John Mack - Newtown Supervisor

Newtown Township Land Use Trends 2005-2020

The Comprehensive Plan of the Newtown Area Jointure, which is comprised of Newtown, Wrightstown, and Upper Makefield, is the primary land use policy document that sets goals and objectives, and a vision for future development and growth. The 2009 plan is currently being updated in order to make sure it reflects the most current needs and views of the community.

The following analysis of trends in Newtown’s land use is based on the Comprehensive Plan update presented by the Bucks County Planning Commission (BCPC) at the September 3, 2020, Joint Zoning Council (JZC) meeting. Your can view the video of that meeting here.

Newtown Township Land Use Map

There have been notable shifts in the land use characteristics of the individual municipalities of the Jointure as well as in the characteristics of the Jointure, as measured against comparable statistics from 2005. Jeremy W. Stoff, a BCPC Planner, presented highlights of those shifts at the JZC meeting (listen to his remarks below).

Mack's Newtown Voice · Newtown Land Use Trends 2005-2020
Land Use Acreages – Newtown Township (2005 -2020). “Institutional” includes land use by the government, Bucks County Community College, Holy Family University, public school campuses, and All Saints Cemetery.
Agricultural Use

The Jointure continued to lose land classified as agricultural in the period 2005 to 2020, and losses in this category constituted the greatest change in percentage (dropping from 20.0 percent to 16.2 percent of total land use) and in number of acres (1,060 acre decrease). Each of the three municipalities saw decreases in percentage of agricultural land use. Newtown Township saw agricultural uses decline from 9.1 percent to 7.9 percent.

% Changes in Newtown Township Land Use 2005-2020.

According to the draft prepared by BCPC, “In the period from 2005 to 2020, the Jointure continued to see losses in the amount of land devoted to agricultural production and in the amount of vacant land, coupled with an increase in the amount of territory devoted to single-family residential development. While the amount of rural residential territory in the Jointure stayed relatively constant, this may not be a counter-indication of development, but may be the result of the loss of agricultural land and vacant areas to large residential lots (where the potential for further development is still present). Efforts to preserve more areas for recreational use and open space appear to have increased the amount of land dedicated to that purpose.”

BCPC added, “While additional research would be needed to draw a direct connection between decreases in land classified as agricultural and increases in single-family residential uses, it is not unreasonable to posit this link, especially since land used for single-family residential dwellings in the Jointure increased the most, both in percentage (2.2 percent increase) and in number of acres (583 acres) dedicated to that use. Newtown saw the percentage of land in the single-family residential category increase from 21.2 percent to 22.3 percent.”

Open Space

Parks, recreation and open space increased by 428 acres (from 13.1 to 14.7 percent of the total) throughout the Jointure from 2005 to 2020. Newtown added 116 acres, Upper Makefield added 174 acres and Wrightstown saw an increase of 138 in this category. According to Lisa M. Wolff, BCPC Senior Planner, a lot of this is comprised of open space in various residential developments such a Country Bend.

[Read “How Much Do Newtown Residents Like Township Parks & Recreation?”]

Newtown Business Commons

Ms. Wolf pointed out that the Newtown Business Commons, which used to be called Newtown Industrial Commons, has transitioned over the years. Currently, there are a lot more uses characterized as commercial in the Commons. In fact, one additional use – Commercial Office – will be added to the Land Use Classifications of the updated Comprehensive Plan so that it will be possible to keep track of this us in light of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which may make working from home the “new norm.”

At the July 2, 2020, Zoom meeting of the Economic Development Committee (EDC), members Karen Miller, co-president of the Newtown Business Commons Association, and Joseph Blackburn, an Associate with Wisler Pearlstine, proposed ways that the township can revitalize the Newtown Business Commons. This is especially important after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and businesses get up and running again but find that more workers can work at home and they no longer need as much office space.

