John Mack - Newtown Supervisor

It's Strike Two for 27 Townhomes on Durham Road!

The Plan

At the November 13, 2019, Newtown Board of Supervisors (BOS) meeting, Durham Partners Group, LLC, submitted a Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB) application for twenty seven townhomes and associated dimensional variances on the property located at 413 Durham Road in the PS-2 (Professional Service) Zoning District. The BOS heard from the applicant's professionals that the proposed townhouse use is much lower impact from a traffic and development standpoint than a permitted medical office building.

Strike One!

After extensive questioning by Supervisors, the BOS voted 4-1 to send the Township Solicitor to the December 5, 2019, ZHB meeting to oppose the developer's request for 7 variances (for more details, read "Newtown Supervisors Oppose Plan To Build 27 Townhouses" in the Newtown Patch). Supervisor Kyle Davis cast the lone "nay" vote.

According to resident Mike Horbal in a private comment to me, "this is a classic example of 'overdevelopment' or, worse, 'land grab.' This use is not permitted as a use by right, a conditional use, OR a special exception in the PS-2 district," said Horbal.

In comments before the BOS, Mr. Horbal noted that without any variances, only one single family home would be allowed at this location. He said "to propose twenty seven townhomes on a 5-acre property makes very little sense except for the developer." Mr. Horbal said that if the town is really against overdevelopment this would be a "perfect example" to oppose. "Don't come to town," said Mr. Horbal, "if you can't propose a project that meets the requirements of the zoning regulations."

Resident Joyann Charlton echoed Mr. Horbal's comments and implored the BOS to take a position against the development. Ms. Charlton mentioned the strain on already overcrowded schools and busing.

View the following video of the Q&A and comments from the BOS and residents:

Strike Two!

Heath Dumack, the engineer hired by the developer, appeared before the Newtown Planning Commission at its November 19, 2019, public meeting "as a courtesy."

Mr. Dumack responded to questions by the members of the Commission and commented that "You're being much nicer than the reception I received last Wednesday" (he was referring to the reception by the Board of Supervisors).

But the "niceties" did not last long. PC member Paul Cohen said "I don't want to be too impolite about it, but this is crazy! This is just a blatant effort to squeeze as much as possible out of this. To come in and propose - where there's supposed to be one home - twenty-seven is... incredibly bold."

Listen to the discussion at the PC:

Strike Three?

The next step for Durham Partners Group is to appear before the Zoning Hearing Board. Will the third time be the charm or will it be strike three and "yer out!"? With the Township Solicitor there to oppose awarding variances for this plan (see below), it is my hope that the ZHB denies the application.

The Variances Requested

Would it have been possible to save the township some money and just send a letter to the ZHB? I don't think so. It is my experience that developers will never give up and they are willing to spend the money on lawyers. You can't fight that with a letter!

Also, I'm sure the ZHB members already know the views of the BOS. They don't need a letter to know which way the wind blowing!

Posted on 20 Nov 2019, 01:57 - Category: Development



Summary of October 23, 2019, Newtown Township BOS Public Meeting

The following is a brief summary of the October 23, 2019, Newtown Township Board of Supervisors (BOS Definition) meeting based upon the official minutes of that meeting, which you can find here. In attendance and voting were Supervisors: Chairman Phillip Calabro, Vice Chairman Linda Bobrin, Secretary John Mack, member Kyle Davis and member Dennis Fisher. Also in attendance were: Township Manager Micah Lewis, Township Engineer Leanna Colubriale and Township Solicitor David Sander.

Development

Joint Comprehensive Plan Proposal: Lisa Wolff and Jeremy Stoff of the Bucks County Planning Commission (BCPC) reviewed the Joint Comprehensive Plan (JCP) Proposal. Mr. Stoff began stating in February 2019, the Newtown Area Joint Zoning Council (JZC Definition) raised the issue of updating the JCP and asked the BCPC to provide a cost estimate for the update. It is recommended under the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (MPC) the Plan be reviewed every 10 years and the last JCP was adopted in 2009. Mr. Stoff said the JCP is one of the most important tools used by municipalities for land use planning and local governance; it also states future goals and provides a formal vision for the Planning Commission, elected officials, residents and organizations. The MPC recommends including plans for land use, present and future housing needs, transportation plans, community facilities plan, and plans to preserve natural and historic resources as well as how the plans will be implemented. Mr. Stoff concluded by saying the JCP also provides the framework for zoning, subdivision, infrastructure, capital budgeting and decision making.

