John Mack - Newtown Supervisor

Newtown Area Municipal Glossary

Welcome to the Newtown Area Municipal Glossary.This glossary is more than a simple list of terms and definitions relevant to Newtown Township municipal governance. It also includes links to related information and resources such as news summaries, blog posts, videos, podcasts, newsletter articles, etc. Simply click on a letter button below to jump to the section of the Glossary with terms that begin with that letter. 

A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I 

J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R 

S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z

Send me terms you'd like to see added to this glossary: john@johnmacknewtown.info

A

Act 209: In an era of increasing development and of a corresponding demand for municipal capital improvements, the purpose of Act 209 is to insure that the cost of needed capital improvements be applied to new developments in a manner that will allocate equitably the cost of those improvements among property owners and to respond to the increasing difficulty which municipalities are experiencing in developing revenue sources to fund new capital infrastructure from the public sector. Source: Act 209 text.

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B

Board of Supervisors (BOS): The Newtown Township Board of Supervisors (aka, BOS) is responsible for overseeing all aspects of township government including finance, administration, public works, police, emergency services, codes enforcement, parks and recreation, and planning. The BOS hires all professional consultants including legal, planning and engineering services. The BOS is responsible for reviewing and approving or denying all land development plans and zoning amendment changes.

To keep up-to-date on Newtown Township BOS decisions, follow “Summaries of Newtown Board of Supervisors Meetings” Scoop.It topic, which summarizes the official minutes and/or audio and video recordings of public meetings.

Township supervisors fulfill their elected official duties by regularly attending, and actively participating in, meetings of the board of supervisors. Township supervisors should actively seek input from their residents and tax payers, ask thoughtful questions of staff and advisory boards, be open-minded to new ideas, and work with their fellow board members for the good of their township This may mean setting aside preconceived notions and sometimes taking an unpopular position that is in the best interests of the township as a whole.

According to to Section 602 of the Second Class Township Code, "An affirmative vote of a majority of the entire board of supervisors at a public meeting is necessary in order to transact any business." Thus for the Newtown BOS, which consists of 5 members, it takes 3 Supervisors to pass a motion. In a meeting with only a quorum of 3 members, all 3 must vote "aye" to pass a motion, otherwise the motion fails.

Read “A Month in the Life of a Newtown Supervisor: Meetings, Meetings, and More Meetings!

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C

Catch Basin: A Catch Basin or storm drain is a curbside drain with the sole function of collecting rainwater from our properties and streets and transporting it to local waterways through a system of underground piping, culverts and/or drainage ditches.

Comprehensive Plan: The Comprehensive Plan is as a picture of how a community wants to look in the future, as determined by the board of supervisors after substantial public input. The preparation of a Comprehensive Plan is time intensive and requires considerable data collection and analysis, planning, and ample opportunity for public input. The comprehensive plan should provide a vision of the future and allow other ordinances, such as the zoning ordinance (JMZO Definition) and the subdivision and land development ordinance (SALDO Definition), to fill in the gaps and create the mechanisms to reach this desired goal. A township’s zoning ordinance must be generally consistent with its Comprehensive Plan and the county comprehensive plan. [Source: Township Supervisors’ Handbook, 13th Edition (2018).]

See 2009 Newtown Area Joint Comprehensive Plan

Conditional use: A Conditional Use is nothing more than a Special Exception Definition that falls within the jurisdiction of the governing body rather than the Zoning Hearing Board Definition Conditional Uses are optional; that is, conditional uses may be provided for in the zoning ordinance (JMZO Definition) if desired. The governing body must adhere to the express standards and criteria set forth in the ordinance, or else the conditional use approval or denial could be overturned in court. [Source: “Special Exceptions, Conditional Uses and Variances”]

Conditional Use Permit (CUP): Conditional use permits (often simply called CUPs) are uses permitted on a permanent basis within a district so long as the governing body’s conditions are met. Permitted conditional use permits are expressly listed for each district in the zoning ordinance (JMZO Definition). These uses require conditions because in their absence the use could negatively impact nearby properties. Conditional use permits are given at the discretion of the township. [source] Compare to Permitted Use.

Conservation Easement: A Conservation Easement limits certain uses on a property in order to advance specified conservation purposes while keeping the land in the owner’s ownership and control.

Conservation Easement is a tool to help landowners and conservation organizations or governments work in partnership to achieve conservation objectives. The objectives, and the means for achieving those objectives, will vary depending on the character of the particular property, the goals of the conservation organization and the needs of the landowners. For example, an easement’s objectives might include any one or more of the following:

  • Maintain and improve water quality;
  • Perpetuate and foster the growth of healthy woodland;
  • Maintain and improve wildlife habitat and migration corridors;
  • Protect scenic vistas visible from roads and other public areas; or
  • Ensure that lands are managed so that they are always available for sustainable agriculture and forestry.

Source: conservationtools.org

Conservation Management (CM) District: The Conservation Management (CM) District, which was establish by the JMZO Definition, consists of valuable natural resources such as woodlands, agricultural soils, floodplains, wetlands, aquifer recharge areas, and areas of steep slopes. The Conservation Management District is dependent on groundwater as the primary water source.