One specific suggestion was to apply under the Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance Act (LERTA) to lower real estate taxes for businesses in the Commons. Other local municipalities are using this tool to revitalize their business districts (read, for example, "Northampton Extends LERTA Tax Break Program for Businesses") Listen to this 11.5 minute audio snippet for the details:

Mack's Newtown Voice · Newtown EDC Discusses Revitalization of Business Commons

As part of the process of updating the Comprehensive Plan, the BCPC hosted a citizen survey to hear the views of as many residents as possible and is ensure that the community plays an active role in developing the policies that will help shape the development in the Jointure for the next ten years and beyond.

Survey Questions included:

  • Why did you choose to live in your township?
  • What are the best characteristics of your community?
  • What do you consider to be the most important problems facing your community?
  • Overall how satisfied or dissatisfied are you with the residential development within your community?
  • Overall how satisfied or dissatisfied are you with the commercial development within your community?

The number of responses to the survey was reported by Mr. Stoff at the September 3, 2020, JZC meeting: 374 from Newtown residents, 370 from Upper Makefield residents, and 69 from Wrightstown residents. The survey was official closed on September 8, 2020. Results should be available at the next JZC meeting on October 1, 2020.

Posted on 16 Sep 2020, 12:42 - Category: Zoning

(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 14, 2020, based on the approved minutes of meetings. I will update this page when I have more data.

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 a PDF version here.

Posted on 14 Sep 2020, 01:36 - Category: Governance

2020 Road Repair Program

After much delay due to COVID-19 re-allocation of repair funds to the General Fund (read "2020 Road Program Falls Victim to COVID-19" and see below), the revised road repair program is underway.

The 1.0 mill real estate tax slated to be used to borrow money to repave more than 5 miles of roads in 2020 was "re-allocated" to cover General Fund expenses - a drastic move in anticipation of an Earned Income Tax (EIT) revenue shortfall of 8-11% due to the COVID-19 shutdown of local businesses. That shortfall, however, never materialized. According to Keystone Collections, which collects EIT, at the close of August 2020, Bucks Tax Collection District (TCD) ended up with an increase of about $1.6million from 2019. As it stands now, the TCD as a whole is up a little over $55,000.00 in 5th quarter money! Comparing earned income collections for 1/1/20 – 8/31/20 vs 1/1/19 – 8/31/19, Newtown Township specifically is up about $258,000.00 or 4.8%.

At the July 8, 2020, Board of Supervisors meeting (here), the township engineer reported that after discussion with Township staff it was decided to complete the work included under the base bid and alternate bids 7, 8, and 9. The total is roughly 2.8 miles of roads.

2020 Road Repair showing "base bid" roads. Not shown are "alternate bid" roads that include all of Fountain Farm Lane, Newtown Gate Drive, and a portion of Upper Silver Lake Road.

The following roads are scheduled to be repaved in 2020:

  • Swamp Rd (from the Bypass to Sycamore St)
  • Fountain Farm Ln
  • Newtown Gate Dr
  • Penns St
  • Upper Silver Lake Rd (From Newtown Yardley Rd to Vera Ave)
  • Silver Lake Rd (between N. Penns Trail & L. Dolington Rd)
  • Newtown Yardley Rd (Patch Paving between Tara Blvd & N. Penns Trail)
The Schedule

Posted on 13 Sep 2020, 11:17 - Category: Roads

My August 2020 Supervisor Activities: A Very Busy Month!

In August 2020, as Bucks County continued in the COVID-19 "Green Phase", I spent 56.3 hours on official supervisor business. That's a lot of hours for the month of August, which usually sees less scheduled activities. With meetings being held via Zoom, however, there was less need to cancel meetings, of which there were many this August!

The height of each bar represents total hours spent on official business that day. This includes time spent at meetings. Blue indicates a required meeting was held that day, orange indicates it was a more-or-less optional meeting.
BOS = Board of Supervisors, EDC = Economic Development Committee, JZC = Joint Zoning Council, EAC = Environmental Advisory Council, HRC = Human Relations Commission, NFA = Newtown Fire Association, TCC = Bucks County Tax Collection Committee

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.

