ZONING HEARING BOARD
MINUTES OF THE MEETING OF AUGUST 1, 2013
The Newtown Township Zoning Hearing Board met on Thursday, August 1, 2013 at the Newtown Township Building. In attendance and voting were: Chairman Karen Doorley, Vice Chairman Brandon Wind, Secretary Mario Lionetti and members Michael Iapalucci and Timothy Potero. Also in attendance were Solicitor James J. Auchinleck, Jr., Code Enforcement Officer Martin Vogt and stenographer Justine Gregor.
Call to Order: Chairman Doorley called the meeting to order at 7:35 PM.
Approval of Minutes: Mr. Potero moved to accept the minutes of July 11, 2013. Mr. Wind seconded and the motion passed 3-0-2, with Mrs. Doorley and Mr. Lionetti abstaining.
The Agenda was reviewed:
Changes to the Agenda: Mrs. Doorley announced that S&H Security would be heard last.
Application of Newtown Racquetball Association
Mr. Lionetti read into the record the application of Newtown Racquetball Association t/a Newtown Athletic Club, owner, requesting variances from sections 1106(F)(2)&(4)(b) of the Joint Municipal Zoning Ordinance of 2007 to permit a 116 square foot freestanding wall sign where the maximum is 16 square feet and where only one sign per frontage is permitted. The subject property is 120 Pheasant Run, in the LI Light Industrial Zoning District, being known as tax parcel #29-10-37, 9-10-39, & 9-10-40.
Mrs. Doorley asked if anyone present wished to be party to the application. There was no response.
Applicant Jim Worthington was sworn in. Mr. Worthington explained that some time ago he had submitted plans for additions to the NAC which included the pool complex and field house. A retaining wall had been on the plan, and he had wrongly assumed that with the approval for the plans, the wall with lettering had also been approved. He did not realize that the wall lettering would have required a separate sign application, since it had been an addition included in the land development plans. He had been under the impression that the sign installer had all of the necessary permits. He later found out that the building permits did not include the lettering on the wall. The sign has been installed and he would like to keep the lettering because it was costly and looks attractive. It enhances the appearance of the entire complex.
Mrs. Doorley and Mr. Iapalucci agreed that the sign looks very good, but is much larger than any permitted sign in the LI zoning district. Mrs. Doorley said she is concerned not about this sign, but about the overall signage at the site, including shrubs spelling out “NAC,” a “Newtown Athletic and Aquatic Club” sign at the side of the original building and numerous signs on the field house and at the entrance. She would be willing to approve the new “Newtown Athletic Club” sign on the retaining wall if some of the other signage were removed.
Mr. Wind pointed out that originally the site had been multiple parcels, each entitled to a sign on each road frontage. He asked whether the field house lot had been part of the consolidation.
Mr. Worthington said that the lot is part of the consolidation, but it is a separate business used by a baseball/football academy and a cheerleading/gymnastics facility. Each facility has a separate entrance. He said that the land development plans had included a monument entrance to the new driveway on Pheasant Run, which has not been erected yet. The sign on the original building pre-dates the current ordinance and had been permitted because over an acre of his land was taken to make way for the Newtown Bypass.
Mr. Iapalucci said that all of the signs are very attractive and he has no objection to them, however he does find the lights on the pool area, visible from the Bypass, very distracting. He would like to see them turned inward and shielded from the road.
Mr. Worthington said that he consolidated the lots because the Township asked him to do so. He also moved the main entrance from Penns Trail to Pheasant Run at the Township’s request. The total parcel is 24 acres and should have been entitled to five signs before the consolidation.
Mr. Wind noted that the field house has at least three large, new signs which are not included in the application.
Mr. Worthington said that some of the signage is temporary, promoting camps and events. They will be removed. The other signs are necessary to direct boys and girls to the separate entrances to the field house. In response to Mr. Potero’s questions, Mr. Worthington said that the signs are back lit and are on a light sensor. They are lit when it is dark.
Mr. Lionetti asked whether there is a sign at the Blacksmith Road entrance.
Mr. Worthington said that there is no sign at that parking lot entrance.
Mr. Worthington said that his members know where the club is and he would be willing to remove the sign from the original building or make it smaller. He would also be willing to remove the shrubs. He did note, however, that although his members know where the club is, he believed the club serves as a guide for other travelers to the Business Commons. It is visible from the Bypass and serves as a directional marker. He is eager to work with the Township on a compromise because he does not want to make it difficult for the Township when dealing with other applicants.
Mr. Vogt said that the application only addresses the sign on the wall on Penns Trail. It does not address the field house or the Pheasant Run entrance. The signs in place now are considered “temporary, construction” signs. It is his understanding that a separate application is to be made for the other signs.