Ms. Wolff proceeded to discuss funding of the JCP stating the primary funding would be via the Municipal Assistance Program (MAP Definition) administered by the State Department of Community and Economic Development. She explained this grant has a rolling deadline and it would fund up to 50% of the project. Ms. Wolff added working jointly with Upper Makefield and Wrightstown is beneficial, however the outcome of being awarded the grant is still unknown.

In response to Mr. Mack’s questions regarding cost, Ms. Wolff confirmed the cost at $50,880 and said Newtown Township is responsible for 47.59% based on allocations using total population, land area and taxable assessment. Mr. Mack also inquired about the probability on obtaining the grant to which Ms. Wolff was unable to answer due to unknown factors such as how many other applications will be received throughout the state. However, she did say that the State looks favorably on municipalities working jointly. Mr. Mack asked if the BCPC assists in the application of the grant and if the cost is part of the grant. Ms. Wolff said the BCPC will process the grant at no cost to the Township.

Resident Michael Horbal expressed his support of a comprehensive plan and made suggestions to the BOS including considering the level of participation of Newtown Township in the JMZO with focus on promoting smart growth and having Upper Makefield and Wrightstown share more responsibility in future development.

Mr. Mack moved to adopt a resolution authorizing the Bucks County Planning Commission to undertake the Joint Comprehensive Plan Update. The motion passed 5-0.

[For details, see a video of the presentation: "Supervisors Approve Proposal for Revising Comprehensive Plan".]

Conditional Use ‐ Thrive, An Acton Academy Inc.: Attorney Richard Martin represented the applicant and Anna Steinberg of Thrive was sworn in. Mr. Martin presented the application for use C‐2 school use at 116 Pheasant Run within the existing facility of the Newtown Athletic Club Baseball Academy building in the Light Industrial district. Ms. Bobrin moved to grant approval. The motion passed 5-0.

Village of Newtown Shopping Center: Based on concerns from residents regarding issues at the Village of Newtown Shopping Center, Mr. Mack reached out to a Brixmor representative to see if they would come before the Board to provide details on the progress of the shopping center. Brixmor said they would, however, would prefer to wait until near the end of the project. Mr. Calabro asked what Mr. Mack would want to hear from them and suggested we wait until they are ready to come in. Mr. Mack is hoping they will discuss minor traffic improvements and mentioned the agreements with Brixmor include a post traffic study where Brixmor agrees to take BOS suggestions into consideration. Mr. Lewis confirmed they will be doing a post development traffic study. Mr. Lewis will contact Brixmor and determine when they will be available to come before the BOS.

Parks and Recreation

Newtown Creek Bridge Proposal ‐ Discussion: Mr. Davis reviewed the proposal and thinks it is a great idea for both the Borough and the Township. Ms. Bobrin agreed stating it was a very impressive undertaking. Mr. Mack received comments both for and against and brought up cost concerns with the Township expected to pay for most of the project. Mr. Fisher is very interested in the concept and would like to go forward with it. He mentioned taking advantage of the Newtown Creek Coalition’s nonprofit status to get in kind support and Mr. Calabro agreed that many entities could be interested in supporting this. Mr. Calabro also said there should be a formal presentation to the public and the next step would be to have the NCC come back and give a presentation. Mr. Davis added that he too has concerns over the cost, however reminded all that this is still in the idea stage and there is no commitment other than to move forward and see if this is a viable plan. The discussion continued on the resolution and Mr. Calabro polled the Board for interest in moving forward. The consensus was to move forward and ask Mr. Sellers from the NCC to return and give a presentation at an open meeting and proceed from there.

[For background, read "Newtown Creek Coalition Proposes a Pedestrian Bridge".]

