NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP PLANNING COMMISSION
100 MUNICIPAL DRIVE, NEWTOWN, BUCKS COUNTY, PA 18940
Minutes of the meeting held on March 20, 2012
Present: Vice Chairman Robert Whartenby. Secretary Peggy Driscoll, Ted Chleboski, Paul Cohen, Craig Deutsch (late), Dennis Fisher (late), Larry Galley and Fred deVesa, members. Also in attendance were Michele Fountain, Township Engineer, Stacy Yoder, Township Planner and John Torrente, Township Solicitor and Code Enforcement Officer Martin Vogt.
Call to Order: Mr. Whartenby called the meeting to order at 7:30 PM.
Approval of Minutes: Mrs. Driscoll moved to approve the minutes of February 7, 2012. Mr. Cohen seconded and the motion passed 4-0-1, with Mr. Whartenby abstaining.
(Messrs. Fisher and Deutsch arrived at this point.)
Zoning Hearing Board Applications
Congregation Brothers of Israel, 530 Washington Crossing Road: Leslie Floyd of Congregation Brothers of Israel was in attendance to review this application for a special exception to continue the use of a temporary modular classroom. Ms. Lloyd explained that the classroom is still actively used by the Congregation for children’s religious instruction and is kept in excellent repair and is not visible from the road. The original special exception had been granted for a period of four years after which the Congregation was to have built a permanent structure. The Congregation has not seen much growth and is not now in a position to build the addition, but still has need for the classroom space. She was not sure how long the Congregation would continue to need to special exception.
Mr. Torrente noted that the Congregation could automatically seek a one-year extension from the Board of Supervisors. A longer than one-year extension requires Zoning Hearing Board relief.
Mr. Cohen asked why the original exception was limited to four years and whether the Commission should consider recommending a limit on any new special exception granted. He said that he favors not limiting the exception, as the classroom is well maintained and coming before the Zoning Hearing Board at the end of the extension is costly and time consuming.
Ms. Floyd explained that at the original hearing, the congregation had expected to build a permanent structure within four years. Due to factors including the current economy, a permanent structure is not feasible at this time. The four years was discussed by the Zoning Hearing Board as a compromise solution.
Mr. Fisher and Mrs. Driscoll expressed some concern about an open-ended exception, although the current structure is in good condition and there have not been any complaints from neighbors.
Mr. Torrente said that if is up to the Zoning Hearing Board to decide whether the exception should be granted with any conditions limiting its use.
The Commission members agreed to forward the application to the Supervisors without comment.
Council Rock/Goodnoe Elementary School, 298 Frost Lane: Attorney Michael Carr was in attendance to review this application for relief to erect a new playground closer to the street line than 200 feet, to allow parking closer than 100 feet from the street, to allow partial curbing in internal drives and parking aisles, and to allow one loading berth where three are required.
Mr. Carr explained that the new addition will replace existing modular classrooms. The playground will be 120 feet from the property line. It is for use by kindergarten children and is being located near the kindergarten classroom entrance. It will be screened from the street.
The parking setback is an existing non-conformity. The parking will be 41 feet from the street.
The District would like to postpone decisions on curbing until land development and will work with the Township to satisfy any concerns. Portions of the curbing would be eliminated to assist with stormwater management.
Ms. Fountain said that the curbs are used to direct stormwater and to serve as drive aisle barriers. Elimination of some of the curbing would help with sheet flow toward grass and swales.
Mr. Whartenby asked whether curbs are planned around the building.
Mr. Carr said that these curbs would remain. He pointed out that the parking lot circulation has been reconfigured and now allows for stacking of up to 50 cars.
The school currently has one loading berth for deliveries. There are no anticipated changes to deliveries with the proposed addition. The ordinance requires 2 loading berths.
Mrs. Driscoll asked whether neighbors along Andrew Drive have had any comments about the proposed changes.
Mr. Carr said that there has not been any negative feedback on the plans from the Andrew Drive neighbors.
Newtown Borough resident Nancy Carroll asked whether traffic patterns will be discussed this evening or at the Zoning Hearing Board.
Ms. Fountain explained that the Commission is only considering the items for which the District is seeking relief this evening. The Zoning Hearing Board will also only consider the items in the application. Traffic patterns would be part of land development. The Commission has already reviewed a preliminary plan but has not made a formal recommendation. The District will return to the Planning Commission and then to the Supervisors with revised plans after the Zoning Hearing Board has ruled on the variance requests.
