ZONING HEARING BOARD
MINUTES OF THE MEETING OF MAY 2, 2013
The Newtown Township Zoning Hearing Board met on Thursday, May 2, 2013 in the Newtown Township Building. In attendance and voting were: Chairman Karen Doorley, Vice Chairman Brandon Wind, Secretary Mario Lionetti and members Timothy Potero and Michael Iapalucci. Also in attendance were: James J. Auchinleck, Jr., Esq., Solicitor and Justine Gregor, Stenographer.
Call to Order: Mrs. Doorley called the meeting to order at 7:30 PM.
Approval of Minutes: Mr. Wind moved to approve the minutes of April 4, 2013. Mr. Potero seconded and the motion passed 3-0-2, with Mrs. Doorley and Mr. Lionetti abstaining.
The agenda was reviewed:
Continued Application of S&H Security, LLC, 74 Richboro Road
Continued Application of Sunoco Inc. (MG Permits), 549 Washington Avenue
Application of Douglas Haines, 66 Richboro Road
Application of Clifton Homes, Inc./Philip and Patricia Shotts, 4 Windrow
Changes to the Agenda: Mr. Auchinleck informed the Board that S&H Security has requested that its application be continued to the June meeting. He suggested that the Board change the order of the other applications to hear Clifton Homes/Shotts first and Sunoco last.
Continued Application of S&H Security, LLC
Mr. Wind moved to continue the application of S&H Security, LLC to June 6, 2013. Mr. Lionetti seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Application of Clifton Homes, Inc./Philip and Patricia Shotts
Mr. Lionetti read into the record the application of Philip and Patricia Shotts, owners, by Clifton Homes Inc., contractor, requesting a variance from the Joint Municipal Zoning Ordinance of 2007 as affected by the Norwalk Final Plan to permit construction of a 21 foot by 21 foot sun room addition in the rear of an existing single family dwelling resulting in an impervious surface ratio of 16% where the maximum permitted by the zoning ordinance as affected by the Norwalk Final Plan is 15%. The subject property is 4 Windrow Lane in the OR – Office Research Zoning District, being known as tax parcel #29-16-11-11.
David Irwin, Patricia and Philip Shotts were sworn in.
Mrs. Doorley asked if anyone wished to be party to the application. There was no response.
Mr. Irwin explained that Mr. and Mrs. Shotts would like to add a sunroom to their home. This will involve an increase in impervious surface of only 0.08%.
Mr. Auchinleck explained that the Zoning Hearing Board may grant variances, however it cannot amend the final plan for Norwalk development. This will have to be done by the applicants at the County.
Mr. Irwin said that Mr. and Mrs. Shotts have spoken to their surrounding neighbors, all of which have signed a petition stating that they do not object to the plan. He entered as Exhibit A-1 the petition, signed by 8 neighbors from 5 homes.
Mrs. Shotts confirmed that four of the homes are adjacent to hers and the fifth has a clear view from across the street.
Mr. Lionetti moved to grant a variance from the Joint Municipal Zoning Ordinance of 2007 as affected by the Norwalk Final Plan to permit construction of a 21 foot by 21 foot sun room addition in the rear of an existing single family dwelling resulting in an impervious surface ratio of 16% where the maximum permitted by the zoning ordinance as affected by the Norwalk Final Plan is 15%. Mr. Potero seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Application of Douglas Haines
Mr. Lionetti read into the record the application of Douglas Haines, lessee, Marie E. Sedia, owner, requesting variances from sections 1106(F)(2), (F)(4)(a) & (F)(5) of the Joint Municipal Zoning Ordinance of 2007 to permit 6 fascia identification signs (awnings) and replace an existing freestanding sign for Newtown Chocolatier (sole tenant), for a total of 7 signs where only 2 are permitted; and where the signs exceed the maximum size permitted and the freestanding sign is 6 feet high where the maximum height is 5 feet. The subject property is 66 Richboro Road in the CC – Convenience Commercial Zoning District, being known as tax parcel #29-11-32.
Douglas Haines was sworn in.
Mrs. Doorley asked if anyone wished to be party to this application. There was no response.
Mr. Haines explained that he would like relief for six awnings with logos and one free standing sign where only two signs are permitted. He did not know that the logos on the awnings were considered signage. They have already been installed. He had wanted to make the unattractive building look nicer and to call attention to the business, which is on a busy street and is the last commercial property before the residential street begins. The freestanding sign is obstructed by telephone poles and wires. It is the same size as the existing sign for the previous business; he has resurfaced the sign with his business name and colors.
