NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP

ZONING HEARING BOARD

MINUTES OF THE SPECIAL MEETING OF MARCH 30, 2007

The Newtown Township Zoning Hearing Board met on Friday, March 30, 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’Arginio, Stenographer.

Call to Order

Mr. Wall called the meeting to Order at 10:00 AM.

The Pledge of Allegiance

Continued Application of Promenade at Sycamore

David Sander represented the applicant at this hearing; T.J. Walsh represented Newtown Ambulance, Newtown Veterans Association and Newtown Presbyterian Church, Craig Smith represented Sycamore Center Associates, Vincent Lombardi represented himself, and Paul Beckert represented Newtown Township.

Craig Smith, representing Sycamore Center Associates, said that he had carefully reviewed the Township documents on this project, as submitted in May of 2006. He entered the following exhibits:

  • S-6 – Pennoni Associates report to Mr. Solomon dated July 13, 2006
  • S-7 – Bucks County Planning Commission review letter dated June 9, 2006
  • S-8 – Remington & Vernick review letter dated June 2, 2006
  • S-9- Curriculum Vitae of Ernest Night

Ernest Knight was sworn in. Mr. Knight has been a licensed engineer and surveyor since 1975, in both private and municipal practice. He has conducted reviews of land development plans to monitor compliance with municipal ordinances and has monitored construction on behalf of municipalities, including Buckingham Township, Warrington, Plumstead and Doylestown.

Mr. Knight was accepted as an expert witness.

In response to Mr. Smith’s questions, Mr. Knight said that in his opinion, people would park as far as 500 to 1000 feet away from the Promenade and walk to it. This could impact the parking at Sycamore Center. He has reviewed the parking garage depicted in Exhibit A-8, and has found that at the sides of the garage parking stalls are 8.5 feet wide, not 9 feet.

Mr. Smith entered as Exhibit S-10 an enlargement of the parking layout depicted in Exhibit A-8.

Referring to S-10, Mr. Knight said that he used A-8, as prepared by Van Cleef Associates, to create the enlargement. Using this enlargement, with 9 foot by 18 foot parking stalls, he has measured a center aisle 14.2 feet wide. He has used a Honda Pilot, which measures 7 feet in width with mirrors, as an example on S-10 to demonstrate that two Honda Pilots could not safely pass one another in the parking aisle, as there is clearance of only six inches between them. The Honda Pilot is the typical size of a minivan. He then used the measurements of the Chevy Tahoe, a larger van, to demonstrate that two Tahoes, each measuring 7.5 feet, could not pass at all, as there would be an overlap of 6 inches. In order to provide an aisle of 20 feet, the garage would have to be larger, or a row of parking would have to be eliminated. Because the garage is already proposed so close to the side and rear yard setbacks, the garage could only be made bigger by going up or down. If the garage were properly designed at the size proposed, it could not provide the number of parking spaces it currently proposes. As currently designed a Honda Pilot could not back out of a parking space and turn around to exit because the aisle is not as wide as the Pilot is long, making it impossible to execute a “k” turn.

Mr. Smith referred to Exhibit S-6 and asked Mr. Knight about comments on a second access to the garage.

Mr. Knight agreed that the Pennoni letter did discuss the need for a second exit, and asked that the applicant demonstrate vehicular circulation within the structure, including exiting maneuvers.

In response to Mr. Walsh’s questions, Mr. Knight said that Pennoni referred to a second access both for exiting and for emergency access.

In response to Mr. Beckert’s question, Mr. Knight said that Exhibit A-8 shows 207 parking spaces, however the end spaces are only 8.5 feet wide. If they were 9 feet in width, one space at each end would be eliminated, leaving 201 9 foot by 18 foot spaces.

In response to Mr. Sander’s questions, Mr. Knight said that 9 foot by 18 foot parking spaces are common, and exist at both the Stocking Works and at Sycamore Center. They are not unsafe. He did not review the number of spaces in preparation for testimony. If the aisle were 20 feet wide, two Chevy Tahoes could pass one another. He was not sure whether the plan shown in Exhibit A-8 is fully engineered. He did not know whether there are available parking spaces on the street between the Promenade and Sycamore Center. He did not review the Redevelopment Agreement, which depicted a project with only one access point. He explained that he enlarged the A-8 exhibit and used a portion of it to prepare Exhibit S-10. Using this enlargement he scaled the aisle at 14.32 feet. He understood that the applicant is not seeking a variance for the width of the aisle.

In response to Mr. Katz’s questions, Mr. Knight said that he used A-8 to create S-10, but when he scaled the aisle on S-10, it measured 14.32 feet. Exhibit A-8’s labeling of the aisle as 20 feet wide is incorrect. In Exhibit S-6, page two refers to templates. He did not review that portion of the letter, but explained that turning templates would shoe the clearance needed to perform certain maneuvers. PennDOT has the criteria for turning movements. In Exhibit S-10, the Chevy Tahoe depicted is 18 feet long, the Honda Pilot is 17.5 feet long and he estimated that a Chevy Suburban is about 19 feet long. All would probably use the full length of the 9 foot by 18 foot parking stalls. It would be difficult to back a long vehicle out of the stalls, and impossible if the aisle were not 20 feet wide.

