ZONING HEARING BOARD
MINUTES OF THE MEETING OF SEPTEMBER 7, 2006
The Newtown Township Zoning Hearing Board met on Thursday, September 7, 2006 in the Newtown Township Building. In attendance and voting were: William Wall, Chairman; Gail Laughlin, Vice Chairman; Victoria Bowe, Secretary; David Katz and John Lenihan, members. Also in attendance were: James J. Auchinleck, Jr., Esq., Solicitor; Michael Solomon, Zoning Officer and Ann Pratt, Stenographer.
Call to Order
Mr. Wall called the meeting to Order at 7:30 PM.
The Pledge of Allegiance
Approval of Minutes
Mr. Lenihan moved to approve the minutes of August 3, 2006. Mr. Katz seconded and the motion passed unanimously.
The agenda was reviewed.
Continued Application of The Promenade at Sycamore
Mr. Auchinleck informed the Board that a special meeting has been scheduled to hear this application on September 21, 2006 at 7:30PM.Mrs. Laughlin moved to continue the application of Promenade at Sycamore to a special meeting on September 21, 2006. Mrs. Bowe seconded and the motion passed unanimously.
Application of St. Andrews Roman Catholic Church
Mrs. Bowe read into the record the application of St. Andrews Roman Catholic Church, His Eminence John Cardinal Kroll owner, requesting a variance from Sections 405(B) and 1000(E) of the Joint Municipal Zoning Ordinance of 1983 to permit parking lot expansion resulting in 51.25% impervious surface ratio where 35% is the maximum permitted and to allow portions of the parking area to encroach into the front yard setback. The subject property is 81 Swamp Road, Newtown, in the R-2 High Density Residential Zoning District, being further known as Tax Map Parcel #29-5-3.
Attorney Ed Murphy represented the applicant.
Mr. Wall asked if anyone present wished to be party to this application. There was no response.
Father Michael Picard was sworn in.
Mr. Auchinleck informed the applicant that he and three Board members are members of St. Andrew’s Church. The State Board of Ethics has not found this to be a conflict of interest.
Mr. Murphy said that the church was built in 1985 in the R-2 high-density residential zoning district. The property is non-conforming, in that the maximum permissible impervious surface is 35% and the property is currently 41.5% impervious. The request for additional impervious surface is to expand the parking lot to accommodate the continued growth of the parish. Existing parking can accommodate 336 cars.
Mr. Murphy entered as exhibit A-1, the application, which identifies locations for an additional 127 parking spaces. The spaces are to be adjacent to the stormwater facility, across the front entry and near the rectory. The addition of these spaces brings the impervious surface to 51.25%. The applicant agrees that the Township Engineer would review the plans to determine whether the existing stormwater basin could accommodate the additional impervious surface. This basin was built twenty years ago, and with best management practices can more effectively manage stormwater. The applicant would agree to a condition of approval being the approval of the Township Engineer.
Mr. Murphy reviewed the request for a variance from the front yard setback. Portions of eight or nine parking spaces would encroach on the setback. Although these spaces could be moved out of the setback, this location allows for more efficient operation of the parking lot.
Father Picard confirmed Mr. Murphy’s statements. He noted that one of the stormwater basins rarely fills, and the other does fill, but empties within a few hours.
In response to Mr. Katz’s question, Mr. Murphy said that the engineer has done some calculations to determine that the existing stormwater basin can handle run-off. Additional controls, such as ground water infiltration, rain gardens and porous paving, could be implemented.
Mr. Auchinleck said that the applicant is required to comply with stormwater management regulations.
In response to Mrs. Bowe’s question, Mr. Murphy said that neither he, nor the Township, were able to find evidence of a variance for the original non-conformity.
Father Picard said that he was new to the parish when the parking lot was being expanded. He did not know whether permits had been issued; however, there was an addition to the original lot.
Mr. Murphy and Father Picard agreed that they would not seek additional relief in the future.
In response to Mr. Katz’ questions, Father Picard said that the additional parking is needed for Sunday worship. Each Sunday about 8,000 parishioners attend mass. The lot is full, and during mid-morning services, cars are parked along the driveways and on the grass. On holidays, such as Christmas and Easter, the high school parking lot is used for overflow parking. In response to Mrs. Bowe’s question, Father Picard said that the exit lane will have curbing to prevent parking. The construction will take place next summer, when the church will be closed for some internal repairs.
