Newtown News Update

Welcome to the September 4, 2018, issue of "Newtown News Update." The opinions expressed here are solely the those of John Mack and do not reflect the opinions of any other person or entity. If you are not a subscriber, please subscribe here. If you are a subscriber and do not wish to receive further updates, please use the "Unsubscribe" link at the bottom of this email.

It's a Busy Time for the Joint Zoning Council

The Newtown Area Joint Zoning Council (JCZ) consists of three municipalities - Newtown, Wrightstown and Upper Makefield townships - that joined together on a regional basis for the purposes of unified land use planning and zoning. The JCZ meets on the first Thursday of every month at 7:30 pm in the Meeting Room of the Wrightstown Township Municipal Building, 2203 Second Street Pike, Wrightstown, PA.

At the August 2, 2018, JCZ meeting, several pending ordinances and amendments to the Newtown Area Joint Municipal Zoning Ordinance (JMZO) were discussed. A few of the more important ones that are specifically relevant for Newtown Township are summarized below.

Deletion of PRD Ordinance

The proposed ordinance JMZO 2017-04 amends the JMZO by deleting Planned Residential Development (PRD) as a permitted use. Newtown Township, Upper Makefield, and Wrightstown will hold public hearings on September 12, 2018, to consider approval of this ordinance (see the public notice here).

According to the PA Municipalities Planning Code (MPC), PRDs are designed to encourage innovation and variety in development, provide better opportunities for housing, recreation, and open space. A PRD application bypasses the township’s regular development approval process and requires supervisors to hold at least one public hearing. Newtown Township currently has 21 PRDs that are already approved and one more – Arcadia Green – is currently under consideration (for more about that, read "Developer Presents Third Plan for Arcadia Green Development in Newtown Township").

According to a November 2, 2017, email from Chester Pogonowski, JZC Chair:

“The JZC believes that Use B-15 Planned Residential Development is redundant because Use B-14 Performance Subdivision permits a mixed residential development with the same range of dwelling unit types at compatible densities. Additionally, a Performance Subdivision proposal goes through the standard Preliminary Plan process instead of the PRD Tentative Plan procedure that is proscribed in the MPC (see here).”

What About Open Space?

PRD Use regulations specify that “the provision of Open Space is one primary factor in encouraging this type of development.” The intent is to “protect and preserve parts of the natural environment [and] provide recreational space…” Use B-14 Performance Subdivision does not specify that open space must be part of the plan, although it does not discourage it. In addition, Use B-14 does not require a public formal hearing. [For complete B-14 and B-15 Use Regulations see here].

In an August 1, 2018, letter to Vicki Kushto, counsel to the JZC, Newtown Solicitor Dave Sander indicated that Newtown Township “strongly supports this ordinance [to eliminate PRD] and would like to see it expedited toward enactment.” This was the consensus of the BOS expressed at the June 18, 2018, Work Session. 

Conservation Easement Ordinance

Ordinance JMZO 2018-02 proposes the following new uses that would be permitted by conditional use within the CR Conservation Easement Overlay District (ordinance is an Overlay in Wrightstown only): Use E25 Brewpub, Microbrewery, Micro-Winery, Micro-Distillery, Tasting Room; Use E-26 Conservation Special Events; Use E-27 Art Gallery/Art Studio; and Use E-28 Community Theater.

The BCPC said in its comments, “the proposed amendment may establish a negatively perceived precedence. It appears that the provision to allow for the expansion of temporary parking areas, associated with these principal uses, into the designated conservation easement, is to accommodate large volumes of motor vehicle traffic. Township officials should re-evaluate the implications of this proposal prior to taking action.”

Toll Brothers Proposal

Meanwhile, Toll Brothers is proposing a 173-home development in Newtown Township along Durham Road and Twining Road on land owned by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. This land is within the CM zoning district, which prohibits such high-density housing. A “sketch plan” - an optional submission, which is offered to provide the applicant with the opportunity to discuss the proposed project with the Township on an informal basis – will be presented for this development at an upcoming Board of Supervisors meeting. The currently proposed sketch plan is shown in the figure below. You can view all iterations of the plan on the Township website here.

Convenience Store with Fuel Pumps

Currently, the JMZO ordinance states that gasoline sales shall not be permitted as uses accessory to E-l Retail Sales uses. JMZO 2018-04, which would allow such use in the OR (Office Research) of Newtown, was discussed at the February 2018, and March 2018, JCZ meetings. Discussion at the March meeting seemed to indicate the preference for creating a new use, rather than amending current uses to allow for convenience stores with fuel pumps.

