Newtown News Update

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Welcome to the September, 2020, issue of Newtown News Update. Back issues and subscribing information can be found here.  If you currently are not a subscriber, you can subscribe here. You can unsubscribe at any time. The opinions expressed here are solely the those of John Mack and do not reflect the opinions of any other person or entity.

Newtown Supervisors Pave the Way for Wawa on the Bypass

"Curative" E-30 Amendment to JMZO Approved by 3-2 Vote!

The Newtown Board of Supervisors (BOS) approved by a 3-2 vote the E-30 “curative amendment”* at the September 23, 2020, Board meeting via Zoom. Supervisors Kyle Davis and John Mack voted "no".

This amendment to the Joint Municipal Zoning Ordinance (JMZO) allows for the use - by “Special Exception” - of a combination gas station and convenience store (e.g., Wawa) on the Newtown Bypass in the OR District. [View the BOS Zoom meeting here.]

Since this is an amendment to the JMZO, all three townships in the Jointure, which includes Newtown, Wrightstown and Upper Makefield, must approve it before it moves on to the next step – approval by the Joint Zoning Council (JZC).

Upper Makefield supervisors unanimously approved the amendment at a public hearing on September 15, 2020. It took just over 3 minutes without a single question from Supervisors and no public comments. Wrightstown supervisors unanimously approved the amendment at a September 21, 2020, Zoom meeting.

Because this is a use by special exception, applications are decided by a hearing before the Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB) and NOT by the Board of Supervisors.

*The Cure Is No Cure At All

Provco, a Wawa developer, filed a suit against Newtown Township in November, 2019, claiming that it was "unconstitutional" for the JMZO not to have a permitted use for a combination gas station and convenience store. Prior to that - in May 2018 - the developer filed a sketch plan/application for such a use on the Bypass in the OR District of Newtown.

During the “curative amendment” process, which began in November 2019, other applicants (e.g. Sheetz) were prevented from filing a similar plan for this use. However, once the amendment is finally approved by the JZC, companies - including Wawa - can file an application for such a use, but only according to the terms set forth in the amendment (see "Summary of the Amendment" below). 

However, the amendment does not “protect” Newtown from the Provco/Wawa lawsuit because the developer’s sketch plan/application predated the curative amendment process. Therefore Wawa may continue with its lawsuit, and unless Newtown fights the case and wins, Wawa may be able to build according to its original plan, which does not comply with the “curative amendment.”

The majority of Newtown Supervisors seem to believe that Wawa will agree to drop the lawsuit because the “curative amendment” gives it nearly everything it wants. But I contend that if Wawa can get a few variances when it comes before the ZHB, then it may get ALL that it wants.

In other words, the only way Newtown can prevent Wawa from building a super store on the Bypass is by fighting it in court and winning. According to Dave Sander, the township solicitor, that is not a likely outcome.

Meanwhile, at the February 6, 2020, JZC meeting, Jointure Solicitor Mary Eberle, of Grim, Biehn & Thatcher, told JZC members that the Commonwealth Court judges "beat up pretty bad" the lawyers representing Wawa at a Plumstead Township appeal of a similar case. Listen to her comments here.

Summary of the Amendment

The following are a few conditions of the amendment as it applies to the OR district in Newtown. You can find a more complete summary prepared by the Bucks Country Planning Commission here.

  • Permitted: Sale of a limited range of basic items, household goods, groceries, and motor vehicle fuels
  • Permitted Accessory Uses: indoor automated teller machines, indoor vending machines.
  • Required: A minimum of one electric vehicle charging station is required (applies to OR district in Newtown only)
  • Accessory uses specifically prohibited include: indoor seating, car wash, outdoor seating, Use E-9 Entertainment, outdoor display and/or sale of items (except for prefilled propane exchange tanks of not more than 20 pounds), the sale of alcoholic beverages, vehicle service station, and above-ground tanks for the sale of petroleum products or other flammable liquids or gases. Drive-in windows for the sale of convenience items and high-speed diesel fueling stations are not permitted as part of this use. And, unless required by law, musical, audio, or video advertising or entertainment shall not be used exterior to the principal building, including at the pumps.

