NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP PLANNING COMMISSION
100 MUNICIPAL DRIVE, NEWTOWN, BUCKS COUNTY, PA 18940
Synopsis Minutes of the meeting held on July 17, 2012
Present : Chairman Allen Fidler, Vice Chairman Robert Whartenby and Members Ted Chleboski, Paul Cohen, Craig Deutsch, Peggy Driscoll, Dennis Fisher and Larry Galley. Also in attendance were: Supervisor Liaison Michael Gallagher, 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 moved to approve the minutes of June 19, 2012. Mrs. Driscoll seconded and the motion passed 7-0-1, with Mr. Cohen abstaining.
Edward and Anna Albert, 72 Greenbriar Lane: Mr. and Mrs. Albert were in attendance to review their application for a PRD variance from the setback and impervious surface requirements to replace an existing front porch and walkway and to build a deck to replace an existing patio. When Mr. Albert came to the Township to file his application he learned that the porch and walkway do not appear on his record plan. The application has been amended to include the setback of the front porch rather than reduce its size. Copies of the amended plan have been forwarded to the Commission electronically today.
Mr. Fidler asked whether the Alberts have the support of their surrounding neighbors and the Woods of Saxony homeowners association.
Mr. Albert said that he has collected written support letters to provide to the Supervisors. The homeowners association has approved the plan.
Mr. Fidler noted that the applicants have a hardship in that their corner property has two front yards. He also noted that the increased impervious of 1.64% is de minimus.
Ms. Fountain suggested that any recommendation by the Commission should reference compliance with the CKS review letters.
Mr. Galley said that he has visited the site and noticed that the front porch is in need of repair or replacement.
Mr. Galley moved to forward this application to the Supervisors without comment except to recommend compliance with the CKS review letters. Mr. Deutsch seconded and the motion passed 8-0.
Zoning Hearing Board Applications
Dr. Joseph Jenci, 63 Harmony Way: Dr. Joseph Jenci was in attendance to review his application for a variance from the minimum rear yard setback requirement to build a brick paver patio in his rear yard in the Lakeview Estates development. He will also be repairing or replacing an existing walkway.
Mrs. Driscoll noted that the setback would be only 2.7 feet from the property line. She asked what is behind his house.
Dr. Jenci said that he backs to Hidden Lake, which is preserved open space.
Mr. Cohen said that he had some concern that the Zoning Hearing Board would be hearing this case when it seems to be more an issue that should be before the Supervisors. The Joint Municipal Zoning Ordinance does not differentiate between setbacks for patios, which are flat and additions or accessory buildings. It seems to be a flaw with the Ordinance itself. It also does not consider that the property backs to preserved open space. He did not have any objection to the proposed patio.
Mr. Vogt said that the Ordinance does make this distinction in some zoning districts. This is the Conservation Management District and the home is part of a development which was considered as a whole.
Mr. Fidler agreed that each Zoning District has different performance standards and some do have different setback requirements for decks and patios.
Mr. Cohen moved to recommend that the Board of Supervisors not oppose this application. Mr. Fisher seconded.
Discussion of motion: Mr. Fisher asked whether the proposed landscaping would be native species.
Dr. Jenci said that he had left this to his landscaper and did not know.
Mr. Fidler said that they do not appear to be native plants.
Mr. Whartenby said these are ornamental shrubs.
The motion passed 8-0.
The Rothman Institute, 2700 South Eagle Road : Josephine Freiling, director of special projects for the Rothman Institute was in attendance to review this application for variances for signage at Village at Newtown. Ms. Freiling said that Rothman would like to resurface the existing free-standing signs, add some directional signage for the entrance and patient parking and place two roof-mounted signs on the building, one facing north and one south.
Mr. Fidler asked how much larger than the existing signage for the previous medical use the new signs will be.
Ms. Freiling said that it is about a 75% increase. The free-standing monument signs, already at this location, will be refaced, not expanded. The directional signage is necessary because the building has parking and entry doors at two different levels. The signage will direct patients to the correct entrances and parking areas.
Mr. Fidler noted that the building is elevated and is visible from a distance. The relief requested might seem excessive.
Mr. Whartenby said that he has similar concerns with the roof mounted signage.
Mr. Fidler said that it is his understanding that signage is measured by the number of letters and the name “The Rothman Institute” may be a hardship.
Mr. Vogt explained that the signage with individual mounted letters is measured by drawing a box around the letters.
Mr. Cohen noted that the two monument signs were permitted by a variance in 1996. He asked whether the additional signs could be placed elsewhere on the building rather than on the roof.
