ZONING HEARING BOARD
MINUTES OF THE SPECIAL MEETING OF MARCH 8, 2007
The Newtown Township Zoning Hearing Board met on Thursday, March 8, 2007 in the Newtown Township Building. In attendance and voting were: William Wall, Chairman; Victoria Bowe, Vice-Chairman; David Katz, Secretary; Gail Laughlin, and John Lenihan, members. Also in attendance were: James J. Auchinleck, Jr., Esq., Solicitor; Michael Solomon, Zoning Officer and Donna D’Angelis, Stenographer.
Call to Order
Mr. Wall called the meeting to Order at 7:30 PM.
Continued Application of the Promenade at Sycamore
The applicant has rested his case.
Craig Smith, representing Sycamore Center Associates, called John R. Ordway.
Mr. Ordway was sworn in. He said that he lives at 49 Ropewalk Way, Upper Black Eddy, and is the owner of “Jewel’s Thin Crust” an organic pizza restaurant on Main Street in Doylestown. Prior to owning the restaurant Mr. Ordway worked in advertising and marketing.
In response to Mr. Smith’s questions, Mr. Ordway said that he has one pizza restaurant in Doylestown, and four additional branches in development to be located in Flemington, Bethlehem, Warrington and San Francisco, as well as one in Newtown. He investigated leasing the shop formerly occupied by Avalon Café, owned by Sycamore Center Associates, but the space is not large enough. Allen Smith put him in touch with the Elliott Building Group about space at the Promenade. Elliott was not ready to commit to a lease with him. He did not have direct contact with Elliott; his dealings were through Metro Commercial, a firm of real estate brokers. He shopped around in Newtown and compared rates for various new and already constructed spaces. He then approached Joe McGrath about Goodnoe’s Corner. This is new construction. He negotiated with McGrath, who originally quoted a price of $38 per square foot, triple net. Triple net is a cost of about $7 or $8 additional for insurance, common areas, etc. He recently signed a lease with McGrath for the space at the corner of Sycamore Street and Durham Road, about 2400 square feet. The first five years of the ten year lease will be $35 per square foot plus an additional $7. After five years the lease price increases to $38 per square foot.
Mr. Smith entered as Exhibit S-5 the lease between Mr. Ordway and Joe McGrath.
In response to Mr. Smith’s further questions, Mr. Ordway said that his restaurant on Main Street in Doylestown is very busy, and parking is limited. People park more than 500 feet away to come to his restaurant. If another restaurant were to open within 500 feet of his, it would have an impact on his business.
In response to Mr. Sander’s cross-examination, Mr. Ordway said that he is not in the shop all of the time, so he does not know exactly how far away his patrons have parked. He does hear complaints about the parking situation. He knows that people walk more than 500 feet, because there are only four spaces in front of his restaurant and only fifteen spaces within 500 feet. He sees about 100 customers each evening; some must have had to park farther away than 500 feet. Parking is at a premium on Main Street in Doylestown.
Mr. Ordway responded to Mr. Sander that his Newtown restaurant will not be a stand-alone building; his business will share the corner building with Cosi Café. He does not know whether the lease rate would have been lower if he had chosen another location within the Goodnoe’s Corner development. He had investigated leasing space at the Village at Newtown Shopping Center, where the rent was about $27 per square foot. New construction was more expensive than existing space, which also has the added costs of retrofitting.
In response to the Board’s questions, Mr. Ordway said that the $27 at Village at Newtown was also triple net. He did not know whether the available space had been restaurant or retail space. At Goodnoe’s Corner, the $35 per square foot is for the shell of the space, which would have to be outfitted. The Village at Newtown space would have been about 2000 square feet; the Goodnoe’s Corner space is 2400 square feet.
Mr. Smith said that he would like to call a witness on behalf of Mr. Walsh, who represents Newtown Presbyterian Church. Mr. Walsh was not able to attend this meeting. He called Thomas Beresford.
Mr. Beresford was sworn in. He lives at 275 North Elm Street, Newtown, and is President of the Board of Trustees of Newtown Presbyterian Church. He said that the Church is opposed to this project. The Church owns the property to the immediate south of the proposed Promenade. This is a historic stone and wood church dating to 1769. It is in Newtown’s historic district, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The top of the steeple is 42 feet high. The Church is used for services on summer Sundays, as well as Easter Sunday and Christmas. There are also a few special events and a strawberry festival fundraiser each year. Also located on the property are outbuildings and a cemetery dating to 1769. Between the Church building and the Promenade site is a memorial garden. The entrance to the Church is on Sycamore Street, and the property extends through to South Eagle Road. People enter through Eagle Road to park on Church property. The Church already has a problem with unauthorized use of its property for parking. The Board of Trustees is concerned that people will use the lot and come through the Church property to go to the Promenade.
