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[Opinion of Marilynn Huret, a resident of Lower Makefield, published in the Aug. 4, 2019 edition of the BCCT].
Zoning.The word is derived from the practice of designating mapped areas that regulate the use, form, design and compatibility of development. The primary purpose of zoning is to designate uses that are compatible. In practice, it’s also used to prevent new development from interfering with existing uses and/or to preserve the “character” of a community.It is the way governments control the physical development of land and the kinds of uses to which each property may be put. This includes regulation of the kinds of activities that will be acceptable on particular lots, such as open space, residential, agricultural, commercial or industrial.It includes the densities at which those activities can be performed, from low-density housing such as single-family homes to high density such as high-rise apartment buildings. It includes the height of buildings, the amount of space structures may occupy, the location of a building on the lot (setbacks), the proportions of the types of space on a lot — such as how much landscaped space, impervious surface, traffic lanes, and whether or not parking is provided.Among other things, zoning helps protect property values and improve safety. In communities where developers seek to convert land to uses that were not intended, it opens a larger concern for all.Once a change is approved — such as an overlay for a large tract or even extreme variances for single lot — this opens up a landslide of similar requests from other property owners to rezone their land to purposes other than what they were originally meant to be.
Restructuring a tract to a lower standard of use or category creates an impact on a community in terms of municipal services and lowers standards of value to existing zoned areas. Can primarily residential communities be broken into other types of usage that defy the original purpose of the planners?
The cost of such changes places uncalled-for financial and infrastructural stress on the existing balance of police, fire, emergency services, roads/maintenance and schools that will take years to recoup. And in doing so, it harms the character and face of the community.
The roughly 2,000 state and local governments suing the drug industry over the deadly opioid crisis have yet to see any verdicts or reach any big national settlements but are already tussling with each other over how to divide any money they collect.
The reason: Some of them want to avoid what happened 20 years ago, when states agreed to a giant settlement with the tobacco industry and used most of the cash on projects that had little to do with smoking's toll.
In the opioid litigation, plaintiffs want to make sure the money goes toward treating addiction and preventing drug abuse. Some also want to be reimbursed for extra taxpayer costs associated with the epidemic, such as rising expenses for jails and mental health services, more ambulance runs and police calls, and more children of addicts placed in the care of the child-welfare system.
"If we don't use dollars recovered from these opioid lawsuits to end the opioid epidemic, shame on us," Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear said.
In the event of a nationwide settlement, Rice and other lawyers representing local governments have proposed a plan that would set in advance how much county and local governments would get, based on the amount of drugs shipped there, the overdose deaths and the number of people addicted.
At the June meeting of the Joint Zoning Council (JZC), Lisa Wolff, Senior Planner at the Bucks County Planning Commission (BCPC), presented a proposal to update the Newtown Area Joint Comprehensive Plan, which was adopted in 2009. Newtown Township is a member of the JZC. Other members include Upper Makefield and Wrightstown Townships.
The JZC is recommending that the proposal be accepted by each of the member municipalities. The Proposal must be considered by each Planning Commission Definition and by each Board of Supervisors with the Board of Supervisors adopting a Resolution that: authorizes the Proposal; authorizes the preparation of the Comprehensive Plan Update; agrees to splitting the cost in accordance with the Jointure Agreement; and authorizes the Chair of the JZC to apply for any grants that may be available to offset the cost.
Newtown Township is in receipt of the BCPC proposal, which will likely be moved forward for review by the Township Planning Commission to evaluate and advise the Board of Supervisors.
The Municipalities Planning Code recommends that Comprehensive Plans be updated every 10 years.
More information, including a copy of the proposal and an audio recording of the proposal presentation by Lisa Wolff, can be found here:
The legal battle over plans for a proposed Wawa fuel station and convenience store continued Thursday night and looks likely to remain ongoing for at least two more months.
The developer behind the Wawa began making their case to the township’s zoning hearing board Thursday night that the fuel station and convenience store should both be allowed, while the township and Merck will continue their arguments over the next two months.
“The use is the issue. We are not arguing that the township has not provided enough fueling locations. We’re arguing the use has not been provided for,” said land planning consultant Charlie Schmehl.
More recently, the township’s solicitor said in mid-July 2019 that the Wawa project is still the subject of a court fight and would need more testimony taken at the zoning hearing board level. That testimony continued at length Wednesday, with Schmehl and traffic engineer Joe Barron testifying on behalf of Wawa, and attorneys Jim Garrity and David Brooman opposing on behalf of the township and Merck respectively.
Testimony from the two witnesses took nearly three hours Thursday night, whit occasional interruptions for lawyers to confer or copies to be made, as the Wawa team argued the township’s current codes should, but do not, allow the convenience store and fuel sales as a single use.
“If the township’s position is right, and the only way that you can develop a convenience store with motor vehicle fuel sales is with a special exception for a ‘service station’ use — in other words, having two principal uses — then the ordinance, in our opinion, is exclusionary,” said Van-Luvanee.
Garrity argued on behalf of the township that the gasoline sales and convenience store are both allowed in the township, and both could be allowed under certain conditions: “What we have said is, either way, it requires a special exception. That is what didn’t happen here, and that’s why we took an appeal, and why we have so many appeals out there.”
“The applicant has the burden of proving the ordinance totally excludes — totally excludes — the proposed use. It clearly doesn’t,” he said.
johnmacknewtown's insight:
Wawa wants to come to Newtown with a store in the OR (Office Research) district on the Bypass. Attorney VanLuvanee, representing the Wawa developer, proposed an amendment to the OR Zoning Ordinance that would specifically allow for a gas station/convenience store use. The Newtown Planning Commission balked and suggested that VanLuvanee's proposed amendment be scrapped and that the Township create its own version of the amendment (more on that here).   Upper Gwynedd Township is taking a different approach by arguing that the township allows for both uses, although not a combined use as desired by Wawa. It contends that a Wawa could seek a special exception under one or the other of those uses.   VanLuvanee has already said that Newtown may be sued because it does not allow for a combined use. But if Upper Gwynedd wins its case, then Newtown can make the same claim that a combined gas station/convenience store is allowed by special exception in zones that allow either gas stations or convenience stores. One such zone is the TC (Town Commercial) zone where Lukoil is located.
2019 © John Mack
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