John Mack - Newtown Supervisor
Development Category

Another Proposed Project on Newtown Bypass

Keeping the rural look of the Newtown Bypass has been a tradition in Newtown. It is a common belief among long-time Newtown area residents that the Newtown Bypass is supposed to remain an "undeveloped" greenway. For the most part, the Bypass is still somewhat preserved with trees and greenery along the route as can be seen in left side of the above photo. There are a couple of exceptions, such as Summit Square (located on the Middletown side of the road) and the NAC, to name just two of the most visible eyesores.

Preserving the “greenway” nature of the Bypass was threatened back in April 2017, when Supervisor Phil Calabro proposed that the township lease or sell two acres of Silver Lake Park, which is located on the Bypass, to Wawa (see Patch article). Although that idea never saw the light of day, a Super Wawa on the Bypass is still possible (read “Wawa is Back!”).

Will The Bypass Look Like Street Road or Route 1?

Many people fear that if Wawa is allowed to build on the Bypass with 16 fueling stations and multiple huge signs – including an electronic sign on the Bypass - it would open a “Pandora's box” for development on the Bypass and turn it into a Route 1 (right side of photo above). Fully 86% (n=288) of residents I surveyed who were against the Wawa agreed, and 78% (n=262) said it was not compatible with the historic, rural nature of Newtown. [Read “Residents Present Their Case For and Against a Super Wawa on the Bypass”]

Fast Forward to 2021: The Box Opens!

At the March 15, 2021, Newtown Board of Supervisors Work Session  representatives of Lotus Park Senior Living LLC, presented a "sketch plan" for a Senior Living facility to be located adjacent to the site of the proposed Wawa. The lot size of this parcel of land is only 4.83 acres! [See the map below.]

Guess what? The owners of this property - Innovative Hospitality Management – also own the property where the Super Wawa is likely to be built. When they saw an opportunity presented by the Wawa precedent, they proceeded to find a use for a plot of land that many experts consider unfit for development.

Lotus Parke Senior Living Sketch Plan detail

Like the convenience store/gas station use before the “curative amendment” was passed (see here), this use is not permitted in the OR (Office Research) district. To proceed with this project, the developer would need to get at least 11 zoning variances from the Zoning Hearing Board. [See CKS letter]

No decision was made at the BOS Work Session, but Supervisors had many questions and concerns. One question put forward by supervisor David Oxley had to do with the anticipated income by the township from such a facility. Recall that about 60% of Newtown’s tax revenue has consistently come from Earned Income Tax (EIT). The developer could not answer that question, but will do so if and when the application is officially submitted.

It should be noted that employment centers envisioned by the OR district could generate significant EIT revenue for the Township. Retail stores, such as Wawa, that pay a wage of $10 per hour to a minimal number of employees, do not provide any significant EIT income for the Township.

The Slippery Slope to “A Route 1” Bypass

Whether or not this proposed assisted living use application moves forward and is approved, there will be further pressure to rezone the OR district to allow other uses. The Newtown Economic Development Committee (EDC) already suggested changes to the zoning of the LI (Light Industrial) and Office Light Industrial (OLI) districts to “revitalize” the Business Commons area.

The EDC memo/plan was discussed at the February 16, 2021, BOS Work Session. Although the EDC also wanted to include the OR district in its plan, “the Supervisors agreed to discuss the memo only as it would apply to the LI and OLI zoning districts, focusing on the Business Commons only, at this time.” [Download the EDC Memo to BOS Re Zoning for Businesses.]

Local Area Residents Speak Out

“I am 60 years old,” said one Newtown neighbor on Nextdoor. “I grew up in Churchville and went to school in Newtown...Council Rock then George School. What has happened to Newtown is a travesty. I avoid it because my heart breaks every time I drive through it. It used to be a beautiful town surrounded by farms and trees. Now it is one big congested, ostentatious commercial center. Even the original Goodnoe’s and dairy farm are gone. You could not pay me to live there.”