Lots of Meetings!

You would think that many meetings would be cancelled during the summer when most people are "on vacation," but no! I spent nearly 19 hours in August attending meetings! It's all due to COVID-19: (1) many people have not gone missing on vaction, and (2) Zoom makes it all too easy to participate in meetings even though you may be on vacation!

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 account and via my personal account, and via phone and/or Facebook.

In August 2020, I spent 8.0 hours (14% of my total logged hours) interacting with residents in my official capacity as supervisor.

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

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 05 Sep 2020, 01:49 - Category: Open Records/Transparency

Summary of August 17, 2020, Newtown Board of Supervisors Work Session: New Fire Apparatus, Strategic Management Planning Program, Financial Status Communication Plan

The following is a brief summary of the August 17, 2020, Newtown Township Board of Supervisors (BOS Definition) Work Session Zoom meeting based upon the official minutes of that meeting, which you can find here. You also can view the video archive here.

Note: No official decisions are made at Work Session.

Newtown Fire Association

Apparatus Purchase Update:Warren Dallas of the NFA explained a committee, including Newtown Township emergency service personnel, was established a year ago to determine options for replacing the 2001 rescue pumper which served the community well for many years.

The committee reviewed and drove up to 20 trucks to get an idea of what would be best for Newtown and were alarmed when the truck design selected came in at $825K; with some design changes the price dropped to $746K and with an early pay discount of 3.8% the total cost will be under $718K. The NFA voted to proceed and is asking the Township for approval to move forward with the purchase. Mr. Dallas said the NFA will pay $518K in cash and take a 2% loan over 25 years for the remaining $200K.

Mr. Calabro confirmed there is no funding from the Township. Chief Forsyth said much thought was put into this decision and the study was considered. He added this truck will provide coverage for next several years for the Borough and Township.

Five Year Financial Plan Update

Strategic Management Planning Program Interim Report: Steve Wray from Econsult Solutions Inc. [ESI] gave a slide presentation of the Strategic Management Planning Program that ESI prepared for the Township. He explained the purpose of the program and its five project steps, saying most of the work has been completed for the first three items and part four is coming. He reviewed activities to date adding that Covid19 caused the need for some short-term adjustments. Mr. Wray covered general recommendations which included introducing real estate tax millage to the General Fund budget beginning in 2021, exploring opportunities for cost sharing, particularly as it relates to the fire services agreements as well as adjusting staff levels. Historic revenues and expenses were charted, and trends reviewed. Comparisons and benchmarking of neighboring communities were conducted, and statistics presented.

[For presentation slides and selected audio, read "Newtown Supervisors Review Interim 5-Year Financial Plan"]

Finance Committee

Communication Plan: George Skladany of the FC presented the proposed communication plan that will provide accurate financial information to Township residents. He said the plan is three phases:

  1. Provide basic financial information of the Township
  2. Review the significant findings of the ESI final report
  3. Review items the Township decides to implement

Mr. Skladany asked the BOS to make any changes so the FC can submit the document for approval at the August 26 BOS meeting. Mr. Calabro asked what happens after the BOS approval and Mr. Skladany said the week of August 24 the tax and financial facts will be posted on the website; there will also be a printed version and arrangements will be made for a press interview with a spokesman for the Township. The week of August 30 the plan is to disseminate the information via additional interviews with local media and later that week have someone from the Township write a guest editorial for publishing. The packets of information can also be emailed to local business organizations and HOA’s as the intent is spread the information widely as quickly and inexpensively as possible. Mr. Skladany asked the BOS to recommend who would represent the Township and said the FC will provide the draft for the editorial and the FC will make the arrangements with the media.

Newtown Financial Status and Narrative

The following was a PPT presentation made by Mr. Skladany. You can also download the PDF version here.

Posted on 31 Aug 2020, 12:31 - Category: Board of Supervisors Minutes

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