Agriculture is a significant and an important use of land in the Conservation Management District. For these reasons, uses are permitted in both type and intensity, which provide the maximum opportunities for open space in order to protect the natural resources and encourage the continuation of farming activities. Single-family detached, single-family detached cluster, and Performance Subdivisions Definition are permitted, provided sewage disposal methods shall replenish the water table in accordance with the wastewater policies of the Joint Municipal Comprehensive Plan and the Sewage Facilities Plan (Act 537) of the participating municipality where building or development is proposed. The use and ownership of open space within residential developments shall be designed to achieve the purposes noted above and to be compatible with other uses in the Conservation Management District.

For details, see Article IV of the JMZO Definition: Residential Districts. Also see the Joint Municipal Zoning Map (pdf).

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E

Earned Income Tax (EIT): In Newtown Township, EIT is a tax for general revenue purposes in the amount of 1% imposed on earned income including salaries, wages, commissions, bonuses, incentive payments, fees, tips and other compensation received by residents of Newtown Township and by nonresidents of Newtown Township for work done or services performed or rendered in Newtown Township. This includes 1% of the net profits received from businesses, professions or other activities conducted by residents of Newtown Township and by nonresidents of Newtown Township.

Former Newtown Township Manager Kurt Ferguson suggested that Newtown is unique in that the lion share of its revenue sources depend upon “volatile taxes” such as Earned Income Taxes. His comments were made at the Newtown Township Board of Supervisors Meeting, January 10, 2018.

Easement: An Easement is a right-of-way or restriction granted for limited use of private land within which the owner of the property may be restricted from erecting permanent structures but shall have the right to make any other use of the land which is not inconsistent with the rights of the grantee.

Executive Session: Executive sessions, or meetings from which the public is excluded, maybe held by the Board of Supervisors (BOS Definition) only for the following strictly limited purposes: to discuss personnel matters, conduct strategy sessions and negotiations for collective bargaining agreements, discuss the purchase or lease of real estate, consult with the solicitor in connection with ongoing or pending litigation, or to discuss any issue that would violate a legal privilege or protected confidentiality if conducted in public These meetings are for discussion purposes only Any decision or official action based on discussions held in executive session must be made during a public meeting.

Executive sessions may be held during a public meeting or announced for some other time The reason for holding the executive session must be announced at the open meeting occurring immediately prior or subsequent to the Executive Session. [Source: Township Supervisors’ Handbook, 13th Edition (2018).]

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F

Fracking: "Fracking" is short for "hydraulic fracturing" — it's a process by which water, sand, and chemicals are injected underground at very high pressures to crack open rock layers and release the oil or gas trapped inside. At a March 28, 2018, public meeting, the Newtown Township Board of Supervisors approved Resolution 2018-R-10, which calls upon the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) to “enact a complete and permanent ban on natural gas development and hydraulic fracturing and all related activities (including drilling, fracking, wastewater processing and discharges from and water withdrawals for drilling and fracking operations) throughout the basin” (read "Newtown Township Supports a Complete & Permanent Ban on Fracking and Related Activities").

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G

General Fund: Individual funds are created because of laws, grant requirements, or the desires of the governing body. All activity that has not been assigned to a specific individual fund is then accounted for in the General Fund (aka Reserve Fund). As a result, most people find the General Fund to be the most important fund. That is the fund that contains uncommitted resources that may be used for general purposes, including unforeseen expenses. [Source: Understanding Municipal Budgets & Financial Reports.]

The Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) Best Practice recommends, at a minimum, that general-purpose governments, regardless of size, maintain unrestricted fund balance in their general fund of no less than two months (16 percent) of regular general fund operating revenues or regular general fund operating expenditures. [For Newtown with a 2019 budget of approximately $12.4 million, that would mean we should have $1.98 million in our reserve fund. The current projected GF balance is $2.54 million or about 20% of the operating budget.]

However, according to the GFOA, “The adequacy of unrestricted fund balance in the general fund should take into account each government’s own unique circumstances. For example, governments that may be vulnerable to natural disasters, more dependent on a volatile revenue source, or potentially subject to cuts in state aid and/or federal grants may need to maintain a [significantly] higher level in the unrestricted fund balance.” [Source: Fund Balance Guidelines for the General Fund]

Newtown, because of its dependence on Earned Income Tax (EIT Definition) – a volatile source of funds – may be one of those governments. Former Newtown Township Manager Kurt Ferguson suggested that Newtown is unique in that the lion share of its revenue sources depend upon “volatile taxes” such as EIT (view the video here: “Town Manager on Newtown's Volatile Taxes”).

In response to questions by Supervisor Mack at the October 15, 2018, 2019 draft budget presentation meeting, Kurt Ferguson - former township Manager and current township consultant - talks about the dwindling Township reserve fund and the potential impact on the Town's bond rating prospects (see video above).

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I

Impervious Surface: An Impervious Surface is a surface that does not absorb rain. All buildings, parking areas, driveways, roads, sidewalks, and any areas in concrete, asphalt, and packed stone shall be considered impervious surfaces within this definition. In addition, other areas determined by the municipal engineer to be impervious within the meaning of this definition will also be classed as impervious surfaces.

