John Mack - Newtown Supervisor

They Took All the Trees & Put Up a Parking Lot!

View of Village at Newtown shopping center from South Eagle Road & entrance to McCaffrey's parking lot near Salad Works. Site of new drive-thru bank and drive-thru Starbucks. Image at top shows that trees marked with an "x" in the image below already have been removed to make way for development.

I predicted that the trees would soon be gone (read "Drive-thru Starbucks is Back on Track!") but I didn't realize how fast it would happen!

There's quite a discussion on the Roberts Ridge section of about this. Karol King of Newtown Borough started it off with this: "Does anyone know why on earth all the trees were cut down at Newtown Village??? Infuriating. Unbelievable! Makes me hate it even more! In this day and age of capability, they could have relocated the trees and not chopped them down. I’m going to find out who ok’d that decision."

Well Ms. King, it was the Newtown Township Board of Supervisors who approved this project after first voting NOT to approve it despite a recommendation for approval by the Newtown Planning Commission (read "Newtown Board of Supervisors Shoots Down Drive-thru Starbucks"). 

But Starbucks went to court to contest the Board's decision, saying the Board committed an "abuse of discretion"; i.e. Failed to take into proper consideration the facts and law relating to the application and the Town had to settle - it was not likely to win the case. The irony of it all is that part of the settlement included an agreement by Starbucks to provide "an enhanced landscaping buffer around the building." At a Board meeting I commented that this probably would be some low bushes at best!

P.S. (UPDATED July 17, 2018). The Leasing Plan (image below) in the Brixmor Property Group + MRC (landlord/developer) brochure includes replacement trees.

According to the "landscaping plan" for the area around the drive-thru Starbucks it does looks like it includes replacement trees and not just bushes (see section of plan shown below). They may not replace all the trees that were removed and maybe the trees will be yoounger and smaller, but there will be trees.

Further Reading: "Tree Replacement Plan for the Village of Newtown Shopping Center Along Durham Road"

Posted on 09 Jul 2018, 11:26 - Category: Development

Meet the 8 Applicants Vying to Fill the Vacancy on the Newtown Board of Supervisors

As reported previously (here), Supervisor Jen Dix resigned her position on the Newtown Board of Supervisors effective June 30, 2018 and the Supervisors have until July 30, 2018, to appoint someone to fill the position. The person appointed will serve as a member of the Board of Supervisors until the reorganization meeting in January 2020.

The deadline for accepting letters of interest and resumes was 4:30 PM on Monday, July 2, 2018. The Town received letters of interest and resumes from eight people interested in being appointed to fill the vacancy. The applicants will be interviewed by the Board at a special public meeting on July 18, 2018, beginning at 5:00 pm.

Meet the Applicants

Presented in the order of their scheduled appearance before the Board:

Kierstyn Zolfo

Interview time slot: 5:00-5:15 pm

Excerpt from letter of interest: My husband and I moved to Newtown Township in 2005. Shortly after moving here I began part time work in an administrative/technical role for a law firm that exclusively handles cases helping disabled people get Social Security benefits. This task has given me a facility with understanding technical and legal text and conveying the crux of the issue presented in a manner designed for quick comprehension. I would imagine there is some translation between this task at my place of employment, and the Board's work reading through proposed development plans, ordinances and resolutions.

I had always hoped to find some way to serve our community that would best utilize my skills and experience.

John D’Aprile

Interview time slot: 5:30-5:45 pm

Excerpt from letter of interest: You all know me, I come to MOST meetings, I am up on all current actions of the Board, and would not miss a step in communicating with the other members. In brief here are my Qualifications:

  • President of my HOA cluster, Ravens View II
  • Member of Newtown Grant Master Board
  • Vice-Chairman Newtown Township Veterans Committee
Joe McAtee

Interview time slot: 6:00-6:15 pm

Excerpt from letter of interest: Because of my affinity for this town, I've recently made it a point to become a consistent attendee of the Board of Supervisor meetings. Since I've been attending these meetings, I am consistently struck at just how important and engaged the board is in the vitality of our community. Knowing what I can bring to the betterment and sustainability of our town, it would be my passion, and my privilege, to give back to the community and serve on the Board of Supervisors.

As a Computer Engineer, who has worked the last 10 years in finance, my profession has trained me to solve problems, analyze data and improve outcomes.

Jo Vlastaris

Interview time slot: 6:30-6:45 pm

Excerpt from letter of interest: I have been a Newtown resident for the past 10 years, and have been a member of the Technology Committee for the past 3 years. I currently chair the Technology Committee.