Mr. Solomon had no comment.Mr. Lenihan moved to grant a variance from Sections 405(B) and 1000(E) of the Joint Municipal Zoning Ordinance of 1983 to permit parking lot expansion resulting in 51.25% impervious surface ratio where 35% is the maximum permitted and to allow portions of the parking area to encroach into the front yard setback, with the condition that stormwater management conform to requirements of the Township Engineer, who will continue to monitor the basin after completion of the project. Mr. Katz seconded and the motion passed unanimously.
Continued Application of Steven DiMeglio
Continued Application of Chetan and Reshma Patel
Township Solicitor Paul Beckert and Bernadette Kearney, attorney for the applicants, requested that these two applications be continued to the October 5, 2006 meeting, as the applicants and the Township are attempting to settle the matter.
Mr. Patel and Mr. DiMeglio confirmed that they have agreed to the continuance.
Mr. Lenihan moved to continue the applications of Steven DiMeglio and Chetan and Reshma Patel to October 5, 2006. Mr. Katz seconded and the motion passed unanimously.
Application of Rakesh Shah
Mrs. Bowe read into the record the application of Rakesh Shah, Rakesh Shah owners requesting a variance from Section 803(B-14) and (B-2) Linton Hill Chase of the Joint Municipal Zoning Ordinance of 1983 to permit a front walk extension and sitting wall addition to existing rear patio resulting in 41.33% impervious surface ratio where 40% is the maximum per final plan under sections 803(B-14) and (B-2). The subject property is 2 Ainsley Court, Newtown, in the CM Conservation Management Zoning District, being further known as Tax Map Parcel #29-20-58 Lot 29.
Rakesh Shah was sworn in.
Mr. Wall asked if anyone present wished to be party to the application. There was no response.
Mr. Shah explained that his yard is not large and he would like to add a wall to his existing patio for additional seating. He would also like to extend his front walk to more easily access his front door.
Mr. Lenihan said that the request is de minimus, and would not impact any neighbors.Mr. Lenihan moved to grant a variance from Section 803(B-14) and (B-2) Linton Hill Chase of the Joint Municipal Zoning Ordinance of 1983 to permit a front walk extension and sitting wall addition to existing rear patio resulting in 41.33% impervious surface ratio where 40% is the maximum per final plan. Mrs. Bowe seconded and the motion passed unanimously.
Application of Michele A. White
Mrs. Bowe read into the record the application of Michele A. White, Michele A. White owners requesting a variance from Section 803(H-8)(b)(1) of the Joint Municipal Zoning Ordinance of 1983 to permit a landscape waterfall to be located in the front yard. The subject property is 399 Eagle Road, Newtown, in the CM Conservation Management Zoning District, being further known as Tax Map Parcel #29-3-57.
Michele White and Curt Stoms were sworn in.
Mr. Wall asked if anyone present wished to be party to this application. There was no response.
Mr. Stoms said that he is the applicant’s brother. He had recently completed a course in building waterfalls, and built this one, unaware that a permit would be required. Although he is a professional landscape contractor, this was his first attempt at building a water feature.
Mr. Katz said that he visited the site and did not think that the waterfall interfered with sight distances at the intersection.
Mr. Lenihan said that he had visited the site, and agreed with Mr. Katz. He said that our ordinance requires a variance for a pool in the front yard, but that this is not a pool
Mr. Solomon had no comment.
Mr. Katz moved to grant a variance from Section 803(H-8)(b)(1) of the Joint Municipal Zoning Ordinance of 1983 to permit a landscape waterfall to be located in the front yard. Mrs. Laughlin seconded and the motion passed unanimously.
Application of Joseph W. McGrath
Mrs. Bowe read into the record the application of Joseph W. McGrath, Raymond Goodnoe owner requesting a variance from Sections 602(A), 602(B), 803(E-15)(1)&(9), 1001(A)(6), 1001(B)(3), 1001(D)(2), 1002(I) and 1003(B)(1) of the Joint Municipal Zoning Ordinance of 1983 to permit a 27,000 sq. ft. retail center with apartments where dwellings are not permitted with 85% impervious surface where 35% is the maximum, with a 10' front yard where 20' is required, with 3.96 acre lot size where 4 acres are required, with 146 spaces where 207 are required, with relief form parking lot buffering and landscaping requirements, with parking stall size of 9'x18' instead of 10'x20' with relief from curbing in parking areas, loading berths and buffering between districts. The subject property is 298 Sycamore Street, Goodnoe Tract, Newtown, in the PC Planned Commercial Zoning District, being further known as Tax Map Parcel #29-3-24-002.
Mr. Wall asked if anyone present wished to be party to this application.
Mr. Auchinleck explained to those residents in attendance that if they wish to be parties 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.
There was no response.
Attorney Michael Carr of Eastburn and Gray represented the applicant.
