NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP PLANNING COMMISSION
100 MUNICIPAL DRIVE, NEWTOWN, BUCKS COUNTY, PA 18940
August 20, 2013
Present: Chairman Allen Fidler, members Ted Chleboski, Paul Cohen, David Domzalski, Peggy Driscoll, Dennis Fisher and Larry Galley. Also in attendance were Township Solicitor John Torrente, Township Engineer Michele Fountain and Township Planner Micah Lewis.
Call to Order: Mr. Fidler called the meeting to order at 7:30 PM.
Approval of Minutes: Mrs. Driscoll moved to accept the minutes of August 6, 2013. Mr. Cohen seconded and the motion passed 6-0.
Zoning Hearing Board
(Mr. Fisher arrived at this point)
Kevin and Andrea Sweeney, 40 Maple Avenue: Mr. and Mrs. Sweeney were in attendance to review their application for increased impervious surface to 8.9% where 8% is the maximum permitted to install an above ground swimming pool.
Mr. Fidler advised the applicants to be prepared at the Zoning Hearing Board to discuss possible ways to mitigate any increased run-off and to show letters of support from surrounding neighbors. He asked about the proposed decking and fencing for the above ground pool.
Mr. Sweeney explained that the pool will be buried about two feet into the ground. The existing deck, attached to his house, will create a surround for portions of the pool. The pool itself will be fenced and access will only be through the deck.
Mr. Galley said that he had visited the site and noted that it is a very large, secluded yard. He did not think a small increase in impervious surface would impact run-off.
Mr. Sweeney said that he had spoken to his neighbors who are all supportive of the plan.
The Commission was in agreement that as the increase to impervious is de minimis, they recommend that the Supervisors not oppose the application.
Daniel Smolczynski, 135 Swamp Road: Attorney Don Marshall represented the applicant, who is seeking an increase in impervious surface to 19.71% where 12% is the maximum. Mr. Marshall explained that this is part of the three lot Mastromarco subdivision. A variance has been granted to allow the 36,000 square foot lot. There is a circular driveway on the site already and the applicant would like to keep it when he builds his house. The lot accesses Swamp Road near the traffic light and entrance to Tyler Park, making backing out dangerous. The turnaround area is necessary for safety. The property has an added hardship in that the house’s setback will be 97 feet, requiring a very long driveway. The drainage system for the three lot subdivision will accommodate the increased impervious surface.
Ms. Fountain asked what the square footage of impervious surface will be.
Mr. Marshall said the entire property would have 7007 square feet of impervious surface, of which 3837 square feet would be driveway. He pointed out the extra impervious for a turn-around to the side entry garage.
Mr. Cohen said that perhaps the impervious could be reduced by eliminating some paving from the garage area or using some kind of porous paving.
Mr. Marshall said that even with changes to the garage area or relocating the house to require a shorter driveway, some relief will be needed.
Mr. Chleboski asked who is responsible to maintain the seepage pit at the rear of the property.
Mr. Marshall said that an underground infiltration system is planned; there will not be run-off.
Mr. Fidler said that he believes the need for a very long driveway is a hardship and that some turn-around area is necessary for safety. He urged the applicant to try to reduce some on the impervious with porous paving.
Mr. Smolczynski said that he could relocate the house to reduce the length of the driveway, but he feels the chosen location is better because he has small children and Swamp Road is a very busy street.
Mr. Cohen said that he would like to recommend that the Supervisors not oppose this application if some effort is made to reduce some of the impervious surface. He is not making a specific recommendation as to what should be changed, but he urged Mr. Smolczynski to investigate porous pavers or some redesign of the garage area.
The Commission agreed with Mr. Cohen’s recommendation.
Peter Briscoe and Joanne Benze, 28 Sibelius Road: Peter Briscoe and Joanne Benze were in attendance to review this application for increased impervious surface to 22.56% where 20% is the maximum to accommodate an already existing patio and walkway. Mr. Briscoe explained that he moved to the United States in 2002, building the house on Sibelius Road. He and Ms. Benze hired a landscaper to install the patio, but, unbeknownst to them, the landscaper did not secure the necessary permits. They are now in the process of selling their home and learned that a variance would have been necessary and are attempting to correct the situation.
Mr. Galley said that he has visited the site and did not see any evidence of drainage problems. The patio has existed for ten years without creating any difficulty with run-off.
Mr. Briscoe said that there have been no complaints about run-off from neighbors.
Mr. Fisher noted that the house backs to a retention basin.
Mr. Cohen suggested that the Commission recommend that the Board support the application, as the applicants are only recently aware that the necessary permits had not been in place and are trying to rectify the situation.
The members all agreed with Mr. Cohen’s recommendation.
Lookout Lane Enterprises, LLC/College Nannies and Tutors, 277 N. Sycamore St.: Cory and Judy Reef were in attendance to review this application for conditional use for use C-3, commercial school in the TC Town Commercial Zoning District. They explained that the business would have offices at the Sycamore Street location and some tutoring. They would also place nannies in homes for childcare. The childcare would not take place at the location.
