NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP PLANNING COMMISSION
100 MUNICIPAL DRIVE, NEWTOWN, BUCKS COUNTY, PA 18940
April 16, 2013
Present : Chairman Allen Fidler and Members Ted Chleboski, Paul Cohen, Craig Deutsch, David Domzalski, Peggy Driscoll, and Larry Galley. Also in attendance were: Michele Fountain, Township Engineer, John Torrente, Township Solicitor, and Martin Vogt, Township Code Enforcement Officer.
Approval of Minutes: Ms. Fountain pointed out that page 3, paragraph 9 of the minutes of March 19, 2013 should read, “….along the new road.”
Mrs. Driscoll moved to accept the minutes of the meeting of March 19, 2013 as corrected. Mr. Deutsch seconded and the motion passed 6-0-1, with Mr. Fidler abstaining.
Zoning Hearing Board
Sunoco Inc., (MG Permits) 549 Washington Avenue: Attorney Darren Steinberg represented the applicant in this application to replace the existing Sunoco sign with an LED sign panel which will display the gas prices. Sunoco now has a national program to replace all of its price signs with LED signs. The new sign is the same size as the existing sign and only the gas price would be LED. The LED lights are more energy efficient; the new signs’ price information can be changed remotely. Mr. Steinberg provided sample photographs of the existing sign and the replacement.
Mr. Fidler said that of particular concern to the Jointure when drafting this ordinance was the brightness of LED lights. He asked if the applicant would keep the signs at one brightness level and would extinguish the lights when the station is closed.
Mr. Steinberg said that the lights’ brightness is adjustable and changes with the surrounding ambient light. They glow brighter during daylight hours.
Steven Hindy of Sunoco said that the lights would be extinguished when the station closes at 9:00 PM. The brightness of the new signs would not be any brighter than the current signage.
Mr. Cohen said that the Zoning Hearing Board would need to hear about a hardship to grant relief in this application.
Mr. Steinberg said that gas stations are unique in that they must display prices which change frequently, sometimes daily. There have occasionally been injuries from falls when employees slip when changing the signs.
Mr. Hindy said that the LED portion would only be the price lines. There are currently three prices displayed; the new sign will only display two price lines.
Mr. Cohen said that he did not feel there was a basis for granting a variance, as there is no hardship. The change would have a negative impact on the community as this gas station is on Washington Avenue, the gateway to the historic district. He was concerned about opening doors for other gas stations, and ultimately other businesses, to replace existing signs with LED lighted signs. He said that this might be something to consider legislatively with a change to the ordinance, however he would recommend that the Supervisors oppose this application.
Mr. Hindy pointed out that the ordinance prohibits reader boards, whereas this is a static display. There are no flashing lights or changing images. The brightness can be controlled. Only the prices would be LED.
Mr. Chleboski asked if any such signs have been permitted elsewhere in the Jointure.
Mr. Fidler said that no LED signs are permitted in the Jointure at all.
Mrs. Driscoll asked whether the “A Plus” portion of the sign would also be LED.
Mr. Hindy said that this was a mistake in the photograph. Only the numbers would be LED lighted.
Mrs. Driscoll said that she agrees with Mr. Cohen; this is the entrance to the historic district and should be protected.
Attorney James McNamara, representing Newtown Borough, said that the Borough would be seeking party status at the Zoning Hearing Board to oppose this application. LED signs are not permitted under the JMZO. This is a historic district location and there is no hardship.
Mr. Fidler explained that the Planning Commission only serves in an advisory capacity to the Board of Supervisors as to whether to take a position at the Zoning Hearing Board.
Mr. Cohen moved to recommend that the Board of Supervisors oppose this application at the Zoning Hearing Board. Mrs. Driscoll seconded and the motion passed 7-0.
Douglas Haines, 66 Richboro Road: The applicant was not in attendance for this review.
Mr. Fidler read the application, which seeks relief to place six awning signs and one free standing sign on the property where only two signs are permitted, relief for size of the signs, relief for height of the freestanding sign and relief to place a sign more than 35 feet from the cartway.
Mr. Vogt said that he has spoken to Mr. Haines and had expected him to be in attendance. Mr. Haines had ordered the awnings and had them installed without realizing that the logos were considered signage. He did not know that all of the awnings would be installed with logos imprinted on them. Mr. Vogt advised Mr. Haines to leave the awnings in place and to seek Zoning Hearing Board relief.