Mr. Iapalucci asked Mr. Auchinleck to clarify what is permitted.
Mr. Auchinleck said that the applicant can have two signs, as the business faces two streets. Awnings are permitted, but logos on the awnings are considered signs and are not permitted. The freestanding sign and one of the awning logos are permitted. The other five awning logos are not permitted and relief is needed. The size of some of the signs exceeds the permitted size and the freestanding sign needs relief for height.
Mr. Iapalucci said that he has no objection to the signage as presented but is concerned that granting relief would allow a future occupant of the building to have seven signs. He asked whether the signage could be limited to only these signs.
Mr. Auchinleck said that relief could be limited to signs on awnings but could not be limited to these particular signs.
Mr. Iapalucci asked whether the signs would be lit.
Mr. Haines said that the awnings have gooseneck lights over them.
The members discussed the free standing sign and agreed that they did not object to the size.
Mr. Haines said that he had submitted a proposed sign which is larger but has decided to use the existing sign which has been repainted with “Newtown Chocolatier.” He said that he thought it was a conforming sign but the grass was mounded beneath it. He had leveled the ground under the sign so now it might be higher than permitted. He did not want to move the sign because it is set in concrete.
Mr. Iapalucci said that he does not want to see future owners lighting the awnings from inside or using other than cloth awnings. He asked when the lights are turned off.
Mr. Haines said that he would not want glaring lights on late at night as his home is on this street. He turns lights off when the store is closed. He stressed that he needs the larger signage and larger awnings because the building is not clearly visible to cars coming from the direction of the Bypass. He has had customers say that they did not see it when driving from that direction.
The members were in agreement that they did not object to these awning signs but wanted to be sure that the variances were limited to awning signs with gooseneck lighting. Mr. Lionetti said that he did not favor granting the height variance.
Mr. Lionetti moved to grant variances from Section 1106 (F)(2) to allow one free standing sign and six awning signs, from Section 1106(F)(4)(a) to allow two awning signs of 23.5 square feet, from Section 1106(F)(4)(b) to allow a 36 square foot awning sign and a 17.25 square foot awning sign more than 35 feet from cartway. Variances from Section 1106(F)(4)(a) and (b) for size of free standing sign and Section 1106(F)(5) for height of free standing sign are denied. Variances granted are subject to the following conditions: that awning signs are to be on cloth awnings with gooseneck style lighting. No internally lit awnings are permitted. Mr. Wind seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Continued Application of Sunoco Inc. (MG Permits), 549 Washington Avenue
Mr. Lionetti read into the record the continued and amended application of Sunoco Inc., by MG Permit Services agent, owner, requesting variances from section 1103(D)(3) of the Joint Municipal Zoning Ordinance of 2007 to permit replacement of a 74" by 57" fuel panel on an existing 19 feet height freestanding identification sign with a new panel of the same sized containing two 18 inch red LED digital displays which are Electronic Message Center Signs that are not permitted in the district, the subject property is 549 Washington Avenue, Newtown, in the PS Professional Service Zoning District, being further known as Tax Map Parcel # 29-10-45-2.
Attorney Darren Steinberg represented the applicant.
Mrs. Doorley asked if anyone wished party status.
Attorney James McNamara of McNamara and Bolla, representing Newtown Borough, requested party status for Newtown Borough.
Mr. Steinberg objected to the granting of party status. He recognized that the Jointure member municipalities have standing to oppose the application, but since Newtown Borough is not a part of the Jointure is does not qualify and has no standing. An adjacent property owner, resident of another municipality would have standing, but not the entire municipality.
Mr. McNamara said that the Borough represents all of its citizens.
Mr. Auchinleck said that he would allow Newtown Borough to become a party to this application.
Mr. Steinberg entered as Exhibit A-1 a picture comparing the current sign with the proposed sign along with the site plan. He noted that there is an error in the proposed sign; the “A Plus” portion of the sign will not be included. The new sign will be identical to the existing sign; only the price boxes will be changed to LED lights. Where the existing sign shows three different products/prices, the new sign will only show regular and premium prices.