Mr. Fidler asked what percentage of the business would take place at the location, as it is necessary for the Commission to consider traffic and parking for a commercial school.
Mr. Reef said that this is not a school, but a tutoring and childcare business. There would be one-on-one tutoring for 1 st through 12 th grades, including test prep classes. He expects to have two or three students on the site at one time for 1-2 hour tutoring sessions. The maximum number of employees would be 8, with an average of 4 on site at any given time. He expects to have about 6 students per day.
Mr. Cohen asked whether the lease includes any specific allocation of parking.
Mr. Reef said that the lot appears to be large enough to service all of the tenants, especially the lower level lot.
Mr. Chleboski asked what the peak time for this business would be.
Mr. Reef said that he expected weekday late afternoon to early evening to be the busiest times. Most of his clients/students will be dropped off and picked up; they will not be parking in the lot.
Mr. Galley said that he frequently visits this shopping center and has observed many available parking spaces, especially in the lower lot.
Mrs. Driscoll asked about proposed signage.
Mr. Reef said that this is a franchise and will have a signage package, but he does not have details yet. He is aware that this location will require approval of HARB for signage.
Mr. Fisher asked whether the applicant would accept as a condition that all tutoring would be one-on-one.
Mr. Reef said that he expects that to be the case, although he might run some practice SAT tests for small groups of students.
Mr. Fidler said that applicants for conditional use are encouraged to seek the maximum hours of operation they might possibly need. He suggested that this application be amended to include Sunday hours, so that should opening on Sunday become necessary, the applicants would not have to return to the Township later.
Mr. Reef said that he would amend the application, although he did not expect to be open seven days a week. He would change his application to allow seven days per week from 9:00 AM until 8:00 PM.
Mrs. Driscoll moved to recommend that the Board of Supervisors approve the conditional use application of Lookout Lane Enterprises, LLC d/b/a Nannies and Tutors, Newtown, 277 North Sycamore Street (Sycamore Center unit #9), Tax Map Parcel 29-12-26, in the TC Town Commercial Zoning District for Use C-3, Commercial School, subject to the following conditions:
Mr. Cohen seconded.
Discussion of motion: Mr. Fisher said that he would like to add a condition that all tutoring be one-on-one. He is concerned about safety and traffic.
Mr. Cohen said that he did not want to restrict the business; it would be more successful if there is some flexibility. The space is too small to do more than a few students at a time. He asked whether there are a maximum number of people permitted on the site as there are in restaurants.
Ms. Fountain said that is determined by the fire department. And the building code.
Mr. Fisher agreed to withdraw his suggestion.
The motion passed 7-0.
Corner Bakery Café, 3 West Road: Attorney John VanLuvanee represented the Rose Group for this amendment to the already approved conditional use for uses E-5 and E-6 eating place and eating place/take out. The applicant wishes to modify the conditions of approval to allow music to be piped onto the patio area. This would be the same recorded background music as is played inside. When the applicant amended the conditional use to allow outdoor seating, outdoor music was prohibited.
Mr. Van Luvanee said that he recently represented Qdoba Restaurant in the building next to Corner Bakery and as a condition the Supervisors had approved music on the patio, provided it is not audible beyond the premises.
Mr. Torrente briefly reviewed the other amendments to the Corner Bakery, one from October 2011, allowing the patio dining and another in 2012, eliminating the requirement to install additional parking and raised crosswalks.
Mr. Fidler reminded the Commission that it has spent considerable time on noise issues with restaurants in the commercial districts. He did not see any difficulty with what is being proposed because this location is not close to any residential properties and it is planned as recorded background music.
Mr. Cohen said that the Commission should be careful in how it defines the premises, since this is part of a very large shopping center. Should sound be audible at the property line for the entire shopping center or from this one section of the shopping center.
John Henley, facilities manager for the Rose Group, said that the goal is to allow low background music on the patio, only. It will have a volume control and will be the same as what is played inside.
Mr. Fidler asked whether there will be an outdoor PA system announcing when tables or take out orders are ready.
Mr. Henley said the restaurant will not have a PA system and will only play background music. People come to this restaurant to eat and talk, not for entertainment.
Mrs. Driscoll noted that when the Township had difficulties with music at restaurants, it involved live entertainment and DJ’s late into the night.
Mr. Chleboski said that the applicant would still be required to comply with the decibel levels permitted in our noise ordinance.
Mr. VanLuvanee said that the planned background music would be at lower decibel levels than the ambient noise surrounding the patio.
Mr. Torrente said that the address 3 West Road is defined as “pad #4” and does not include surrounding parking areas.
Mr. Cohen suggested that a variance could be limited to music audible 30 or 40 feet from the patio.
Mr. Henley said that he would agree to such a condition. He noted that the business is open until 9:00 PM, and sometimes until 10:00 PM in the summer; lights are extinguished at 10:00 PM. He would agree to turn music off at 9:00 PM.