Mr. Fidler said that he visited the site. It is set back from the road and is at the end of the commercial district.
Mr. Galley said that the number of signs seems excessive; the signs in the rear parking lot area are not necessary.
Mrs. Driscoll asked whether the awnings are permitted or if the relief needed is only for the logos.
Mr. Vogt said that the awnings can stay; no relief is needed for them. The issue is the logos and writing on the awnings, which are considered signs.
Mr. Cohen said that he considered the freestanding sign a necessity, as the building is set back from the road and is at the beginning of the residential district. He thought this location presented a hardship for retail business. The freestanding sign and the awnings helped to make the building more visible from the commercial retail area. He noted that the front entrance is not apparent from the street and the signage and awnings help call attention to the door.
The members discussed the awnings, but could not make a specific recommendation as to whether they are necessary since the applicant was not in attendance to discuss them. It seemed to the members that the awnings were necessary to protect the products from sunlight and they made the building look more attractive.
The members discussed the possibility of lights on the signs bothering neighbors.
Mr. Torrente said that the Ordinance prohibits lights from glaring beyond the property line. He did not know whether these signs are to be lighted at all. Lighting the signs is permitted under the ordinance if the light is contained on the property.
The members agreed to pass this application to the Supervisors with the recommendation that they not oppose it. The members did feel that perhaps the number of signs might be unnecessary, but without input from the applicant they were reluctant to make specific recommendations.
Mrs. Driscoll said that the two applications reviewed this evening and other recent applications point out the need to review the sign ordinance. She suggested that perhaps some changes should be made so that every new business would not need to apply for a variance for basic signage.
Mr. Fidler said that he would ask the Supervisors to authorize the Planning Commission to initiate a review.
Application of Clifton Homes for Phillip and Patricia Shotts, 4 Windrow Lane: David Irwin of Clifton Homes was in attendance to review this application for relief to increase the impervious surface by 1% to build a sunroom.
Mr. Fidler explained that the Planning Commission is charged with recommending to the Supervisors whether to support or oppose an application and also to guide applicants through the procedure at the Zoning Hearing Board. Typically when applications increase impervious surface, applicants are advised to consider ways to mitigate the additional run-off. For a small increase like this, certain garden plantings can be helpful.
Mr. Galley said that he visited the site and wondered whether the adjacent neighbor might be concerned because the addition will be in view of the next door patio.
Mr. Fidler said that neighbors are notified of the application. The Commission sometimes suggests that applicants bring letters of support from the adjacent neighbors.
Mr. Irwin said that he believed Mr. and Mrs. Shotts have discussed the project with their neighbors, none of whom had objections.
Mr. Cohen noted that the increase is de minimis. This property has a swimming pool. In many municipalities the pool surface is not considered impervious. He did not see any reason to object to the application.
Ms. Fountain urged Mr. Clifton to review the side yard setback near the chimney. It does not seem to meet the minimum setback requirement.
Mr. Vogt said that he has checked this and it does fall within the permitted setback.
The members agreed to forward this application to the Supervisors recommending that they not oppose it.
Subcommittee and Liaison Reports
Board of Supervisors: The recording secretary reported that at its April 10, 2013 meeting the Supervisors agreed to allow Newtown Swim Club to submit a townhouse PRD plan, had approved the Brookshire Estates Phase II final plan, adopted the Goodnoe rezoning, wood-fired boiler and trailer home gross site area ordinance and authorized advertisement of the solar energy equipment ordinance.
Regional Planning Commission: Mr. Cohen reported that the Commission had recommended removal of stormwater references from the JMZO, as each municipality has a stand-alone ordinance. They are also working on correcting a number of discrepancies between the written body of the ordinance and the various charts and tables within the ordinance.
Historic Architectural Review Board: Mrs. Driscoll reported that HARB reviewed and recommended approval for a sign for a Latin restaurant on Cambridge Lane.
Park and Recreation Board: The recording secretary reported that an Eagle Scout presented a plan to build a community herb garden in the fenced in portion of Clark Nature Center.
Environmental Advisory Council: The recording secretary reported that EAC members helped with check-in at the Leck Electronic Recycling event, where 385 cars dropped off over 35,000 pounds of electronics.
Mr. Cohen reported that Lower Makefield has opened its pool memberships to non-residents. He was not sure whether this would impact the NAC pool or Newtown Swim Club’s final season.
Mary Donaldson, Recording Secretary