John Mack - Newtown Supervisor

Newtown Township Meeting Notes

Welcome to Newtown Township Meeting Notes, a new publication by John Mack designed to keep you informed about important discussions & decisions made at various public governmental meetings. Busy residents do not have the time to attend every public meeting. You need just the facts and links to further information if you care to dig deeper. That is precisely what I hope to provide via this publication. SUBSCRIBE to recieve Newtown Township Meeting Notes via email.

Highlights from the October 14, 2020, BOS Meeting

Arcadia Litigation Decision

The question before the Board of Supervisors (BOS) was whether or not to file an appeal to the Commonwealth Court from Judge McMaster’s order granting Arcadia’s Mandamus Complaint and finding a deemed approval of Arcadia’s Tentative PRD Plan to build 76 townhomes at Buck Road and the Bypass. The Board of Supervisors (BOS) unanimously voted to APPEAL (i.e., fight) the decision.

The Arcadia "mandamus" case against Newtown was discussed by residents at the October 12, 2020, Meet Mack Monday Zoom meeting and by Supervisors at a closed Executive Meeting before the BOS public meeting.

Comments from Residents

The following comments were submitted by residents via email prior to the meeting:

Comment submitted by Joan L Farb, 211 Sequoia Drive:

Since I have prior commitments, I cannot  attend  the Oct 14, 2020  Newtown Township Supervisor meeting. Thus, I am submitting my public comment on the Arcadia litigation by email.  I support and applaud the supervisors’ unanimous decision to appeal Arcadia ‘s claim that they did not receive the Supervisors’ certified  signed documents  which denied Arcadia  ‘s project before November 25, 2018. Arcadia’s development will create  extremely dangerous traffic conditions especially  U-turns to allow access to the  bypass.  It is very worrisome for parents, grandparents and concerned citizens   to know that their and others’ children ‘s safety  could be  in jeopardy if   school buses   have  to  make u turns on the  extremely busy bypass everyday to pick up and drop kids there. Thus, supervisors, please do not settle or  compromise. Children’s lives are at risk

Comment submitted by Janice Mininberg, 41 Wyckwood Court:

Re:  NO, to Arcadia! Reasons: 1-Traffic routing is dangerous, specifically proposed U-Turn at Buck Road and Mill Pond Road intersection. EXTREMELY high traffic, especially during rush hour. 2-Land surface covered by Arcadia homes and black-top would prevent water absorption; high water table will cause more swamp like conditions in Eagle Ridge Townhouse areas 3-Death to thousands of wildlife species and eagle hunting habitat

IMPORTANT: If the Court of Common Pleas allows Arcadia to build, due to Newtown’s lawyer delaying a letter, you MUST appeal the decision. Already money, time and demands from citizens have been submitted to stop Arcadia. Fight back, don’t settle!

Comment submitted by Alison Kelley, 25 Canterbury Court:

I am strongly against a residential development (Arcadia) in the woods behind where I live. Aside from the impossible traffic situation that it will cause, I am against taking down so many trees. Trees are important for our environment. In addition, there seems to be no plan to relocate the many animals (deer, raccoons, fox, woodchucks, rabbits, e.g.) that make their home there.

Comment submitted by Fred Ehmann, 181 Commonwealth Drive:

I, and many others, attended every hearing of every version of Arcadia’s attempts to develop the wooded area adjacent to Buck Road and Newtown Crossing. The various proposals presented were all fundamentally flawed by the problems presented by lack of safe access to the property. Each proposal was denied—on merit. These conditions remain unchanged.

Now, we learn of a “hail Mary” attempt to bypass the decision. Even if there is some technicality that has created a loophole that Mr. VanLuvanee intends to slither through, the clear intention of the BOS was always “Denied!” To fail to fight now would be to abandon the massive efforts of everyone that worked toward that end. The residents don’t want it, the BOS turned it down, if we have to fight them again in court, I urge you to do so.