Mr. Lewis suggested that the commission might recommend that music could not be audible beyond 30 feet from the patio or at the property line, whichever is less.
The members all agreed to this suggestion.
Mr. Fisher moved to recommend that the Board of Supervisors approve the application of The Corner Bakery Café, 3 West Road, Tax Map Parcel 29-3-24 for amendment to its conditional use for an E-5/E-6 eating place, in the PC Planned Commercial Zoning District, subject to the following conditions, variances and waivers previously granted:
Mr. Galley seconded and the motion passed 7-0.
Review of Sign Ordinance: Mr. Torrrente said that he had received Code Enforcement Officer Martin Vogt’s report on frequent issues with signage. He did not realize that the Commission members had not also received a copy. He would forward the memo to everyone tomorrow.
Mr. Fidler said that he had begun reviewing the definitions of signs in the Ordinance. The Commission might want to comment on these at future meetings. He also had some concerns about restrictions on signs within 1000 feet of the Bypass; this severely restricts most of the businesses in the Commons. He noted that Mr. Vogt had indicated that his most frequent concerns deal with temporary signage and the difficulty of monitoring those temporary signs with permits.
Mr. Cohen suggested that when dealing with temporary signs it might be better to have a specific end date rather than a number of days that the sign is permitted and then face difficulty in calculating how many days I sign has been posted. He said that he did not find temporary sandwich board signs, for example restaurant signs posting the day’s specials, provided they are removed at night.
The members discussed the many flags and banners now in use along roadways. None of the members were sure whether these are permitted by permit, as they are not affixed to buildings and in some cases not even directly on the business property.
Ms. Fountain suggested that the discussion should include a review of recent Zoning Hearing Board applications and decisions. She believed an abbreviated list was already in the previous PC packet. She asked the recording secretary to include it again in the second September meeting packet.
Mr. Chleboski noted that the Ordinance seems to govern the size of signage based on square footage only, but does not consider the size of the building façade. Sometimes it is more sensible to have larger signs on larger buildings.
The members discussed the use of vehicles parked near businesses with logos and advertisements. Some vehicles are used throughout the day for deliveries, etc, but some are decorated and permanently parked along roadways. The members agreed that this should be reviewed.
Mr. Fisher said that he had recently seen a flatbed truck with an LED sign parked at the McBride Chrysler site on Sycamore Street used as a temporary sign. He did not think this was covered in the Ordinance although LED signs and message centers are prohibited.
Mr. Cohen said that the Township sometimes uses its speed monitoring sign to advertise Park and Rec programs and camps. It is difficult to try to prohibit vehicle signs when the Township is using this type of promotion. The Ordinance does currently prohibit LED signs, including those on vehicles. Using the speed sign to promote programs seems in violation of the Ordinance.
The members briefly discussed the permitted sizes and the method for measuring signs by the complete size of the sign in some instances and by drawing a box around mounted lettering in other instances. They also discussed whether to make exceptions when dealing with franchises which might be required to use not only signs but logos or colored stripes on awnings or doorways. Mr. Fidler said that it will be difficult to address some of the Township’s signage concerns while still attempting to be business friendly and welcoming to franchises with specific requirements.
Mrs. Driscoll said that this can also be a difficulty in the historic district where modern colors are part of logos but do not conform to the historic color palette.
Board of Supervisors: Ms. Fountainreported that at its last meeting the Board discussed the update to the 537 plan and whether to include a new sewage treatment plant in the plan as an alternative.
Mr. Fidler said that in 1975 the Newtown Sewer Authority entered into an agreement with Bucks County Sewer Authority which lasts until January 1, 2012 or until the satisfaction of all bonds. The agreement was never extinguished and bonds in place in 1975 have been rolled over into new bond issues so the issue is to be settled by the courts. It is not known at this time whether the Newtown Sewer Authority has an outstanding obligation to the Bucks County Authority and if so, how much that obligation will be.
Ms. Fountain said that the Supervisors are waiting until they have an idea what that amount might be before considering including the treatment plant as an alternative in the Act 537 plan. She explained that an Act 537 plan is different from other comprehensive plans in that if something is offered as an alternative and an alternative becomes necessary, it must be used.
Mr. Fidler said that at the Sewer Authority meeting a number of residents expressed opposition to a new plant, however, technology has greatly improved in recent years and sewage treatment does not produce odors as it once did. A group from Newtown visited a site in Lewes, Delaware to see a new, modern plant this week.
Historic Architectural Review Board: Mrs. Driscoll reported that the members and the Township have been provided with sample color palettes from a number of local paint suppliers to serve as guides to acceptable colors in the historic district. Farmers Insurance has been granted a Certificate of Appropriateness but the parent organization changed its logo the day after the Supervisors meeting, so the new logo must be approved by the Supervisors with different colors.Mr. Fidler moved to adjourn at 9:10 PM. Mr. Cohen seconded and the motion passed 7-0.
Mary Donaldson, Recording Secretary