John Mack - Newtown Supervisor
Development Category

Tree Replacement Plan for the Village of Newtown Shopping Center Along Durham Road

At the August 13, 2018, Newtown Board of Supervisors Work Session, 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 (see here). Many residents, having seen the trees suddenly disappear along Durham Road, expressed concern via social media (see here).

Township Manager, Micah Lewis noted that many trees that were removed were deformed by PECO pruning and/or diseased or in a poor state due to age. Some were also removed to make way for sidewalks.

But what are the plans for new trees along Durham Road?

Although the shopping center is private property and the owners have the freedom to landscape as they see fit, Newtown does have a Subdivision Land Development code that, among other requirements, specifies the quantity and maximum height of trees along Township streets such as Durham Road.

Section 22-530 of that code (here) specifies that "Street trees generally shall be at intervals not to exceed 25 feet along the street right-of-way as part of a residential or non-residential subdivision or land development, with trees alternating from side to side fifty-foot maximum spacing on any one side), or as otherwise specified by the Planning Commission.” It also says “Trees shall not at maturity obstruct overhead utilities.”

Thus, on Durham Road alongside the shopping center, the code calls for 25 trees. The Brixmor landscape plan complies with this requirement.

On the west side of South Eagle Road, the landscaping plan for Durham Road calls for 5 Dura Heat River Birch Trees (10-12 feet tall). The following image shows the location of these trees plus a few of the shrubs that are included in the landscaping buffer between the road and the shopping center.

Planned landscaping Along Durham Road West of S. Eagle Road
Crape Myrtle Tree

Under the utility wires between South Eagle and Ice Cream Alley, the plan calls for 20 Common Crape myrtle small trees (8-10 feet tall) along Durham Road. The image to the left shows what a Crape myrtle tree looks like.

The landscaping plan also calls for many more trees and shrubs to be planted along the privately-owned streets in the shopping center. These include South Eagle Road – where the drive-thru Starbucks will be located – Ice Cream Alley, Silo Drive, and West Road. The Township code does not apply to these roads. Altogether, the plan calls for 103 trees along these roads (including Durham Road) plus 165 parking lot trees.

Residents are welcome to view the plans at the Town Center and meet with Mr. Lewis who assures me that his door is always open.

Posted on 16 Aug 2018, 14:10 - Category: Development

Updated Wawa Plan Presented to Newtown Planning Commission

Concepts show street view (top) and store/pumps (bottom).

At the request of township officials, attorney John VanLuvanee, representing Provco Pinegood Acquisitions, presented an updated plan for a Super Wawa at the southwestern corner of Newtown Bypass and Lower Silver Lake Road to the Newtown Township Planning Commission on July 17, 2018. Provco owns the land, which it hopes to lease to Wawa in order to build a combination convenience store and gas station. Mr. VanLuvanee had previously presented a sketch plan to the Board of Supervisors on May 14, 2018 (read “Developer and Attorney Present Their Case for a WaWa Superstore on the Newtown Bypass”).

One major stumbling block is the fact that the site is within the Office Research (OR) zoning district, which does not allow retail stores or the selling of gasoline. Mr. VanLuvanee proposed that the zoning be modified to allow such use.

[Views videos of the presentation and comments at the end of this post.]

The photos above shows how the Wawa would look, incorporating a Newtown Township sign and brick façade, two modifications to the original sketch plan suggested by the Board of Supervisors at the May 14, 2018, work session.

Whatever the final plan may be, the process of getting it approved – if it is approved at all – may take more than a year according to knowledgeable sources. This is especially true if a change in zoning is sought from the Newtown Area Joint Zoning Council. Mr. VanLuvanee summarizes the steps in the process in the Part 1 video below.

Part 1: The Plan

Part 2: The Comments

Posted on 18 Jul 2018, 01:07 - Category: Development

They Took All the Trees & Put Up a Parking Lot!

View of Village at Newtown shopping center from South Eagle Road & entrance to McCaffrey's parking lot near Salad Works. Site of new drive-thru bank and drive-thru Starbucks. Image at top shows that trees marked with an "x" in the image below already have been removed to make way for development.

