John Mack - Newtown Supervisor

Board of Supervisors Decimate Noise Ordinance

In a 4 to 1 vote at the Sept 26, 2018, public meeting, the Board of Supervisors (BOS) approved an Ordinance Definition to remove from the Code of Ordinances of Newtown Township “certain provisions related to excessive and unnecessary noise and other nuisances.” Find the ordinance here.

For specific changes, read "Newtown Township to Consider Amending Noise Ordinance."

I voted "nay" primarily because I did not buy the argument that the ordinance should be gutted just because it was "unenforceable"; i.e., it is almost impossible to catch someone or something in the act of making a noise nuisance.

IMHO, that argument could be used to delete many laws from the books.

In fact, at the same meeting, the BOS voted to pass an ordinance forbidding the firing of a gun on town property such as Veterans park. It's a good idea, but if someone fires a gun in a public park - say squirrel hunting - does a cop have to be there to actually see that person fire the gun to issue a citation?

The reason offered for why the law was unenforceable was the notion that what's a nuisance to one person may not be a nuisance to another person - i.e., the original ordinance is too "subjective" and "arbitrary."

So, OK, firing a gun is not subjective - either it was fired or it was not. But let's examine the notion of "subjectivity" further.

At the meeting last night, several residents complained about a dog kennel that was a "nuisance" because of barking dogs. If only one person complained, I could see how this would be a "he said, she said" subjective situation or perhaps the person making the complaint just likes to complain and waste the time of cops. But if multiple people make the same complaint - as was the case last night - then I think the issue is no longer "subjective" and deserves some investigation by the police to enforce the noise ordinance.

Now that that option is gone, residents have no recourse but to take legal action themselves. That does not make for good neighbors.

It would be best, of course, if people could talk to each other and solve the problem amicably without bringing in the authorities.

I also think that although the police often - but not always - cannot tell who is being a nuisance and who is not, they are not over burdened by noise complaints. Only 76 noise complaint calls were made in all of 2017. Furthermore, when police go out on calls like this, it is an opportunity for them to interact with residents even if it is just to listen to both sides without handing out a citation. I know I would think twice about playing my music too loud if a police officer came to my door and said a complaint was made by a neighbor.

UPDATE (10/8/2018): Here's how Micah Lewis, the interim Township Manager, explained what was left in the Ordinance to a resident who wondered how it impacted noise at private events such as the Green Parrot Irish Festival: "As you are aware, Newtown Township recently amended its Noise Ordinance. The intent of the modifications to the Ordinance were to remove subjective/unenforceable provisions that were difficult to prove that a violation had occurred. The modifications to the Ordinance do not impact the sound attenuation level requirements (decibel levels) outlined in the current ordinance, which are measurable and supportive when a violation does occur. The modifications to the Ordinance do not impact PA State Law as the Liquor Control Laws stand for themselves and are a State provision."
 
UPDATE (10/13/2018): It seems the NT police are still making calls responding to noise complaints. According to the summary of calls made by the department bewteen October 5, 2018 and October 11, 2018, on October 7, 2018, "Police were dispatched to a Delaware Court residence around 2:45 am for the report of a loud party. Upon arrival, police made contact with three individuals engaged in underage drinking. The individuals, a 20 year old female and two 20 year old males, were issued citations." Although it appears the call was made regarding a loud party, it was classified as "Underage Drinking" because citations were issued for that offense, not for noise. This just demonstrates why, IMHO, it is important to have a noise ordinance and for police to respond to noise complaints. It could be that this particular call saved the life of one of those individuals who may have otherwise left the party intoxicated and crashed his or her car. Hey, it's plausible.

BTW, read the following article published before the BOS meeting in the Bucks County Courier Times for my personal experience with a noise complaint made to Newtown police.

Posted on 27 Sep 2018, 01:13 - Category: Ordinances



Toll Brothers Twining Bridge Road Proposal

The following is a presentation of a "sketch plan" made before the Newtown Board of Supervisors on September 17, 2018. The plan was presented by by Toll Brothers representative Greg Adelman.

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The following is an audio recording of comments, questions, and concerns expressed by members of the public following the presentation.

