for the patio and walkway or traffic calming.
Mr. Whartenby noted that the proposed patio is 27’X12’, and a walkway would measure about 60 feet in length with seating for about 18 people at 6 or 7 tables. The actual increase in impervious surface is probably less than 700 square feet.
Mr. Rose said that he would speak to his attorney about reducing the request to what is needed for the improvements.
Mr. Galley asked whether the Corner Bakery Café would have any parking spaces specifically reserved for its use.
Mr. Rose said that no tenant has the right to reserve parking spaces. All parking for the entire shopping center is shared. Applebee’s has a different lease which permits take out pick up parking.
Mr. Fidler noted that the signage requested seems much larger than Blockbuster, which had occupied this pad site previously.
Mr. Henley reviewed the signage package, noting that the largest of the signs is not actually a large sign, but back lit letters individually mounted to the wall of the building. The signs are reduced to the smallest the franchise will permit.
Mr. Cohen asked whether the other businesses in the shopping center have signs of similar size.
Mr. Rose said that he was not sure of the size of the other signs.
Mr. Galley said that he did not think Chik-fil-a or Applebee’s signs were as large; he noted that their signs were only on three sides of the buildings.
Mr. Torrente asked the proposed height of the signs.
Mr. Henley said he believed the signs would be about 12-14 feet high, about the same height at the Blockbuster signs.
Mr. Cohen said that he thought the signage seemed appropriate for the business but did not see a hardship and would not support a variance. He did not object to signs similar to those that Blockbuster had. He also would like the applicant to amend the application to only seek the impervious relief that he needs for the patio and walkway.
Mr. Chleboski asked Mr. Fidler why the Ordinance has limited signs to 20 square feet.
Mr. Fidler said that when the Ordinance was written the commercial districts mostly had signs in channels over doorways in strip mall arrangements. Most of the signage was on only one façade. There were not any stand-alone pad sites as there are today.
Mr. Whartenby said that he only had concerns about the 90 square foot sign and the 1% impervious. He would support the impervious for the patio and walkway.
Mrs. Driscoll agreed with Mr. Whartenby, and said that she would not object to signage similar in size to the Blockbuster signs.
Mr. Rose said that Corner Bakery Café is not a well-known business in this area. Applebee’s and Blockbuster are easily recognized brands. The signage is important to make the business known in the community. He explained that the Ordinance requires that the sign be measured by drawing a box around the lettering and measuring the size of the box. This puts Corner Bakery Café at a further disadvantage because of the long name.
Codes Enforcement Officer Michael Hartey suggested that if the three words in the business name were stacked one on top of the other, the boxes would be smaller and would reduce the square footage.
Mr. Henley said that placing the word “café” below “corner bakery” and measuring two boxes would bring the square footage to 61.94 square feet. If each letter were measured separately, the largest sign would measure 32.42 square feet and the others would be 19.35 square feet. He noted that the franchise had required decals on the windows and lettering on the awnings, but he has removed those features from the plan because of the Township’s zoning.
Mr. Fidler reviewed the options for the Planning Commission:
Mr. DeVesa said that he thought the signage was appropriate for the business and for the size of the building. It is unfair that the business is penalized for the length of its name. He suggested that the name of the business could be seen as an undue hardship.
The members reviewed each of the variance requests again and agreed that if the application were amended to seek only the impervious surface needed for the patio and walkway, they did not think the Supervisors should oppose. They had no objection to the number of signs, the signs in proximity to the Bypass or the height. They agreed that the Township should send the solicitor to uphold the ordinance for the 90.5 square foot sign.
Mr. Fidler said that the Planning Commission sees many applications for relief from the sign ordinance in the Township’s business districts. It might be a good idea to revisit this Ordinance and make certain adjustments to fit in with the changes that are occurring in the business community.
Mr. Fidler said that occasionally the Supervisors have questioned him when the Planning Commission sends an application with “no comment.”
Mr. Gallagher and Mr. Calabro agreed that they have understood that the Commission has reviewed the application but does not feel it is necessary for the Supervisors to take an active position at the Zoning Hearing Board.
Energy Ordinance: Mr. Fidler noted that the Jointure has been discussing regulations on various energy sources, attempting to be sure that residents and businesses have options for alternative energy without being a burden or hazard to neighbors. The members have been provided with the energy ordinance review memo again for further comment. He noted for example that Upper Makefield has had concerns about solar fields, but did not have any objection to rooftop panels. This ordinance would provide setback requirements for solar fields and for wood fired boilers so as not to be unsightly to neighbors.
Ms. Fountain pointed out that this draft has removed solar fields as a primary use.
The members were in agreement that they had no further recommendations for the proposed ordinance.
TC- Sycamore Street Ordinance: Mr. Fidler noted that the latest memo from Bucks County Planning Commission Executive Director Lynn Bush incorporates the Commission’s recommendations and those of the Board of Supervisors. He suggested that due to the late hour, the discussion be tabled until the next meeting.
Mr. Galley asked whether a revised TC ordinance would impact the Beneficial Bank plans.
Mr. Fidler said that those plans would be reviewed under the existing ordinance, as the plans have already been filed.
Mr. Cohen noted that most of the permitted uses in the draft are by conditional use. He has noticed in recent years that more municipalities are requiring special exceptions rather than conditional use approvals.
Mr. Fidler said that it was his understanding that the Supervisors did not want to place burdens on current property owners looking to improve their properties by requiring special exceptions.
Mr. Fidler noted that no play areas are permitted with the commercial school use. He would like to review this provision further.
Subcommittee & Liaison Reports
Mr. Fidler asked the members to consider volunteering to serve as Planning Commission liaison to the Township and Jointure committees, boards and commissions.
Newtown Area Regional Planning Commission: Mr. Cohen agreed to continue as liaison.
Joint Zoning Council: Mr. Fidler will continue to serve on the Council.
Historic Architectural Review Board: Mrs. Driscoll agreed to continue as liaison to HARB. She said that this may require an appointment by the Board of Supervisors, as this is a voting postion.
Park and Recreation Board: Mr. Whartenby will continue with Park and Recreation.
Environmental Advisory Council: The recording secretary reported that Mr. Fisher would like to continue at EAC.
Mrs. Driscoll moved to adjourn at 10:15 PM. Mr. Whartenby seconded and the motion passed 7-0.
Mary Donaldson, Recording Secretary