NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP ZONING HEARING BOARD

MUNICIPAL BUILDING - 100 MUNICIPAL DRIVE

NEWTOWN, PA 18940

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 1, 2005

7:30 PM


Approval of Minutes: Mrs. Laughlin moved to approve the minutes of December 1, 2005. Mr. Lenihan seconded and the motion passed 3-0-2, with Messrs. Katz and Wall abstaining.


The Newtown Township Zoning Hearing Board met on Thursday, December 1, 2005, in the Newtown Township Building. In attendance and voting were: Mario Lionetti, Vice-Chairman; Victoria Bowe, Secretary; Gail Laughlin and John Lenihan, members. Also in attendance were: James J. Auchinleck, Jr., Esq., Solicitor, Thomas Harwood, Zoning Officer and Justine Gregor, Stenographer. 

Call to Order 

Mr. Lionetti, acting as Chairman, called the meeting to Order at 7:30 PM. 

The Pledge of Allegiance 

The agenda was reviewed.

Application of Beth Crawford, BC Discoveries – 69 Heather Court

Application of David C. Jones – 58 Vera Avenue

Application of Don Harley and Beth Okomski – 95 Richboro Road

            Continued Application of Raymond James & Associates – 223 N. Sycamore Street

Continued Application of Third Federal Bank – 950 Newtown Yardley Road 

Approval of Minutes 

Mrs. Laughlin moved to accept the minutes of November 3, 2005. Mr. Lenihan seconded and the motion passed 4-0. 

Application of Beth Crawford, BC Discoveries 

Mrs. Bowe read into the record the application of Beth Crawford, B.C. Discoveries Theatre Art Co, Brookside Community Association, owner requesting a variance from Section 405(A) of the Joint Municipal Zoning Ordinance of 1983 to permit theatrical training, rehearsal and programs of a commercial school and an appeal from enforcement notice.  The subject property is Barn at Brookside Manor, 69 Heather Court, Newtown, in the R-2 High Density Residential Zoning District, being further known as Tax Map Parcel #29-22-108. 

Don Marshall represented the applicant. 

Beth Crawford was sworn in. 

Mr. Auchinleck explained to those residents in attendance that if they wish to be a party to the application they would have the right to cross-examine the applicant and any of his witnesses, present evidence and witnesses, and make any statement concerning the application. Should they disagree with the decision of the Zoning Hearing Board, party status would give them the right to appeal the decision. Anyone present not wishing party status would be allowed to make statements for or against the application after the hearing and before a decision is rendered. 

Mr. Lionetti asked if anyone present wished to be party to the application. There was no response. 

Mr. Marshall explained that Ms. Crawford would like to appeal the determination of enforcement notice of the Zoning Officer, or in the alternative, to seek a variance. Ms. Crawford has been conducting theatrical rehearsals at the Brookside Community Center barn. This barn sits on a 30.23-acre parcel, which also included the Brookside open space, pool and playground. Brookside is a PRD built in 1980, and pre-dates the current Ordinance. The barn is a historic building that has been preserved specifically for recreational uses. It has been used for dance, exercise and karate classes. 

Mr. Marshall offered the following exhibits:

Ms. Crawford confirmed all of the submitted exhibits. She said that her theatrical company produces two musical shows each year, and the barn is used as a rehearsal space for these productions. The participants practice voice, dance and dialog in one-hour sessions. The participants are between 5 and 15 years of age. There are usually no more than 15 participants on the premises at any one time. There are two dance choreographers and one vocal instructor along with Ms. Crawford. Referring to Exhibit A-6, Ms. Crawford said that her program uses the large open room on the second floor of the barn. There are 16 parking spaces in the lot, and an additional 16 spaces on the street. At any given time there are no more than eight cars on the premises for the rehearsals. A few parents might stay for the rehearsals, but the children are generally dropped off and picked up. The program currently runs for 28 weeks per year. 

Mr. Marshall said that the barn is used for this program and for an exercise program and is rented to Brookside residents on weekends for parties. In the past the barn has been used for karate lessons and dance lessons. The JMZO does not specifically describe dance lessons, karate lessons or this theatrical use. Mr. Harwood has determined that this use constitutes a commercial school, which is not permitted in the R-2 High Density Residential Zoning District. Mr. Marshall said that this use is what the building was preserved and renovated for, community recreational use. 