Posted on 20 Sep 2018, 15:17 - Category: Development



Newtown Township to Consider Amending Noise Ordinance

At the September 26, 2018, public meeting, the Newtown Township Board of Supervisors (BOS) will consider and vote on an ordinance (here) to remove from the Code of Ordinances of Newtown Township “certain provisions related to excessive and unnecessary noise and other nuisances.”

Specifically, the changes that are suggested include

Delete entire Section 10-501.1.B., which states:

“Excessive Noise Prohibited. In addition to the above, it is hereby declared to be a nuisance and shall be unlawful for any person, firm or business entity to make, cause, suffer or permit to be made or caused upon a property owned, occupied or controlled by him or it or upon any public land, street, alley or thoroughfare in the Township of Newtown any excessive noises or sounds, by means of vehicles, machinery, equipment (including sound amplification equipment and musical instruments) or by any other means or methods which are physically annoying to the comfort of any reasonable person or which are so harsh, prolonged, unnatural or unusual in their use, time and place, as to occasion physical discomfort, or which are otherwise injurious to the lives, health, peace and comfort of the inhabitants of Newtown Township or any number of residents thereof” (see here).

Amend Section 10-501.1.C. to delete the following “Special Prohibitions”:

  • Possessing, harboring or keeping an animal or bird which makes any noise continuously and/or persistently for a period of 15 minutes or more, in such a manner as to disturb or annoy any person at any time of the day or night, regardless of whether the animal is situated upon private property.
  • Operating, playing or permitting the operation or playing of any radio, television, audio equipment, sound amplifier, musical instrument or other such device in such a manner as to cause annoyance to persons in the vicinity.
  • Repairing, rebuilding, modifying, testing or operating a motor vehicle, motorcycle, recreational vehicle or powered model vehicle in such a manner as to cause annoyance to persons across a real property boundary from the noise source.
  • Operating or permitting the operation of any mechanically powered saw, drill, sander, grinder, lawn or garden tool or similar device used out of doors between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. in such a manner as to cause annoyance to persons across a real property boundary from the noise source.

The prohibition of “Performing any construction operation or operating or permitting the operation of any tools or equipment used in construction, drilling, blasting, demolition, excavating, extraction of stone or other such activities between the hours of 8:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. or at any time on Sunday” will remain. Note: This provision does not apply to domestic power tools.

Delete entirely Section 10-503, which states:

“Any person or business entity engaging in any use or activity upon property which by reason of odors, fumes, vapors, vibration or dust unreasonably interferes with the use, comfort and enjoyment of another's property, or endangers the health or safety of the occupants of another's property.”

Why is this being considered?

According to the minutes of the June 18, 2018, BOS Work Session, Newtown Zoning officer Martin Vogt said “enforcing, a sound or a smell as a nuisance is arbitrary.” Section 10-501(B) is difficult to enforce. An example cited that “the Township had responded to a complaint regarding excessive noise, [which was claimed to be] ‘physically annoying’ [due to] the hum of a neighbor’s air conditioning unit.” It was suggested that “Complainants try to draw the Township in to make their case for them to reference these things that can’t be measured.”

Also, when there is an annoyance of animals (dog barking, bird chirping) it is difficult to catch them in the act. A barking dog would be a private nuisance since it affects a few people. A public nuisance would be, for example, constructing something over a major intersection that would affect a larger amount of people. The proposed amendment would not affect the enforcement of such “public nuisances.”

Is Enforcing the Current Ordinance a Burden?

According to the August 2018 Police Report, in 2017, there were 76 “Noise Complaints” in Newtown Township and Wrightstown. Compared to other “nuisance” calls such more than 22 false burglar alarms and more than 5 false fire alarms per week, responding to 1.5 noise complaints per week does not seem like a burden. 

It remains to be seen if the passing of this ordinance would have any impact on monitoring the noise level at public events such as the annual Irish Festival hosted by the Green Parrot pub. Loud music from this event has been an ongoing issue with local residents. For more on that read “The Newtown Township Hatfields Versus the Borough McCoys!”; and view this video: “Green Parrot Irish Festival 2018 Pro and Con Debate”.

