NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP PLANNING COMMISSION
100 MUNICIPAL DRIVE, NEWTOWN, BUCKS COUNTY, PA 18940
November 19, 2013
Present: Chairman Allen Fidler and members Peggy Driscoll, Craig Deutsch, Dennis Fisher and Larry Galley. Also in attendance were John Torrente, Township Solicitor, Michele Fountain, Township Engineer, Micah Lewis, Township Planner, Martin Vogt, Code Enforcement Officer and Philip Calabro, Supervisor Liaison.
Call to Order: Chairman Fidler called the meeting to order at 7:30 PM
Approval of Minutes: Mr. Fisher moved to approve the minutes of October 15, 2013. Mr. Galley seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Zoning Hearing Board
David and Beverly Fleming, 258 Durham Road : Attorney Don Marshall represented the applicants who seek a variance to light an entrance sign at Rosebank Winery. He explained that the ordinance does not permit lighting on agricultural accessory uses. While a winery is an agricultural accessory use (H-17), it is unusual in that it frequently hosts activities and events after dark. The lack of lighting on the signage can be a safety hazard, especially on busy Durham Road. Mr. Marshall explained that the sign has always been lighted but during a recent Township inspection of completed work on the addition, it was noted by the Code Enforcement Officer that this is not permitted. Mr. Fleming wishes to correct the situation by seeking a variance. No changes to the sign are planned and it will remain lighted as it currently is. This facility is on a dark and busy road and it needs to be visible for the safety of motorists looking for the winery. The surrounding properties are not residential. Newtown Elementary, the Archdiocese cemetery and the Clark Nature Center are the nearest neighbors who could see the sign.
Mr. Marshall also suggested that as the Planning Commission is discussing future revisions to the sign ordinances, this restriction should be reconsidered.
Mr. Fidler agreed that the winery use was different from other agricultural accessory uses such as farm stands. The wineries host events all year long in the evenings.
Mrs. Driscoll agreed that the sign should have lights. The light on the driveway and the sign light are the only lights in the area and it would be very difficult to locate the entrance without the lights. She felt that the lighting is necessary for safety.
Mr. Vogt confirmed that the sign has been lighted for many years without incident. This proposed variance would make the existing sign legal.
The Commission members agreed to recommend that the Board of Supervisors not oppose this application.
Tim Ayrer, 498 Linton Hill Road: The applicant was not in attendance for review of this application for a side yard setback of 15 feet where 35 feet are required and a special exception to build a 20’X 30’ addition to an existing detached garage on a non-conforming lot.
Mrs. Driscoll said that she visited the site and noticed that there is a shed and a trash can enclosure in addition to the existing garage. She would have like to ask the applicant whether these are to be removed.
Mr. Fisher asked whether the property still would meet impervious surface restrictions if the shed were to remain.
Mr. Torrente said that it appears from the plans that the shed is not to be removed. The property is still within the impervious surface limits. The only relief needed is for setbacks.
Mr. Vogt provided the members with copies of a 1994 plan, which shows the existing property clearer than the plan attached to the application.
Ms. Fountain pointed out that this property had at one time applied to move a sump pump. She reviewed the surrounding parcels, which include a stream, the water company property and the Pickering Chase open space.
Mr. Fisher asked if any trees would be removed.
Ms. Fountain noted that individual trees can be removed without a need for tree replacement.
Mr. Fidler said that if the applicant had been present, the Commission could have advised him to present a letter of support from Pickering Chase homeowners association to the Zoning Hearing Board. He noted that the lot is an unusual shape, presenting a unique hardship.
The Commission members agreed to recommend that the Supervisors not oppose the application.
Amended Subdivision Plan, Twining, 178 Durham Road: Attorney Ed Murphy, representing the owner of lot #2 of the Twining minor subdivision, was in attendance to review this amendment to the final minor subdivision plan to remove a driveway from the plan. He explained that the original plan included access to lot #2 through a shared driveway with the Twining property, lot #1. A second driveway for right in/right out access only was also on the original plan. The owner of lot #2 would now eliminate the second driveway, instead creating an easement with the owner of the property to the north to share that driveway for full access to lot #2.
Mr. Murphy reviewed the letters from the Township Engineer, Planner and Traffic Engineer and agreed that the applicant will comply with all points in these letters.
Mr. Fidler asked whether EMS has reviewed the plan.
Ms. Fountain said that EMS did not object to the plan; the driveway is adequate for emergency vehicle access.
Mr. Fidler noted that among the conditions of the original approval for this subdivision was a requirement to clean up lot #1.
Mr. Vogt said that this has been addressed; a fee has been paid and the file has been closed. A number of abandoned vehicles had been removed after the adoption of the new abandoned vehicle ordinance.
Mr. Galley asked why the new driveway is planned so close to the property line.