I predicted that the trees would soon be gone (read "Drive-thru Starbucks is Back on Track!") but I didn't realize how fast it would happen!

There's quite a discussion on the Roberts Ridge section of Nextdoor.com about this. Karol King of Newtown Borough started it off with this: "Does anyone know why on earth all the trees were cut down at Newtown Village??? Infuriating. Unbelievable! Makes me hate it even more! In this day and age of capability, they could have relocated the trees and not chopped them down. I’m going to find out who ok’d that decision."

Well Ms. King, it was the Newtown Township Board of Supervisors who approved this project after first voting NOT to approve it despite a recommendation for approval by the Newtown Planning Commission (read "Newtown Board of Supervisors Shoots Down Drive-thru Starbucks"). 

But Starbucks went to court to contest the Board's decision, saying the Board committed an "abuse of discretion"; i.e. Failed to take into proper consideration the facts and law relating to the application and the Town had to settle - it was not likely to win the case. The irony of it all is that part of the settlement included an agreement by Starbucks to provide "an enhanced landscaping buffer around the building." At a Board meeting I commented that this probably would be some low bushes at best!

P.S. (UPDATED July 17, 2018). The Leasing Plan (image below) in the Brixmor Property Group + MRC (landlord/developer) brochure includes replacement trees.

According to the "landscaping plan" for the area around the drive-thru Starbucks it does looks like it includes replacement trees and not just bushes (see section of plan shown below). They may not replace all the trees that were removed and maybe the trees will be yoounger and smaller, but there will be trees.

Further Reading: "Tree Replacement Plan for the Village of Newtown Shopping Center Along Durham Road"

Posted on 09 Jul 2018, 11:26 - Category: Development

Drive-thru Starbucks is Back on Track!

At a May 9, 2018, public hearing, Newtown Township Supervisors unanimously denied an application by Starbucks to build a drive-thru restaurant in the Village at Newtown West at 2896 South Eagle Road (read “Newtown Board of Supervisors Shoots Down Drive-thru Starbucks”).

Soon after, as expected, Starbucks filed a court appeal claiming the supervisors’ vote to deny the application was “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion and contrary to law” (read “Starbucks Takes Newtown Township to Court”). Newtown claimed “The Board of Supervisors neither abused its discretion nor committed an error of law by denying the application.”

At the June 27, 2018, Board of Supervisors meeting, a settlement agreement was presented to the Board, which approved it by a 4-1 vote, with Supervisor Kyle Davis voting “nay.”

Newtown listed several reasons for denying the application in a written decision and order, dated June 14, 2018. The Township claimed, for example, that Starbucks failed to prove that “cars using the proposed drive-thru stacking lane would not conflict with through circulation;” e.g. access to the shopping center via South Eagle Road. 

The settlement agreement does NOT address that concern but assures that

  • the building and all walkways on the property directly servicing the building shall be ADA compliant, and

  • Starbucks shall provide an enhanced landscaping buffer around the building, to the satisfaction of the Township Planner.

I fear that the “landscaping buffer” will not be as aesthetically pleasing and inviting as the current landscaping at that location.

The figure below shows an aerial view of the plan alongside the current street level view of the entrance to the shopping center where the drive-thru Starbucks and bank will be located. The plan specifies that parking spaces will extend right up to the sidewalk with some buffer. The buffer does not appear to be wide enough to accommodate trees, therefore the trees marked by an “X” in the photograph no doubt will be removed. The “landscaping” mentioned in the settlement agreement is likely to be limited to a few low bushes.

What we may end up with is not a “village” where people will be encouraged to walk through, but just a plain Route 1 style shopping center with increased traffic and congestion!

Posted on 29 Jun 2018, 11:21 - Category: Development

Super Wawa Survey Comments

Previously, I summarized comments from residents made at a public meeting regarding a proposed plan to build a Super Wawa on the Newtown Bypass (read "Residents Present Their Case For and Against a Super WaWa on the Bypass"). Here I summarize pro and con comments made by respondents to my personal Super Wawa Survey. Over 275 comments were collected. The following are just a few representative samples. Keep in mind that comments made online and in surveys do not offer any means to debate their validity or to offer counter arguments. 