Delancey Court vs. Toll Bros 

The Supervisors voted unanimously to deny a request from Toll Brothers for the Township to issue a final "dedication" for the Delancey Court development. There were many items on the "punch list" that still needed to be addressed. Without a final dedication the Township can hold on to the escrow account in case the Township had to finish the job. 

Comment submitted by Frank McCarron, 42 Rittenhouse Circle:

There are two big issues. First, the entire roadway of Rittenhouse Circle has to be replaced. This is a big deal item which is why I believe that Toll has been in no hurry to finish even though construction ended 4 years ago. Second, there are some 70 trees and large plants that are dead and have to be replaced. Toll hasn't been interested in moving on this while the roadway matter is still open.

I also do not understand why Toll should be allowed to build new communities in the Township (e.g., Twining Bridge Road proposal) when they have not finished ours.

All of the items on the punchlist should be addressed. As a smaller issue, my townhouse at 42 Rittenhouse Circle is Lot 105.  This is on the CKS response sheet as Exhibit A, under Construction.  Here is what it says: Proposed Work:  Address underground spring to the limit of disturbance (LOD), Checkmark:  No. Toll Response: Association / Homeowner Responsibility. CKS Response: This area was dry at the time of inspection. All I can say is that CKS must not have visited after it rained.  I have an end unit of a building block that was built at a lower elevation than the building block next to me.  As such, after it rains my side yard is saturated to the point of being squishy.  And a couple of days after it rains, my pavers become wet as ground water somehow bursts through the pavers as a means to escape.  I would like for CKS to come here after a rainstorm and take a look.

Payment of Bills

I bet most residents are not aware of all the bills paid by the township each month. Well, now here's you chance to see how some of your money is spent!

Bills List of September 30, 2020

Total amount paid out: $165,430.96

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Includes $824 for portable toilets in parks. For background, read: “Persistent Resident Complaints Lead to Newtown Township Installing Portable Restrooms in its Parks

  • Various Street Light Repairs: $4,578.28. In 2019, Newtown Twp spent $92,168.39 in street light repairs whereas the budget line item for these repairs was only $35,000.

  • PECO electric charges for street lights: $11,991.51. In 2019, Newtown spent $113,483.35 for street light electric charges. A total of $205,652 was spent for repairs and electric charges, which exceeded the budget for these items by $27,652.
  • NOTE: At the September 9, 2020, BOS meeting, I suggested that the township consider retrofitting the street lights with LED lighting to save money. The discussion was tabled until next year for lack of interest. See “Overview of Smart LED Lighting for Municipalities in PA”. Also, on Sept 4, 2019, the Bucks County Commissioners approved Ordinance No. 160, that authorized $396,000 for low-interest loans via the Delaware Valley Regional Finance Authority to municipalities for certain capital projects including the conversion of streetlights to light-emitting diode (“LED”) technology to reduce energy consumption and costs.

  • Fees for engineers paid to CKS ENGINEERS INC. and REMINGTON & VERNICK ENGINEERS for various projects total $19,735.25

Financial Town Hall Meeting

Newtown Township’s Finance Committee will hold a Financial Town Hall on Saturday, October 31st from 9:30 to 11:00 a.m. The purpose of the meeting is to allow the public to ask questions about the current financial situation of the township as well as how the Board of Supervisors will address these issues in the upcoming 2021 budget and beyond.

In early 2020, the Board of Supervisors hired Econsult Solutions, Inc (ESI) to analyze the township’s current financial condition, compare our staffing and expenses against neighboring communities and accepted national standards, prepare a five-year financial plan, and make recommendations to improve the immediate and long-term health of our community. Their final report (and an overview of their findings) was delivered to the township in late September, and can be downloaded for review here. Mr. Steven Wray, a Newtown resident and Vice President of ESI, will entertain questions pertaining to how the report was written, its conclusions, as well as its recommendations for future implementation.