I am very keen on contributing to initiatives that would continue to make Newtown a great place to live while weighing in residents' concerns. I am fair, considerate, level headed, analytical, thorough, and can reach decisions after carefully collecting data and evaluating possible outcomes.

Ben Connolly

Interview time slot: 7:00-7:15 pm

Excerpt from letter of interest: Are you looking for a Township Supervisor with:

  • Knowledge of the latest technology?
  • Excellent written and oral communication skills?
  • A passion to learn and to increase his skills?

If so, then you need to look no further. You will see from my enclosed resume that I meet all of these qualifications and more.

The current President… has challenged existing forms of political communications. I am seeking a position to enable a response to that challenge. Change is a constant. We the people need to become smarter not just about what we message but how that message is delivered. We have the tools. There is a line in the Declaration of Independence that roughly translates to mean that those who have the ability to act have a responsibility to act.

Jerry Festa

Interview time slot: 7:30-7:45 pm

Excerpt from letter of interest: NA

Dennis Fisher

Interview time slot: 8:00-8:15 pm

Excerpt from letter of interest: I believe I am uniquely qualified to seek and be granted the appointment to the open seat on the Township Board of Supervisors. I have served the Township for more than a decade as a member of the Planning Commission since 2006. I was also a member to the Environmental Advisory Council since 2015 (as well as PC liaison to the EAC from 2006 to 2015). Since 2007 when I ran for election as Supervisor, I have maintained an interest in the township financial status and I have reviewed township budgets annually. I have been active (on an ad hoc basis) with a core group of the Swamp Road Residents Group to monitor Penndot activity on Swamp Road. Additionally, I was elected Township-wide, as Auditor in 2017.

Gerry Couch

Interview time slot: 8:30-8:45 pm

Excerpt from letter of interest

I have recent experience as a Town Supervisor and worked well with Jen when we both served for nearly two years [during which I]

  • [helped improve the] Township’s relationship with Newtown Volunteer Fire Dept with the help of Supervisor Dix.
  • worked on Brixmore redevelopment at Eagle Road with the board to assure a great outcome.
  • worked with residents and developer to attempt to resolve development issues in Newtown Crossing

Posted on 03 Jul 2018, 12:11 - Category: Governance

Drive-thru Starbucks is Back on Track!

At a May 9, 2018, public hearing, Newtown Township Supervisors unanimously denied an application by Starbucks to build a drive-thru restaurant in the Village at Newtown West at 2896 South Eagle Road (read “Newtown Board of Supervisors Shoots Down Drive-thru Starbucks”).

Soon after, as expected, Starbucks filed a court appeal claiming the supervisors’ vote to deny the application was “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion and contrary to law” (read “Starbucks Takes Newtown Township to Court”). Newtown claimed “The Board of Supervisors neither abused its discretion nor committed an error of law by denying the application.”

At the June 27, 2018, Board of Supervisors meeting, a settlement agreement was presented to the Board, which approved it by a 4-1 vote, with Supervisor Kyle Davis voting “nay.”

Newtown listed several reasons for denying the application in a written decision and order, dated June 14, 2018. The Township claimed, for example, that Starbucks failed to prove that “cars using the proposed drive-thru stacking lane would not conflict with through circulation;” e.g. access to the shopping center via South Eagle Road. 

The settlement agreement does NOT address that concern but assures that

  • the building and all walkways on the property directly servicing the building shall be ADA compliant, and

  • Starbucks shall provide an enhanced landscaping buffer around the building, to the satisfaction of the Township Planner.

I fear that the “landscaping buffer” will not be as aesthetically pleasing and inviting as the current landscaping at that location.

The figure below shows an aerial view of the plan alongside the current street level view of the entrance to the shopping center where the drive-thru Starbucks and bank will be located. The plan specifies that parking spaces will extend right up to the sidewalk with some buffer. The buffer does not appear to be wide enough to accommodate trees, therefore the trees marked by an “X” in the photograph no doubt will be removed. The “landscaping” mentioned in the settlement agreement is likely to be limited to a few low bushes.

What we may end up with is not a “village” where people will be encouraged to walk through, but just a plain Route 1 style shopping center with increased traffic and congestion!

Posted on 29 Jun 2018, 11:21 - Category: Development

The Annual NFA BBQ Picnic Was a Great Success!

I attended the annual Newtown Fire Association (NFA) BBQ picnic last night at Station 55 on Municipal Drive in Newtown Township. There was a lot of great food to be had including steak filets, which you had to BBQ yourself, smoked ribs, which were excellent, corn on the cob, watermelon, cake, and last but not least, my homemade lasagna!