Impervious Surface Ratio: The impervious surface ratio is a measure of the intensity of use of a piece of land. It is measured by dividing the total area of all impervious surfaces within the site by the base site area.

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J

Joint Municipal Zoning Ordinance (JMZO): JMZO is an Ordinance Definition regulating the location, height, bulk, erection, construction, alteration, razing, removal, and size of structures; the percentage of lot which may be occupied; the size of yards, courts, and other open spaces; the density and distribution of population; the intensity of use of land or bodies of water for trade, industry, residence, recreation, public activities, or other purposes; and the uses of land for agriculture, water supply, conservation, or other purposes, in all portions of the Newtown Area Joint Municipal Planning Region ("Jointure" Definition), which comprises Newtown Township, Upper Makefield Township, and Wrightstown Township. Find the JMZO here. Also see the Joint Municipal Zoning Map (pdf).

Jointure: Newtown Township, Wrightstown Township and Upper Makefield Township determined, in 1982 that it is in the best interests of their residents to form an entity to adopt a joint municipal zoning ordinance and comprehensive plan in accordance with the provisions of the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code. The resulting Jointure (aka "Newtown Area Jointure" Definition) was formed for the purposes of unified land use planning and zoning (see JMZO Definition). Before the Jointure, each municipality acted independently and was legally required to provide land for all uses in each township. The Jointure allows the three townships to provide for heavy residential, commercial and light development in one area, Newtown, while conserving Upper Makefield and Wrightstown for open space and farmland. This arrangement allows the municipalities to resist court challenges and maintain green space.

Because of urban sprawl, only two farms remain in Newtown Township. Without the protection of the Jointure, the population density of the three townships was projected to double. The Jointure, in effect, uses the expected (and accepted) growth of Newtown to stabilize the developmental impact on the other two municipalities. The area is now viewed as a healthy mix of urban, rural and suburban environments instead of three unrelated units.

Read "History of Jointure."

Joint Zoning Council (JZC): The Joint Zoning Council shall establish policy on matters of importance to the Jointure Definition. If requested by the Joint Zoning Council, the Joint Planning Commission shall offer input to Joint Zoning Council. The members of the governing body of each of the Participating Municipalities shall be members of the Joint Zoning Council, with the ability to attend and participate in all meetings of the Joint Zoning Council, provided that each municipality shall have no more than one vote only regardless of the number of representatives attending the meeting. The quorum for transaction of business by the Joint Zoning Council shall be at least one member of the governing body of each Participating Municipality.

The Joint Zoning Council shall have the responsibility of preparing a budget for the administration of the JMZO, including the operation of the Joint Planning Commission. The proposed budget shall be submitted by the Joint Zoning Council to the Participating· Municipalities at least ninety (90) days before the Participating Municipalities are required by law to adopt their budgets. [Source: Jointure Agreement]

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L

Liquid Fuels Program: The Municipal Liquid Fuels Program funds a range of projects to support construction, reconstruction, maintenance and repair of public roads or streets. Funds are only available to municipalities who submit annual reports and make its deposits and payments or expenditures in compliance with the Liquid Fuels Tax Act.

The amount of a municipality's allocation is based on its population and miles of roads on their approved Liquid Fuels Inventory. To be placed on the system a road must have minimum of 33' right-of-way in a township and 16' in a borough. The "cartway" (drivable surface) must be a minimum width of 16', and the road must be a minimum of 250' in length. If the road is a dead end, it must have cul de sac (turnaround) at the end with a minimum 40' radius. To continue to receive Liquid Fuels funds, a road must be maintained in such a condition that it can be driven safely at 15 mph.

Local Services Tax (LST): The Local Services Tax is a local tax payable by all individuals who hold a job or profession within a taxing jurisdiction (e.g., Newtown Township) imposing the tax. Currently, the assessment for LST in Newtown is $52 per year. According to the tax code, this tax may be used solely for the following purposes: emergency services, which shall include emergency medical services, police services and/or fire services; road construction and/or maintenance; reduction of property taxes.

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M

Millage (Mill): The millage rate is the amount per $1,000 of property value that is used to calculate local property taxes. For example, the Newtown Township 4.5 mill tax amounts to $196.20 yearly town tax on a home with a market value of $400,000 and an assessed value of $43,600 (the approximate average home market/assessed value in Newtown Township in 2018).

How to Calculate Your Yearly Newtown Township Tax

  1. Go to the Bucks County official website, click on "Maps and Data"
  2. Under "Interactive Maps," click on Explore under "Bucks County Parcel Viewer" to get this map.
  3. Find your parcel on the map. You will have to zoom in and scroll around to find it.
  4. Click on your parcel. A window will open showing you information about your parcel of land. There you will find a number labeled "TOTAL_VALUE$". This is the total assessed value of your property (home plus land).
  5. Divide the total assessed value by 1,000 and multiple the result by 4.5, the current (2018) Newtown Twp tax. The result will be the yearly amount you pay in property taxes to Newtown Township.