It should be note that Wawa could seek variances from the ZHB to allow otherwise prohibited uses.

More or Less Fuel Pumps?

The number of fuel pumps allowed was a contentious issue, especially for the Newtown Planning Commission (PC), which fought to limit the number of pumps allowed for a Super Wawa in the OR district. Listen to the PC comments here.

The final version of the amendment specifies that no more than six fuel dispensers with two fueling positions, one on each side of the dispenser, for a maximum of twelve fueling positions are allowed in the OR district. Two additional fuel dispensers are allowed, but for every additional dispenser, an additional one acre is required. Note: In Wrightstown and Upper Makefield no more than four (4) fuel dispensers with two fueling positions at each dispenser, for a maximum of eight (8) fueling positions are allowed.

Newtown resident Michael Horbal contends that many more fueling stations are possible. He submitted this public comment, which was read at the Sept 23 BOS meeting:

“I urge you to reject this proposed E-30 ordinance as it is currently written as it does not put a limit on the number of potential fuel dispensers, leaving Newtown exposed to the possibility of a gas station with up to 11 fuel dispensers resulting in 22 fueling stations.

“The developer has proposed a project on a 5.09-acre site, but the total size of this property is actually 9.7730 acres according to land records. The land has not been subdivided yet, which leaves Newtown exposed to the potential of 22 fueling stations according to the proposed rules.”

A Little History: "A Wawa in the Park"

Silver Lake Park at the intersection of the Bypass and Lindenhurst Rd achieved fame in May 2017, when a Supervisor suggested it as a potential site for a super Wawa (read "Idea To Bring Wawa To Newtown"). 

Further Reading:

Consultants Present the Final 5-Year Budget Report to Supervisors

The “Strategic Management Planning Program (STMP) Five-Year Financial Plan” is a Recommendation & Not Really a Plan at This Point

At the September 23, 2020, Zoom “public” meeting, the Newtown Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to accept the report titled “Strategic Management Planning Program (STMP) Five-Year Financial Plan” submitted by Econsult Solutions, Inc. (ESI). Accepting the report does not mean, however, that the BOS will implement the proposed plan as presented.

The report focuses on five measures that Newtown can take to improve the township’s financial position:

  1. Cost containment
  2. Adoption of best management practices to achieve operating efficiencies
  3. Revenue enhancement
  4. Implementation of a long-term economic development strategy
  5. Pursuit of intergovernmental cost-sharing strategies

In this article I present some of the highlights from the 144-page report. You can download the entire report here.

Recommendations: Three Scenarios

To exhibit the variety of ways in which the recommendations could be implemented, ESI offered three scenarios that in its opinion would improve the Township’s fiscal standing, particularly in terms of its General Fund end balance (“reserve fund”) each year through 2025.

The Three Scenarios: Total General Fund Millage Required to Maintain 10% Minimum Fund Balance Each Year. Note: The last column is the additional millage dedicated to the General Fund. To get the total millage in real estate taxes paid by Newtown residents, add 4.5 mills to this number.

Without corrective action, the General Fund balance will fall below10% beginning in 2020 and continue to decrease through 2025. The Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) Best Practice recommends, at a minimum, that general-purpose governments, regardless of size, maintain unrestricted fund balance in their General Fund of no less than two months (17%) of regular general fund operating revenues or regular general fund operating expenditures.

Recommendations: New Hires

Of course, most of the increased tax millage in recommended Scenario 3 – if implemented – will go to paying the salaries and other expenses of the new hires that the consultants recommend. The personnel added in recommended scenario 3 include:

New Hires in 2021

  • One full-time Assistant Township Manager
  • One full-time Code Enforcement Manager
  • Five full-time career firefighters
  • One police patrol officer

New Hires in 2022

  • Two police patrol officers

Not included are any new hires for the Public Works Department, which was “critiqued” for the condition of Township roads and highways in the Citizen Survey (read “Newtown Residents Cite Need for Infrastructure Improvements”).

