6 February 2024 Planning Commission Meeting Summary
This is my personal summary of the 6 February 2024 Newtown Planning Commission Meeting. This is NOT a complete nor is it an official summary.
- BET Parking Core Apartment Building – Revised JMZO Amendment
- Recording of Q&A Session
- Amending JMZO Signage Ordinance
New Plan for "Corners at Newtown"Apartment Complex
BET Investment presented a revised plan for Newtown Corners, now called “Newtown Place.” The owner seeks a text amendment to the Joint Municipal Zoning Ordinance (JMZO) to allow a “Parking Core Apartment Building” in the TC (Town Center) district of Newtown Township. The current zoning does not allow for such a structure. Consequently, BET proposes to add this “B-11” use to the JMZO defined as:
Parking Core Apartment Building: A building where individual apartments surround a central parking garage to feature a walkable oriented streetscape in keeping with a traditional village. Each apartment unit has direct access to the outside or to a common hall and each unit is designed for and occupied by a single family.
For background, read “Planning Commission Report to #NewtownPA BOS: Corners at Newtown Text Amendment”
The PC continues to have concerns regarding density (now 20 dwelling units/acre where 3.9 is the current limit for the R-2 district), increased traffic, and inadequate parking (the plan calls for 1.5 parking spaces per unit, whereas some PC members suggested that 2 would be more realistic).
According to the official PC Synopsis: “Our members were in agreement that we have concerns about the size of the building, the parking ratio, the setbacks, the availability of EDU’s, the traffic impact, and the height. The applicant has agreed to take our concerns and try to address them.”
Wrightstown Supervisors Weigh In
To get an amendment to the JMZO, the Joint Zoning Council (JZC, aka “Jointure”), whose members include Newtown, Wrightstown, and Upper Makefield, it must be approved even though in this case ONLY Newtown has a TC zoning district. Nevertheless, if a new use is approved it must apply to the entire Jointure to hold up in a court of law. That is why the Jointure approved Wawa’s E30 use (combination convenience store/gas station) in all three townships (read, for example, “New Zoning Law Clears the Way for Wawa on the Newtown Bypass - What Message Does It Send Other Developers?”).
At the Newtown PC meeting, a letter from the Wrightstown Supervisors was presented to Michael Markham, the President of BET Investments. Wrightston indicated that it was not in favor of the proposed amendment and said it concurred with the review conducted by the Bucks County Planning Commission dated July 5, 2023. It offered the following comments:
- Development District - The proposed use would significantly increase the density and usage of land surrounding Newtown Borough. While the Borough is not currently in the Jointure, we should not ignore the potential impact this use would have on the Borough which already is struggling with density and storm water.
- Density - The proposed use would be more than 8 times the density permitted in the R2 district.
- Maximum length of building - the proposed length of 300 feet is 2.5 times greater than what is envisioned for Sycamore Street. Newtown Township has long worked to develop a street scape along Sycamore Street to preserve the Town feel of the community. This use does not seem to be consistent with this long-term approach to planning.
- Minimum yards - It appears that the structure would be closer to Sycamore Street than other structures in the district. This does not seem to keep with the character of the TC district.
- Public Space - It would appear that in this proposed district, you get public places or historic preservation, but not both. Both elements are important considerations for development which should not be compromised.
- Concern is raised about parking in close proximity to residential use. Vehicle fires are not an uncommon event in the Jointure. Today's vehicles are built with metals which when ignited burn hotter and are more challenging to fire suppression. Parking should also be a concern. While planners highlight emerging trends in the "reduction" of additional vehicles anticipated for guests.
The following is an audio recording of the Q&A between Planning Commission members, Township Planner Michele Fountain, and BET Investment President Michael Markman.
I informed the Commission that I attended the 1 February 2024 JZC meeting where I initiated an open discussion on the Sign Provisions of the JMZO and recommended that the PC be involved in recommending changes to problematic sections such as those that refer to neon signs. The PC does not draft amendments to the JMZO. Therefore, the next step would be for the Board of Supervisors to discuss this and authorize the Solicitor to draft an amendment hopefully after discussions with Board members and the public.