Mr. Carr said that the application incorrectly states that a 27,000 square foot retail center is planned. The center will, in fact, be 30,000 square feet, consisting of retail and residential units. The applicant wishes this project to compliment the other side of Sycamore Street and to enhance the streetscape, with buildings closer to the sidewalk.
Mr. Auchinleck noted that, although the application was advertised as 27,000 square feet, the variances sought have not changed, and there is no need to re-advertise.
Mr. Carr entered as Exhibit A-1 the application for variances.
Peter Stampfl, architect on the project, was sworn in.
Mr. Carr entered as Exhibit A-2 Mr. Stampfl’s Curriculum Vitae. He noted that Mr. Stampfl is a registered architect in 26 states and a member of the American Institute of Architects and of the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards. He is a graduate of Drexel University and has attended the Wharton School of Business. Mr. Carr offered Mr. Stampfl as an expert witness.
Mr. Auchinleck accepted Mr. Stampfl as an expert.
Mr. Stampfl said that his firm prepared the architectural drawings for the project, in conjunction with Pickering Corts and Summerson, Land Planners. He has visited the site and the adjacent properties.
Mr. Carr entered as Exhibit A-3 the zoning map for the area with the site highlighted.
Referring to the zoning map, Mr. Stampfl said that the surrounding properties along Sycamore Street are zoned TC. The applicant wishes to compliment the properties along Sycamore Street. Mr. Stampfl noted that the applicant has visited sites in the surrounding areas of Newtown Township and Borough, as well as in other historic communities along the eastern seaboard. He would like to incorporate the architectural features of these historic communities in developing this site.
Mr. Carr entered as Exhibit A-4 a conceptual layout for the project, consisting of six buildings, and as Exhibit A-5, a “by right” plan for one retail building and parking lot.
Mr. Stampfl noted that the buildings depicted in A-4 are closer to the street, are pedestrian friendly and have a “village” appearance. The plan shown in Exhibit A-5 places one large building farther from Sycamore Street, surrounded by parking. It loses the charm of the Exhibit A-4 plan.
Mr. Carr entered as exhibit A-6 a single sheet of photographs of architectural features such as windows, lampposts and walkways, and Exhibit A-7, an artist’s rendering of the Sycamore Street elevations of the proposed project.
Mr. Stampfl reviewed the various features on Exhibits A-6 and A-7, noting that the design has evolved after meetings with the Board of Supervisors and the Planning Commission. The plan is more costly than either the “by right” plan or a single building. The separated buildings each have a different façade, and the building closest to Silo Drive will have an open patio. In response to questions from the Board, Mr. Stampfl said that there would not be entrances to buildings on Durham Road. Those buildings would be accessed from the parking lot only. Those buildings facing Sycamore Street would have two fronts, with the parking lot facades similar to the Sycamore Street facades. There would be two entrances to these buildings.
Daniel Chieco was sworn in.
Mr. Carr entered as Exhibit A-8, Mr. Chieco’s curriculum vitae.
Mr. Chieco said that he was a licensed senior landscape architect with Pickering Corts and Summerson. He was accepted as an expert witness.
Mr. Chieco said that he helped to prepare Exhibits A-4, A-5 and A-6. Exhibit A-5, the “by right” plan was prepared to conform to the existing Ordinance for the PC district. It has 53% impervious surface. The current use has 60% impervious surface.
Mr. Chieco briefly compared the PC and TC zoning districts, noting that the site had been granted a parking variance to allow 5.5 parking stalls per 1000 square feet. The proposed site would provide 4.5 parking spaces per 1000 square feet, which has been deemed adequate by Institute for Transportation Engineers Journal (ITE) a standard traffic manual use by planners. The plan would also require that 43 parking spaces be 9 feet by 18 feet. Full size spaces would be located closer to the buildings. Two loading zones are planned for the development, which is permitted in the TC district. The PC district requires one loading berth per building. A variance is needed for dwelling units in the PC district, but is permitted in the TC district. Because the site borders on the TC district, a project is being proposed that more closely resembles a TC development.
Mr. Chieco said that a buffer variance is being requested, although the project would be buffered from the residential properties. The residents of Cliveden Estates have expressed a preference for buffering on the property belonging to Cliveden Estates, across Durham Road from the development.
Mr. Carr entered as Exhibit A-10, a landscape plan showing proposed buffering of the Cliveden Estates common ground. This plan would increase the evergreens along Durham Road to provide buffering all year. These planting would be 14 to 20 feet and would provide immediate impact. A variance is being requested to reduce the buffering along Ice Cream Alley, and for elimination of curbs, to help with stormwater management.