Mrs. Doorley said that she would prefer to continue this application until the other application has been submitted. She would rather consider all of the signage for the entire complex at once. It is difficult to discuss the other signs relying on the Board’s memory of what other signs are on the property. She suggested that when all signage is presented at the same time, the members can consider possible compromises.
Mr. Vogt suggested that the Fire Marshal should review the sign on the original building to determine if it is used as a directional landmark for emergency responders.
Mr. Worthington agreed to continue and amend his application to include the entire property.
Mr. Lionetti moved to continue the application of Newtown Racquetball Association to October 3, 2013. Mr. Potero seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Application of Dr. Denise Chranowski (Wellness Solution Centers)
Mr. Lionetti read into the record the application of Dr. Denise Chranowski, Bucks County Wellness Centre dba Wellness Solution Centers, owner, requesting variances from sections 702(A)(2),(3),&(4) of the Joint Municipal Zoning Ordinance of 2007 to permit the operation of an E-3 service business use for a licensed medical aesthetician and other spa related services where such use is not permitted. The subject property is 121 Friends Lane, Suites 100 and 200, in the LI Light Industrial Zoning District, being known as tax parcel #29-10-92-2A1 & 2A2.
Mrs. Doorley asked if anyone present wished to be party to the application. There was no response.
Denise Chranowski was sworn in. Dr. Chranowski explained that she has two condos at 121 Friends Lane for her wellness center business, which includes chiropractic, message, diet and exercise. As her business has been more and more reliant on cash rather than services covered by health insurance, she would like to look for additional services including spa services. She would like to possibly include a licensed medical aesthetician for services like Botox, electrolysis and derm-abrasion. Aestheticians work under the license of a medical doctor. The added services will allow her to remain at this location.
Mr. Iapalucci asked what the current uses are at this location.
Mr. Vogt said that the business is currently a D-2 medical use. Doctors, psychologists and chiropractors are permitted uses by right in this zoning district. Aesthetician falls into service uses, like beauty services, barbers, dry cleaners and day spas.
Dr. Chranowski said that she has not yet contracted with anyone to provide this service but wanted the use approved first.
Mr. Iapalucci said that he would like to limit the variance to only aesthetician and spa services so that other service businesses could not locate to this site in the future.
Mr. Lionetti moved to grant variances from sections 702(A)(2),(3),&(4) of the Joint Municipal Zoning Ordinance of 2007 to permit the operation of an E-3 service business use for a licensed medical aesthetician and other spa related services where such use is not permitted. Mr. Wind seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Continued and Amended Application of S&H Security, LLC.
Mr. Lionetti read into the record the c ontinued and Amended Appeal #922-12 S&H Security LLC. requesting variances from sections 601A, 1001(A)(6)&(F)(6)(b)&(c), 1001(B)(5),(D)(1)&(D)(2) and 1207(A)(1) of the Joint Municipal Zoning Ordinance of 2007 to permit limited seasonal use of two freestanding tents and accessory concession stand ticket booth for haunted house (E-9 use) venue between late September and November 1 st of each year with variances from parking, landscaping, drive aisle width and curbing requirements with the existing residential dwelling to remain and a special exception under section 1208(A) to permit expansion of a non-conforming use to include two 30 foot by 30 foot free standing tents and a 224 square foot concession stand/ticket booth. The subject property is 74 Richboro Road, in the CC - Convenience Commercial Zoning District, being known as tax parcel number 29-11-33.
Attorney Ed Murphy represented the applicants.
Mrs. Doorley asked if anyone present wished to be party to the application.
Philip Neuhard, 58 German Avenue, asked for party status.
Mr. Murphy asked the location of Mr. Neuhard’s home.
Mr. Neuhard located his home on the plans attached to the application, at the intersection of German and Linden Avenues.
Mr. Murphy did not object and Mr. Auchinleck granted Mr. Neuhard party status.
Mr. Neuhard and applicants Brian Tomlinson and James Tomlinson were sworn in.
Mr. Murphy explained that this application had originally been submitted in June of 2012. That application included holding the event in the existing dwelling. After meeting with the Township engineer and code enforcement officer and fire marshal, it became apparent that the house would not meet the codes for a commercial use of this kind. The applicant, working with the Township staff, developed an alternate plan to hold the events in two tents at the rear of the property. These tents, divided into different scenes, would meet all fire and safety requirements if use relief is granted. His letter to the Township, included with the amended application, outlines the changes from the original application.