[From my notes for the meeting:

I have received over 30 comments – both for and against this bridge – from residents in both Newtown Township and Newtown Borough. Just to mention a few:

Some residents liked the idea but wanted a sidewalk along Frost Lane from Goodnoe Elementary – where the Newtown Trail ends – to the proposed bridge.

Some noted that the bridge would benefit businesses along N. Sycamore Street as well as residents. Comment: “Auto traffic in town has increased significantly over the years, and we need a safe way for pedestrians and kids on bikes to access all the wonderful restaurants and shops in town.” 

Some residents suggested repairing the wooden bridge where Edgeboro Road meets North State Street. In fact, I was invited to look into this with members [Nicole Rodowicz, Marv Cohen] of the Borough Council. It is entirely on private properties, both of which are in Newtown Township. The owners could not be contacted and that effort failed.

Several residents thought the cost would not be justified considering its limited use and suggested the money could be better used to provide pedestrian walkways in other areas of the township such as from Tyler Walk to the shopping center. “In that remote, corner location, nobody's going to be using this thing,” said a Newtown Crossing resident. “Waste of $$$$$”

Regarding the Costs

In his presentation, Mr. Sellers noted that PennDOT has a warehouse full of old disassembled bridges that can be purchased for as little as $1. However, there are real costs associated with transporting and reassembly of the bridge. Etc.

Some residents with whom I have communicated have some ideas for reducing these costs. One suggested treating it like a ‘barn raising.’ “For example, someone here may know someone with access to a flatbed tractor trailer.  Try to get local businesses to fund hiring people to load and unload the bridge parts.”

At the Work Session last week it was suggested that grants could be sought to cover some of the costs and the Township could seek “in-kind” services from professionals such as engineers, etc. Of course, most grants will not cover the total costs involved and as we know there is a lot of competition for grants money.

With regard to “in-kind” services from professionals, I believe that would be very problematic as it could be viewed as a conflict of interest or even a form of “Pay-to-Play.”]

Public Safety

ESD Report: Chief Forsyth reported the department responded 106 calls for service during September including four building fires, three dwelling fires and 57 EMS calls. The Township had 51 fire safety inspections and there were 33 in the Borough. September training encompassed 168 hours for the ESD and 82 hours for the Fire Association.

Mr. Mack thanked Chief Forsyth for attending a meeting with the Newtown Walk HOA regarding the fire on Jenks Aly.

Mr. Mack also expressed concern over the fire pit being installed near Harvest. The Chief said it was approved through land development and Mr. Lewis concurred adding the engineer inspects it as well the building inspector. Chief Forsyth said it will be part of the annual safety inspection.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The new fire pit near Harvest Seasonal Grill. I’ve been told this is not part of the restaurant but an amenity of the shopping center and therefore any one is welcome to sit there and not be required to be a customer of the restaurant. But how do you turn on the fire?🤔

A post shared by John Mack Newtown Supervisor (@johnmacknewtown) on

Reports of Committees, Boards and Commissions

Planning Commission: Chairman Allen Fidler reported at the October 15, 2019 meeting the members reviewed three items of business. The first was a Zoning Board application for Melissa Hunt at 449 Merion Drive. The applicant is seeking a variance and special exception to install a 10’ x 16’ shed on stones in the rear of a non‐conforming lot. The Commission recommended the Supervisors not oppose this application.

The second was a conditional use C‐6 for Excell Fitness LLC (F45 Training) at 2833 South Eagle Road in Village of Newtown Shopping Center. The Commission recommended the Supervisors not oppose this application.

Last was the proposed Kownurko/Rambo Subdivision at 217 and 223 Eagle road in the CM Zoning district. The applicants propose to subdivide the combined properties into six single family lots including the two existing residences. All the lots will be served by a proposed private, shared access driveway. The Commission agreed not to make a recommendation until the attorneys clarify the details and put the specifics in writing for review at the next meeting on November 19.

Supervisor Reports

Tour of Police Station: Mr. Mack reported he toured the police station with Chief Hearn. He also reminded all National Drug Take Back day is this Saturday, October 25 and residents can safely dispose of prescription drugs in the receptacle provided in the Township building between 10AM and 2PM.