The Commission members were in agreement to recommend that the Supervisors support this application.
Bucks County Community College, 275 Swamp Road: Matt Davenport, Landscape Architect, was in attendance to review this application for four freestanding identification signs, all four larger than the permitted 16 square foot maximum, all higher than the 5 foot maximum and with more than one announcement board, each announcement board exceeding 12 square feet. He explained that the 197 acre campus has two entrances on Swamp Road. The College would like to replace the existing wooden signs with new signage mounted on brick entrance walls. Each monument will have aluminum letters and a space for temporary special event announcements. The relief sought is for the size, height and number of signs.
Mr. Fisher asked about the size of each monument wall, as they seem larger than the relief sought.
Mr. Davenport said that the application is for the signs alone, not for the brick walls. He has met with Township staff and understood that the walls are not included in the measurement of the signs.
Mr. Vogt explained that the ordinance is silent on sign supports.
Mr. Torrente said that the surrounding brick walls are not considered part of the signage, only the lettering.
Mr. Fisher asked about the east entrance’s location near a signal box.
Mr. Davenport said that the sign will be set back from the road and the signal box.
Mr. Fisher asked about the request for 57 square foot announcement boards.
Mark Grisi of Bucks County Community College explained that the 57 square feet was measured from the mounting bolts for the announcement banners. These are banners the College already owns for events like the Tyler Tasting, summer camps and school registration. The announcement banners themselves are between 15 and 27 square feet, but are mounted on bolts which form a larger box. In response to Mrs. Driscoll’s question, he said that the banners are displaced about eight times each year as special events approach.
Mr. Whartenby asked about lighting.
Mr. Davenport said that the lighting will be in the landscaping and will reflect up onto the signs. No electric sign boards are planned.
Mr. Vogt suggested that lighting could focus on the signs only, not on the full structures. This could reduce the impression of large signage at night.
The members discussed the height of the walls. Mr. Deutsch asked whether they were measured from grade.
Ms. Fountain pointed out that wall #1 was measured from top to footing.
The members were in agreement that the signage is sorely needed and will enhance the appearance of the College. It will benefit both the college and the community.
Mr. Fisher had some concern about the large size of the four structures.
The Commission recommended that the Supervisors support the application.
Sycamore Street TC District Zoning
Mr. Whartenby explained that the Supervisors had first asked the Planning Commission to review the current zoning for the TC District in 2009, before Messrs. Deutsch, Galley, deVesa and Chleboski had been part of the Commission. At that time, the Commission compared the currently permitted uses and performance standards with the vision the Township has for the future of Sycamore Street as a pedestrian friendly town center. There was particular focus on the large parcels at the Goodnoe home, the Acme site, Bill Marsh Ford, the old St. Andrew’s School site and the old Stockburger site. The Commission discussed creating a new “mixed use” which could be applied to these larger parcels if they were redeveloped.
The recording secretary provided the members with copies of all of the minutes from the meetings at which the zoning was discussed, along with the various charts of permitted uses which were created during the discussion.
Mr. Whartenby said that in addition to the Planning Commission discussions, there were special meetings with the Bucks County Planning Commission and the Supervisors. BCPC Executive Director Lynn Bush sent a memo outlining the direction for a future ordinance based on all of the points discussed in past meetings. Once the Commission has made a final recommendation to the Supervisors, an ordinance will be drafted and circulated among the Jointure’s individual planning commissions. The ordinance would then be adopted by all three Boards of Supervisors. He asked the members to review all of the materials provided for the next meeting. He asked the recording secretary to invite Ms. Bush to the next meeting to help develop a recommendation.
Subcommittee and Liaison Reports
Regional Planning Commission: Mr. Cohen reported that the Commission has been trying to adapt a more regular meeting schedule and will be reviewing various zoning initiatives.
HARB: Mrs. Driscoll reported that HARB reviewed an application for a certificate of appropriateness for a sign on a beauty salon.
Environmental Advisory Council: Mr. Fisher reported that the EAC held a community forum on environmental volunteer opportunities. It was attended by about 25 residents. The Council would like to be included in any decisions involving placement of replacement trees during land development.
Mr. Cohen moved to adjourn at 9:20 PM. Mr. Fisher seconded and the motion passed 7-0.
Mary Donaldson, Recording Secretary
The Commission members participated in a one-hour training session during which Mr. Torrente discussed the duties and responsibilities of Planning Commissioners, Ms. Yoder reviewed zoning and Ms. Fountain discussed stormwater management.