In response to Mr. Smith’s questions, Mr. Beresford said that a construction easement appears on the plans, although the Church has not given permission for the easement. It runs through the memorial gardens, which would be destroyed by construction if they were not relocated. The Trustees also have concerns about the size of the project, particularly the height, and about the parking. They have asked for but have not received artistic renderings of the appearance of the project as seen from the Church property. While the façade appears to be in keeping with the Sycamore Street style, there has not been any rendering of the sides or the rear.
In response to Mr. Sander’s questions, Mr. Beresford agreed that the Church is used about twenty times per year, primarily on Sundays. Although the applicant had offered the use of its parking facility for congregants, the Church has declined the use and the offer of an access directly from the parking garage to the Church because it would also give easy access through the Church property to the Promenade. The parking lot at the rear of the church is entirely grass, and Mr. Beresford did not know the width of the curb cut from Eagle Road into this lot; he did not know whether it would accommodate two-way traffic. The cemetery will not be disturbed by construction. He estimated that the back lot is about 200 feet from Sycamore Street.
Mr. Sander asked whether Mr. Beresford had seen both the original plans and the current plans. Mr. Beresford said that he was aware that the current plan is smaller than the original plan, and smaller than had been in the Redevelopment Agreement. He is aware that the proposed height is now 34 feet 8 inches, and had originally been proposed at 50 feet. He acknowledged that the Church sits on a small hill above Sycamore Street, and that this development would not interfere with access to the Church. The artist’s rendering of the project is not out of character with the rest of Sycamore Street, but that the size is out of character. He did know about the redevelopment agreement and the proposed mixed uses, but not about the parking garage. Representatives of the Church did not express their concerns to the Board of Supervisors at the time when the redevelopment agreement was being drafted; it is only now that the Church is coming forward to object. The church has no heat or air-conditioning.
In response to Mr. Katz’s questions, Mr. Beresford said that the plants in the memorial garden have been donated in memory of Church members. The garden is along the property line with the project, but does not abut the cemetery, which is to the rear of the property. The garden is about twenty years old, and has won awards. Many Church members are passionate about this garden. Church trustees were represented on the Acme Visioning Committee; it is an oversight that objections were not made earlier. Special events are sometimes held at the Church on Saturdays.
When Mr. Katz attempted to inquire about a financial impact on the Church, Mr. Sander strenuously objected that Mr. Katz was giving testimony. He asked that Mr. Katz recuse himself from this application.
Mr. Auchinleck overruled Mr. Sander’s objections.
Mr. Smith asked whether the lack of sufficient parking could have a financial impact on the Church’s fundraising events.
Mr. Beresford said that it is possible that if there were not sufficient parking on Sycamore Street, people who were planning to come to a fundraising event might not come.
In response to Mr. Wall’s questions, Mr. Beresford said that there had not been a problem with overflow parking from the Acme customers to the Church’s rear lot, but that there is currently some unauthorized use of the lot.
In response to Mr. Auchinleck’s questions, Mr. Beresford said that the stairway from the Church that used to go into the Acme parking lot now ends on Sycamore Street’s sidewalk. This stairway had been used by congregants who parked in the Acme parking lot. There are only a few weddings at the Church each year, and no funerals. In response to Mr. Katz’s question, he said that he did not know whether the entire Church property is on the National Register of Historic Places or only the Church building itself.
Vincent Lombardi was sworn in. Mr. Lombardi, as party to the application, is representing himself. He lives at 125 N. Sycamore Street. His home and business are located within 500 feet of the applicant’s property. He will be impacted by the deficit parking. Mr. Lombardi said that he is currently a member of the Township Planning Commission, and has served on the Sycamore Street Committee and the Acme Visioning Committee. He had also been a Township supervisor. He is speaking as a resident, only.
Referring to Exhibit A-2, The Acme Visioning Committee Final Report, Mr. Lombardi read into the record from page 1, paragraph 4, the charge given to the committee by the Board of Supervisors, and from the first paragraph on public comment, which said in part, “The site use proposals covered community and cultural, commercial, office and residential uses, in each case with the provision for parking”. Mr. Lombardi then reviewed the summary of public comment, again highlighting the emphasis on provisions for public parking. Some presenters to the Visioning Committee made proposals, including Robert Shasha/Jim Hamilton, Allen H. Smith, Ron Heverle/DJS Builders. Referring to the minutes of the Visioning Committee meeting of November 21, 2002 (attached to Exhibit A-2), Mr. Lombardi noted that Mr. Smith and Mr. Haverle each showed plans for mixed use development of the site with ample parking for the uses proposed.
