NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP PLANNING COMMISSION
100 MUNICIPAL DRIVE, NEWTOWN, BUCKS COUNTY, PA 18940
Synopsis Minutes of the meeting held on April 3, 2012
Present : Chairman Allen Fidler, Vice Chairman Robert Whartenby and Members Ted Chleboski, Paul Cohen (late), Fred DeVesa, Peggy Driscoll and Larry Galley. Also in attendance were: Michele Fountain, Township Engineer, Stacy Yoder, Township Planner, John Torrente, Solicitor and Martin Vogt, Code Enforcement Officer.
Call to Order: Mr. Fidler called the meeting to order at 7:30 PM.
Approval of minutes: Mr. Whartenby noted that under Bucks County Community College’s zoning review on page 2 of the minutes of March 20, 2012, Matthew Davenport is the landscape architect on the project.
Mr. Whartenby moved to accept the minutes of March 20, 2012, as corrected. Mrs. Driscoll seconded and the motion passed 5-0-1, with Mr. Fidler abstaining.
TC /Sycamore Street Zoning (Mr. Cohen arrived at this point.)
For the benefit of the newer members, Mr. Fidler reviewed the history of the TC District zoning, noting that after completion of the Sycamore Street improvements, the Commission met with Supervisors, Bucks County Planning Commission Executive Director Lynn Bush, members of various Township committees including the Sycamore Street Committee, the Sycamore Street Community Association, Acme Visioning Committee, Historic Architectural Review Board and interested community members to discuss current zoning and a vision for the future of Sycamore Street as a downtown center. There are five large parcels which could possibly see redevelopment in the future on the west side of the street, as well as a number of small parcels which could be redeveloped with infilling, or consolidated to form larger parcels. The east side of the street is in a historic district and has its own unique restrictions on redevelopment and preservation. Of particular concern to all were the preservation of the historic district and the economic viability of a downtown center with a pedestrian friendly environment.
Mr. Fidler said that two concerns were identified, creating a streetscape and providing adequate parking. The Commission reviewed uses currently permitted or prohibited in the TC district and offered some ideas about changing the permitted uses to encourage pedestrian friendly uses and eliminate or restrict uses, such as drive through services, which generate vehicular traffic and parking. The Commission also discussed the addition of “mixed use development” or “planned commercial development” for the larger parcels. To enhance streetscape, the setbacks would be changed to encourage building close to the sidewalk with parking in the rear.
Mr. Fidler asked the members to focus on the memo from Lynn Bush dated December 28, 2011. He explained that this memo would be the basis for a formal ordinance which would be circulated among the other municipalities in the Jointure for public hearings. Ms. Bush has indicated to Mr. Fidler that, since only Newtown has a TC district and the proposed changes will only affect Sycamore Street, there would be support for the adoption of the ordinance in Upper Makefield and Wrightstown.
Mr. Whartenby noted that Ms. Bush’s memo had two items that were still unresolved: the financial establishment with drive through use and parking structures.
Mr. DeVesa said that a parking structure at the edge of a downtown district can be a good solution to parking problems. It can help promote pedestrian use of the downtown. He mentioned the parking structure in Princeton as a good example. It is run by a parking authority and fees are collected for its use.
Mr. Cohen said that some of Newtown Borough’s plans for development of the former Stockburger site might include a parking structure. The developer and the Borough have not yet determined which plan will be chosen for the development. He did not think Newtown’s Sycamore Street district would support a parking structure more than a block or two away from the business district; he did not think, for example that people would park below Centre Avenue/Richboro Road and walk to Goodnoe’s Corner.
Mr. Fidler said that he did not think a parking facility would be viable as a private business, but might be considered as part of a mixed use development, as had at one time been proposed for the Acme site.
The members briefly discussed impervious surface. Ms. Fountain pointed out that most of the parcels in the TC district are already at or close to 100% impervious. She noted that the Acme site had some best management practices for water quality included in its redevelopment plans as well as some volume control, but that the impervious ratio was considered an existing non-conformity. This would probably be the case for the other parcels in the district.
The members discussed the E-4, financial establishment use. It is permitted by conditional use now, with a recommendation to make it a use by right with the new ordinance. Mr. Cohen said that it might be better to leave it as conditional use, or even to eliminate it as a permitted use. He noted the difficulties with the Beneficial Bank plans, and said that banks are not really pedestrian friendly uses and do not bring a lot of foot traffic. He said that if the use is permitted at all, there should be restrictions on drive through, as outlined in Ms. Bush’s memo.
Mr. Fidler said that the Township was trying to avoid creating non-conforming uses when considering banks as well as auto sales and service stations.
Mr. DeVesa said that by leaving service stations and auto sales as permitted, this could lead to more such uses moving in. If they are no longer permitted, the existing uses would have the advantage of being monopolies. The ordinance does allow some change to existing non-conformities without zoning relief.
Ms. Fountain confirmed that the ordinance does allow up to a 25% expansion of a non-conforming use.
The Commission discussed mixed uses, with buildings having permitted retail and service uses combined with residential uses. This has seemed desirable in previous discussions, as it creates a round the clock presence on the street. Ms. Bush’s memo suggests using a ratio of 60/40% for each of the uses
Mr. Vogt said that he had worked for many years as Princeton’s zoning officer. He said that in Princeton, the mixed use had become a difficult situation to monitor, as some of the apartments over restaurants or in the nearby buildings had become boarding houses for large numbers of restaurant workers. With the Township’s limited staff, there could be difficulty in monitoring and enforcing any residential restrictions.
Mr. Fidler said that the Commission had not considered this as a possible difficulty, as they had only considered the high end rental units above Goodnoe’s Corner and as proposed by the Acme site/Promenade.
Mrs. Driscoll agreed with Mr. Vogt, as she owns commercial property in Bristol, where this has been a problem.
The Commission agreed that this should be discussed with the Supervisors. Perhaps some additional restrictions would be needed for the residential portion of the mixed use buildings.
After some further discussion of the uses, the members agreed that a joint meeting of the Planning Commission and Supervisors might be needed to discuss the following still unresolved questions:
The members discussed the requirements of service station and gas station. Mr. Vogt said that service stations must provide some service, but increasingly that has been interpreted as any service, including pumping gas. It might not mean auto repairs and inspections. Some stations fill windshield washers, add oil, and other similar minor tasks.
Mr. Cohen noted the reference to a fee in lieu of parking. He said that New Hope Borough has allowed a fee in lieu of parking for as much as 100% of the required parking; this has contributed to some of New Hope’s parking problems. If the Township is considering using a fee in lieu, it might be a good idea to set a limit on the number of spaces for which a fee can be collected.
Ms. Fountain said that the fee has to be collected with a goal of creating parking solutions.
Mr. Fidler said that at one time he recalled the Township collecting a fee on Sycamore Street, but the fees were used to help create the on-street parking spaces.
Mr. Cohen suggested that possible public amenities should be more clearly defined, as should any incentives offered to developers in exchange for public amenities. He said the current language was a little vague.
The members agreed to recommend to the Supervisors that an ordinance be drafted for review by the Commission once the Supervisors had considered the outstanding issues discussed this evening.
Subcommittee and Liaison Reports
Regional Planning Commission: Mr. Cohen reported that the next meeting would be on Thursday. The Commission had not held a meeting last month.Mr. Cohen moved to adjourn at 10:00 PM. Ms. Driscoll seconded and the motion passed 7-0.
Mary Donaldson, Recording Secretary