Whether or not “noise” from this event is a “public nuisance” may be determined by section 10-501.1.A of the Code of Ordinances of Newtown Township. This section – which the proposed ordinance does NOT eliminate – specifies the maximum allowable continuous sound levels (measured in decibels) for various zoning districts. For example, in the TC (Town Commercial) zone, in which the Green Parrot is located, the maximum sound level between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. is 60 dBA and between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. it is 50 dBA. These levels can be “measured” by experts at the scene, which was the case at the 2018 Irish Festival event.

Posted on 19 Sep 2018, 12:08 - Category: Ordinances



August 2018 Police Report

Interim Police Chief Jason Harris presented the Calls Report for August 2018 at the September 12, 2018, Board of Supervisors meeting. In August, the Newtown Police Department responded to 1,519 calls, 327 (22%) of which were in Wrightstown Township (Newtown Police provides services to both Newtown Township and Wrightstown). See a summary of the report below. Note: Not all calls are listed.

Posted on 14 Sep 2018, 11:32 - Category: Crime



Summary of August 22, 2018, BOS Public Meeting

The following is a brief summary of the August 22, 2018, Newtown Board of Supervisors (BOS) meeting based upon the official minutes of that meeting, which you can find here.

Committee Reports

Planning Commission - Newtown Athletic Club: Applicant is seeking a variance to add an outdoor garden and fountain, which will exceed the minimum front yard setback requirement (variance is being sought to maintain a 0.57ft. front yard setback where current relief is 33ft. 75ft. is required per Ordinance). Access to the area would be through the men’s locker room. There were concerns regarding the basis for relief as the application did not show a hardship. The property is being used now without the garden and fountain. A suggestion was made that adding enhancements to an existing 7 ft. wall would provide a pleasing streetscape.

The Planning Commission made an informal recommendation that the Supervisors oppose this application.

Planning Commission - Newtown Brewery: Applicant is seeking to occupy 4,550 sq. ft. in an existing 10,000 sq. ft. 1-story warehouse/ manufacturing facility to operate a brewery and tavern. The tavern will be open to the public with seating for 70 patrons. There will be space for small parties and would be a “Bring Your Own Food” operation. Applicant will maintain 34 parking spaces with overflow parking use by agreement with a neighboring tenant for the required 46 parking spaces.

Members of the Planning Commission felt it was a favorable use in the Business Commons, and made an informal recommendation that the Supervisors not oppose this application.

Development

Arcadia Green - Tentative PRD Hearing, Part 2: Jason Duckworth, President of Arcadia Land Company, and Attorney John VanLuvanee, presented the plan and testified (see Summary of August 8, 2018, BOS Public Meeting for Part 1). Mr. Duckworth, still under oath, testified that under this current plan, there would be no access to High Street and the church property is not included in this current plan. Also, emergency access was not considered in the plan. Testimony included mention of Arcadia meeting with PennDOT to discuss the proposed plans for a U-turn at the intersection Buck and Mill Pond Roads. [Arcadia Green’s traffic engineer will be available at the September 13, 2018 BOS meeting.]

NOTE: There was a question as to why there was a hearing at tonight’s meeting when Arcadia Green will be meeting with the Planning Commission on September 4, 2018. The review letters had not been received in time for the Planning Commission’s review; Mr. Duckworth had volunteered to come before the Planning Commission. Arcadia Green stated that it will not modify the current plan. The Board of Supervisors will consider the recommendations from the Planning Commission and will continue the hearing at this meeting.

Public Safety

Keystone Community Grant: Interim Police Chief Jason Harris requested that the BOS approve RESOLUTION 2018-R-20 to request a Keystone Community grant of $94,000 from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to be used for the purchase of two (2) police Harley Davidson motorcycles and a Ford F-250 Pickup Truck to support community policing efforts and truck enforcement. The current enforcement truck is nearly 18 years old and in “dire need of replacement,” according to Chief Harris. The total estimated cost of the truck and 2 motorcycles is $95,747. As the grant is for $94,000 the Township would pay the difference of $1,747. State Representative Perry Warren was instrumental in securing this grant.

Ms. Bobrin made the motion to approve. Mr. Davis seconded, and the motion passed 5-0.

Posted on 12 Sep 2018, 20:45 - Category: Board of Supervisors Minutes



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