DISCLAIMER: This is not an official Newtown Township approved survey. 

Comments AGAINST

Ambience/Open Space
  1. Newtown is over-developed now.  Enough is enough!  Leave some beauty, leave some nature
  2. Let’s not tarnish this ‘gateway’ area into Newtown!
  3. The small town feel is disappearing
  4. We have such little open space that we need to preserve what we have left.  Everywhere I look within Newtown and Middletown Township there are banks, coffee shops, and gas stations. We do not need a Wawa
  5. Keep the green and open look. Keep the area more historical looking.
  6. The whole area will be affected in a negative spiral.  It would open up the start of many more commercial businesses which we do not need here.  Just makes me want to seek out a different place to live as the quaintness of Newtown is disappearing....
Traffic/Safety
  1. Proposed location of WaWa represents a traffic choke point at this critical intersection which serves as the gateway for both the Newtown Township and Borough. When asked at the township meeting of what benefit the WaWa would provide to the Township there was no answer. That is because the benefit of a WaWa at the gateway to Newtown vastly benefits the outside travelers coming off of I-95 at the expense of the negative impact to Newtown roads. Please challenge WaWa representation that the "prototypical design" discourages truck traffic. What are the details of there design that does that?
  2. Poor location with driveways on a curve with poor sight distance at a location that already experiences recurring queuing from the traffic signal at the bypass at this location. Heavy left turning traffic backs up to where this driveway will be located. Safety concerns.
  3. I want to clarify that I am not against a Wawa in Newtown. It would be a nice convenience. What I am against is it’s placement at a spot on the bypass that is already a traffic nightmare during morning and evening rush hour.
Zoning
  1. The zoning was specifically chosen to keep commercial development from dominating the bypass. Do NOT change the zoning to allow this. Huge can of worms and terrible decision making.
  2. It gives the township nothing in exchange for a very favorable and profitable zoning change.
  3. I want to clarify that I am not against a Wawa in Newtown. It would be a nice convenience. What I am against is it’s placement at a spot on the bypass that is already a traffic nightmare during morning and evening rush hour.

Comments in FAVOR

Lower Gas Prices
  1. Newtown gas prices are among the highest in the area, due to a lack of stations in the general vicinity. All the local stations near the bypass are within the borough, limiting supply options and keeping demand high for township residents.
  2. Newtown may finally have gas prices that are not excessive.
Bring Business/Benefit to Newtown
  1. I believe it would help with bringing people to State and Sycamore Streets for the shopping destination. The Wawa would be a place that people stop on the way in and out of town. Similar to how the one in Doylestown works.
  2. Would be a great asset to the local community. It would bring in jobs.
  3. This will generate revenue from surrounding business (Optimal Sport health club, performance spine and sports medicine, Newtown rental center, star gas, centrak). If employees of these companies have access to a wawa, revenue would skyrocket. There is currently nothing around those businesses for a quick bite to eat on a lunch break.
  4. The industrial park employees thousands and this new Wawa would assist tremendously in supporting the needs of commuters to the park.
An Alternative to 7-11
  1. The 7-11 in town is a s#$thole
  2. What’s available at the 7-11 on Sycamore shouldn’t even be labeled “food”.
  3. It's too bad we can't get rid of the 7-ll on Sycamore St..WAWA is far superior in every category.
  4. Hopefully, it will detract business from the eyesore and public disgrace that is 7-11.
Love
  1. I love wawa. We need this. Easy access to wawa gas and store. Great quick food. Newtown needs to get on board.
  2. It would be absolutely amazing to have such a great convenience store in town!! Please, please, please do it!!!!
  3. It's iconic to this part of the country
  4. I personally have been wanting a WaWa located in Newtown for as long as I can remember.
  5. Newtown needs to accept that it is the 21st century
  6. Wawa is life!
  7. I mean, it's Wawa!

Posted on 02 Jun 2018, 07:15 - Category: Development

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