NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP PLANNING COMMISSION
100 MUNICIPAL DRIVE, NEWTOWN, BUCKS COUNTY, PA 18940
June 17, 2014
Present: Chairman Allen Fidler, Secretary Peggy Driscoll, Courtney Coffman, Craig Deutsch, Shannon Escalante, Dennis Fisher and Larry Galley, members. Also in attendance were Michele Fountain, Township Engineer, Micah Lewis, Township Planner, Frank Dillon, Township Solicitor, Martin Vogt, Code Enforcement Officer and Michael Gallagher and Kyle Davis (late) Township Supervisor Liaisons.
Call to Order: Mr. Fidler called the meeting to order at 7:30 PM. He announced that Commission member David Domzalski had resigned due to the demands of his business and that Robert Whartenby has resigned to take a place on the Township’s Zoning Hearing Board. He welcomed the Commission’s two new members, Courtney Coffman and Shannon Escalante.
Approval of Minutes: Mrs. Driscoll moved to accept the minutes of May 20, 2014. Mr. Deutsch seconded and the motion passed 4-0-3, with Ms. Escalante, and Messrs. Fisher and Galley abstaining.
Zoning Hearing Board Applications
Margiotti & Kroll, 671 Newtown Yardley Road: Attorney Don Marshall and Josh McDowell were in attendance to review this application for relief for parking setbacks and configuration to convert the old Newtown Veterinary Hospital, an 87,000 square foot parcel, to a pediatric medical office. The 5,100 square foot building on the site will remain. The applicant will install 38 additional parking spaces to meet the Ordinance requirement. The relief is needed for the design of the parking lot on this odd shaped lot in the OLI zoning district. Mr. Marshall explained that the driveway width will be less than the required 25 feet. The narrower portion is part of the circular driveway to the existing portico for patient drop-off. It will be one-way, only. Relief is also needed for the 11 spaces along the east property line, to be within the setbacks and for the loading area to be within the setbacks and partially within the travel lane. The business will only have UPS type deliveries, so a full sized loading area is not needed. Mr. Marshall noted that the street has a 120 foot ultimate right of way at this location.
Mr. Marshall said that the applicants have already met with Township staff and consultants, who have no opposition to the plan.
Mr. Fidler asked about stormwater management in the ultimate right of way.
Mr. Marshall said that underground retention is planned under the parking lot. Land development has not been completed, so he does not have details for stormwater management.
Mrs. Driscoll asked if the current driveway is already only 12 feet wide.
Mr. Marshall said that this is the current condition. The applicant wants to retain the portico, where the drive aisle is 12 feet wide.
Mr. Galley expressed some concern about the entrance planned next to the Gulf Station entrance. He asked whether there would be designated employee parking.
Mr. McDowell said that employees would probably use the spaces along the eastern boundary. The entrance near the Gulf Station is to be used for patient drop off.
Mr. Dillon advised the Commission that traffic circulation within the site would be addressed at land development.
Mr. Fidler suggested that the applicant should try to show the support of the residential neighbors at the Zoning Hearing Board. He said that this seems a good use for the property. He agreed with Mr. Galley that some of the traffic circulation might be a problem which would be discussed during the land development review.
The members were in agreement that this is a good use for the property and recommended that the Supervisors support the application.
Continued and Amended Application of Newtown Racquetball Association, 120 Pheasant Run: Mr. Marshall and Club owner Jim Worthington were in attendance to review this amended sign variance application. Mr. Marshall reminded the Commission that this is an 18.03 acre parcel fronting four roads: the Newtown Bypass, Pheasant Run, Blacksmith Road and Penns Trail. The applicant had submitted an application to the Zoning Hearing Board for the sign on the pool retaining wall. The Zoning Hearing Board asked Mr. Worthington to amend his application to include signage for the entire complex, rather than consider each sign individually.
He reviewed all of the signs as follows:
Mr. Marshall emphasized that this had been three individual parcels, which have been combined at the request of the Township. There are four separate businesses at the complex and four different road frontages.
Mr. Fidler said that the PC members have discussed the site and have some concern that the logo on the bucket in the water park constitutes a sign and was not included in the application.