At the October 14, 2020, Board of Supervisors meeting, Mr. Frank McCarron, a retired CFO, expressed his dissatisfaction with the ESI report that was submitted to Newtown Township. He said that the Township did not get what ESI promised to deliver and questioned the new hire recommendations. Mr. McCarron advised the supervisors that "any tax increase will be a lot more palatable for residents if you are seen as doing your part to keep expenses under control. Every department head should be pursuing revenue and cost saving strategies. If the ideas I mentioned are not worthwhile, then negotiate amongst yourselves and prioritize your spending needs."

The draft 2021 Newtown Township budget will first be presented to the public at a Board of Supervisors meeting on 10/19/2020.  Following that televised meeting, a recording of the budget presentation will be available at https://www.newtownpa.gov. 

Please take advantage of this important opportunity to make comments and ask questions to both Mr. Wray and township officials about the township’s current and financial future.

Criminal Mischief vs. Hate Crime

At 9:15 a.m. on Sept. 12 patrol responded to a Hill Haven Court residence for the report of criminal mischief. An anti-Semitic symbol was found spray-painted in the grass area.”

Email to Chief Hearn from Aamir Nayeem, Chair of the Human Relations Commission, regarding the above incident:

Our commission's also looking into general public education to fight discrimination and, ideally, prevent these sorts of things from occurring in the future. We've noticed that there are often mentions of "suspicious persons" or "suspicious activity" that sometimes get reported to the police. Especially following the Walking While Black event we'd attended in September (where I believe you also got to speak with Kevin Antoine, one of our new commission members), we're interested in learning if these reports are often incidents of "walking while black" – people of color being targeted or seen as suspicious just based on their physical appearance. Is there anything you'd feel comfortable sharing about these reports? Are there any patterns we see in the types of suspects that people describe when they're calling and making these reports?

Chief Hearn's response:

A review of all recent incidents and speaking with various Command staff and police officers, the reports do NOT indicate a racial nexus, but rather deemed "suspicious activity / suspicious person" as a result of classifications only. It could be a variety of incidents, i.e.; open property, underage kids drinking in HOA park, open gas cap on car, fed-ex delivery in unmarked vehicles, unknown person soliciting, etc. There are no patterns and most times, no caller identity is provided. Additionally, regardless of the dispatch by Bucks County Police Radio, our officers are trained and also reminded that additional reasonable suspicion or probable cause must exist before an investigatory detention is conducted to ensure constitutional rights are preserved.

Reports from Other Meetings

Council Rock School Board – Education Committee Meeting

As the Board liaison to the Council Rock School Board, I “attended” the September 24, 2020, meeting of the CR School Board Education Committee. Actually, I viewed the meeting on Youtube.

Considering Newtown Township’s stand against discrimination as evidenced by the establishment of the Newtown Township Human Relations Commission, I thought it relevant to attend these meetings to see if there were any proposals before the Committee regarding curriculum changes that better reflect the diverse population students will be part of when they leave school. Relevant to that, the Committee did discuss changes to the Title IX law, which concern discrimination on the basis of sex.

Perhaps even more relevant to residents of Newtown was a statement made by Committee member Mark Byelich who said that in 2023, CRSD is projected to have a $13-14 million fund balance deficit. He likened it to a freight train heading our way and suggested there might be massive layoffs, classes canceled and buildings closed. His remarks were not challenged, so I assume his deficit numbers are correct.

However, Mr. Byelich did not mention a more likely scenario, which is massive school tax increases ahead for Newtown residents. As has been pointed point out many times, about 80% of every real estate tax dollar as well as 50% of every EIT dollar paid by residents goes to the CRSD. We should keep this in mind this budget season when we also consider raising real estate taxes.

Newtown Fire Association

I attended the September 28, 2020, regular meeting of the Newtown Fire Association (NFA). NFA president Warren Dallas read a letter from him and NFA Chief Matthew Gerhard outlining the challenges facing the NFA regarding continued staffing and leadership challenges. This letter was also forwarded to the BOS by Chief Forsyth before the NFA meeting. “Due to a variety of reasons,” noted Dallas, “the Newtown Fire Association is at times unable to provide the proper minimum staffing” to respond to fire calls in Newtown Borough and Newtown Township.

