Newtown Planning Commission Reviews Draft Comprehensive Plan: Part 1
At its November 1, 2022, public meeting, the Newtown Township Planning Commission (NTPC) members reviewed the proposed Strategies & Actions of Principles 1 through 8 of the 2022 Draft of the Newtown Area Comprehensive Plan (CompPlan), which was prepared by the Bucks County Planning Commission (BCPC).
Each Commission member was assigned to focus on one Guiding Principle. Learn more about the Plan and its Guiding Principles.
- Principle 1: Promote Smart Growth (covered at the last meeting)
- Principle 2: Promote Sustainable Development and Protect Natural Resources – Terry Christensen
- Principle 3. Provide Mobility and Connections - Shelley Howland
- Principle 4. Preserve Open Space and Promote Agriculture – Peg Driscoll
- Principle 5. Build and Maintain Livable Communities - Warren Dallas
- Principle 6. Provide Parks and Recreation – Mary Donaldson
- Principle 7. Sustain and Support our Commercial and Jobs Base – Joel Raab
- Principle 8. Protect Historic Resources – Craig Deutsch
Principle 9. Preserve our Villages – Not applicable to Newtown
The following is my personal summary of the discussions at this meeting. The NTPC will create an official summary and continue its discussion of the CompPlan at its next meeting scheduled for November 15, 2022.
Summary of Changes From the 2009 Plan
In September 2022, the NTPC requested a red lined copy showing the differences between the current draft and the 2009 plan. At a subsequent Joint Zoning Council (JZC) meeting, the BCPC was authorized by the Council to prepare a high-level summary of what has changed and circulate to the PCs. See “Summary of Changes to Existing Plan.”
At the October 18, 2022, meeting, PC members felt that Newtown has attempted to follow the plan laid out in the “Strategies and Actions” for Principle 1 (see below). Mr. Dallas questioned whether data for the plan was from the 2020 census or only projections of what population might be.
Mr. Christensen noted that the Plan designates specific areas for population growth and the Newtown AOP/Toll bros development, which was discussed at the 26 Oct 2022 BOS meeting, does not meet the requirements of the CompPlan. Mrs. McCarron – a Newtown Township resident – stressed her objection to cluster housing, which is the hallmark of the Toll Bros plan.
Commission Chair Peg Driscoll suggested that going forward, when reviewing plans for housing, that the CompPlan be consulted and efforts continue to be made to be guided by the Plan’s principles.
The NTPC members discussed several selected Strategies & Actions for Promoting Smart Growth, including:
- Promote a land use pattern which recognizes and preserves the agricultural, historic, cultural, and natural features which make the area unique by following the land use plan guidelines
- Continue and advance efforts to permanently preserve open space and farmland.
- Provide areas sufficient to accommodate the anticipated growth for a variety of housing types and densities for the 2020 to 2030 period by maintaining current land use regulations.
- Revise zoning standards for wetland buffers and 8 to 15% slopes to adequately protect these resources. This was a topic discussed by comments to the Supervisors at the October 26, 2022, BOS meeting when the Wawa on the Bypass plan was being considered. See, for example, Jan Filios comments on environmental issues.
- Continue to review the joint zoning ordinance to ensure it promotes compact mixed-use development that is conducive to pedestrian and bicycle travel and reduction in vehicle trips. Mixed-use development was promoted by the Bucks County Planning Commission at the September 20, 2022, NTPC meeting.
- Encourage the expansion of the public transportation and non-automotive options for travel within the Newtown Area.
- Consider amendments to township Subdivision and Land Development ordinances to incorporate provisions encouraging the use of renewable energy systems and energy conserving building design, as authorized by the Municipalities Planning Code. An ordinance related to charging stations is being considered by the JZC.
- Consider amendments to the Joint Municipal Zoning Ordinance (JMZO) that are designed to promote access to incident solar energy, as authorized by the Municipalities Planning Code. Supervisor Mack and Snyder visited a solar panel installation to determine if this was feasible for Newtown. Read “West Rockhill is the First in PA to Use Solar for 100% of Its Municipal Electricity Needs.”
