20 December 2022 Newtown Planning Commission Meeting Summary
Two major topics were discussed at the December 20, 2022, NTPC meeting:
- The Kushner Real Estate (KRE) Group Sketch Plan
- Potential Historic Site on Toll Bros Twining Bridge Rd Development Site
On December 20, 2022, the Kushner Real Estate (KRE) Group presented to the Newtown Planning Commission a “sketch plan” for development of 17.87 acre parcel in the OR, Office Research, Zoning District to construct a multi-story luxury "Apartment Complex" with 225 units, 244 surface parking spaces and 232 garage parking spaces.
The Jointure does not permit such a residential use in any of its zoning districts. Attorney Edward F. Murphy, Esq. (Wisler Pearlstine, LLP), representing KRE, argued that the plan would require a zoning amendment, which the applicant preferred over a use variance.
According to Peggy Driscoll, chair of the PC, in her report to supervisors, the Commission members had many concerns about the size and intensity of the project and had many questions about traffic, economic impact, and preservation of wetlands and woodlands. View a video clip of Ms. Driscoll making her report to the BOS on December 21, 2022 below. Click here to listen to the entire Q&A session.
Bucks County Planning Commission Comments
“While the proposed residential use is not currently permitted in the OR District,” noted the Bucks County Planning Commission (BCPC), “we note that township officials have been engaged in reconsidering appropriate land uses for the nearby LI Light Industrial and O/LI Office/Light Industrial districts.” Some background:
- Podcast: “BCPC Presents Overview of Overlay Plan to Planning Commission”
- Page: “Newtown Township Overlay District Regulations for the LI Light Industrial District and the O-LI Office-Light Industrial District.”
- Video: “Newtown Township LI/OLI District Overlay Concept” – proposed a mix of residential and nonresidential uses located in the same structure on a single lot.
It seems like the BCPC would like to see residential use approved in OR district. Note, however, that the BOS specifically rejected the original proposal to include the OR District when it approved the BCPC to develop a plan back in 2021.
My Notes From The Meeting
At the outset of the meeting Mr. Murphy claimed that the proposed use is NOT a “B-10” garden apartment use as it was referred to in several review letters (e.g. from CKS engineers) and in KRE documents; i.e., “General Note NO.7” on Sheet 2 of the plan. "What we are proposing is not even remotely similar to garden apartments,” said Mr. Murphy.
Mr. Murphy went on to note that the proposed use, which he did not specifically characterize except to mention “market-rate apartments,” was NOT a use currently anywhere in the Joint Municipal Zoning Ordinance (JMZO). “I would acknowledge that we’ve had three review letters,” said Mr. Murphy. “They all acknowledge that what we all know, and that is what we are suggesting tonight in the concept plan is not a use that is presently permitted not only in the OR district where the property is but [not] anywhere in the township ordinances. We all recognize that if this is going to move forward, there would have to be some amending ordinance to allow it because presently it is not [allowed].”
Listen to Mr. Murphy’s comments...
At the end of the meeting it was revealed that rather than go before the ZHB to obtain variances to the OR zoning (as mentioned above), KRE would prefer that the Jointure amend the JMZO to include the use that KRE is proposing. It was suggested that, like with Provco/Wawa, KRE submit a draft ordinance that the Jointure could review and work from.
- OLI/LI Overlay Precedent?
Mr. Murphy said that this proposal should be “taken in context” of the township’s consideration of apartments in the OLI/LI district, which is just across the Bypass from the proposed “Apartment Complex” site. It should be noted that while the BCPC initially proposed residential use as part of the OLI/LI Overlay plan, the Economic Development Committee was more focused on attracting new businesses to the area and adding amenities to support these businesses (see page 39 and 46 of the 2022 BOS Chronicle).
- Building Height
Some of the sketch plan documents refer to a five story apartment complex, which is strictly prohibited in Newtown Township because of fire department ladder limitations, I believe. The proposed apartment complex is actually 4 stories although the height of the building – 51 feet – was of some concern to PC members.
- Traffic and Access to Newtown Amenities
There was much discussion about traffic issues. The developer said that a Traffic Impact Study (TIS) would be made and that the May 12, 2022, TIS by TPD (which prepared the Provco/Wawa TIS; find it here) was not applicable. It was suggested than many millennials (potential renters) do no own cars and perhaps there should be amenities (e.g., coffee shop) on site. I suggested that many tenants would be into biking and that perhaps a bike lane would be needed on Lower Silver Lake Rd to allow access to Wawa, which is sure to be coming down the road. Also, mentioned was the problem of crossing the Bypass by bike to Newtown-Yardley Rd (NTYR). That would mean that residents with cars would drive into town via NTYR exacerbating the pedestrian crosswalk problems at Newtown Walk – we all know millennials tend to speed when driving!
I expressed concern about the watershed and basin currently located on the site. The plan seems to cover over the basin. I also mentioned that many trees would have to be removed and suggested that the developer offer to contribute money to the Newtown “Tree Bank” to plant replacement trees in public areas. As part of an agreement with the NAC in November 23, 2021, the establishment posted $12,500 for tree replacement, which can be used in public parks. I assume that money went into the Parks & Rec capital fund.
- “Market-Rate” Apartments
Of the 225 proposed apartments, 25% are 1-bedroom apts going for about $2,000 per month; the other 75% are 2-bedroom apts at $3,000 per month.
- Next Steps
At my request the developer was willing to do an income analysis of potential tenants and estimate the fiscal impact on the township including how much Earned Income Tax (EIT) the project could potentially bring to the township.
KRE suggested it should file a petition to modify the JMZO to allow the proposed use – specifically in the OR District, which could be considered “spot zoning.” It was further suggested by Mr. Schenkman – the PC Solicitor – that, as with Provco/Wawa, KRE could supply the first draft of such an ordinance to start the process if the township supervisors agreed.
NOTE: THE PLANNING COMMISSION DID NOT VOTE TO MAKE AN OFFICIAL RECOMMENDATION TO THE BOARD OF SUPERVISORS.
At the October 18, 2022, Newtown Township Planning Commission Meeting, Craig Deutsch, Planning Commission and Joint Historic Commission (JHC) member, questioned Greg Adelman of Toll Brothers about a potentially “historic” farmhouse on the site proposed to be developed by Toll Bros.
An agreement between Toll Bros and the township calls for the developer to demolish the "existing house" on the 98-acre Open Space Parcel - which will be given to the township - remove it from the property, and grade the property to the satisfaction of the Township Engineer.
On December 14, 2022, Mr. Deutsch and Bill Mahler – also a member of the JHC – visited the farmhouse and said that they had discovered a "major" Historic Resource.
At this December PC meeting, Mr. Deutsch recounted his visit. The goal was to examine the old farmhouse and springhouse on the property to determine if the site qualified as an “historic resource” according to JHC standards.
“Understanding the Buck county Comp plan is working on ‘identifying’ Historic Resources... Well we just discovered a major one. :),” said Mr. Deutsch.
It was not clear what the next steps would be considering that (1) there is an agreement with Toll Bros to demolish the site, but (2) to do that a permit is required, and (3) to get that, the JHC must OK the permit and may not do so if it considers the site “historic.”
There was some question about maintaining the site should it be protected and where the money could come from to do that. Also, how would the site be accessible by the public was mentioned, although no answers were put forward.