At the April 18, 2023, Newtown Planning Commission (NTPC) meeting, Bucks County Planning Commission (BCPC) members Jeremy Stoff and Lisa Wolff discussed their draft for an overlay district in the current Business Commons area of the LI/OLI zone.
“We are looking for ways to revitalize the Commons, to both preserve the business office district and address the recent changes in the business environment, where workers are increasingly working from home,” said Peggy Driscoll, Chair of the NTPC, at the April 26, 2023, Board of Supervisors (BOS) meeting.
“We are optimistic that we will be able to add some residential uses to the Commons to help us attract and retain younger residents to the area. The BCPC will return with a revised draft at some point over the summer as our schedules permit.”
The problem, however, is that the NTPC and BCPC seem to be at odds about how to implement “mixed-use” residential/retail in the business commons.
The most recent proposal by BCPC laid out the details for “Mixed Use” apartment buildings in the OLI/LI Overlay Zones; e.g., in the Business Commons area, like the ones shown here on the left (source: BCPC).
Peggy Driscoll, Chair of the NTPC, at the BOS meeting said more work had to be done with the BCPC plan because members of the committee seemed more interested in converting existing office buildings into “mixed use” residential buildings rather than having new construction as envisioned by the BCPC.
At the September 20, 2022, NTPC meeting, the BCPC presented it’s concept of a “Walkable Community.” The Corridor Overlay District is intended to permit and encourage a mix of land uses on previously developed lands and for new construction in the LI and O-LI districts, said BCPC. Through appropriate regulations, provisions in the Corridor Overlay District encourage mixed-use development to promote a vibrant community where dwellings, shops, service-oriented businesses, and workplaces are all within walking distance of each other. This is consistent with the purpose of the Overlay District Plan for a walkable community with pedestrian-oriented buildings, connections to nearby destinations, and open spaces, such as parks and plazas, that provide outdoor areas for those living and working in the area to enjoy.
At the April 26, 2023, BOS meeting, when questioned by Mr. Mack Ms. Driscoll told supervisors “when we first started reviewing this our goal was to retrofit or refill existing buildings. I don't think new construction was really at the top of the list even though we did discuss it,” she said. “I think our main goal is to revitalize the Commons and add some uses for the workers that are there to kind of create an area where they don't have to leave the Commons.”
View the following 10-minute video snippet of the discussion of the discussion at the BOS meeting:
I and other BOS members expressed some concerns regarding converting existing office buildings – like the one shown on the right - into mixed-use residential/retail buildings. Firstly, all of the existing office buildings are privately owned. How do we get the owners to agree to make the conversion? Is it even possible? And if it is, will potential apartment purchasers find it an attractive place to live compared with the new building concept put forward by the BCPC as shown above?
“I don't know if they [BCPC] understand that we're not looking to develop a so-called Promenade in there,” said Ms. Driscoll. “We want to bring some people in who then can maybe work in the Business Commons as well and and maybe do some Recreation and get some meals.” While, I believe we all agree with that goal, we may not agree on how to get there.
In any case, Ms Driscoll agreed with the BOS that there is a lot more work to do. She thought that the last NTPC meeting just got “a little off the path of where we [the NTPC] wanted to go.”
Posted on 01 May 2023, 01:52 - Category: Development