In addition to township tax, Newtown residents - like all Bucks County residents - also pay school and county property taxes. Here's a chart showing where Newtown Township residents' property taxes go:

 

 

Source: Bucks County Millage Rates

MS4: MS4 stands for Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System. MS4s are conveyances or systems of conveyances including roads with drainage systems, municipal streets, catch basins, curbs, gutters, ditches, man-made channels, or storm drains that are owned or operated by a public entity, are designed or used for collecting or conveying StormWater Definition, and are not a combined sewer or part of a publicly owned treatment works. A municipality is bound by US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations for an MS4 when all or a portion of a municipality lies within an urbanized area (UA), as determined by the US Census Bureau. [Source: “Quick Resource Guide to the MS4 Program”;]

At the October 15, 2018, BOS meeting/2019 budget presentation, Supervisor Linda Bobrin asked about the budget item allocated to complying with this requirement. Township Manager Micah Lewis outlined a plan in the works to comply with the requirements without spending a huge sum of money. Part of that plan could eventually involve maintaining Catch Basins Definition owned by Home Owners Associations.

Municipalities Planning Code (MPC): The Pennsylvania MPC (Act of 1968, P.L.805, No.247) empowers counties and municipalities, individually or jointly, to plan their development and to govern the same by zoning, subdivision and land development (SALDO Definition) ordinances and additional tools.

The Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code is a complex document that can be difficult to use. In an effort to simplify the process of researching the MPC, the Governor’s Center for Local Government Services has developed a Web site that acts as a guide for municipalities.

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N

Newtown Area Jointure: The Newtown Area Jointure (aka "Jointure" Definition) consists of three municipalities (Newtown, Wrightstown and Upper Makefield townships) that joined together on a regional basis for the purposes of unified land use planning and zoning (see JMZO Definition). Before the Jointure, each municipality acted independently and was legally required to provide land for all uses in each township. The Jointure allows the three townships to provide for heavy residential, commercial and light development in one area, Newtown, while conserving Upper Makefield and Wrightstown for open space and farmland. This arrangement allows the municipalities to resist court challenges and maintain green space.

Because of urban sprawl, only two farms remain in Newtown Township. Without the protection of the Jointure, the population density of the three townships was projected to double. The Jointure, in effect, uses the expected (and accepted) growth of Newtown to stabilize the developmental impact on the other two municipalities. The area is now viewed as a healthy mix of urban, rural and suburban environments instead of three unrelated units.

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O

Office Research (OR) DistrictThe intent of the Office Research District is to provide for special office and research, industrially related uses on large tracts of land, which will provide a major employment center for the Region while enhancing its open space characteristics and natural features. Design standards avoid adverse impacts and encourage high quality development which will relate compatibly to adjacent residential areas. However, due to the increased level of traffic and consideration of access and safety control, most uses are conditional. Interim low density uses such as various agricultural activities shall also be permitted.

For details, see Article V of the JMZO Definition: Residential Districts. Also see the Joint Municipal Zoning Map (pdf).

Open SpaceOpen Space refers to a parcel or parcels of land or a combination of land and lakes, ponds and streams within a development site used for recreation, farmland preservation or resource protection which shall remain undeveloped and is protected from future development by the provisions of JMZO Definition and the township Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance (SALDO Definition).

Required minimum open space area shall not include land occupied by roads; road rights-of-way; the yards or minimum lot areas of dwelling units; minimum separation distances between dwellings; driveways; parking areas; stormwater management areas, including basins regardless of depth, or any lands or uses or activities which are specifically prohibited in open space by the terms of the JMZO except where the governing body, determines that it's in the best interest of health, safety, and welfare to allow in the open space access ways and parking areas accessory to and necessary for agricultural, recreational or cultural public facilities permitted pursuant to JMZO.

For the purpose of the JMZO, open space shall not include areas preserved by public entities or not for profit foundations through fee simple acquisition or the purchase of conservation easements ("preserved property"). The uses of and activities on preserved property shall be governed by the deed of acquisition or conservation Easement Definition which preserved the property.

OrdinanceAn ordinance is a law enacted by a municipal body, such as the Newtown Township Board of Supervisors (BOS Definition) or the Newtown Borough Council. Ordinances govern matters not already covered by state or federal laws such as zoning, safety and building regulations. Also see JMZO.

Section 610 of the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code Definition. Publication, Advertisement and Availability of Ordinances.

(a) Proposed zoning ordinances and amendments shall not be enacted unless notice of proposed enactment is given in the manner set forth in this section, and shall include the time and place of the meeting at which passage will be considered, a reference to a place within the municipality where copies of the proposed ordinance or amendment may be examined without charge or obtained for a charge not greater than the cost thereof. The governing body shall publish the proposed ordinance or amendment once in one newspaper of general circulation in the municipality not more than 60 days nor less than 7 days prior to passage. Publication of the proposed ordinance or amendment shall include either the full text thereof or the title and a brief summary, prepared by the municipal solicitor and setting forth all the provisions in reasonable detail. If the full text is not included:
  1. A copy thereof shall be supplied to a newspaper of general circulation in the municipality at the time the public notice is published.
  2. An attested copy of the proposed ordinance shall be filed in the county law library or other county office designated by the county commissioners, who may impose a fee no greater than that necessary to cover the actual costs of storing said ordinances.
(b) In the event substantial amendments are made in the proposed ordinance or amendment, before voting upon enactment, the governing body shall, at least ten days prior to enactment, readvertize, in one newspaper of general circulation in the municipality, a brief summary setting forth all the provisions in reasonable detail together with a summary of the amendments.