Mrs. Driscoll also expressed concern for the size of the signs on the roof.
Ms. Freiling noted that all of the other large stores in the shopping center have roof mounted signs. The building is almost all glass and there are no walls which could support a wall mounted sign. The signage is necessary for branding as well as for wayfinding.
The Commission discussed ways to reduce the size of the signage while still providing some identification visible from a distance. They discussed possibly only placing the “R” logo on the roof mounted sign or elsewhere on the building or possibly mounting the full name on a smaller sign along the fascia over the windows.
Mr. Cohen said that if the applicant is planning to bring the full signage package to the Zoning Hearing Board, it might be helpful to provide the Zoning Hearing Board with information about the other roof mounted signs in the shopping center, including Pier One and McCaffrey’s.
The Commission discussed lighting for the signage and agreed that they would not object to back-lit signage.
Mr. Fidler noted that the Commission would favor signage consistent with other signage in the shopping center and would ask that the applicant agree to turn off the lights on the signs on weekends and late at night, when the office is closed.
Mr. Fidler noted that the Commission is very eager to work with tenants in the Township, especially those taking existing space in vacant buildings.
The members discussed some of the existing signage in the shopping center. Mr. Vogt confirmed that McCaffrey’s would replace Genuardi’s sign with its own name within the parameters of the original variance granted for signage.
Mr. Deutsch said that he felt the large roof sign is for advertisement. Patients coming to the site will see the monument signs and are often repeat visitors. He felt the monument sign, which had been designed for multiple tenants, was already quite large and only needs to identify one tenant.
The Commission agreed that if the roof mounted sign were reduced in size the application should be passed to the Supervisors without comment.
Mr. Fisher moved to recommend that the Supervisors not oppose the application for the monument and directional signs or roof mounted signs reduced and modified in size. Mr. Cohen seconded and the motion passed 8-0.
David and Geraldine Platt, 761 Newtown Yardley Road: Attorney Don Marshall represented the applicants. Mr. Marshall explained that due to health concerns Mr. and Mrs. Platt would be forced to give up the swim club after more than thirty years. They would like to sell the property to be developed as use B-19, transitional residential development. The property is in the R-2, high density zoning district and could be developed for apartments or other high density housing. The B-19 townhouse use must be contiguous to the O-LI district, POS zoning district and Newtown Borough. The property is contiguous to the O-LI district and is in short walking distance to Newtown Borough and Township open space. He provided the Commission with copies of a proposed plan for 64 townhomes on the 16.66 acre parcel, noting that this has not been fully engineered and is only a concept plan. The plan complies with all other standards for the use except that it is not contiguous to Newtown Borough.
Mr. Marshall said that Mr. Platt’s health makes it impossible for him to continue to work outdoors. He understands that the community will lose a valuable asset in the swim club, but the Township is also gaining a similar facility not far away.
Mr. Marshall reviewed the surrounding properties, including Headley, the Ridings and Wiltshire Walk, Weglos Dental Offices and First National Bank and Trust of Newtown.
Mr. Whartenby said that the Commission had favored access to Newtown Yardley Road from Weglos through the swim club property. Perhaps this could be revisited at land development for this project, along with other traffic concerns.
Mr. Fidler reviewed the creation of the B-19 use. It had been envisioned for specific properties adjacent to the Borough. Its small lot size requirement would appeal to residents without large families and children and might not add to the school district’s burden. It was to have been appealing to older families without children. It does not provide recreational amenities and is within a short walking distance to the Borough.
Mr. Cohen disagreed that this might not appeal to growing families. Many people purchase townhouses before they have children but remain in these houses, not moving on to single family homes because of the economy. He felt this would be an intense use with great impact on the Township, especially on traffic.
Mr. Marshall said that the proposed use would have less impact than the current use. It will also have less impact than a B-13, modular housing development, which is a permitted use.
Mr. Deutsch agreed with Mr. Cohen that the proposed development could be appealing to families with children.
Mr. Fidler discussed the history of the zoning, noting that the Township has benefitted by the presence of the swim club in the high density housing district for many years. It is the only business parcel remaining in this zoning district.
Mr. Cohen said that the only relief needed is for the type of construction. Other high density residential uses are permitted on this parcel.
Mr. Fisher said that it seems the B-19 use was created specifically to fit on another parcel.
Mr. Fidler noted that the density in the concept plan might not be what is ultimately developed. During the land development and engineering phase, when cartways and setbacks and other open space is factored in, the number of units can be reduced significantly. He noted that the Newtown Walk development, a B-19 use, had envisioned 117 houses but was built with only 102 units.
