NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP PLANNING COMMISSION
100 MUNICIPAL DRIVE, NEWTOWN, BUCKS COUNTY, PA 18940
Synopsis Minutes of the meeting held on August 21, 2012
Present : Chairman Allen Fidler, Vice Chairman Robert Whartenby and members Ted Chleboski, Paul Cohen, Fred DeVesa, Peggy Driscoll and Dennis Fisher. 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: The recording secretary noted that she would be changing the first sentence on page 2 to read, “…should be 11,538 square feet… revision shows 13,066 square feet.”
Mr. Whartenby moved to approve the minutes of August 7, 2012, as amended. Mrs. Driscoll seconded and the motion passed 5-0-1, with Mr. Cohen abstaining.
Zoning Hearing Board
Application of Frank Agabiti, 100 Brandywine Blvd: Fran Agabiti was in attendance to review his request for a use variance for uses E-5 eating place and E-6 eating place drive-in, in the cafeteria in the Waste Management building. Mr. Agabiti has opened the cafeteria to serve the employees working in the building only, but wishes to expand to service the surrounding business districts with take-out and catering. He explained that his hours of operation are Monday through Friday from 6:30 AM to 3:00 PM now, serving breakfast and lunch only. He would like to extend his hours to 5:00 PM to offer take home dinners.
Mr. Fidler asked how Mr. Agabiti intended to promote the cafeteria among off-site patrons.
Mr. Agabiti said he would like limited signage and would do some advertising to alert commuters passing on their way to I95 in the morning. He would not have a drive-through window, but would offer take-out coffee and breakfast sandwiches.
Ms. Fountain explained that the Codes Department has employed the E-6 use for both drive through and take out service for restaurants.
Mr. Cohen asked about the current restriction to building tenant employees only.
Mr. Agabiti said that the outside door is locked and entrance is only available through the building lobby, where there is security. He served both employees and visitors to the building, as Waste Management has a training facility at the site. It is difficult to monitor whether a patron is an employee, visitor or guest of an employee.
Mr. Fidler said that the Zoning Hearing Board might ask about efforts to attract “outside” patrons. He suggested that Mr. Agabiti be prepared to show his promotional plans.
Mr. Cohen and Mrs. Driscoll asked about the catering component. Mrs. Driscoll asked about catered events on site.
Mr. Agabiti said that he would like to prepare breakfasts and lunches on site for delivery to the surrounding community as individual lunch deliveries or prepared trays of food to be served during off-site meetings. He understood that the previous cafeteria owner had a catering business. He did not intend to change the seating or the kitchen facilities. There is a full service commercial kitchen and seating for 52 patrons. He would like to open the outside door for direct access.
Mr. Vogt pointed out that the building was built and approved as an office use with accessory, “B” use cafeteria. The codes requirements for an “A” or primary uses, E-5/E-6 might be different and this applicant might not meet those requirements. A new certificate of occupancy would be required.
Ms. Fountain asked about the number of seats and employees, to try to determine the adequacy of parking.
Mr. Agabiti said that the cafeteria has 52 seats and will have 6t- 10 employees. He would work from opening until closing with the others working an 8 hour shift from 7:00AM until 3:00 PM.
Mr. Fidler explained that the Planning Commission’s role in reviewing Zoning Hearing Board applications is two-fold: to guide the applicants through the procedures and help prepare them for their hearings and also to recommend an appropriate position to the Supervisors regarding possibly participating at the Zoning Hearing Board.
Mr. Cohen said that he did not think this application should be a Zoning Hearing Board matter at all. The Supervisors should be the ones to determine whether a new use should be added to the Zoning District. Having a restaurant and stand alone catering business in the OR district is not consistent with the Ordinance or with the Jointure’s comprehensive plan. If this is a good plan and a good use, the Ordinance should be amended to allow it, defining specific conditions where the use could be permitted in all of the business districts, the OR, LI and OLI.
The Commission discussed the current accessory use of the cafeteria. Mr. Fidler noted that Joey G’s is an accessory use which was permitted by an agreement with the Supervisors in exchange for preservation of a historic building. Perhaps the accessory use for this cafeteria could be expanded to make it a viable business.
Mr. Agabiti said that at this time, with the high lease rate, he cannot support the business while only serving building tenants. The building is not fully occupied at this time.
