NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP PLANNING COMMISSION
100 MUNICIPAL DRIVE, NEWTOWN, BUCKS COUNTY, PA 18940
July 15, 2014
Present: Chairman Allen Fidler, Secretary Peggy Driscoll and members Paul Cohen, Courtney Coffman, Craig Deutsch, Shannon Escalante, Dennis Fisher and Larry Galley. Also in attendance were Michele Fountain, Township Engineer, Micah Lewis, Township Planner, John Torrente, 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.
Approval of Minutes: Mr. Fisher moved to approve the minutes of June 17, 2014. Mr. Deutsch seconded and the motion passed 7-0-1, with Mr. Cohen abstaining.
Zoning Hearing Board Application of Michael & MaryAnn Blasco, 13 Sequoia Drive: Michael and MaryAnn Blasco were in attendance to review this application for an increased impervious surface ratio of 63% where 60% is the maximum and a 13 foot rear yard setback where 15 feet are required to install a patio at their townhome in Newtown Grant.
Mr. Fidler asked whether the applicants have received approval from the Newtown Grant Homeowners Association.
Mr. Blasco said that he was advised by the Homeowners Association to seek a variance first.
Mr. Fidler suggested that the applicants have some evidence that the Homeowners Association did not object to the plan and some letters of support from neighbors to bring to the Zoning Hearing Board to support the application. He also suggested that they be prepared to consider some stormwater management mitigation for the increased impervious, as the Zoning Hearing Board may require this.
Mr. Cohen asked whether the surrounding neighbors have similar patios or if this would be the first.
Mrs. Blasco confirmed that most of the neighbors have patios of a similar size.
Mr. Cohen said that he would want the Supervisors to be aware of the application but otherwise had no objection.
The Commission members were in agreement that the Board of Supervisors should not oppose this application.
Optimal Sports Planning Module: Dominic Galelli was in attendance to review the planning module for Optimal Sports, which is moving from 2132 South Eagle Road to 828 Newtown Yardley Road.
Ms. Fountain explained that the DEP and Bucks County Water and Sewer are not permitting waivers of planning modules. This plan involves renovation of a 14,610 space in the LI Zoning District for a health club, which will require six additional EDU’s. She asked that an e-mail between Township Manager Kurt Ferguson and Mr. Galelli, explaining that this project involves interior renovations, only, be attached to the planning module.
Mr. Galley asked if this use would need any zoning relief.
Ms. Fountain said that athletic facility is a use by right in the LI and OLI zoning districts.
Mr. Fisher moved to authorize the Planning Commission Chairman to sign the Planning Module for Optimal Sports, including the narrative and e-mail to Mr. Ferguson. Mr. Galley seconded and the motion passed 8-0.
Scott B. Lesser Lot Line Change, 232 Wrights Road: Attorney Ed Murphy represented the applicant. He explained that these two lots belong to Scott B. Lesser’s mother. She has a farm house, garage and barn, pool,
pond and pasture on the larger lot and the smaller lot is an undeveloped building lot. These lots had been created as part of a six lot subdivision, Pond View Farms. Mr. Lesser would like to move the lot line so that the pond remains part of the view from the farmhouse and from Wrights Road. This will create a 7.8204 acre lot for the farmhouse and a 3.9971 acre lot for a new dwelling. The lot line change has been reviewed by the Township professionals and the applicant will comply with those letters.
Mr. Cohen asked whether either lot can be subdivided further.
Mr. Lewis said that there is a note on the plan prohibiting further subdivision. Portions of the lots have conservation easements.
Mr. Galley asked what the easements entail.
Mr. Lewis explained that the conservation easement prohibits any improvement activity, including regrading.
Mr. Cohen moved to recommend that the Board of Supervisors approve the lot line change for 232 Wrights Road, Newtown, Pennsylvania, 19840, being Bucks County Tax Parcel Numbers 29-3-58 and 39-3-58-3 prepared by Pickering Corts & Summerson Engineering, prepared April 28, 2014, subject to the following conditions, all of which the applicant has agreed to:
Mr. Galley seconded and the motion passed 8-0.
Old Business - Sign Ordinance Review: Mr. Fidler said that at the request of the Board of Supervisors, the Commission has been reviewing the sign ordinances in the commercial zoning districts to help make recommendations to improve businesses’ ability to identify themselves while maintaining the Township’s attractive appearance. At the last meeting, the Commission had discussed signage in the TC District on Sycamore Street, which includes the historic district. He hoped to concentrate this evening’s discussion on the LI/OLI districts in the Business Commons area and the PC/CC district around the shopping centers.