[At the November 13, 2019, BOS meeting, Chief Hearn reported that between June and October, the Police Dept collected a total of 233 lbs of unwanted drugs in the lobby bin for proper disposal. On National Drug Take Back day (10-26-2019), 45 visitors deposited an additional 88 lbs of unwanted drugs for proper disposal.]

Posted on 14 Nov 2019, 14:32 - Category: Board of Supervisors Minutes



October 2019 Newtown Township Police Report: Peak Season for "Struck Deer" & Domestic Abusers Must Surrender Guns!

Newtown Township Police Chief John Hearn presented the Calls Report for October 2019 at the November 13, 2019, Board of Supervisors meeting. The following is a summary. Note: Not all calls are listed. See the full (redacted) report embedded at the end of this post or download the PDF version here.

In October, the Newtown Police Department responded to 1,803 total calls, 372 (21%) of which were in Wrightstown Township (Newtown Police provides services to both Newtown and Wrightstown Townships).

Traffic Citations Down for Month of October

The Newtown Police Department issued a total of 151 traffic citations in October 2019. 58 (38%) of these were for speeding, especially on Swamp Road and Newtown Bypass.

Traffic citations issued by the Newtown Police Department for the period January through October, 2019.
Peak Season for Struck Deer

I notice that the Police Department issued a “Deer Alert” on Twitter. I especially like the graphic image included in the tweet.

Act 29 Non-Compliance

ACT 79 Non-Compliance is a new category added to the “disturbances” section of the Police Report. This act went into effect on April 10, 2019 and deals primarily with increased safety provisions related to firearms in both Protection from Abuse and misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence to help prevent domestic violence homicides.

Gov. Wolf said: “The incidents of domestic violence where guns are involved in our commonwealth prove that this commonsense law is an important step to protect victims of domestic abuse, save lives, and hold abusers accountable for their actions.”

Full (redacted) October 2019 Police Report

Posted on 14 Nov 2019, 01:28 - Category: Crime



Still Hard at Work as Supervisor in October Despite Campaigning

I spent a lot of time campaigning for re-election in October 2019, which paid off in a bittersweet victory (read "Mack & Fisher Beat Butler & Boyle by Going Positive!"). Despite that, I spent nearly 35 hours in October 2019 on official Supervisor business to maintain an average of 40 hours per month in 2019 to date.

Log of Hours Spent on Official Business

My log keeps track of the time spent on the following:

  • Attending “Required” Meetings
  • Preparation for BOS Meetings
  • Attending Optional Meetings/Activities
  • Interaction with Residents
  • Travel To & From Meetings

What This Report Does Not Include

My log of Supervisor-related activities does not include the many hours I spend posting to this blog, maintaining my personal website, writing a newsletter, creating and posting video clips from meetings, hosting podcast interviews, summarizing decisions made by the Board of Supervisors (BOS Definition), etc. Also not included is the time I spend posting to my personal Facebook page, Twitter account, and Instagram account. These activities are NOT part of my official duties as Supervisor, but represent my personal views.

Not included in this log are the many hours spent canvassing door-to-door campaigning for re-election. Much of that time was productive getting feedback and discussing issues of importance to residents. BTW, if you haven't already done so, you can still give me feedback on issues of importance to you by taking this short survey.
Meetings

In October 2019, I spent 6.7 hours attending required meetings and 4.4 hours in optional meetings.

Obviously, BOS meetings are the most important meetings - I am expected to attend them in order to satisfy my duties as a Supervisor. These include regular twice-per-month public meetings (except in July and August), and non-public executive sessions. Optional meetings include public work sessions, and special meetings (see the list below).

“Other Meetings” I attended were optional. In October, 2019, I attended meetings of the Parks and Recreation Board, Joint Zoning Council (JZC Definition), the Newtown Fire Association (NFA), and a meeting with Police Chief Hearn to discuss communications (Savvy Citizen) and tour the police building.

The height of each bar represents total hours spent on official business that day. This includes time spent at meetings.
Interaction with Residents

In my opinion, personal interaction with residents regarding their concerns is an important part of my responsibilities as Supervisor. I want to be sure that I spend enough time reaching out to and responding to residents via personal contact, official email via my johnm@newtownpa.gov account and via my personal john@johnmacknewtown.info account, and via phone and/or Facebook.