Mr. Chieco said that the plan has been reviewed and revised since initial meetings with Township officials and residents of Cliveden Estates. The Township had indicated a preference for a development in keeping with the Sycamore Street streetscape, rather than a PC strip mall.
Walter Bronson was sworn in.
Mr. Carr entered as Exhibits A-11 the professional qualifications of Mr. Bronson, a structural design and construction engineering technology expert with Pickering Corts and Summerson. Mr. Bronson was accepted as an expert witness.
Mr. Bronson discussed the current and proposed impervious surfaces of the property, and stormwater management. He said that, although zoned for 50% impervious surface, the property is currently 60% impervious, with banked parking that would bring the total to 70%. Preliminary plans show an impervious surface ratio of 85% with run-off controlled by underground facilities. The system would work the same way as an above ground retention basin. Post development stormwater management would meet the ordinance requirement for stormwater run-off, which requires a 25% reduction. Soil borings are being conducted to determine whether the area would be conducive to groundwater recharge. Proposed lighting along the Sycamore Street side of the project would mimic the existing lighting recently installed along Sycamore Street. The parking area would be lighted with similar fixtures to those already on the site, and would not affect adjoining neighbors. A detailed plan will be submitted for review as part of the land development phase.
Mart Roth was sworn in.
Mr. Carr entered as Exhibit –12, Mr. Roth’s curriculum vitae. Mr. Roth is a traffic engineer with McMahon Associates. He was accepted as an expert witness.
Mr. Roth said that he will be conducting a traffic impact study for the project. He has visited the site and made preliminary plans that would reduce the access points to one on Silo Drive and two on Ice Cream Alley. Parking is calculated at 4.5 spaces per 1000 gross square feet. ITE recommends 4.4 spaces per 1000 square feet, and The Urban land Institute recommends between 2.3 and 4.5 spaces per 1000 square feet. He briefly reviewed the loading berth locations, noting that the smaller businesses would share loading arrangements.
Mr. Roth recently conducted a parking count at Village at Newtown, between Silo Drive and South Eagle Road on a Friday evening, when restaurants are busy. Cars were counted every ½ hour. At 8:00 PM, for example, of the 450 available parking spaces, 182 were occupied. He said that there is a perception of a full parking lot because the spaces directly in front of the restaurants are occupied. He also reviewed the pedestrian accesses to businesses. He pointed out the existing sidewalks on Silo Drive, and the cut-through areas between buildings.
Joseph McGrath was sworn in.
Mr. McGrath is the owner of the development company involved with the project. He said that his goal is to work with the existing Sycamore Street business district. He has reviewed a number of options and feels that the pedestrian friendly streetscape he is proposing would work best. The proposed 10,000 square foot building at the center of the project, a junior anchor, will be a pharmacy. The remaining buildings will be retail, 60% non- food related, with the remaining as restaurants. There will be no fast food. He said that the junior anchor is essential to the long-term success of the development. He has visited many similar developments throughout the east coast, and his intention is to build an aesthetically pleasing downtown style development. The large impervious surface, with the separated buildings and the large anchor store are necessary to support the cost of development.
Exhibits A-1 through 12 were accepted.
In response to Mr. Katz’s questions, Mr. Bronson said that there are enforced time limits for deliveries. Most of the smaller retailers do not have frequent deliveries, and these are timed to off-peak hours. The 10,000 square foot building has its own loading area.
In response to questions from the Board, Mr. McGrath said that he has no specific tenants at this time. He would work to find tenants whose businesses and business hours would compliment one another. He will continue to own and operate the development, as he does the shops at Flowers Mill.
In response to questions from the Board, Mr. Roth said that the sample parking count he conducted at Village at Newtown took place on a Friday evening in August. He said that there would be additional parking spaces available to shoppers parallel to Sycamore Street. While it might be true that some shoppers would park in this lot and walk away, it would be balanced by shoppers parking elsewhere and walking to the shops. He did not conduct traffic counts in the winter because the project is just being developed now. He did observe traffic in the area during peak AM and PM hours and does not anticipate any problems.
Mr. McGrath briefly discussed the apartments planned for the corner building. He said that it had been suggested to him by the Township that some residential units would be desirable. He spoke with the owner of the rental units on the other side of Sycamore Street and learned that there are never vacancies. He plans these units to be rentals, not condominiums
Mr. Bronson said that the retention basin depicted in the “by-right” plan could not be located elsewhere on the property to create a streetscape along Sycamore Street because of existing grading.
Board members continued to question the parking and traffic counts conducted by Mr. Roth. Members felt that during winter months and holiday times, more parking than is provided in the plan would be needed. There was also some concern about traffic congestion exiting Silo Drive to travel north on Sycamore Street.