In response to Mrs. Bowe’s questions, Ms. Crawford said that she conducts instructions and rehearsals for musical theatre performances. She charges a fee for participation. She does not know if a fee is charged for the exercise program that is conducted at the barn. There has been no traffic problem that she is aware of, as participants are just dropped off and picked up. There are no signs on the building. 

Mr. Marshall said that there are no theatrical performances in the barn. The show is held at Newtown Middle School. 

Mrs. Bowe expressed some concern about granting this variance because it would allow a commercial school at this property that would remain with the property. She said that if Ms. Crawford were to move her business, another commercial school could use the barn. She was also concerned that once a community or recreation center building were granted a variance, other clubhouses in other developments would seek similar variances, and there would be commercial activity in the middle of residential districts. 

In response to Mr. Lenihan’s questions, Ms. Crawford said that she resides in Richboro and is the sole proprietor of BC Discoveries. The rehearsals generate income. Income from sale of tickets for the final performance covers the expenses of the show. 

Mrs. Laughlin said that she is very familiar with the history of this barn, and remembers that when Brookside community was developed, the barn was renovated to be used for this type of activity. She said that she has no problem with this use. 

In response to Mr. Auchinleck’s question, Ms. Crawford said that some of the participants reside in Brookside, but participation is not limited to Brookside residents only. 

In response to Mr. Auchinleck’s question, Mr. Marshall said that he does not know if the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry regulates this type of activity or if a permit is required from the State. He said that Ms. Crawford has used the building for this activity for four years, until there was a complaint to the Code Officer. 

Gwen Frishman was sworn in. 

Ms. Frishman said that she is president of the Brookside Community Association, and is a Brookside resident. Currently only a morning exercise class and BC Discoveries are using the barn during the week. Residents rent the building on weekends for parties and events. In the past, scout troops and Township recreation programs have used the barn, and a church had met there on Sunday mornings. In response to Mr. Auchinleck’s question, she said that Jazzercise rents the building and participants pay fees to Jazzercise. Attendance is not limited to Brookside residents only. She does not know if Jazzercise has obtained a permit from the Township or from the Department of Labor and Industry. When karate classes were held in the barn, they were open to residents of Brookside only. 

Mr. Harwood was sworn in. 

In response to Mrs. Bowe’s question, Mr. Harwood said that a dancing school owner had complained to the Township that BC Discoveries was unfairly competing for students because the rent in the barn is so much lower than in the commercial areas of Newtown Township. He was not aware of exercise classes taking place in the barn. He said that any commercial enterprise would need a permit. This area is not zoned for a commercial school, and so a variance would also be needed. He reminded the Board that the JMZO does consider dancing schools and karate lessons as “commercial schools”, and that the Board had recently heard another application for karate school in a district where such schools are not permitted. A permit from the Department of Labor and Industry is not required for this type of school, but the fire inspector would have certain requirements that would be different from residential requirements. 

Mr. Marshall noted that this is already a public place in a PRD, and meets all of the fire safety standards. 

In response to Mr. Lionetti’s question, Mr. Harwood said that the fire marshal does inspect community recreation centers, but he does not know if the standards are the same as for commercial schools. Mr. Harwood reminded the Board that if the members are inclined to grant a variance, that conditions could be set to restrict the activity. 

Mrs. Bowe and Mr. Lionetti expressed concern about allowing community recreation buildings to be used for commercial purposes. They discussed possible conditions to limit the use, in order to protect the community from having commercial activities in the development. 

Mr. Auchinleck said that any variance granted could be limited to this type of use only, but that it would still belong to the property, and another proprietor could use the space in the future. 

Mr. Marshall said that Ms. Crawford would agree to conditions that would limit the hours, days and number of participants. She would not ask for any signage. 

Mr. Lionetti expressed concern about ongoing commercial use of the space. He asked if there could be a term limit, as had been granted for a few religious organizations that have been granted variances. 

Mr. Auchinleck said that the religious groups that have appeared before the Board have always expressed that the locations would be temporary, until the congregations grew and built permanent houses of worship. 