FigureCitizen Survey Results. Q9: Rate the two top services the township should focus on improving. N=545

Road maintenance comprises a large portion of the Public Works budget and citizens want better road conditions. In the Citizen Survey, respondents chose street/highway maintenance as the top service that the Township should focus on improving. Many comments about streets and roads were submitted by survey respondents, including:

  • FOR THE TAXES WE PAY, OUR ROADS SHOULD BE MAINTAINED BETTER
  • I think we need to improve our roads that the township maintains …[It] would be great if [pot holes] could be fixed in a more timely manner
  • Roads are starting to noticeably deteriorate.
  • Street maintenance has declined
  • The roads in some of the developments are in terrible condition
  • The roads are in terrible shape

Despite the need for additional PW personnel, ESI does NOT recommend adding any new staff. Instead it suggests “shared road maintenance” contracts with neighboring municipalities, which, ESI claims, will “allow Newtown to properly service their roads with a reduced overhead cost.”

Diversity in Hiring

In comments submitted during the September 9, 2020, BOS Zoom meeting, resident Frank McCarron raised the topic of diversity in hiring. Mr. McCarron noted that the Council Rock North School District says that “15 percent of its student population is minority,” whereas the Newtown Township Police force is 100% white, with only two female officers. Mr. McCarron suggests:

  • I would ask that diversity targets be considered when hiring new officers through expansion or turnover.
  • Similar diversity targets should be considered in other departments.

Winners and Losers in the Real Estate Tax Game

If Scenario 3 is implemented, the average homeowner of a house assessed at $38,000 will pay an ADDITIONAL $275 per year in real estate taxes. As one resident noted:

“There hasn't been a reassessment in Bucks since 1972. So if you live in a new community, which I do, your assessment versus fair market value is much closer then if you live in a house that’s been around a long time. There are winners and losers here. If you have an older house that's assessed low, you're a winner; if you're in a newer house, you're a loser.”

What’s Your Opinion?

Although several email comments submitted by residents were read during the Zoom presentation by ESI, several residents complained that this does not have the same impact that live comments have.

Because of that issue, plus the fact that the public had not seen the report prior to the Zoom meeting, ESI consultants have agreed to come back and answer questions from residents at a future LIVE public meeting – probably in October.

FYI: Getting Back to Normal! The BOS unanimously decided that all future regular public meetings will be held LIVE at 7 PM during the week in the Township public meeting room. The public is invited to attend - face masks required, social distancing enforced, 20 maximum attendees allowed.

Further Reading:

Progressive Community Policing

On September 23, 2020, Progressive Local Officials of Bucks County hosted a Zoom panel discussion on Policing in Our Community.

TOPICS:

  • What policing policies and practices should we as elected officials review for proper oversight?
  • What data should we be looking at to evaluate our departments?
  • What are some best practices we can consider adopting to help our police be more sensitive to community needs?

PANEL MEMBERS:

  • Brian Munroe - Bucks County Clerk of Courts
  • Mayor Ron Strouse - Doylestown Borough - Member of Central Buck Regional Police Commission and Chair of the CBRPF Foundation.
  • Kayma Sherman-Knuckles - Bucks County NAACP Criminal Justice and Education Committee - Reimagine Public Safety Co-Chair

Listen to the webinar here.

(UNOFFICIAL) 2020 Voting Record to Date of Newtown Supervisors

I've been keeping track of how Newtown Township supervisors voted on motions before the Board. The following is the voting record for 2020 as of September 9, 2020, based on the approved minutes of meetings.

NOTE: This is NOT an official record of votes. Some very minor motions, such as to approve minutes, bills lists, etc., are not included. Please refer to the BOS meeting minutes for the official voting record of each meeting.

Download the PDF file here.

John Mack

john@johnmacknewtown.info

215-808-0859

www.johnmacknewtown.info

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