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.
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).
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.
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.”
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.
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:
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