Mr. Murphy said that the applicants have discussed the plans with the Board of Supervisors, who specifically requested that access be moved from Richboro Road to Linden Avenue. The Tomlinson family met with representatives of the American Legion, who have agreed to allow an easement across the Legion property at two points for entrance and egress to the event parking. They have also spoken to representatives of St. Andrew’s Church, the Knights of Pythias, represented by attorney Don Marshall, and to the Jones and Matthews families, all owners of contiguous properties. None of these adjoining neighbors have any objections to the plan. Mr. Tomlinson owns the property on Richboro road next to 74 Richboro Road. On the other side is Newtown Chocolatier, whose owners have no objection.
Mr. Wind asked whether there is an easement in place for use of the American Legion property.
Mr. Murphy said that there is an oral agreement which will be formalized if relief is granted.
Brian Tomlinson said that he is owner of S&H Security, owner of 74 Richboro Road. He lives in the house directly to the west of the property. 74 Richboro Road is the last parcel in the CC Convenience Commercial zoning district. His home is in the R-2 residential zoning district. The property consists of 2.75 acres, with more than 200 feet of frontage on Richboro Road. He confirmed Mr. Murphy’s statement that all of the adjoining neighbors have been informed and have no objection to the plan. He has moved the entrance/exits to Linden Avenue. He will widen the opening between the properties to 12 feet and will place gravel on the paper street for circulation through the site. Parking will be on the grass. The house will remain a residential use; any tenant would be informed and would have to agree to the haunted house attraction. No cars will use the Richboro Road driveway to enter the haunted house. The parking area will be lighted by lights on poles as shown on the plan.
James Tomlinson of 1527 Newtown Yardley Road confirmed all of the testimony given. He will operate the attraction from the last weekend in September until Halloween, Wednesday through Sunday and Halloween night. The maximum number of days the attraction will open in any calendar year would be 23. The last weekend in September the attraction will be open only Friday and Saturday evening. The hours will be 6:00 PM until 10:00 PM, when the last ticket will be sold. Visitors will park, walk to the ticket booth then walk through the attraction and leave. Each scene will have at least one actor. The short area between the tents will also have a scene. He will use actors from the various drama clubs and classes at the Community College and the high schools. There will be no other entertainment, no hayride or bonfire and no live music. The concession stand will only serve snacks, soft drinks, coffee and cocoa. He estimated that it would take about 15-18 minutes to walk through the entire attraction. Employees will park off-site at a lot owned by Brian Tomlinson. There will be employees directing traffic inside the parking lot and if the Police Department deems it necessary, two police cars will be stationed to direct traffic onto Linden Avenue from Richboro and from Swamp Road.
Mr. Lionetti asked about trash collection.
James Tomlinson said that trash receptacles would be placed throughout the property and would be collected and moved by pick-up truck to a dumpster at Brian Tomlinson’s business location on Lincoln Avenue. There will be four restrooms, including a handicapped accessible restroom with a sink. These do not appear on the plan.
Mr. Iapalucci asked about directing traffic flow, as Linden Avenue is a very narrow two-way street.
James Tomlinson said that temporary signage would be placed around the area of the attraction directing traffic to Linden Avenue and into the entrance. On exiting, cars could go either left or right. If necessary, a policeman would direct traffic.
Mr. Wind said that with a parking lot accommodating 97 cars which would only remain at the site for 15-20 minutes, the site could see up to 300 cars per hour.
Mr. Iapalucci expressed some concern for safety for cars exiting Linden Avenue onto Swamp Road, where visibility is very poor.
Mr. Murphy explained that the Township has already been looking at this intersection for improvements since Monsignor Picard expressed concern at a recent public meeting.
Mr. Potero asked what would trigger the need for police officers to direct traffic.
James Tomlinson said that the Police Department would determine whether traffic control is needed. One officer would be at Richboro Road, one would be at Swamp Road.
Mrs. Doorley expressed some concern about traffic and parking when the Legion is also in use when the haunted house is open. This could cause some difficulty as cars are trying to drive into the haunted house lot between cars parked in the Legion lot.
Brian Tomlinson said that the current plan shows two parking spaces open for through traffic. If necessary, he would take two additional spaces, widening the area cars would need to pass through. He could offer the Legion use of additional parking on his lot across Linden from the Legion.
Mrs. Doorley said she is concerned about parking on grass if it rains.
Brian Tomlinson said that wood chips would be placed on the grass rather than gravel. He would prefer to leave the lawn intact for the remainder of the year.
Mr. Iapalucci said that he understood that once a variance is granted it would run with the land and he is concerned about future E-9 entertainment uses at the site.
Mr. Murphy said that the applicant would accept as a condition that the variance would be specifically for this owner for a haunted house for 23 days per year.
Mr. Potero asked about distances from parking area to ticket booth and attraction.