Mr. Lombardi entered as Exhibit L-1, a copy of the PowerPoint presentation given by the Visioning Committee to the Board of Supervisors on March 12, 2003, and Exhibit L-2, the Agenda and Minutes for the Board of Supervisors meeting of March 12, 2003. Mr. Lombardi reviewed the presentation, beginning with the public notice announcing that the Township had “entered into an agreement with the Bucks County Redevelopment Authority to determine the most appropriate way in which to redevelop this location”, and inviting the public to make oral or written presentations to the Acme Visioning Committee. The Visioning Committee issued a series of questions to presenters to determine what types of businesses or uses should be considered to make a “valuable contribution to the economic health of the community”. The presentation went on to highlight some of the more than 30 suggested uses for the site, including a community center and a home retail center, both of which would have rehabilitated the existing structure. Allen Smith and Ron Haverle/DJS Builders, each made presentations for mixed use buildings, with combinations of retail, office and residential uses. Mr. Smith’s proposal included an ice rink that could be used as either a restaurant or garden center in the warm weather; Mr. Haverle’s proposal included a town square. The last page of the PowerPoint showed the view with a parking garage.
In response to Mr. Auchinleck’s question, Mr. Lombardi said that “public parking” would be parking above that required for each proposed use. On page 7 of the presentation, the Visioning Committee summed up its vision, which included demolition of the existing structure and construction of a mixed use structure/structures with a signature type of attraction, and which acknowledged the steep slope and the possibility of a need for a “minor adjustment of the 30 foot height requirement”. After the presentation was given the Board of Supervisors did not ask the Visioning Committee for further input.
Mr. Lombardi said that there had been some support for a community center at this location. The Visioning Committee supported the concept of a parking garage only if it provided public parking. He said that the Promenade will create overflow parking that will impact many surrounding businesses. He also noted that the other businesses along Sycamore Street, near this location, all are viable businesses providing on-site parking in conformance with the Ordinance, including the dental offices, the Saloon, Freestyle Salon, Carriage House, the veterinary offices, and Tyrol insurance.
In response to Mr. Smith’s questions, Mr. Lombardi said that the Visioning Committee’s reference to “public parking” meant parking in excess of that required by the Ordinance. The garage was to have provided extra parking. There had been some discussion about asking the Supervisors to provide incentives for the additional parking, but as proposed, the plan not only does not provide additional public parking, but creates a deficit of parking.
In response to Mr. Auchinleck’s question, Mr. Lombardi said that he did not use the word “deficit” in the same way as Mr. L’Amoreaux did in his study entered as Exhibit A-10; he meant deficit as prescribed by the Ordinance. When Mr. Smith asked Mr. Lombardi to further clarify his statement, Mr. Lombardi said that the application indicates a deficit of 125 spaces for the proposed uses. Public parking would have been above that required by the Ordinance.
In response to Mr. Sander’s cross-examination, Mr. Lombardi said that he did not perform any parking studies, nor does he have any evidence to refute the shared parking data cited in Exhibit A-10. He agreed that Exhibit A-10 indicates that the deficit would only occur for three hours on four December Fridays, four days each year; however Mr. Lombardi said that he believes that the analysis is “fiction”. Although he is familiar with the manuals used by the engineers in preparing the analysis, these manuals are not accepted by the Ordinance. He agreed that logically some uses would demand parking at different and complimentary times of day. He agreed that the Supervisors did not choose any of the other presenters to the Acme Visioning Committee, and he noted that Robert Shasha withdrew his proposal because he wanted to develop retail only. Mr. Shasha and the Cotswold Group presented plans for 20,000 square feet of retail, with no restaurant or office use, and 100 parking spaces. He does not know whether the Redevelopment Agreement refers to meeting all parking requirements. He has seen the rendering attached to Exhibit A-4, which shows a three story, mixed use, building. He agreed that Mr. Smith’s proposal also had one point of ingress/egress at the same location as the applicant, but with a flat parking lot, not a garage. He agreed that the Township supports the application for variances, and that the Acme Visioning Committee had anticipated that a height variance would probably be needed. He is not sure of the number of parking spaces that would have been required by Mr. Smith’s proposal with an ice rink used as either restaurant or retail in the warmer weather. He believed that the Smith proposal called for 30,000 square feet of retail space with seven or eight apartments. He did not have copies of those plans. Referring to Exhibit L-1, page 5, Mr. Lombardi said that he is not sure of the number of parking spaces required. He disagreed that the parking garage in the Promenade proposal would have 20 foot aisles, noting that larger vehicles parked opposite each other would create a narrower aisle. He did not object to the Elliott Building Group at the time that it was selected by the Supervisors, and he attended the celebration welcoming Elliott. He reviewed Exhibit A-2, page 3 and agreed that except for providing a residential use, the applicant meets all of the requirements of the Visioning Committee. He said that he guessed that the Church is about 80 feet from the property line, disagreeing with Mr. Beresford’s estimate of 200 feet. He noted that he only knows the proposed appearance of the front of the building, not the sides or rear. When the Visioning Committee discussed height, they were referring to the highest point, not mean roof line.