In response to Mr. Wall’s question, Mr. Knight said that the 9 foot by 18 foot stalls are appropriate and in use in many parking lots.

At Mr. Auchinleck’s request, Mr. Knight clarified that the plan in A-8 indicates an aisle of 20 feet, but when measured to scale, it is drawn incorrectly and measures smaller. The length of the area to the left of the stairwell in A-8 to the rear wall measures 88 feet.

In response to Mr. Sander’s questions, Mr. Knight said that the plan referred to in Exhibits S-6, S-7 and S-8 is dated May 9, 2006. Review letters all refer to a building of 95,484 square feet with a height of 55 feet and with 17 residential units on the top floor. He did not see the plan that had been referred to in these letters. He is not familiar with the currently proposed plan for a building 34feet 8 inches high with less than 60,000 square feet of space. If fully and properly designed a garage with 207 stalls measuring 9 by 18 feet, with 20 foot aisle would comply with standard practices.

In response to Mr. Auchinleck’s questions, Mr. Knight said that he agreed with the Township engineer’s review letters; that a second access should be provided in case of emergency. It could be possible that the entrance could be blocked preventing emergency vehicles to get inside. He believes that this would still be necessary for a smaller building with a smaller garage. The only way to make this garage bigger is to build up or down, because the plan already goes almost to the property lines.

In response to Mr. Sander’s question, Mr. Knight said that he was not aware that there would be emergency access through the rear of the garage for rescuers on foot.

Mr. Sander said that a fire engine would not enter an enclosed space to fight a fire.

All parties rested. Mr. Solomon had no comment.

Mr. Auchinleck asked Mr. Sander to review the required parking for the proposed uses, as the numbers used to calculate the requirements had been changed at differenct times throughout the proceedings.

Mr. Sander said that the retail space measures 20,980 square feet, and requires 105 spaces; however there is an outdoor corridor included in that number. If it were eliminated from the calculation the retail area would measure 18,428 square feet. The office area is 30,440 square feet, requiring 153 parking spaces. This area includes utility areas. The restaurant will have 162 seats, requiring 81 parking spaces.

In closing Mr. Sander reminded the Board that the applicant is seeking variances for 207 parking spaces measuring 9 feet by 18 feet, with a 20 foot aisle. These parking stall measurements are commonplace throughout the Township. He discussed the unique project, which was the result of a redevelopment agreement, the first partnership of the Township with the Bucks County Redevelopment Authority. The project is the final phase of the revitalization of Sycamore Street. The Township has supported the revitalization by the forming of the Joint Downtown Newtown Corporation, by the hiring of a main streets manager, and by the formation of an Acme Visioning Committee. The Board of Supervisors chose Elliott for redevelopment of the site, based on Elliott’s response to the Township’s request for proposals. Working with Township staff, Elliott entered into the Redevelopment Agreement with un-engineered sketches. The Township had anticipated and agreed to support certain variances. The Agreement referred to a building 62,470 square feet in size, three stories high. It had proposed 230 parking spaces. The current plan is 57,380 square feet, two stories and has 207 parking spaces, which is only four spaces less than the ratio anticipated in the Agreement.

Mr. Sander reviewed the shared parking analysis, which shows that the anticipated uses would have different parking needs at different times of the day, and different times of the year. That analysis projected a deficit for three hours on four December Fridays, at which time there were 60 on-street parking spaces available. During the time period when the analysis was prepared, Sycamore Center was less than 1/3 full. When the site is completed it should provide a boon for the Sycamore Center tenants, as it brings more people to the area.

Referring to hardship, Mr. Sander said that the site needs redevelopment, and the Township chose this plan for the site. It has been scaled back in scope, but meets all elements of the Redevelopment Agreement. The project will be good for the Township, and it represents what the Board of Supervisors had envisioned for the benefit of all residents.

Mr. Beckert first addressed the issue of contract zoning, which would create a contract to permit what would otherwise not be permitted. The Redevelopment Agreement clearly states that the developer must seek all land development approvals. The Township has agreed to support the application to the Zoning Hearing Board to the extent that it is consistent with the plan submitted with the Agreement. The Township has a right to participate, either for or against, any application, or to support an application with certain conditions. At this time the Township is hearing the conditional use application for this project, with two parties objecting, which has not yet concluded. The two proceedings are independent of one another. The Township has not in any way attempted to usurp the Zoning Hearing Board’s judgment. Every party is equal before the Zoning Hearing Board. The Township’s revitalization of Sycamore Street has been an open process, and it has always been understood that the redevelopment of the Acme site would require some variance relief. Any meetings held between Elliott/Mr. Sander and the Township have been technical meetings. Nothing has been offered to Elliott except the same technical assistance that would be afforded any applicant.