Mr. Worthington said that the bucket was placed in the water park for fun for the kids. He wanted to hear how the Commission felt about the other signage, as he is willing to work with the members on a compromise.
Mr. Fidler acknowledged that the members do not object to the quality of the signage and would be glad to see temporary signage removed. He questioned whether the monument sign at the corner of Pheasant Run and Penns Trail is necessary, as the facility is adequately marked by the other signs. He was pleased that the plan would reduce the size of the wall mounted sign on the club building.
Mr. Deutsch said that he was unhappy that the signs have been installed before permits were sought. He noted that Mr. Worthington has been developing properties in the Township for many years and is aware of the Township’s requirements and restrictions. The site is dominant in its location and does not need so much signage.
Mr. Worthington said that in addition to needing the signage to direct visitors to the correct locations within the complex, the signage is part of the architectural ornamentation. He had incorrectly believed that the large sign on the retaining wall did have proper permits because the wall had been included in the original pool complex plans for which permits were issued. He has relied on experts to represent him at the Township and had incorrectly assumed that everything was in order. He stressed that there are a number of different uses throughout the complex and each use needs to be identified. He would have been entitled to more signage had he not combined the parcels. Other buildings with multiple tenants have more signs than the NAC. He has made an effort to make the entire complex very attractive. He would be willing to make some compromise but wants to preserve the appearance of the site.
Mr. Deutsch said that it is not fair to compare the NAC complex to other, multi-tenant buildings where the tenants and their businesses are unrelated and independent of one another.
Mrs. Driscoll said that she is supportive of the large retaining wall sign and would support the application if the building sign is reduced by 40 %, all temporary signs are removed and the sign at the intersection and the sign on the bucket are eliminated.
Mr. Fisher agreed with Mrs. Driscoll, noting that the monument sign at the corner is very close to the other signs and is not necessary.
Mr. Galley agreed with Mr. Deutsch that he was not happy to see the signs installed before the permits were issued, but he also agreed with Mrs. Driscoll about supporting the retaining wall sign. Since the landscaping has been planted, softening the effect, it is very attractive.
Ms. Coffman had no objections.
Ms. Escalante agreed that the monument sign at the corner was unnecessary, but otherwise did not object to the plan.
Mr. Worthington said that he wanted the monument to serve as a directional sign to the complex entrance. The entrance on Penns Trail has been eliminated. He thought the monument at the corner was necessary to direct traffic to the Pheasant Run driveway entrance.
Mr. Vogt explained that at the Zoning Hearing Board, members had discussed various emergency response agencies using the NAC sign at the intersection with the Bypass as a landmark for directions.
Mr. Marshall said that Mr. Worthington has agreed to reduce the wall sign on the original building by 40%, will remove the logo from the bucket and will eliminate the monument at the intersection.
Mr. Fidler reminded the members that they must make a recommendation to the Supervisors to either oppose, support or take no action at the Zoning Hearing Board. He would not recommend supporting the application as submitted, but would recommend that the Township not oppose and take no action if the application were modified as Mr. Marshall indicated.
The members agreed with Mr. Fidler to recommend no opposition to the application if the applicant removed the sign at the intersection and the bucket, reduced the building sign at Penns Trail by 40% and removed all temporary signs.
Mr. Deutsch said he wanted to be clear that he was not suggesting that the bucket be removed, only the logo on the bucket.
Application of Newtown Racquetball Association, 120 Pheasant Run: Mr. Marshall and Mr. Worthington reviewed this application for a patio located 8.5 feet from the ultimate right of way where a 75 foot setback is required.
Mr. Fidler again said that he found it disingenuous to build on the site without first making sure all permits were in order. This patio has already been installed and is being used.
Mr. Worthington said he has no excuse for this. As the owner, he is responsible for the work done by his staff and contractors. He said that he believed his staff was unaware of the setback issues until work was nearly completed.
Mrs. Driscoll said that the NAC is an asset to the community, one of its biggest employers, especially of teens, and she is eager to work with Mr. Worthington, but is also dismayed about work being done without permits and zoning relief.
Mr. Marshall said that the mistake was made because the retaining wall was permitted and had already existed. The plans were checked for impervious surface ratio and it was found to be below the maximum.