- Convert streetlights to a more efficient lighting option. Newtown Township is pursuing grant opportunities to convert streetlights to LED. See video: “Newtown Township Supervisors Approve LED Street Light Feasibility Study.”
The predicted population growth for Newtown Township for 2020 to 2030 period is pretty low – the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) projects an increase of only 224 people (see Table 1 below and “Report by BCPC to Jointure on 2020 Census Population & Housing Data”).
The NTPC members discussed a few selected Strategies & Actions for Promoting Sustainable Development and Protect Natural Resources (Principle 2), including:
- Develop a climate resiliency plan to prepare the community for extreme weather events and utility and other disruptions. Terry Christensen asked “Where is that plan? Does that plan exist.” It was suggested that the plan must be developed and the Comprehensive Plan is aspirational. The plan has very little specifics.
- Provide for the protection of critical natural resources including watersheds, groundwater, floodplains, floodplain soils, wetlands, prime agricultural soils, steep slopes, woodlands and stream corridors, and protection from hazards due to areas of hazardous geologic and topographic features.
- Recognize and protect open land, farms and farmland as valuable resources for current and future generations.
- Tree Protection: Adopt planning and zoning provisions that require that any variance granted that involves the elimination of existing trees require a two-for-one replacement or commensurate in lieu payment for offsite replacement
- Tree Protection: Prioritize selected areas for tree management and reforestation and the removal of invasive plants, especially those that threaten the viability and regeneration of native trees and shrubs.
- Tree Protection: Explore pursuing a study to determine the locations and costs associated with removing dead trees, particularly in areas where development or revitalization opportunities are feasible.
Township Planner, Michele Fountain, suggested that she should continue the practice of training NTPC members on subjects that they needed to know about. For example, what is meant by “imperviousness?” Why is it important? Etc.
The Environmental Advisory Council (EAC) communicated to the NTPC the following recommended CompPlan changes:
- Plastics: Adopt a new item in Strategies and Actions: “Support voluntary programs to drastically reduce the use of non-recyclable and single-use plastics, including carry bags, styrofoam, beverage containers, plastic straws and stirrers, and other disposable items with the eventual goal of total elimination.”
- Electric Vehicles: Adopt a new item in Strategies and Actions:
- “Review building codes and planning and zoning ordinances to ensure that they accommodate both public and private charging opportunities.”
- “Revise planning and zoning ordinances as needed to ensure that they encourage developers to install public charging facilities.”
§ Note: On February 3, 2022, the Newtown Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB) unanimously approved an application to allow 3 electric vehicle charging stations to be installed in the LI District. Listen to this discussion...“Newtown Township's Planning Commission Discusses Electric Vehicle Charging Stations.”
- “Prioritize purchase of electric or other zero emission vehicles for municipal use.”
§ Note: At the February 23, 2022, BOS meeting, I proposed that the township purchase an all-electric vehicle (e.g., Ford F-150 “Lightening”) for the P&R Department to replace a 2008 gas model. No other BOS member supported that idea. See page 17 of the 2022 BOS Chronicle.
The NTPC members discussed a few selected Strategies & Actions for Providing Mobility and Connections (Principle 3), including:
- Promote a Complete Streets approach in roadway design. Improvements that use Complete Streets concepts, such as those completed along Sycamore Street (see “Newtown Supervisors Act To Improve Pedestrian Safety”), improve traffic flow and also provide for safe and effective pedestrian travel. There was some discussion of enforcing speed limits, including the use of speed cameras (see “The Case for More Speed Cameras”). Mr. Cristensen noted that bicycle traffic may be more dangerous to sight-impaired pedestrians than car traffic. Guide dogs are not trained to recognize bikes as a hazard and often bikes are too silent for pedestrians to hear coming.
- Encourage the expansion of the public transportation and non-automotive options for travel within the Newtown Area. Mr. Christensen – who is sight impaired – suggested that bicycle traffic is sometimes more dangerous than cars, especially for sight-impaired pedestrians such as himself.