In Other Words, Wawa!

At the August 2018 JCZ meeting, Newtown Township Supervisor Linda Bobrin reported that there are ongoing discussions between Wawa and Newtown to build a Wawa convenience store with fuel pumps in the OR district off of Newtown Bypass (read “Developer and Attorney Present Their Case for a Wawa Superstore on the Newtown Bypass”). At the July 17, 2018, Newtown Township Planning Commission meeting, the attorney representing the developer said that he submitted a proposed amendment to JMZO to allow such a convenience store plus gas station in the OR zone, which only exists in Newtown   (“Updated Wawa Plan Presented to Newtown Planning Commission”). In light of that, the JCZ decided that no action was required by the Jointure until Newtown puts forward this proposed draft ordinance or a modified version of it for review.

Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

On March 1, 2018, the jointure proposed JMZO 2017-02 as an amendment to the JMZO to permit Medical Marijuana Dispensaries by special exception (SE) in the VC-1 Village Commercial-1 and TC-2 Town Commercial 2 Districts as long as long as the applicants “verify that the proposed Medical Marijuana Dispensary is not within 1,000 feet of the property line of a public, private, or parochial school, preschool, or day care facility.”

Coming to Newtown?

In Newtown Township there is practically no location that meets these requirements, but recently Newtown Borough passed an ordinance to amend the Borough’s Zoning Ordinance by adding the Medical Marijuana Grower/Processor, Medical Marijuana Dispensary uses. his ordinance would NOT apply to Restore Integrative Wellness Center and Chroniceuticals, LLC, which has already applied to open a medical marijuana dispensary on South Street under zoning rules for a retail pharmacy (see story here).

Meanwhile, several changes to the draft JMZO ordinance were suggested, which necessitates another 45-day review once the changes have been agreed upon and re-circulated.

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Board of Supervisors Update

Summary of August 13, 2018, BOS Work Session

The following brief summary is based upon my unofficial notes. Please refer to the official minutes for more details. Work Sessions are intended to informally discuss issues. No official decisions are made at these sessions.

Toll Brothers Fumbles Presentation: Representatives from Toll Brothers failed to adequately present a sketch plan for a 173-home development. “Let’s just reschedule this for next month,” said Chair Phil Calabro as he cut short the presentation.

Anti-Discrimination Ordinance Revisited - Supervisor Mack asked that the anti-discrimination ordinance he proposed at the July 11, 2018, BOS meeting be put on the agenda of a future meeting.

Tree Removal in Village at Newtown Shopping Center: The Board discussed the recent removal of many trees in the Village at Newtown shopping center along Durham road as part of the Brixmor renovation project. 

More details here...

Upcoming Meetings

Planning Commission, Tuesday, September 4, 2018, 7:30 PM, in the Public Meeting Room in the new township building, 100 Municipal Drive, Newtown, PA: Arcadia Green (3rd submission), Buck Road and Newtown Bypass – Tentative PRD. NOTE: The Arcadia Green hearing before the BOS will continue on September 13, 2018, at 5:30pm.

Zoning Hearing Board, Thursday, September 6, 2018, 7:00 PM, 7:30 PM, in the Public Meeting Room in the new township building, 100 Municipal Drive, Newtown, PA. On the agenda:

  • Newtown Racquetball Inc. (NAC), 120 Pheasant Run, seeks variance to permit an outdoor garden/fountain to maintain a 0.57ft. front yard setback where current relief is 33 ft. (75ft. required per Ordinance).
  • Newtown Brewing Co LLC, 103 Penns Trail, seeks variances in association with utilizing 4,550sf space in existing 10,072sf manufacturing/warehouse as E-17 use for a craft brewery/tavern
  • VAN East & West (Brixmor), S. Eagle Road & Durham Road, seeks variances for signage for shopping center in addition to previous relief granted per ZHB Decision dated 1/15/17

BOS Meeting, Wednesday, September 12, 2018, 7:30 PM, in the Public Meeting Room in the new township building, 100 Municipal Drive, Newtown, PA. At this meeting, Newtown Supervisors will consider an ordinance to amend the JMZO by deleting Planned Residential Development as a permitted use.

Click Here for Summaries of Past BOS Meetings

John Mack