Mr. Lenihan moved to uphold the verbal enforcement notice of the Zoning Officer. Mrs. Bowe seconded and the motion passed 4-0. 

Mrs. Laughlin moved to grant a variance from Section 405(A) of the Joint Municipal Zoning Ordinance of 1983 to permit musical theatre, voice, ballet and dramatic training and rehearsal programs in the open area of the second floor at 69 Heather Court with the following conditions:

Mr. Lenihan seconded.

Discussion of motion: Mr. Lionetti suggested limiting the times of day for this use.

Mr. Auchinleck and Mrs. Bowe disagreed, as there could be daytime uses in summer and for pre-schoolers and kindergarteners.

The motion passed 3-1, with Mr. Lionetti voting nay. 

Application of David C. Jones – 58 Vera Avenue 

Mrs. Bowe read into the record the application of David C. Jones, David C. and Victoria L. Jones, owners requesting a variance from Section 404(B) of the Joint Municipal Zoning Ordinance of 1983 to permit construction of an inground swimming pool and decking resulting in an impervious surface ratio of 21.3% where the maximum permitted is 12%.  The subject property is 58 Vera Avenue, Newtown, in the R1 Medium Density Residential Zoning District, being further known as Tax Map Parcel #29-15-6.  

David C. Jones was sworn in. 

Mr. Lionetti asked if anyone present wished to be party to this application. There was no response. 

Mr. Jones said that his house was built in 1964 with 17.4% impervious surface. It pre-dates the current Ordinance. He has lived in the house for six years. He would like to put an in-ground swimming pool in his yard. Orleans developers built a development to the rear of his property and have corrected drainage problems in the area. His neighbors are in support of his application, although he has not brought any letters from them. 

Mr. Lenihan said that he visited the site. He noted that while the request seems to be excessive, and beyond the amount of relief the Zoning Hearing Board is inclined to grant, this house was above the impervious surface ratio already, and the increase would not create any difficulties for the adjoining neighbors.  

In response to Mrs. Bowe’s question, Mr. Jones said that the pool area would be leveled off, but that he had not planned to build a retaining wall at the rear slope of his yard.

Mr. Harwood had no comment. 

Mr. Lenihan moved to grant a variance from Section 404(B) of the Joint Municipal Zoning Ordinance of 1983 to permit construction of an inground swimming pool and decking resulting in an impervious surface ratio of 21.3% where the maximum permitted is 12%. Mrs. Bowe seconded and the motion passed 4-0. 

Application of Don Harley and Beth Okomski – 95 Richboro Road 

Mrs. Bowe read into the record the application of Don Harley and Beth Okomski, owners, requesting a variance from Section 803(H-3)(1)(a) and (b) of the Joint Municipal Zoning Ordinance of 1983 to permit installation of a 6 feet high solid stockade fence along frontage on 413 Bypass.  The subject property is 95 Richboro Road, Newtown, in the R-2 High Density Residential Zoning District, being further known as Tax Map Parcel #29-11-2-1.  

Mr. Auchinleck advised the Board that he had received a letter from Heath Dumack, engineer on this project, requesting that the application be continued. 

Mr. Lionetti moved to continue the application of Don Harley and Beth Okomski to January 5, 2006. Mrs. Bowe seconded and the motion passed 4-0. 

Continued Application of Third Federal Bank 

Mr. Auchinleck advised the Board that he had a letter from Mr. Murphy, attorney for Third Federal, requesting that the application be continued. 

Mr. Lionetti moved to continue the application of Third Federal Bank to January 5, 2005. Mr. Lenihan seconded and the motion passed unanimously. 

Continued Application of Raymond James and Associates. 

Mr. Auchinleck said that he had not heard from the applicants, although he had written them that the application was on this evening’s agenda. He suggested that the Board continue the application, and he would call the applicants and advise them of the next hearing date. 

Mr. Lionetti moved to continue the application of Raymond James and Associates to January 5, 2006. Mr. Lenihan seconded and the motion passed 4-0. 

Mr. Lenihan moved to adjourn at 9:30 PM. Mr. Lionetti seconded and the motion passed 4-0.

 

Respectfully Submitted

 

_____________________________
Mary Donaldson, Recording Secretary