Ms. Fountain said that she has addressed this in her review; it is to be moved away from the property line.
Mr. Lewis asked for clarification on tree removal.
Mr. Murphy said that no additional trees will be removed with this change.
Mr. Fidler asked about arrangements to protect the existing homeowner’s driveway.
Ms. Fountain said that there will be a construction entrance which will need BCCD approval to address construction debris and mud on the roads and the other properties.
Mrs. Driscoll asked if the trees in front of the Twining house will be removed.
Ms. Fountain said that the trees will remain.
Mr. Deutsch moved to recommend that the Board of Supervisors approve the amended final plan for Twining Minor Subdivision located at 178 Durham Road, Newtown, Pennsylvania, 19840, being Bucks County Tax Parcel Number 29-4-37-2 prepared by Protract Engineering dated September 24, 2013, last revised September 24, 2013, subject to the following conditions, all of which the applicant has agreed to:
Mrs. Driscoll seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Amendment correcting JMZO inconsistencies: Mr. Torrente explained that the Jointure has been working to correct some inconsistencies between the body text of the ordinances and the tables.
Mr. Fidler asked whether each Planning Commission is expected to review the changes carefully, one by one, or if this can be done by our consultants.
Mr. Vogt said that he had begun to review the changes and had noted a few areas of contradiction and some areas where uses are changed from permitted by right to permitted by conditional use or not permitted. For example, change #18 states that accessory structure use in the LI district is by conditional use, when the codes department routinely issues permits for accessory structures. He noted that #29 prohibits temporary retail in the POS district, which would prohibit things like snack sheds and community yard sales in the parks.
Mr. Torrente said that the Jointure had concerns about possible challenges if there are inconsistencies. This is an effort to clean up as much as possible as a matter of housekeeping only.
Mr. Fidler said that he understood this but did not want the changes to place undue burdens on the business districts. He asked Mr. Torrente and Mr. Vogt to review the changes specific to Newtown Township zoning districts for the Planning Commission to focus a future discussion.
Mr. Vogt said that he has observed a number of similar inconsistencies but has also noticed that not everyone is working from the same edition of the Ordinance.
Mr. Calabro said that he would speak to the Board of Supervisors and Manager about getting the Planning Commission members the most recent copies of the JMZO and SALDO. Perhaps if they are kept in binder form, as amendments are added, new pages could more easily be replaced.
Sign Ordinance Review
Mr. Fidler noted that the Commission members have been able to focus discussion on a list of frequent sign problems encountered by the Township. Of particular concern are temporary signs, which appear throughout the Township, but particularly in the commercial districts. Some of the members have discussed placing an end date on temporary sign permits rather than a number of days for displaying temporary signs. This sounds like a workable solution.
Mr. Fidler said that he would like to spend some additional time on the Business Commons and restrictions on signs within 1000 feet of the Bypass. He is particularly concerned about businesses on Newtown Yardley Road near the Bypass.
Mr. Torrente suggested that another area to be explored would be temporary signs announcing special sales and events.
Mr. Vogt said that currently the Township issues permits for organizations sponsoring events but does not require that those events and activities be in Newtown. The Commission might want to consider limiting such signage to organizations with activities in Newtown or whose membership is constituted of Newtown residents. For example, he has recently granted permits for Wrightstown Library and Grey Nun Academy. Private property owners give their permission for such signs to be displayed.
Mr. Fidler said that he would like to create a list of the specific sign changes that the Commission feels should be made, then ask the Board of Supervisors to meet in a work session to provide some feedback as to the changes. For example, he would like direction from the Supervisors as to how large they would increase sign size in the business districts, how long they would permit temporary signs to remain and whether they would favor restricting activity and event signs to Newtown organizations only.
Subcommittee and Liaison Reports
Board of Supervisors: Mr. Calabro reported that the Supervisors had been focusing on this year’s budget but he expects some major adjustments with the announced closure of Lockheed Martin. The Township expects a drop of $700,000 in earned income tax. It is his understanding that the facility will phase out operations gradually over the next eighteen months. He asked the Planning Commission to be proactive in working with possible new tenants for the property.
Historic Architectural Review Board: Mrs. Driscoll reported that HARB had reviewed and recommended approval of a wheelchair lift to the side entrance of Old St. Andrew’s Church and continued its discussion of the toll house at Village at Newtown Shopping Center.
Joint Historic Commission: Mr. Deutsch reported that the Commission has also been discussing the toll house.
Mr. Vogt said that the building is structurally sound at this time.
Mrs. Driscoll noted that Brixmor, owner of the property, will make repairs and upgrades after a tenant is found. It will need cosmetic work as well as heating/air conditioning work and a restroom.
Mr. Galley moved to adjourn at 9:45 PM. Mrs. Driscoll seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Mary Donaldson, Recording Secretary