John Mack - Newtown Supervisor

Residents Urge Supervisors to Abide by the Spirit of Conservation Management & Reject Toll Bros Plan

Video: Eric Pomerantz

Video recorded on Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Resident Eric Pomerantz speaks out during the February 26, 2020, Toll Brothers conditional use hearing before the Newtown Board of Supervisors. The applicant was seeking approval of a plan to build a cluster of 45 homes in the Conservation Management zone located at Twining Bridge Road and Route 413. The land is owned by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Mr. Pomerantz told the Supervisors to abide by the "spirit of what conservation management is all about" and consider that when making a final decision.

Audio Podcast: Joyann Charlton

Joyann Charlton, who lives on Twining Bridge Road adjacent to the proposed development, also spoke up in opposition to the plan. The following podcast is a collection of audio clips of Ms. Charlton’s comments with additional comments from Dave Sander, the township solicitor. 

Email: Steve Pfanstiel

Steve Pfanstiel, who resides on Sentinel Avenue, sent the following email to all supervisors on March 9, 2020:

First of all, I was disappointed in how Toll Brothers described their proposal. They made two statements in the last meeting [February 26, 2020], which although factually true, were very misleading and frankly insulting to our community. Specifically:

  1. They stated that their new proposal was much better than the prior one. With this statement, they are implying they have "given" something in the process by no longer pursing a development that was 3x the allowable density. The prior proposal was never an acceptable development option, and I resent the comparison.

  2. They also used a similar non-sensical argument by stating that their new proposal is less dense than some other nearby neighborhoods. Again, while true, those other properties are not zoned as Conservation Management. I believe both these arguments were used in an attempt to "bully" us into accepting their proposal without honest debate as to what is acceptable within a Conservation Management district.

Putting the above aside, I will state very clearly that I believe Toll Brothers has every right to develop the property consistent with the zoning. However, I firmly believe the proposed development is inconsistent with both the zoning requirements and the intent of a Conservation Management district.

Specifically, Zoning Code Article IV.401.B states that "open space shall be clustered to promote agriculture use of the property".

The proposed plan does the OPPOSITE of the zoning code above! Toll Brothers has aggregated the homes and placed them in the MIDDLE of the largest two contiguous parcels of farmland, which will effectively eliminate ~75% of the currently farmed area within the property.

They are attempting to justify the above by defining residential backyards as "prime agriculture soil preserved for conservation". This is legal non-sense, and I hope that you can see through this. Additionally, any attempt to define a thin stretch of land around the homes as available for "agricultural use" is equally ridiculous. In practice, this land will never be economically feasible for farming, and the adjacent homeowners will never allow farming to persist in reality.

The reality is that Toll Brothers is aggregating houses in the prime agricultural open space and leaving behind a primarily undevelopable drainage basin and two difficult to access small plots of existing farmland. This is not consistent with the zoning code.

I do believe there are ways Toll Brothers could cluster the homes to actually meet the zoning criteria. For example, by developing property further to the interior, developing along the existing woods, or reducing yard sizes. We should be asking them to explore that, rather than their proposed land grab of 75 acres of prime open space.

Additionally, the intent of Conservation Management is not upheld with the proposed Toll Brothers development. The simple fact is that they are simply taking the out-of-view, undevelopable, and non-agricultural portions of the property and attempting to redefine them as "open space".

If this is allowed, the existing agricultural open space that provides beautiful views of Tyler State Park and helps define the character of Newtown and Bucks County will be eliminated. Our community will be left with simply another large neighborhood that destroys any appearance of active conservation management within the area - it will be out with the rolling hills, beautiful views, and farmland and in with the generic picture of suburbia you can get anywhere.

Finally, the Toll Brothers offer to give the undeveloped land back to the community feels like they have constructed the "perfect crime". If approved, Toll Brothers will be allowed to develop prime agricultural open space property for homes and then simply walk away from the community. In this way, they will NEVER be held accountable for actually encouraging "agricultural use" or maintaining "open space" within the property – that's because they won't own it anymore, and it will be Newtown's problem!

In the end, we know this development will not result in the promotion of agricultural use or anything resembling open space – thus, it is not consistent with the zoning requirements. Furthermore, it will diminish the character of Newtown forever and weaken any future legal protections for Conservation Management districts.

I ask you to consider the above. We need to protect our town and neighborhoods, and this is critical decision in deciding what we stand for as a community.

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