Mr. Sander referred to Exhibit A-4, which anticipated a 62,570 square foot building. He asked Mr. Lombardi if he was aware that the applicant now proposes a building 57, 380 square feet in size, smaller than was anticipated in the Building.
In response to Mr. Sander’s questions, Mr. Lombardi said that he was aware of the size anticipated in the Redevelopment Agreement and the currently proposed size. It is his personal opinion that the project is too big. Not meeting the parking requirement is “out of step’ with the Visioning Committee’s report. He said that the Committee’s reference to “public parking” was parking in excess of that required by the Ordinance. Incentives discussed included a parking fund, or use of traffic impact fees to offset costs of a large parking lot or garage. Because none of the plans presented to the Visioning Committee were fully engineered, he did not know with certainty that they would have met the parking requirement.
In response to Mr. Wall’s question, Mr. Lombardi said that in addition to the parking consideration, he felt that the garage added to the massive construction at the site, which overshadows the rest of Sycamore Street.
In response to Mr. Sander’s further questions, Mr. Lombardi said that the Visioning Committee had considered and envisioned a multi-level parking facility. The report is only a recommendation to the Supervisors. There are 60 new on-street parking spaces on Sycamore Street between Durham Road and Washington Avenue. Mr. McGrath had been granted a minor parking variance for development of the Goodnoe’s Corner shopping center project. Neither The Saloon nor Pryda have objected to this project, although they are the nearest commercial neighbors.
In response to Mr. Katz’s questions, Mr. Lombardi repeated that the Visioning Committee had recommended public parking in excess of that required by the Ordinance. If this project requires 332 parking spaces, the Visioning Committee expected a proposal for more than that number. At the time that the Visioning Committee was considering building height, they had asked presenters what height would be needed for a three-story building, but had not referred to the mean roof line. Referring to the Visioning Committee Minutes of November 21, 2002, Mr. Lombardi said that there had been no further discussion of accessing the parking garage through Eagle Road; that property belongs to Mr. Shasha.
In response to Mrs. Bowe’s questions, Mr. Lombardi said that in his opinion it would be possible to develop this site with about 25,000 square feet of retail space and 100 parking spaces with only variance relief required for steep slopes.
Mr. Sander said that this plan is part of a Redevelopment Agreement with the Township, which called for a 62,570 square foot, mixed-use, building. Additional parking could not be provided without the garage being higher than the building. This plan is what the Board of Supervisors wanted, and it complies with the signed agreement.
Mrs. Bowe reminded Mr. Sander that the Zoning Hearing Board is independent of the Board of Supervisors.
Mrs. Laughlin noted that she had served on the Acme Visioning Committee for a time. She said that the Committee had reviewed plans that had lower buildings, and that complemented the Church.
In response to Mr. Katz’s questions, Mr. Lombardi said that the Visioning Committee had anticipated that setback and steep slope variances might be required to develop this site; the Committee would have been comfortable with these variance requests.
In response to Mr. Smith’s question, Mr. Lombardi said that underground parking had never been discussed. Above ground, multi-level parking was all that had been considered during Visioning Committee meetings.
Mr. Katz moved to continue the application of the Promenade at Sycamore to a daytime meeting beginning at 10:00 AM on Friday, March 30, 2007. Mrs. Bowe seconded and the motion passed unanimously.Mrs. Laughlin moved to adjourn at 11:00 PM. Mr. Wall seconded and the motion passed unanimously.
Mary Donaldson, Recording Secretary