Mr. Lenihan said that he has some concerns about the large amount of impervious surface relief requested. He asked whether there would be any room for compromise to reduce the size of the request.
Mr. McGrath said that this is still in the conceptual phase of planning, however the impervious surface is necessary to support the expense of the aesthetic features, such as separate buildings with pass-throughs. He spoke about the large amount of research that has been done to draw up these plans, incorporating many aesthetically pleasing architectural features, and about the expense involved in building the development.
Mr. Katz asked about plans for ongoing electronic monitoring of underground stormwater management facilities.
Mr. Bronson described plans for underground storage of run-off, with controlled discharge. He said that access is provided for maintenance. A water level transducer could be included in the proposed system.
Board members expressed some concern about granting such a large variance without more specific plans, and about the parking relief sought. Mrs. Bowe was very concerned that Mr. Roth’s parking estimates were inaccurate because of the time of year his study was conducted.
Mr. McGrath said that the development would have mixed uses that would compliment one another, so that some businesses would be busier during the day, others, such as restaurants, in the evening. This would help to reduce the parking needs. He also briefly discussed use of porous paving materials to reduce run-off.
In response to Mrs. Bowe’s questions, Mr. Chieco noted that the TC zoning district has 80% impervious surface. He said that Cliveden Homeowners Association members had expressed a preference for elimination of sidewalks on the Durham Road side of the development. He said that the Planning Commission had indicated a preference for a development similar to the one on the opposite side of Sycamore Street rather than a strip mall with surrounding parking. In order to accommodate grading, there might be steps inside the shops, or ramped sidewalks in the pass-through areas.
Mr. Wall said that he is not as concerned as his fellow Board members about an increase in impervious surface. He said that engineering could address stormwater run-off, and our Ordinance requires that plans adequately address this. He briefly discussed the possibility of some compromise, to allow some increase in impervious surface.
Fran Poole was sworn in.
Mr. Poole said that he was speaking on behalf of the Cliveden Homeowners Association. He said that the Cliveden homeowners had requested that sidewalks be eliminated because they would not be continuous along all that stretch of Durham Road. Residents would prefer pedestrians to cross at the corner crosswalk. He said that there had been some concern about lighting along Durham Road, but that residents are very satisfied with McGrath’s landscape plan, which increases the buffer on the Cliveden side of the street. Residents are satisfied that they will not be adversely affected by stormwater run-off. Cliveden’s Homeowners Association endorses this plan, and strongly prefers it to the “by-right” plan.
Judith Norkin was sworn in.
Ms. Norkin, a resident of Cliveden Estates, agreed with Mr. Poole’s statement. She said that residents much prefer buffering on the Cliveden property. She has some concern about pedestrian traffic crossing from Cliveden to the shopping center at the corner.
Norma Freel was sworn in.
Ms. Freel, a resident of Cliveden Estates, agreed with Mr. Poole’s and Ms. Norkin’s statements. She is also concerned about pedestrian crossings on Durham Road, but is otherwise very supportive of the plan, which enhances the Sycamore Street streetscape.
Board members continued to express concern about the large increase in impervious surface and the inadequacy of proposed parking. Mr. Katz asked Board members to consider the installation of ongoing electronic monitoring of stormwater management facilities as a condition of approval. Mrs. Bowe suggested a possible compromise to permit the same impervious surface as in the TC district, noting that there are other plans for further development along Sycamore Street.
After continued Board discussion of a possible compromise on impervious surface and parking, Mr. Wall suggested that the applicants take time to review their plans and investigate ways to reduce their requests.
Mr. McGrath said that he would be willing to review his plans for areas that could be slightly reduced, however the plan, as proposed, is economically viable. With reductions in impervious surface, he might not be able to develop the same type of shopping center. He noted that the Planning Commission had expressed support for the plan with an 85% impervious surface ratio. His engineers have assured him that the drainage would be adequate. He expressed willingness to use porous paving, which would reduce the impervious surface to 60%, although he understood that our Ordinance would consider this impervious, and a variance would still be needed.
Mr. Wall suggested that the application be continued to the special meeting of September 21, 2006. During the intervening weeks, the Board would have time to carefully consider the requests, and the applicant could search for ways to possibly reduce the impervious surface.
Mr. Carr said that the record is not closed at this time.
Mr. Wall moved to continue the application of Joseph W. McGrath to a special meeting on September 21, 2006. Mr. Lenihan seconded and the motion passed unanimously.Mr. Katz moved to adjourn at 11:20 PM. Mr. Lenihan seconded and the motion passed unanimously.
Mary Donaldson, Recording Secretary