(c) Zoning ordinances and amendments may be incorporated into official ordinance books by reference with the same force and effect as if duly recorded therein.

Overlay ZoningOverlay Zoning is a regulatory tool that creates a special zoning district, placed over an existing base zone(s), which identifies special provisions in addition to those in the underlying base zone. The overlay district can share common boundaries with the base zone or cut across base zone boundaries. Regulations or incentives are attached to the overlay district to protect a specific resource or guide development within a special area.

Overlay districts can manage development in or near environmentally sensitive areas, such as groundwater recharge areas (e.g. to ensure water quality and quantity), special habitat (e.g. species or feature protection) or floodplains (e.g. prevent flood damage).

Common requirements may include building setbacks, density standards, lot sizes, impervious surface reduction and vegetation requirements. Structure requirements could include building floor height minimums and flood-proofing to high water level.

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P

Party Status: The parties to an official Zoning Hearing Board Definition hearing shall be the municipality, any person affected by the application who has made timely appearance of record before the board, and any other person including civic or community organizations permitted to appear by the board.  The board shall have power to require that all persons who wish to be considered parties enter appearances in writing on forms provided by the board for that purpose. The parties shall have the right to be represented by counsel and shall be afforded the opportunity to respond and present evidence and argument and cross-examine adverse witnesses on all relevant issues. [Source: 53 P.S. § 10908(3)]

Performance Subdivision: A Performance Subdivision is a land development in which mixed residential types are encouraged in order to promote sound land planning and to provide a variety of housing choices. Selected nonresidential uses or Conditional Uses Definition may be permitted in these subdivisions pursuant to an overall plan. Such subdivisions cluster housing to provide Open Space Definition.

Permitted Use: The term Permitted Use (aka "Use by Right") refers to a property owner’s use of property and structures in manners consistent with that which is listed as permissible in the zoning district in which his or her property is located. A ‘use by right’ is a use permitted in a zoning district and is therefore not subject to special review and approval by a local government. [source] Compare to Conditional Use.

PFOS/PFOA/PFAS: PFOS and PFOA stand for perfluorooctane sulfonate and perfluorooctanoic acid, respectively. Both are fluorinated organic chemicals, part of a larger family of compounds referred to as perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs). PFAS consist of carbon chains of different lengths where the hydrogen atoms are completely (perfluorinated) or partly (polyfluorinated) substituted by fluorine atoms.

PFAS were widely used to make carpets, clothing, fabrics for furniture, paper packaging for food and other materials that are resistant to water, grease or stains. They were also used for firefighting at airfields and in a number of industrial processes.

PFOS and PFOA have the potential to be health concerns because they can stay in the environment and in the human body for long periods of time. Studies have found that these chemicals are present worldwide at very low levels in just about everyone’s blood. Higher blood levels have been found in community residents where local water supplies have been contaminated by PFOS and PFOA.

See video: "Newtown Artesian Water Report on PFAS"

Planned Residential Development (PRD): According to the PA Municipalities Planning Code (MPC), PRDs are designed to encourage innovation and variety in development, provide better opportunities for housing, recreation, and open space, and better relate development design to the particular site. 

The PRD allows developers to submit plans for mixed housing developments without the formal reviews or fully engineered plans which are usually required. The Board of Supervisors reviews and approves these plans rather than the Planning Commission and when necessary, the Zoning Hearing Board. This was helpful tool when Newtown was being rapidly developed some years ago, and as a result, there are 22 PRDs in Newtown. The PRD is permitted in the R-1 and R-2 Zoning Districts in Newtown. 

Newtown Township Solicitor Definition David Sander introduced JMZO 2017-04, which is an ordinance amending the Newtown Area Joint Municipal Zoning Ordinance (JMZO Definition) to delete Planned Residential Development. In this presentation made before the BOS on Sept 12, 2018, , Mr. Sander summarizes the history of PRDs in Newtown and why there is a need to part ways with this ordinance.


Planning Commission: The Board of Supervisors (BOS Definition) may create a Planning Commission and give the Commission the responsibility to create a Comprehensive Plan Definition for the township, to make recommendations for an official map, and to prepare zoning and subdivision and land development ordinances. Most planning commissions have an important role in reviewing proposed subdivision and land development (SALDO Definition) plans and making recommendations to the BOS for final approval. [Source: Township Supervisors’ Handbook, 13th Edition (2018).]

Working in conjunction with the Bucks County Planning Commission, the Township Planner, and other Township boards, commissions, committees and councils, the Newtown Township Planning Commission advises the Board of Supervisors on all planning, zoning and traffic matters, reviews Conditional Use Applications and Land Development Plans, and examines traffic impact issues. The Commission meets the first and third Tuesday of each month, 7:30 PM. Its members serve a four-year term.