Mr. Cohen said that he thought this might be a good use for this location because there are not other restaurants nearby and it is located at the intersection of two arterial roads.
Mr. DeVesa said that he did not feel the Commission had been given adequate information to determine whether serving outside customers and catering should be permitted. There has been no information on parking or traffic to meet the requirements of a primary use. He suggested that the Commission leave the decision to the Zoning Hearing Board, while also alerting the Supervisors of the Commission’s concerns.
The members discussed the need to address this particular application first, then consider changes to the Ordinance. Mr. Cohen said that he would be opposed to this application, as he did not feel the applicant has shown a hardship.
Mr. Fidler said that perhaps the vacancies in the building and the high lease rate could be considered a hardship, especially since the site had been used by the former owner for off-site catering.
The Commission discussed other instances of accessory uses which were available to the public, noting that NAC has some medical accessory uses, a café and a beauty salon. These services are all available to the public.
Mrs. Driscoll said that the catering Mr. Agabiti has described is not the intense use she had envisioned. This is not catering of large events like parties and weddings. She did not think preparing food trays for business breakfasts and lunches would have an impact on the surrounding community.
Mr. Fisher noted that any increased traffic to the site would be offset by tenants not leaving during lunch hour; the traffic might balance. He and Mr. DeVesa also noted that the presence of the cafeteria could improve the occupancy rate of this and nearby buildings.
The members agreed that the Planning Commission should forward the application to the Supervisors, recommending that it be left to the discretion of the Zoning Hearing Board, however the synopsis Mr. Fidler presents to the Supervisors should point out the points of discussion and concern:
Mr. Fidler noted that the Commission had discussed its recommendations to the Supervisors regarding Zoning Hearing Board applications. He then brought those concerns to the Supervisors. He provided a copy of the minutes of that discussion to the members, noting that Solicitor Jeffrey Garton recommended that rather than say “without comment” the Commission could instead say, “leave to the discretion of the Zoning Hearing Board” in cases that have no impact on the community. He would prefer to expand that option to include applications which will have minimal impact.
Mr. Cohen said that he would also like the Commission to consider offering more than just a recommendation to oppose an application. This should be reserved for instances when the Commission feels the entire application will have a negative impact on the community, or if it varies widely from the Township’s planning and vision. The Commission has seen some applications which, if modified, would be acceptable. He mentioned a few sign variance applications which, if altered, the Commission did not think the Supervisors should oppose. He would like recommendations to offer information on the Commission’s objections and suggestions as to what can be done to work with the applicant toward an acceptable solution or a lesser variance. He said that sometimes the Planning Commission is more aware of the Township’s ordinance and comprehensive plan.
Mr. Fidler suggested that Mr. Cohen and Mr. Torrente might craft some language to address this. He reminded all that the Commission members are volunteers and he did not want to cross the line into an authoritative review process. He also suggested that future synopses should be circulated among all of the members for comment before they are submitted to the Supervisors where time permits.
Subcommittee and Liaison Reports
Board of Supervisors: Mr. Fidler said that the Supervisors have authorized advertisement of an ordinance to allow the Sewer Authority to inspect maintenance of grease traps at restaurants.
Historic Architectural Review Board: Mrs. Driscoll reported that HARB reviewed and recommended approval of a new sign for the Carriage House on Sycamore Street. They also discussed recent proliferation of banners and unauthorized signs. They will be asking the Supervisors to enforce the sign ordinances on Sycamore Street in the Historic District.
Environmental Advisory Council/Park and Recreation Board: Mr. Fidler asked whether either of these Boards has done any work on community gardens. He had been approached by some prospective residents interested in this.
The recording secretary suggested that the residents contact Park and Recreation Director Kathy Pawlenko, as this might be a project she would be interested in. There is a fenced garden area at Clark Nature Center which is not being used right now.
Mr. Whartenby asked whether there is an update on the sewer moratorium.
Mr. Fidler said that the DEP has relaxed its position and is working with Bucks County on a correction plan. He believes that all planning modules which had already been approved could be issued permits. This would include The Birches and Dr. Weglos dental office. He is not sure whether the Acme/Promenade site has submitted and gotten approval for its revised plan.Mr. DeVesa moved to adjourn at 9:40 PM. Mrs. Driscoll seconded and the motion passed 6-0.
Mary Donaldson, Recording Secretary