- Make sure developers pay their share for traffic improvements to compensate for the impact of their development
Mention was made of collaboration between Newtown Township and Newtown Borough regarding pedestrian safety and grants for projects connecting the township and borough.
§ Note: On February 2, 2022, at the invitation of Council member Amy Lustig, I attended a Newtown Borough Council Work Session at which Mr. Don Hayden presented a synopsis of a plan to for implementing a “Walk-Friendly Newtown” initiative. The objectives of the initiative include enhance pedestrian safety, improve walkability, and increase community engagement. It was my hope that Newtown Township can collaborate with the Borough to achieve an expended walk-friendly Newtown that includes N Sycamore St, which borders the Borough and receives many walkers from the Borough. Mount Lebanon was cited as an example of Township/Borough Walkability collaboration favored by Walk Friendly Communities. Nothing ever came of this idea.
The NTPC members briefly discussed the issue of curbside recycling as mentioned in the CompPlan:
Act 101 requires that all municipalities either with a population of between 5,000 and 10,000 residents and a population density of over 300 persons per square mile or with a population greater than 10,000 residents establish and implement a source-separation (curbside) and collection program for recyclable materials. Based on the most recent census results, Newtown and Upper Makefield townships are considered to be mandated communities, must establish, and implement a curbside recycling program and must report the results of the program annually to the county. Wrightstown Township is not required at this time to implement a curbside recycling program.
The NTPC members discussed a few selected Strategies & Actions for Building and Maintaining Livable Communities (Principle 5), including:
- Water Supply: Monitor efforts of both the Newtown Artesian Water Company and the BCW&SA to continue to supply safe and adequate water.
§ Note: What is “safe” depends on standards for PFAS in drinking water, which can vary (see chart below).
- Water Supply: Coordinate with local fire companies to protect groundwater from contamination by enhancing response to accidental spills. This would be a concern if Wawa is allowed to build on the Bypass. Some comments from residents:
- Very interesting the pumps are next to the wet lands there that show in the Silverlake lake executive campus blue prints !!! La Salle University project !!! Why I herd (sic) nothing about the wet lands in that general area that shows on previous blue prints 30 years ago . Has the pa department of environmental seen this and what did they say is it leagel (sic) to have this that close to wet lands protected land?
- [This is] a commercial zoning and supposed to keep as open space no public water or drains which drain into core creek that keeps the core creek park lakes full of water...How can you approve... [a] gas station ... when everything is well water across the street from the proposed Wawa in a commercial zoning !!
- Stormwater Management: Revise municipal stormwater management ordinances to comply with the updated model ordinance from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection by September of 2022. At the September 14, 2022, BOS meeting, Newtown supervisors authorized the advertisement of a Stormwater Management Ordinance Update to meet DEP MS4 requirements.
- Telecommunications: Coordinate with Distributed Antenna System (DAS) providers to enhance wireless service and provide adequate coverage where needed. Consider development of DAS design guidelines for appearance and safety. Commission members noted that the JZC is working on developing an amended small cell antenna ordinance to address this issue. Specifically, The JZC hired the Cohen Law Group to provide legal assistance that would include, responses to certain issues raised by residents, including the health effects of radio frequency emissions and due process concerns regarding possible objections to wireless facility applications at the Zoning Hearing Board or other local body. Listen to the discussion at the September 1, 2022, JZC meeting:
The NTPC members discussed a some changes, additions, notes, questions including:
- Foster the development of active and passive recreation to promote the physical and mental wellbeing of residents of all ages. Parks, recreation facilities, and open space are important improvements and are vital aspects of sound communities.
Newtown has 4,451 acres of protected land, including 2,927 acres of permanent protected land, including Tyler State Park, County Parks, Municipal Parks and privately preserve open space (development common grounds, etc.)
Temporary protected lands – 1,524 acres, including schools, private recreational areas and agricultural security areas. These parcels could be developed with zoning changes, etc.
PECO has recently changed its policy on using its corridors – and some pieces of land can be used for trails.
Among strategies are many already being employed:
- Sharing open space for recreation through sports leagues, use of school fields and schools using municipal rec fields
- Coordinate with Jointure Partners on connecting trails
- Providing recreation opportunities to Jointure Partners (non residents pay a small fee to attend our Rec programs.