Mr. Lewis said that he believed that the wall was not permitted under the ordinance, which prohibits any “structure” within the setbacks under section 1000E.
Mr. Worthington said that he had contacted the Township about this patio and spoke to Ms. Fountain, who confirmed the impervious ratio. He did not realize there was an issue with the setback and he apologized.
Vince Keegan, project manager, said that he did look at the Township requirements but was unaware of setback requirements until after construction was begun.
Mr. Marshall said that he had been consulted about impervious surface requirements on April 15. The violation had been issued on May 5 and he applied for the variance on May 15, at which time work had been completed.
Mr. Fidler confirmed with Mr. Vogt that it is permissible to use the patio until the Zoning Hearing Board rules as long as there is no danger to the public.
Mr. Vogt said that part of the confusion on this matter is that the Ordinance is silent on commercial fences and walls. The violation notice was issued for the patio, not the wall, within the setback.
The members were in agreement that they objected to the way the application was submitted after completion of construction and while the patio is in full use, however, they did not recommend that the Board of Supervisors oppose the application. They recommended that the Board take no position and leave the matter to the Zoning Hearing Board.
162 Durham Road, Final Plan for Minor Subdivision: Applicant John McGrath and Engineer John Richardson of Dumack Engineering were in attendance to review this application for minor subdivision of a 2.5 acre parcel, creating two building lots in the R-1 Zoning District. Mr. McGrath explained that he has been granted Zoning Hearing Board relief for this subdivision. He will build two single-family houses on the two parcels. Relief was granted for the width of the flag lot on Durham Road, and impervious surface, with the rear lot having 17.2% and the front lot having 13.2%. Relief was granted subject to conditions requiring construction of swales and a stormwater system to contain run-off from the site. There is run-off on the properties from adjacent parcels coming through the site and this will also be addressed.
Mr. McGrath said that he has met with the Township consultants and will comply with all review letters.
Ms. Fountain said the plans have been reviewed and revised a second time. All comments have been addressed and the redesigned stormwater system satisfies the ordinance and the Zoning Hearing Board requirements.
Mr. Richardson said that he would be seeking five waivers as follows:
Ms. Fountain said that the PVC pipe will be less than 15” but may not be all 8” pipe.
Mr. Fidler commended the applicant for working to comply with the consultants.
Mr. McGrath said that the adjacent homeowner had objected to the plans at the Zoning Hearing Board. He has met with her and she is satisfied with the new stormwater plan and will not object to the land development plan.
Mrs. Driscoll moved to recommend that the Board of Supervisors approve the final plan for Minor Subdivision located at 162 Durham Road, Newtown, Pennsylvania, 19840, being Bucks County Tax Parcel Number 29-4-39 prepared by Dumack Engineering, last revised may 21, 2014 with stormwater plan last revised May 21, 2014, subject to the following conditions, all of which the applicant has agreed to:
Mr. Fisher seconded and the motion passed 7-0.
162 Durham Road Planning Module Component 4A: Ms. Fountain explained that because of an agreement with the Bucks County Water and Sewer Authority, the applicant must submit a planning module. She reviewed the questions with the applicant and the Commission and completed the form. She asked the Commission to authorize Mr. Fidler, as chairman, to sign the module.
Mr. Fisher moved to authorize Allen Fidler as Planning Commission Chairman to sign the Planning Module Component 4 A. Mr. Galley seconded and the motion passed 7-0.
JMZO Amendments: Wineries, Wireless Communications and Corrections of Inconsistencies: Mr. Fidler reminded the members that these three amendments have been reviewed in depth by the Commission at previous meetings.
Mr. Dillon said that each of the Jointure Planning Commissions must formally recommend that the Supervisors of their respective municipalities advertise these amendments for adoption.
Mr. Deutsch moved to recommend that the Board of Supervisors authorize advertisement of JMZO amendments on wineries, wireless communications and corrections to inconsistencies in the tables. Mr. Galley seconded and the motion passed 7-0.
Sign Ordinance Review: Mr. Fidler explained that the Commission has been discussing the sign ordinances, speaking with the Code Enforcement Officer about enforcement issues in the commercial districts and about frequently seen applications for relief from the Zoning Hearing Board. The Commission has invited representatives from the various business organizations to attend this meeting to offer some insight into the businesses’ needs. For the benefit of new members, he explained that each of the business districts have different sign ordinances, and the TC Town Commercial District is in or surrounded by the Historic District.