Mr. Torrente asked whether the applicant had considered a PRD use.
Mr. Marshall said that a PRD would require a mix of types of housing and would require 25 acres. This parcel is only 16 acres and contemplates only townhouses.
Mr. Cohen moved to pass this application to the Supervisors with no comment. Mr. Whartenby seconded.
Discussion of motion: Resident Jay Sensibaugh said that he had been a member of the Planning Commission when the B-19 use was created. It had been specifically created for parcels adjacent to both Newtown Borough and Township owned recreational open space. The housing was designed to be consistent with Borough housing. This plan does not fit the criteria required for use B-19. The parcel should be developed with recreation and open space provided. He asked the Commission to recommend that the Supervisors oppose the application.
Mr. Marshall said that other high density housing is permitted on this parcel. A PRD would require some zoning relief and the applicant does not want to build a mix of housing types. This use would require the least relief.
The motion passed 7-1, with Mr. Fisher voting nay.
Mr. Whartenby said that he would like the Commission to review the setback requirements for residential uses in both the JMZO and SALDO because some of the setbacks seem inconsistent and create hardships for residents contemplating outdoor amenities.
Mr. Fidler agreed. He noted that the ordinance was drafted almost thirty years ago and has not been revised to address a number of changes in the community. He noted that the Commission has seen many applications requesting sign variances, especially variances for relief for signage within 1000 feet of the Bypass.
Mr. Gallagher agreed that a number of issues have been coming before the Supervisors and the Zoning Hearing Board which might need to be addressed, including three issues before the Commission this evening, signage, setbacks and the B-19 use. He said that the Planning Commission is in the best position to discuss the specific ordinances which might need updating.
The members discussed some of the ordinances they would like to review:
Mr. Fidler said that the Commission might have time for a review in the coming year. He suggested that the members give some thought to the more frequent requests for relief that have come before the Commission in recent years.
Subcommittee and Liaison Reports
Board of Supervisors: Mr. Gallagher said that the DEP has recently put a stop on issuance of permits because of overages in sewerage for all of lower Bucks County. He noted that the overages are all connected with stormwater events. Township Manager Kurt Ferguson, Solicitor Jeffrey Garton and Ms. Fountain will be meeting with the DEP this week to discuss the matter and to try to appeal already DEP approved permits.
Mr. Fidler noted that the Township has a right to appeal, but the DEP has not indicated what the appeal process would be and there is a 30 day time limit on the appeals. He noted that Newtown Joint Municipal Authority’s Act 91 Plan already shows that Newtown meets the peak flow requirements. He has heard from the Municipal Authority engineers that the issues could take a very long time to resolve.
Mr. Gallagher said that it is particularly disappointing to see that projects very close to beginning construction are being held up, especially knowing how hard the Planning Commission has worked to expedite the review and approval process for these projects, including Weglos, Birches, the Promenade and the NAC pool expansion.
Mr. Fidler said that the stoppage should not impact small home remodeling projects or conditional uses for existing construction.
Mr. Gallagher reported that the new Township Manager has begun work, as has the new fire chief, retired Police Lieutenant Glenn Forsythe.
Mr. Gallagher said that some weeks ago the Supervisors made the switch to electronic packets and it has been very successful. He understood that the Commission received its first electronic packet and asked the members to work with the change. He said that each committee would work with its recording secretary to determine when and whether hard copies of certain documents are needed. Any papers that the members want at meetings would be provided to help make the transition easier. The Supervisors have begun looking into hardware for the dais to further reduce the need for paper copies.
Mrs. Driscoll said that she had seen Newtown Artesian Water Company ask the Supervisors for a waiver of land development for a new well at the Tanner property. She said that her neighbors on Waterford Place are very concerned about this. Waterford Place and the surrounding properties on Winding Lane, Lindenhurst and Wrights Road all use well water and are worried that a municipal well will gravely impact their wells. This can have a serious impact on the quality of life for these residents. Switching to public water would be a financial burden to these residents.
Mr. Fidler said that any well would need approval of the Delaware River Basin Commission and the DEP. Tests would have to show that there is no measurable impact on surrounding wells. The approval would be a very public process and concerned residents would have opportunity to make their concerns known.
Mr. Cohen asked whether there has been any update on the Goodnoe School project.
Ms. Fountain said that she understood that the School District is modifying its plans. The District has asked to meet with the Township to discuss adjustments to the plan. She did not know what those adjustments entailed.
Mr. Whartenby moved to adjourn at 9:45 PM. Mr. Chleboski seconded and the motion passed 8-0.
Mary Donaldson, Recording Secretary