Mr. Steinberg entered as Exhibit A-2 a PowerPoint presentation which includes photographs of similar new LED signs in Bucks and Montgomery Counties. He explained that Sunoco is participating in a national campaign to replace existing signage with LED price signs. The Sunoco at 549 Washington Avenue has existed as a non-conforming use for many years. Sunoco is eager to take advantage of new technology.
Steve Hinte, project manager at Sunoco was sworn in.
Mr. Auchinleck asked whether any other aspects of the existing sign would change.
Mr. Hinte said only the price boxes would be switched to LED boxes. The rest of the sign would not change at all.
Mr. Auchinleck said that he recalled that this sign had been the subject of previous variance applications: in 1991 and in 1993 variances were granted and in 2000 an application had been denied.
Mr. Hinde said that as project manager for Sunoco his is supervising the retrofitting of signs with LED price boxes on the east coast from Florida to Maine. He has changed 450 signs. This station has been at this location for many years and has had a backlit sign. The change to LED makes the sign more visible to travelers and it is easier to change the prices remotely. The bulbs last for many years and are more energy efficient. He referred to Exhibit A-2, which shows the LED lighted signs at surrounding stations at various times of day. The sign’s image is static and would only change as often as the existing sign, or price, changes. No advertisements, only prices, will be shown in LED. The brightness adjusts automatically depending on ambient lighting depending on time of day; it is about 10% of the brightness of a traffic signal. The sign has been designed to not have adverse impact on the surrounding neighborhood. It will be no brighter than the current sign.
Mrs. Doorley asked whether the brightness can be controlled by the station owner.
Mr. Hinde said that the brightness control is built into the unit. It will be turned off when the station is closed. The LED lights are clearer in the daytime and appear to be brightest at dusk.
Mr. Wind asked why red or amber lights are used.
Mr. Hinde said that some municipal ordinances have prohibited red lights and red lights are not used when the sign is close to a traffic light.
Mr. McNamara said that the JMZO defines static LED lights as an electronic message center. He noted that in other townships where the signs have been permitted static signs are not defined as electronic message centers.
Mr. Hinde said that he has had to get some variances from some municipalities.
Mr. McNamara said that to receive a variance the applicant must show hardship and the hardship discussed is that an employee has to continue to change the price sign, as has been done for 25 years.
Mr. Iapalucci asked if the signs in Exhibit A-2 in Warminster and Levittown are similar to the Newtown sign. He asked how the words “regular” and “ultra” are lit.
Mr. Hinte said that the words are internally lit by voltex energy efficient bulbs.
Mr. Iapalucci asked whether the LED lights are more visible in sunlight than the existing sign.
Mr. Hinde said that the LED lights glow brighter in sunlight and are more visible and legible in daytime than the existing signs.
Mr. McNamara asked whether there are other LED signs in the Jointure.
Mr. Hinde said that there are not others in the Jointure.
Mr. McNamara noted that this would be the first LED electronic message center in the Jointure.
Mr. Wind asked whether the gas station is a franchise and whether the owner changes the prices.
Mr. Hinde said that the gas station is independently owned. The prices would be controlled by Sunoco. Now Sunoco tells the owner the price and the owner manually changes it.
Mr. McNamara said that this is a well drafted ordinance and changes to it are a legislative matter. The Boards of Supervisors can make such changes. The applicant has not met the standard for the granting of a variance. There is no good reason to change the ordinance.
Mr. Wind asked whether this sign will have a negative impact on the neighborhood, as a sign already exists there.
Mr. McNamara said that he did not think it would have a major impact but it might bother some neighbors.
Mrs. Doorley noted that a letter was sent to all neighbors within 500 feet of the applicant advising them of the application; none have come to the meeting. She did not object to the use of new technology as it did not have an impact on the neighbors.
Mr. Lionetti said that because of the historic nature of the neighborhood he does not think it is appropriate to be so modern.
Mr. Iapalucci agreed with Mr. Lionetti that this is a dramatic change and other gas stations would also want similar relief. There are other gas stations in and near the historic district. He also noted the historic nature of the neighborhood.
Mr. Auchinleck pointed out that the gas station is not in the historic district.
Mr. Potero said that he did not believe that the applicant had shown a hardship.
Mr. Lionetti moved to deny the application of Sunoco, Inc. Mr. Potero seconded and the motion passed 4-1, with Mrs. Doorley voting nay.Mr. Wind moved to adjourn at 9:15 PM. Mr. Iapalucci seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Mary Donaldson, Recording Secretary