Strategies to keep in mind when reviewing development plans
- Periodically reassess the mandatory dedication/fee in lieu contribution requirements in the subdivision and land development ordinances to determine if they should be adjusted to reflect current park and recreation needs and costs.
- Address the joint zoning ordinance requirements, as needed, to provide useable open space in residential developments that is suitable for active or passive recreation.
- Consider trail connections between open space areas, recreation lands, and appropriate community facilities, local sidewalks and bicycle paths/lanes, and points of interest on a region-wide basis. Obtain access easements along the designated greenway/trail linkages network when possible as part of the subdivision and land development review process
- Consider designating locations for future public parks, playgrounds, and open space on an official map which provides a legal means for reserving such sites.
Four Parcels that are currently not designated for specific use that could be developed/ reassigned uses
- Wiggins tract
- Field opposite Newtown Elementary School
- Carl Sedia Park
- Newtown AOP dedicated open space
Discuss current parks – note we do not have Tennis or Pickleball courts but there was a tennis area set aside in Veterans Park – Do we have adequate fields for organized children’s and adult sports?
The NTPC members discussed a few selected Strategies & Actions for Sustaining and Supporting our Commercial and Jobs Base (Principle 7), including:
- Maintain the existing commercial zoning district boundaries to reflect the intended future commercial land use pattern delineated in the comprehensive plan. No expansion of commercial districts is needed or proposed. It was noted that Newtown Township has hired the Bucks County Planning Commission to develop an “Overlay” plan for the business commons that would revitalize the Newtown Commons by allowing for certain currently not permitted uses that would help keep businesses in Newtown and provide more local services to residents. Resources:
- Support Sycamore Street area as a commercial and cultural center of the Jointure with its architectural diversity and history, and strengthen the area’s economic stability and contribution to the Jointure through connectivity with the Borough and on-going Main Street programs.
- Ensure that buffer standards and setback requirements in the joint zoning ordinance protect properties adjoining commercial, industrial, business, and quarry uses.
NTPC members noted that there is a lot of unused office space due to many employees now working from home. What other uses could this space be zoned for? Warehousing was mentioned as a possible business use. However, the focus was on converting unused office space to warehousing of components for manufacturing use. Michele Fountain showed a few examples her firm is working for another township (see image below).
According to the CompPlan, a “resource” worthy of preserving can be defined as a historic building, structure, district, landscape, site, or object. To be considered eligible for the National Register, the resource needs to be at least 50 years old or older, and have significance to historic events or persons, architecture, engineering, or archaeology, at the national, state, or local level. The historic resource must also reflect the significance of the property through retention of historic integrity.
Newtown Township contains the following 7 historic resources that are located on the National Register of Historic Places:
- David Leedom Farm, added on January 1, 1976
- Newtown Historic District, added on December 17, 1979
- Twining Farm, added on July 1, 1982
- George F. Tyler Mansion, added on July 16, 1987
- Newtown Presbyterian Church, added on July 16, 1987
- Newtown Creek Bridge, added on June 22, 1988
- Peter Taylor Farmstead, added on May 5, 1989
Although the CompPlan refers to the National Register of Historic Places as the “official” list, it also noted that some resources can be identified as historic by the community “on the basis of age and local importance.” One such possible historic resource is an old farmhouse/springhouse located on the Toll Bros Newtown AOP property to be donated to the township (see image below).
This building is set to be demolished. However, at the October 26, 2022, BOS meeting, the NTPC recommend that the Supervisors ask for permission to allow the Joint Historic Commission to visit the site and document any existing historic structure before issuing demolition permits. See page 89 in the 2022 BOS Chronicle.
NTPC member Craig Deutsch reviewed what was necessary to preserve “historic” resources: Identification and Enforcement coupled with Education. As stated in the CompPlan, “Local historic resources, most of which are privately owned and maintained, are at risk unless residents are properly educated about the historic importance of their properties and are encouraged to cooperate with the Jointure’s preservation goals.”