Sycamore Street Community Association members Shawn Ward, Vince Lombardi and Candis Krazyck were in attendance to speak about the TC district’s signage concerns. Ms. Krazyck said that her business, Sycamore Salon has one free standing sign and she had applied for and was denied a second sign at the Zoning Hearing Board because of objections by her residential neighbor. She said that her business suffers when new customers are not able to find her shop. She would like the Ordinance to allow for two signs to make shops easier to identify.
Mr. Galley asked whether one person’s objection is enough to prevent the granting of a variance.
Mr. Dillon said that a variance can be granted over a neighbor’s objection; he was unfamiliar with Ms. Krazyck’s particular application and whether the neighbor’s objection involved strong testimony and exhibits which the Zoning Hearing Board found compelling.
Mr. Ward agreed, saying that as Sycamore Street’s business community has grown and become pedestrian friendly, small shops need to be visible to both motorists and walkers. Facsia signs are not visible to anyone approaching on foot, and blade signs cannot be read from the opposite side of the street.
Mr. Fidler asked if the size or height of signage has been an issue on Sycamore Street.
Mr. Lombardi said that most business owners are sensitive to the appearance of the street and mindful of the HARB requirements. Sign size and height has been dictated by the size of the property and its setbacks. It is the limit of only one sign that has been a difficulty for most of the businesses.
Mr. Fidler noted that many of the Sycamore Street businesses have sandwich board signs already.
Mr. Vogt said that these signs are regulated by a permit process. They conform to historic color requirements and the other businesses on the street seem to help with self-regulation.
Mr. Lombardi said that these sandwich board signs serve a different function, announcing menu specials or sale items. They do not identify the shop by name or help with identification of the business.
Mr. Dillon said that some municipalities use special exceptions for additional signage rather than zoning variances.
Mr. Fidler said that the goal of the Planning Commission was to recommend changes to the Ordinance to reduce the need for relief and create a more business friendly atmosphere. He also mentioned that when the Commission discusses the PC and CC zoning districts, there are more concerns with franchise requirements and temporary and banner signs.
Mr. Vogt noted that fascia signs are permitted by right. He suggested that with free standing and blade signs, the second sign could be added to the number of permitted signs, with size of sign based on the size of the property and the setback.
The members briefly discussed the use of “open” signs in all of the commercial districts and agreed that neon signs should not be permitted.
Mr. Ward asked that the Sycamore Street Community Association be included in future discussions dealing with all commercial zoning districts.
Mr. Dillon explained that this would be a lengthy process; once decisions are made by this Planning Commission on specific recommendations, an ordinance amendment would be drafted and circulated among Jointure partners for consideration and approval. Each municipality may have its own suggestions on changes.
Subcommittee and Liaison Reports
Board of Supervisors: Mr. Gallagher said that he would make the other Supervisors aware of Mr. Domzalski’s resignation and would begin a search for a replacement.
Historic Architectural Review Board: Mrs. Driscoll reported that HARB had discussed some proposed changes to the Promenade façade. Mr. Keegan, the project manager, did not understand that any changes from the already approved façade would require a new certificate of appropriateness. He will return in July with sample colors and materials for the brick, stone, clapboard, windows and railings.
Joint Historic Commission: Mr. Deutsch reported that the Commission has been discussing a subdivision of the property at 119 North Sycamore Street. The owner is proposing three residential dwellings.
Mr. Galley said that he had reported that the gutters on Goodnoe’s Corner are falling down. This has not been fixed.
Mr. Ward said that he would bring this to the landlord’s attention.
Mr. Galley said that the lighting at The Birches continues to be a disturbance to the nearby neighbors.
Ms. Fountain said that she is waiting for new plans, which will need approval.
Mr. Fidler said that with the resignation of Mr. Whartenby, the Commission is in need of a new vice-chairman. He asked the members to consider taking on this position.
Mr. Galley moved to adjourn at 10:10 PM. Mrs. Driscoll seconded and the motion passed 7-0.
Mary Donaldson, Recording Secretary