Restating the Township’s position with regard to the specific variance requests of the applicant Mr. Beckert noted the following:

  1. The Township supports the applicant’s request for front and rear yard variances.
  2. The Township supports the applicant’s request for variances for disturbances of steep slopes and wooded lots.
  3. The Township supports the variance request for height variances.
  4. The Township supports the applicant’s request for variances to allow 9x18 foot parking stall sizes.
  5. The Township supports the applicant’s request for off street loading variances on the following conditions:

    (a) All refuse and trash collection shall be at off hours;

    (b) That deliveries by 32 foot box trucks or greater be at off hours;

    (c) That only UPS size vehicles be permitted deliveries during business hours and no deliveries be made on or from Sycamore Street.

  6. The Township supports the applicant’s request for side yard variance relief on the North side of the property on the condition that all parking stalls be double striped.
  7. The Township supports the applicant’s variance request as to parking on the following conditions:

(a) That the second floor of the proposed building be a D-1 Office Use only and contain a maximum of 30,440 square feet;

(b) That the first floor Retail E-1 Use be a maximum of 20,900 square feet of retail uses;

(c) That the Restaurant Use E-5 have only one user and be limited to a square foot allocation of 5,960 square feet;

(d) That a third level be added to the parking garage and that the total parking garage facility be required to contain at least 200 spaces;

(e) That all employees be required to park within the parking garage.

Finally, if the Board were of a mind to grant variance relief especially related to parking, the Township would request a provision that the applicant agree that nothing within any variance that may be granted shall limit the Township’s review of any conditional use or land development, including a consideration of the overall parking as to the general request for a conditional use or as each individual tenant or end user makes application for conditional use, in order to permit the Township to assure that the parking spaces are adequate as to the actual user, including a consideration of the number of employees proposed, the nature of the actual use, the hours of operation and any other relevant consideration as may actually be sought in any potential future conditional use application.

Mr. Lombardi said that the structure that the Zoning Hearing Board is being asked to approve will last for one hundred years. This must be kept in mind. He said that he understands the Township’s commitment to redevelop the Sycamore Street area, and redevelopment of the Acme site is part to that revitalization effort. It has always been understood that some relief would be needed; however this massive, three story building and garage will reach a height of 39 feet, covering almost the entire two acres with stone, steel and concrete, overshadowing the Church and Goodnoe homestead. Sycamore Street has been redeveloped with an eye toward historic preservation. He noted the other recently constructed and renovated buildings along Sycamore Street, which are all thriving without overpowering their sites. All of these owners have worked hard to protect the historic district. The Sycamore Street, Jefferson Street intersection is already very congested. This intense use will only contribute to the congestion, creating a burden to the existing neighbors. He asked the Zoning Hearing Board to protect our historic district.

Mr. Walsh said that his clients, the Veterans Association, the Ambulance Squad and the Newtown Presbyterian Church support the Township’s efforts to redevelop Sycamore Street, and understand that some sacrifices would have to be made to redevelop the Acme site, but these sacrifices need to be reasonable. Although Elliott Building Group was selected to redevelop a site that does need to be redeveloped, Elliott is asking for a higher than allowable building of massive scale. The evidence of economic hardship is suspect. The project needs to be downsized. The proposed parking structure is unsafe. He noted that the property does not present a hardship; it is not a unique shape but is rectangular, it is flat except at its boundaries, and at two acres is significantly larger than the other lots in the TC zoning district. There are no protected resources on the property. Elliott has compounded its problem by failing to alleviate the parking problem by offering a fee in lieu or attempting to lease other parking. The original plan was only a sketch, and while his clients had asked for more details about the plans, those details had never been provided. Regarding contract zoning, the Redevelopment Agreement requires that the Board of Supervisors take a position on the zoning variances. He asked that the Board deny the application.

Mr. Smith briefly referred to contract zoning because the Board of Supervisors has supported the application, and the Zoning Board members are appointed by the Supervisors. The applicant has not proved any hardship. The land does need to be redeveloped, which could be done within the Ordinance. His client has an issue with parking. The applicant is seeking a 40% reduction in the required parking, which will adversely impact Sycamore Center. The variances have to be the minimum, and this application seeks a 132 parking space variance. The applicant has not attempted to lease additional parking, or offered to pay a fee in lieu of parking. The project is too large for the site; all variances sought, setbacks, stall size and height have to do with parking. This is too much development for the site. This is not a financial hardship, the site could be reconfigured. He asked that the application be denied.

Mr. Auchinleck said that the record is now closed. The Board would render a decision at its regular meeting on April 4.

Mrs. Laughlin moved to continue the application of the Promenade at Sycamore, LP to its regular meeting of April 4, 2007. Mr. Katz seconded and the motion passed unanimously.

Mrs. Bowe moved to adjourn at 12:45 PM. Mrs. Laughlin seconded and the motion passed unanimously.

 

Respectfully Submitted:

 

Mary Donaldson, Recording Secretary