Also, I was surprised to hear that Chief Gerhard announced he was retiring from his leadership role at the end of the year. When Mr. Dallas asked if there were any volunteers to fill the role, none responded. Perhaps everyone already understood that the Mr. Forsythe also should become the Chief of the Newtown Fire Association. It was noted that this would require approval by NFA membership and the Township Supervisors. I suggest that the letter from Warren and Gerhard be made public.

Joint Zoning Council

View the video of this meeting.

I attended the October 1, 2020, Joint Zoning Council meeting. The E30 Use to allow a Gasoline & Convenience Store at various locations in the three Jointure townships – including on the Bypass in Newtown - was officially adopted. Since all 3 municipalities passed it, it was not necessary for the JZC to vote on it. It is now the “law of the land” for the Jointure.

There was a discussion of an ordinance change regarding “horse farms” or riding academies that house horses. The main issue was horse manure and flies as a nuisance to neighbors mostly in Upper Makefield, I believe.

There was also a discussion of the “short-term rental” ordinance (JMZO 2020-01) regarding airbnb-like uses – the main issue was how to define a family. Wrightstown and Upper Makefield already reviewed the ordinance and recommended adoption. Newtown has not reviewed it. The JZC solicitor said she would be in touch with Newtown to get this on the Newtown Planning Commission’s agenda.

Jeremy Stoff, a planner at the Bucks County Planning Commission (BCPC) presented an update to the resident survey and the chapter of the Comprehensive Plan centered around promoting sustainable development and protecting natural resources.

No “thorough analysis” of the survey has been completed as of yet. A preliminary analysis of the 724 total responses indicates residents value open space, farmland preservation, and voiced concern over growth management and traffic congestion. This is consistent with a similar survey done for the 2009 Comprehensive Plan. Good to see that noting has changed regarding residents’ concerns but not so good that to date most of the concerns have been ignored, IMHO.

There was much discussion regarding Newtown EAC’s recommendations, especially with regard to terminology such as “climate emergency.” The main takeaways I got are (1) they do not know how these recommendations will fit into the final plan, (2) perhaps presenting the recommendations to the PC can help focus on solving the "fit" issue, (3) other township EACs should take a look at the recommendations. I recorded the conversation and had it roughly transcribed (NOT OFFICIAL).

It was announced that the BCPC it looked “very favorable” that a grant administered through the PA Department of Community & Economic Development would be awarded to the Jointure to help defray the costs involved in revising the Comprehensive Plan. The grant request was for $25,000 and it looks like the award would be about 10% less. The estimated cost for BCPC to develop the plan is $50,800.

What’s the timeline for getting the getting the Plan finished? Is it tied to any funding requirements?

Environmental Advisory Council

I attended the October 12, 2020, Environmental Advisory Council (EAC) Zoom meeting. Elaine McCarron, a resident of Delancey Court spoke of invasive plants, which have killed a lot of trees in the common area and requested clarification from the township engineer regarding “limited disturbed area” in relation to this problem.

The members also discussed: (1) updating the links and highlighting their on their township web page, (2) pursuing “aggressive granting opportunities” for things like free electric charging stations for vehicles, (3) improved bicycling infrastructure – very topical now, (4) a sample resolution Liquid Natural Gas Transportation Resolution that would oppose the transportation of LNG in our area (the discussion was tabled until next month after members had a chance to study the issue), and (5) the JZC review of the EAC’s recommendations for the Comprehensive Plan (it was suggested that Newtown’s EAC work in concert with other Jointure townships on revising the recommendations).

The members asked me to remind the township of its request to include a $250 line item in the 2021 budget to cover miscellaneous expenses and that it just releases to the township $173 in funds it received from the Audubon Society.

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The opinions expressed here are solely those of John Mack and do not represent the opinions of any other person or entity.
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