Mr. Murphy said that the distance from the parking field to the ticket booth is about 50 feet. There will be paths and temporary fences as well as guides through the attraction.
Mr. Neuhard asked about the number of parking spaces, as it indicates that the attraction is large.
Mr. Murphy said that the Tomlinsons do not know whether the attraction will draw a large crowd; the parking is based on ordinance requirements for entertainment venues.
Mr. Neuhard asked how the lights would be powered and how late the attraction would remain open.
Mr. Tomlinson said electricity would be run to the lights underground. The last tickets would be sold at 10:00 PM so he expected the last attendees to leave by 10:30 and the site shut down no later than 11:00 PM.
Mr. Neuhard informed the Board that the Township had sent its engineers to the corner of Swamp and Linden and it has had some of the shrubs trimmed to improve visibility, but no other improvements are planned. He asked about using German Avenue, a paper street, when there are other paper streets in that area. He said that some years ago a court document stated that the paper street cannot be expanded on or used, as German Avenue has been vacated. He showed Mr. Auchinleck and Mr. Murphy the document, but did not enter it as an exhibit.
Mr. Auchinleck reviewed the document and explained that German Avenue had been vacated and the land now belongs to the landowners on either side of it. Those owners can grant easements to their private property and can allow use for this attraction. The Township cannot improve or use German Avenue as a dedicated street. It is not a public road; it is a driveway and the portions in question belong to the American Legion.
Mr. Auchinleck asked whether the Matthews and Jones families have easements for use of German Avenue from Weir (Knights of Pythias.)
Mr. Auchinleck said that the plan does not say; he believed that the Knights of Pythias has a Swamp Road address.
Mr. Potero asked whether the entrance and exit widths are adequate.
Mr. Auchinleck said that the Township engineer has reviewed the 12 foot entrance and 16 foot exit and found them adequate. He noted that the entrance already exists.
Mr. Neuhard said that Linden Avenue is only 16 feet wide. He is concerned because there are no plans to prevent cars from trying to avoid a back-up on Linden by cutting through German Avenue, a private street, to exit to Swamp Road via Walnut Avenue. There is a drainage system on this street and it is only partially paved. It would be noisy and dangerous, as it is quite dark at night and there are raised manhole covers and potholes. The plans will have a very negative impact on his home. He has lived in his home for 34 years and is very concerned about increased noise and lights and increases in trash. He is already burdened by this from high school events. Because the street is narrow, cars frequently skid into his lawn and yard. He is also concerned that parking on the grass will compact the soil and cause additional run-off toward Linden Avenue and his home. He said that although the area is zoned CC- Convenience Commercial, it is a quiet residential area with 28 houses and about 60 residents. This will be a burden and inconvenience on all of them.
Mr. Neuhard said that at one time the old Jehovah Witness Hall on Linden Avenue had sought approval of a nursery school but was denied because if the traffic it would cause. This use would bring even more traffic than the proposed nursery school. The Township has faced some very difficult situations with noise and resident complaints at LaStalla Restaurant and at the skate park. It would be better to deny the application than to try to remedy complaints later. This area already is burdened at night with activities at St. Andrew’s Church, Council Rock High School and the American Legion. The proposed use will add to the noise and traffic.
Mr. Iapalucci asked how many cars could be backed up on Linden Avenue to German Avenue.
Mr. Auchinleck said the distance appears to be about 320 feet, which would probably equal about ten cars.
Mr. Iapalucci said that he would guess that drivers would want to cut into German Avenue to Walnut Street if cars were backed up, which would probably happen on Friday nights during football season with traffic from games and other evening events at the High School.
Mr. Lionetti agreed that traffic would be a concern, especially when added to traffic from football games on Friday nights. He favors upholding the Ordinance, as the traffic will burden the surrounding neighborhood.
Mr. Potero asked whether there is a way to control the number of people coming to the attraction.
Mr. Lionetti said that it appears that tickets are sold upon arrival, first come/first served.
Brian Tomlinson confirmed that the tickets are sold to patrons as they arrive.
Mr. Lionetti moved to deny variances from Sections 601A, 1001(A)(6)and (F)(6)(b) and (c), 1001 (B)(5), (D)(1) and (D)(2) and 1207(A)(1) of the Joint Municipal Zoning Ordinance of 2007 which would permit limited seasonal use of two freestanding tents and accessory concession stand booth for a haunted house (E-9 use) between late September and November 1 st of each year with variances from parking, landscaping, drive aisle width and curbing requirements with the existing residential use to remain and to deny a special exception from Section 1208(A) to permit expansion of a non-conforming use. Mr. Iapalucci seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Mr. Potero moved to adjourn at 10:00 PM. Mr. Lionetti seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Mary Donaldson, Recording Secretary