At the September 12, 2018, Newtown Board of Supervisors meeting, Solicitor David Sander introduced JMZO 2017-04, which is an ordinance amending the Newtown Joint Municipal Zoning Ordinance to deleted Planned Residential Development (PRD). The Board passed the ordinance by a 5-0 vote. See video here. For background, read "Newtown Township, Upper Makefield, and Wrightstown to Consider Deleting Planned Residential Development from the Newtown Area JMZO." Also see JMZO

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R

Real Estate Transfer Tax: Real Estate Transfer Tax is a tax assessed and imposed upon the transfer of real property or an interest in real property within the limits of Newtown Township, regardless of where the instruments making the transfers are made, executed or delivered or where the actual settlements on the transfer take place, at the rate of 1% of the amount of the value of said real property. This tax is split between the Township and the Council Rock School District.

Real Property Tax: What’s often quoted as Newtown's “Real Estate” or “Real Property Tax” tax millage is actually composed several components dedicated to specific funds or projects. These are (1) 2.625 Mills for debt services purposes (to pay off loans for road improvements, and other projects), (2) 0.875 Mills for fire protection (Fire Chief’s salary, health insurance, etc.), (3) 0.55 Mills for fire hydrant maintenance, and (4) 0.45 Mills for the Newtown Ambulance Squad. This adds up to 4.50 mills. 0.0 mills are collected for "general" purposes.

Resolution: A Resolution is a document adopted by the governing body to enact rules and procedures as well as to express an opinion rather than enacting a law. A Resolution is less formal than an ordinance. An example would be Newtown’s Gun Safety Resolution (Resolution 2018-R-17) and approved Resolution 2018-R-10, which supports a complete & permanent ban on fracking and related activities in the Delaware River Basin area.

Rezoning: A rezoning is an ordinance adopted by the municipality’s governing body (e.g., city council, borough council, township commissioners or township supervisors) amending the zoning map to re-designate one or several lots from one zoning district to another. For example, under the applicable statutory procedures, a municipality may rezone a property from a district that generally only allows for residential uses to one that permits commercial uses. Compare to Text Amendment Definition. [Source: "Rezoning and Text Amendments in Pennsylvania"; Pepper Hamilton LLP (2017).]

Right-to-Know (RTK) Law: The Right-to-Know (RTK) Law and Sunshine Act Definition are Pennsylvania’s primary public access laws. These laws guarantee the public’s right to access government information through public records and at public meetings, respectively. Public access to record and meetings is fundamental to the public’s ability to understand government actions and hold government officials accountable. PA Right-to-Know Law Quiz Results:

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S

Sketch Plan: A Sketch Plan is an optional submission which is offered to provide the applicant with the opportunity to discuss the proposed project with the Township on an informal basis. The applicant for a proposed major subdivision or land development is encouraged to submit a Sketch Plan before the preparation of the Preliminary Plan and formal application for approval. See Newtown Code of Ordinances.

Optional provisions can provide for a simple outline of the proposed project and will usually include such items as a location map, a property line map and general layout of the proposed subdivision or land development. Planning commissions or municipalities that encourage developers to voluntarily submit sketch plans afford an opportunity to both the developer and the community to discuss the proposed project on an informal basis.

[For an example of a Sketch Plan, read Toll Brothers Twining Bridge Road Proposal.]

Special Exception: A Special Exception is a permission or approval granted an applicant before the Zoning Hearing Board Definition to use land in a district for a purpose other than that generally permitted outright (“Use By Right” Definition) in that district. The permission or special exception is granted by the Zoning Hearing Board in accordance with the standards contained in the zoning ordinance, provided generally that the specific application of the use would not prove injurious to the public interest.

It is important to realize that the term special exception is a misnomer. It is neither special nor is it an exception. It is not a deviation from the zoning ordinance (JMZO Definition). An applicant for a Special Exception is following the zoning ordinance. A special exception is a use envisioned by the ordinance, and, if the express standards and criteria established by the ordinance are met, the use is one permitted by the ordinance.

[Source: “Special Exceptions, Conditional Uses and Variances”]

Spot Zoning: Spot-zoning occurs when a single parcel is zoned differently than surrounding uses for the sole benefit of the landowner. Such zoning is unlawful. Although property may lawfully be zoned differently than surrounding uses, pursuant to guiding planning documents (e.g., the comprehensive plan), policies and zoning ordinances, such varying uses are typically permitted only because they serve a public benefit or a useful purpose to the surrounding properties.

A simple test to determine if a rezoning is spot-zoning is to consider whether the rezoning complies with the comprehensive plan. If it does not, then it is spot-zoning. A fix for this scenario is to amend the plan and ordinance to allow for the proposed use before the rezoning occurs.
[source]

Storm Water: Storm Water, also spelled Stormwater, is water that originates during precipitation events and snow/ice melt. Storm Water can soak into the soil, be held on the surface and evaporate, or runoff and end up in nearby streams, rivers, or other water bodies.