Newtown Fire Association firemen Rick and Matt Gerhard are ready to enjoy my lasagna at the annual BBQ!

A post shared by John Mack (@johnmacknewtown) on

It was a great opportunity to meet many NFA and Newtown Emergency Services members in a social setting and learn more about them and how they decided to volunteer to serve our community. They do a lot of work to be ready when needed. To serve a meal to volunteer firefighters has long been on my bucket list. I can now scratch it off my list, but more importantly, I am happy to report that my lasagna got rave reviews!

Volunteer Firefighter Crisis

Following the BBQ, the NFA held its monthly meeting, which I also attended as a representative of the Newtown Board of Supervisors. A big item on the agend concerned recruiting new members. Regarding that, consider these sobering facts (abstracted from a PSATS OpEd):

  • Volunteers at fire companies across Pennsylvania have dropped from 300,000 strong in the 1960s and ’70s to below 50,000 today.
  • At least 75 percent of fire companies are struggling with manpower at a time when the state’s population is aging. The average age of a firefighter is 50-something, and people are busier today than they were decades ago.
  • Communities would have to raise taxes almost $10 billion a year to switch to a paid model for fire service, according to the office of the state fire commissioner. Who can afford that kind of property tax increase in their community?

Posted on 26 Jun 2018, 01:47 - Category: First Responders

Summary of June 13, 2018, Meeting of the Newtown Board of Supervisors

You may not have the time to download and read the entire minutes from meetings of the Newtown Township Board of Supervisors (BOS), or the approved minutes may not yet be available on the Township website (here), so I created this summary from the June 13, 2018, public meeting. I also included some links to related information and embedded video clips from meetings. This is not a complete list of items discussed.

Technology Committee

Josephine Vlastaris, Chair of the Technology Committee, presented a summary of accomplishments of the Committee. The following is a partial list of the Committee’s current agenda items:

  • Emergency notification system (researched/proposed Nixle)
    • Proactive Township notification of urgent events
  • Analytics
    • Committee recommended setting up Google Analytics account to monitor traffic and bounce rate for the township website, and make changes to pages as needed.
  • Parks and Rec
    • Committee recommended using geolocation technology to assist residents with park navigation.
    • Committee proposed use of drones capturing footage of parks and trails to post on website to familiarize residents with recreational options.

View the Powerpoint presentation submitted to the Board:

Newtown Technology Committee Presentation prepared by Josephine Vlastaris

Swamp Road

Jennifer Brennan and other residents of the Knob Hill community made comments regarding trucks on Swamp Road. You can listen to her remarks in the video below.

Ms. Brennan mentioned an online petition calling for re-routing of quarry trucks off of Swamp Road. The "Re-Route Trucks Off Swamp Road in Newtown, PA" petition states in part: “We are a group of residents who would like to express safety concerns as a result of quarry truck traffic which starts very early morning and continues until evening on Swamp Road. The quarry trucks drive much faster than the speed limit and are extremely aggressive toward passenger vehicles. Swamp Road is a winding, hilly, two-lane road with limited visibility in both directions. This road just does not seem like the right route for these quarry trucks, for the safety of other motorists. Although this has been an ongoing concern for many years, there have been several quarry truck accidents just this year… These trucks need to be re-routed to a state regulated road.”

As of June 19, 2018, over 300 people have signed the petition.

However, Swamp Road is a state-regulated road and outside the purview of the Newtown Board of Supervisors. However, as mentioned by Township Manager Kurt Ferguson, the town is planning to speak with PennDot about having a fundamental evaluation of the long-term needs of Swamp Road (see update below):

First National Bank

The board voted 4-1 (John Mack voting “nay”) to approve a motion for the extension of time to file plans (see article below).

Gun Safety Resolution

The board voted 4-1 (Kyle Davis voting “nay”) to pass a non-binding “gun safety” resolution. This is the same resolution passed by other municipalities, including Yardley Borough (more here...).

The resolution (here) states that as many as 116,225 people are shot each year in America, and that 35,141 people die from gun violence in “murders, assaults, suicides, suicide attempts, unintentional shootings or by police interventions.”

The resolution was passed after testimony from several Council Rock students (see video below).

May 2018 Police Report

Chief Pasqualini presented the Calls Report for May 2018 at the June 13, 2018, Board of Supervisors meeting. In that month, the Newtown Police Department responded to 1,414 calls, 231 (16%) of which were in Wrightstown Township (Newtown Police provides services to both Newtown Township and Wrightstown). See a summary of Chief Pasqualini's report here.

Posted on 20 Jun 2018, 01:46 - Category: Board of Supervisors Minutes

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