Mick Petrucci, representing Newtown Business Association and Linda Mitchell, representing Newtown Business Commons Association were in attendance. Ms. Mitchell said that in the Commons, it has become difficult to find locations by address, only, as many buildings are being converted to multi-tenant buildings and signage is limited in size and number of signs. She specifically mentioned the NAC complex, which although clearly visible from the road, does not have an entrance on the Bypass or on Penns Trail. The entire complex can only be accessed from Pheasant Run and Blacksmith Road, but the signage does not make clear the different buildings and locations within the complex. While NAC members have learned to navigate the site, there are frequent one-time visitors for birthday parties and other events, users of the salon, etc. The NAC is not the only site with multiple tenants and directional signage would be very helpful to drivers.
Mr. Fidler said that some time ago, the Township Planners had proposed a wayfinding system which included large, uniform address numbers as well as directory signage. He would like to see that plan acted upon. He has found it helpful himself when visiting the offices that surround Oxford Valley Mall.
Mr. Vogt said that in considering allowing directional signage, it is important to consider size, because the listings must be visible and legible to passing motorists.
Mr. Petrucci said that he would also like to see monument directory signs at entrances to multi-tenant buildings. He noted that he is an investor in a building on Friends Lane with multiple tenants and such a sign could be very helpful. He noted that 11 Penns Trail has a very attractive multi-tenant sign in addition to signage on the building. He would like to see more signs like that permitted. It was noted that 11 Penns Trail had been granted a variance for the multi-tenant sign. The members were in agreement that it should consider recommending allowing directional/directory signs in addition to business identification signs in the Ordinance.
Mr. Petrucci said that as president of the Newtown Business Association, he hears frequent complaints about the proliferation of small signs along the roadways on weekends. He said that these signs are placed in the ground and are similar in appearance to political signs and some businesses line multiple signs along the roadways, close to the curbs. They look messy and detract from the appearance of the shopping districts.
Mr. Vogt said that these signs are not permitted and these are removed by Township personnel during the week, but there is no staff on weekends for this duty. Public information signs are given permits. These include such signs as charitable event notices and sports organizations’ registrations.
The members briefly discussed placement of products on sidewalks in front of shops. Mr. Vogt said that sidewalk sales and displays are permitted but the Fire Department has been checking that the sidewalk is not blocked and that there are means of egress.
Mr. Petrucci said that the NBA has 280 member businesses. He would poll the members for input on signage needs, but he felt that having more than one sign would be helpful. If businesses could have their identification signs and additional signage for sales and specials would be very helpful.
Mrs. Driscoll said that the Planning Commission has tried to work with businesses which have needed zoning relief and has been supportive of the need for additional signage.
Mr. Vogt said that he has been researching other municipalities’ ordinances for temporary signage and he would try to outline specific recommendations.
The members were in agreement that they would like to expand permitted signs to include some additional signage on the businesses’ own properties but favor completely eliminating temporary signs in the ground along the roadways.
Subcommittee and Liaison Reports
Board of Supervisors: The recording secretary reported that the Supervisors have adopted an ordinance prohibiting turns onto Linden Avenue from Swamp Road Monday to Friday, 6:00AM to 6:00 PM.
Ms. Fountain explained that the Board had granted a waiver from the requirement to install rip-rap on the opposite side of Sycamore Street for the Promenade because the other property owner was unwilling to grant an easement. The plans for the Promenade do adequately address stormwater without the rip rap and the project will have less impervious surface than current conditions.
Historic Architectural Review Board: Mrs. Driscoll reported that HARB had recommended an amended Certificate of Appropriateness for the Promenade. This certificate allowed some flexibility for field changes on colors and the applicant must return in August for a few other details to be reviewed.
Environmental Advisory Council: Ms. Escalante reported that the EAC will be hosting a forum on climate change on Saturday, October 25 at 10:00 AM. All are welcome to this free event.
Joint Historic Commission: Mr. Deutsch reported that the Commission will be reviewing an application for a demolition permit for an old farmhouse on the Villas at Newtown property.
Mr. Fidler noted that this house was to have been preserved as part of the Villas Land Development approval.
Mrs. Driscoll noted that the tollhouse at Village at Newtown was similarly required to be preserved but was falling into disrepair.
Mr. Fidler said that some old buildings are being preserved early in the land development activities but others are not addressed until development is nearing completion, when the old buildings have fallen into further disrepair, sometimes not salvageable.
The members discussed demolition by neglect and agreed that if an old building is to be preserved, the land development agreement should require that this is done early in the construction of funds should be escrowed.
Mr. Fidler said that he would include this discussion in his report to the Supervisors.
Mary Donaldson, Recording Secretary