In October 2019, I spent 3.9 hours (12% of my total logged hours) interacting with residents, not including the hours I spent campaigning for re-election.

What did I discuss with residents? Here’s a partial list (some items are not included for confidentiality reasons):

  • Toll Bros Archdioscese application
  • collection of EIT Definition from new restaurants
  • Outdoor speakers at Drive-thru Starbucks
  • Tyler Walk trail to shopping center

Disclaimer

When speaking with residents on issues that may come before the BOS in the future for a vote, I never express an opinion as to how I will vote because I may not have all the information. Needless to say, I also do NOT discuss any confidential information that is not in the public domain. These discussions with residents are meant solely to inform me of their opinions, not for me to give them my opinion. Or it is just to listen to complaints/concerns and to forward them on to the BOS if necessary

I decided to keep track of my activities as a Supervisor on a monthly basis partly because I want to be accountable to residents, but also to make sure I am making the best use of my time. It's really an honor to serve the community! I learn something new every day and have met many fine people and volunteers who also put in a lot of time without any compensation at all. Thanks to everyone who help keep Newtown in business and safe.

Posted on 08 Nov 2019, 10:22 - Category: Open Records/Transparency



Mack & Fisher Beat Butler & Boyle by Going Positive!

Democratic incumbent Newtown Township Supervisors John Mack and Dennis Fisher walloped their Republican opponents T.J. Butler and Dan Boyle in a record-setting municipal election that was marred by a vicious personal attack mailer orchestrated by the opposition (read about it in the Newtown Patch: "Vicious Politics Comes to Newtown Township!").

With all 8 districts reporting, here are the uncertified results:

As I stopped at each polling place during the day, I was pleasantly surprised by the constant stream of voters. "It was sometimes difficult to gauge who voters were going to choose as they walked through the doors," said Dennis Fisher. It is estimated that nearly 5,800 Newtown Township residents voted this year compared to about 4,860 in 2017. This may be a record turnout.

A Positive Political Campaign Prevailed!

While the opposition wallowed in vicious personal attacks - especially against me - the Fisher & Mack campaign fulfilled its pledge to run an ethical, issues-based campaign without stooping to the level of their Republican opponents who chose to go negative.

Vicious personal attack mailer orchestrated by the Butler & Boyle campaign in a reprehensible attempt to smear the reputation of John Mack.

BTW, I have never "worked for" the pharmaceutical industry. I owned a small business publishing a newsletter focused on criticizing the marketing practices of the industry as an outsider. I retired that business in February, 2018, soon after being sworn in as Supervisor in January, 2018. In my farewell blog post (here), I warned of the “PharmaGovernment Complex,” which is the collusion between the pharmaceutical industry, lawmakers, and government agencies.

I said: “There has always been “collusion” between the pharmaceutical industry and lawmakers who have profited from financial contributions from the industry as well as help from industry “hired guns” (lobbyists) to craft laws benefitting the drug industry,” I said. “I’ve spent a lot of time writing about this in the past. Obviously, my efforts and the efforts of many others to shine a light on this has achieved very little return on investment. The amount spent on lobbying during the first nine months of Donald Trump’s presidency, reports the Center for Responsive Politics, was higher than in any corresponding period since 2012. In fact, "The D.C. Pharma Lobbying Swamp is Bigger & More Slimy Than Ever!”

Soon afterward I sold the assets of my company including the "pharmaguy" name and trademark to eHealthcare Solutions, which has since focused on a more collaborative approach with the industry (listen to this podcast).

Another Record Set by John Mack

I received the most votes of any candidate - Republican or Democrat - for Supervisor going back to at least 2007 (the earliest year of available election results). 

Thanks to All Who Voted & Volunteered

Dennis and I would like to thank all the citizens who came out and voted on Tuesday and especially those who voted for them. We also thank the members of our campaign team, the Newtown Democrats, and the dozens of volunteers and other supporters for helping make this victory possible! Also, a shout out to our families!

Posted on 06 Nov 2019, 13:07 - Category: Voting



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