In natural landscapes such as forests, the soil absorbs much of the Storm Water and plants help hold Storm Water close to where it falls. In developed environments, unmanaged Storm Water can create two major issues: one related to the volume and timing of runoff water (flooding) and the other related to potential contaminants that the water is carrying (water pollution).

Storm Water Management: Storm Water Management is the effort to reduce runoff of rainwater or melted snow into streets, lawns and other sites and the improvement of water quality, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Construction of Impervious Surfaces Definition, such as roofs, parking lots, and roadways, and the installation of storm sewer pipes which efficiently collect and discharge runoff, prevent the infiltration of rainfall into the soil.

In natural landscapes such as forests, the soil absorbs much of the Storm Water and plants help hold Storm Water close to where it falls. In developed environments, unmanaged Storm Water can create two major issues: one related to the volume and timing of runoff water (flooding) and the other related to potential contaminants that the water is carrying (water pollution).

Read about StormWater Management in Newtown Township.

Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance (SALDO): A SALDO is a local law passed by either a municipality or county to regulate the subdividing and development of land. This ordinance protects against unwise, poorly planned growth. It also protects the property values of all land owners, as well as the interests of the developers.

An Ordinance establishing rules, regulations, and standards governing the subdivision and land development of land within the Township setting forth the procedures to be followed by the Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission and other authorized municipal personnel in administering these rules, regulations and standards, and setting forth the penalties for the violation thereof. See Newtown Code of Ordinances. Also see Subdivision and Land Development in Pennsylvania.

Sunshine Act: The Sunshine Act and Right-to-Know Law Definition are Pennsylvania’s primary public access laws. These laws guarantee the public’s right to access government information at public meetings and through public records, respectively. Public access to meetings and records is fundamental to the public’s ability to understand government actions and hold government officials accountable.

Supervisor: The Newtown Township Board of Supervisors (aka BOS Definition) is comprised of 5 elected officials who serve their residents and taxpayers.

Township supervisors fulfill their elected official duties by regularly attending, and actively participating in, meetings of the board of supervisors. Township supervisors should actively seek input from their residents and tax payers, ask thoughtful questions of staff and advisory boards, be open-minded to new ideas, and work with their fellow board members for the good of their township This may mean setting aside preconceived notions and sometimes taking an unpopular position that is in the best interests of the township as a whole.

Read “A Month in the Life of a Newtown Supervisor: Meetings, Meetings, and More Meetings!

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Text Amendment: A text amendment is an ordinance amending the text of a zoning Ordinance Definition without any facial effect on the zoning map. Text amendments can add or remove permitted uses within a zoning district or change the dimensional requirements applicable to buildings and other structures. Sometimes a rezoning and text amendment are done simultaneously to create an entirely new zoning district within a municipality to allow for a specific type of unique development in a certain location.

The process: "Following the initial request from a landowner or a developer, the governing body, if it chooses to proceed (which it is not required to do), must refer the proposed ordinance to the municipality’s planning commission and the county’s planning commission. The proposed ordinance may not be voted on and adopted by the municipality’s governing body until after the governing body has held a public hearing on the proposed ordinance. The public hearing may not occur before the municipality’s planning commission and the county’s planning commission have had at least 30 days to review and provide comments to the proposed ordinance, and the public hearing must be advertised two times in a newspaper of general circulation in the municipality. If a rezoning is being requested, notices of the public hearing must be sent to the owners of the property within the area being rezoned, and a notice of the public hearing must be conspicuously posted at points deemed sufficient by the municipality along the tract to notify potentially interested citizens. The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania has recently ruled that some text amendments must be noticed in a manner similar to rezonings when the proposed ordinance, while not amending any portion of the zoning map, clearly limits the practical effect of the ordinance to only one property or a small group of properties." [Source: "Rezoning and Text Amendments in Pennsylvania"; Pepper Hamilton LLP (2017).]

In the following video, thw Newtown Solicitor explains the process as it applies to a text amendment to a specific JMZO Definition ordinance. The procedure would be the same for all such ordinances.

Compare to Rezoning Definition.

Township Engineer: The township engineer can be a valuable source of advice during road and bridge construction, site plan and subdivision reviews, and complex environmental issues The engineer also prepares plans, specifications, and estimates for proposed contracts and reviews bids to make sure they meet specifications. [Source: Township Supervisors’ Handbook, 13th Edition (2018).]

Township Solicitor: The Township Solicitor has control of the legal matters of the township including bonds, real estate transactions, review of ordinances, and actions in court. As in many professions, attorneys have specialties and not every attorney has a working knowledge of municipal law. In addition to the Township Solicitor, townships may appoint attorneys with specialties in land use law and labor law as special counsel. [Source: Township Supervisors’ Handbook, 13th Edition (2018).]

Traffic Impact Fee (aka Transportation Impact Fee): An Traffic Impact Fee is a charge or fee imposed by a municipality against new development in order to generate revenue for funding the costs of transportation capital improvements necessitated by and attributable to new development.

According to the PA “Transportation Impact Fees Handbook”, impact fees can be used for capacity improvements to accommodate traffic generated by new development, but not to address existing or anticipated deficiencies unrelated to the development.

“As a general rule,” according to the Handbook, “for impact fees to be an effective funding tool, potential should exist for development of at least 50 to 100 residential units per year and approximately 50,000 to 100,000 square feet of non-residential development per year for a minimum of five years. Municipalities that are near build-out or do not expect significant growth due to current zoning, economic conditions, environmental features, or preserved lands generally do not benefit from impact fees.”

Traffic Impact Fee Advisory Committee (TIFAC): A transportation capital improvements plan must be prepared and adopted by the governing body of the municipality (e.g., Newtown Township) prior to the enactment of any Impact Fee Definition Ordinance Definition.

This plan and calculation of the impact fees to be imposed to implement the plan is developed by a Traffic Impact Fee Advisory Committee (TIFAC) in accordance with the procedures, provisions and standards set forth in Act 209 Definition.

The TIFAC must be comprised of 7 to 15 members. Although an even number of members is permitted, an odd number is recommended to avoid tie votes on recommended actions to the governing body. A minimum of 40 percent of the TIFAC must be made up of real estate professionals, developers (commercial and/or residential), and building industry professionals that live or conduct business in the municipality. The remaining 60 percent must be residents.

If a municipality chooses, its planning commission may be appointed as the TIFAC, provided that the 40 percent requirement is met. If this cannot be met, appropriate people must be appointed to serve as ad hoc voting members of the advisory committee when the planning commission acts as the TIFAC.

It is desirable to have people with municipal planning experience serve on the committee, such as people who serve on the planning commission and/or other committees. However, municipal staff may not serve on the TIFAC.

Source: “Transportation Impact Fees Handbook

During the 2019 Budget presentation before the Board of Supervisors (BOS) on October 15, 2018, former Newtown Township Manager Kurt Ferguson brought this issue to the forefront. He discussed the urgent need to form a Traffic Impact Fee Advisory Committee (TIFAC) in order to utilize the $1.6 million already collected from developers. See video:

Traffic Impact Study (TIS): A Traffic Impact Study (aka Transportation Impact Study) is conducted under the supervision of a Pennsylvania registered Professional Engineer to determine the full impact of proposed development on the transportation system.

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Use By Right: The term Use By Right (aka "Permitted Use") refers to a property owner’s use of property and structures in manners consistent with that which is listed as permissible in the zoning district in which his or her property is located. A Use By Right is a use permitted in a zoning district and is therefore not subject to special review and approval by a local government. [source] Compare to Conditional Use Permit.

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Variance: A variance is an administrative, discretionary, limited waiver or modification of a zoning requirement. It is applied in situations where the strict application of the requirement would result in a practical difficulty or unnecessary hardship for the landowner. Typically, the difficulty or hardship must be due to an unusual physical characteristic of the parcel. [source]

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Work Session: In addition to the official biweekly Board of Supervisors (BOS Definition) public meetings required by law, the Newtown Township BOS holds public “Work Sessions” Definition – usually once per month. These are informal meeting during which Supervisors discuss various topics without making any official decisions; i.e., no motions are made and no votes taken. Often, developers are invited to Work Sessions to informally discuss Sketch Plans and get feedback from the BOS and the public. Other interested parties may also be invited to attend Work Sessions to make reports to the BOS. Whereas official biweekly Newtown BOS meetings are video recorded and telecast on Public Access Cable TV, Work Sessions are not, although minutes are recorded.

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Zoning: Zoning is the process of dividing land in a municipality into zones (e.g. residential, industrial) in which certain land uses are permitted or prohibited. The type of zone determines whether planning permission for a given development is granted. Zoning may specify a variety of outright (“Use By Right” Definition) and Conditional Uses Definition of land. It may also indicate the size and dimensions of land area as well as the form and scale of buildings.

The primary purpose of zoning is to segregate uses that are thought to be incompatible. In practice, zoning also is used to prevent new development from interfering with existing uses and/or to preserve the "character" of a community.

See JMZO for a list of all zones and their uses in the Newtown Area, which includes Wrightstown and Uperr Makefield Townships.

Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB): Townships that have enacted a zoning ordinance (e.g., Newtown Area JMZO Definition) are required to create a Zoning Hearing Board to hear appeals by applicants on the validity of the zoning ordinance or map or any decision of the zoning officer. In addition, the ZHB has the power to grant Variances Definition and Special Exceptions Definition to the zoning ordinance.

The Newtown ZHB is a five-member quasi-judicial board consisting of 5 residents of the township who may not hold any other elected or appointed township position. Members of the ZHB are appointed by the Board of Supervisors Definition.

The Zoning Hearing Board must appoint its own solicitor to assist it in deliberations, written decisions, and appeals. The township solicitor cannot also be the zoning hearing board solicitor since the opinions and decisions of the zoning hearing board may differ from the views of the supervisors In addition, the board of supervisors may, just as any affected citizen, appeal a decision of the zoning hearing board to the courts. [Source: Township Supervisors’ Handbook, 13th Edition (2018).]

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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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