See Nextdoor discussion “Another proposed project on Newtown Bypass” for more comments from local area residents/

Posted on 19 Mar 2021, 12:07 - Category: Development

Wawa is Back!

On March 17, 2021, attorneys for Provco Pineville Acquisitions, LLC, submitted a Zoning Hearing Board application for a hearing to grant a “special exception” E-30 use to build a Super Wawa combination convenience store and gas station on the SW corner of Newtown Bypass and Lower Silver Lake Road in the Office Research (OR) district. This is the same location as in it’s original application that was presented to the Newtown Board of Supervisors (BOS) back in In May 2018 [Read “Developer and Attorney Present Their Case for a WaWa Superstore on the Newtown Bypass”].

Some History

Excerpted from the application:

In October of 2019, Provco submitted a "substantive challenge" to the Joint Municipal Zoning Ordinance (JMZO) to the Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB). Provco's challenge asserts that the JMZO is de jure exclusionary with respect to a "retail store with fuel dispensing facilities" use. Alternatively, the zoning application requested a use variance to allow a retail store with fuel dispensing facilities at the Property.

Prior to an evidentiary hearing being held on the Application, the Newtown Township Board of Supervisors ("BOS"), together with boards of supervisors of Wrightstown Township and Upper Makefield Township, amended the JMZO by adopting JMZO Ordinance #2020-02 ("Ordinance Amendment".) The Ordinance Amendment, in addition to other provisions, amended section 501.A.3 of the JMZO (OR District) to permit a Use E-30 Motor Vehicle Fueling and Convenience Store by special exception and listing criteria therefor. Applicant granted the ZHB an extension of the time within which the ZHB must hold a hearing on the 2019 Zoning Application through December 31, 2021.

The amendment passed by the JMZO allows the E-30 use in the OR zone of Newtown as well as other locations in Wrightstown and Upper Makefield.  [Read “Discussions of E-30 Zoning Amendment”  for more details about the curative amendment.]

Wawa Still Pushing for Variances
Wawa Gas Canopy® Stack 8-Frame [Source: March 17, 2021, Zoning Hearing Board Application]

The new Provco application still requires several variances, including:

  • To permit a Use E-30 Motor Vehicle Fueling and Convenience Store with eight (8) fuel dispensers on the 4.95 acre Property where six (6) fuel dispensers are permitted by right;
  • Various signage variances such as locating a wall sign to be located within 1,000 feet of and facing the limited access portion of the Newtown Bypass;
  • Applicant also proposes two (2) electronic message center monument signs - one (1) of 49.9 square feet in area and 10' in height located along the Newtown Bypass, and one (1) of 35 square feet in area and 8' in height located along Lower Silver Lake Road. Electronic signs are prohibited throughout Newtown Township and especially not on the Bypass – not even within 1,000 feet of the Bypass. Electronic signage has been denied to other gas station owners such as Rick Steele’s.

NOTE: JMZO Ordinances do not allow signs along the Bypass and prohibit electronic signs. See JMZO General Signage Ordinance: “Properties Located Along Non-Limited Access Portion of the Route 332 and Route 413 Bypass. No sign located within 1,000 feet of the Route 332 or the Route 413 Bypass legal rights-of-way shall face onto the Bypass so that the message or symbol on the sign may be visible from any location within the Bypass legal rights-of-way…” and “Electronic message centers are prohibited within the Jointure.”

One variance NOT requested concerns an electric vehicle charging station such as a Tesla SuperCharging station. There are quite a quite a number of Tesla owners in the Newtown area. This is something specifically requested by Newtown request and the new zoning ordinance requires a minimum of one electric vehicle charging station for Use E-30 when located in the OR District.

There are several steps and public meetings/hearings before this application reaches the ZHB for its decision. Meanwhile...

What Do You Think?
Should Newtown Allow a Super WaWa on the Bypass? Take My Survey

DISCLAIMER: This is not an official Newtown Township approved survey. Its purpose is solely to inform John Mack – a Newtown Supervisor – of the public’s opinion regarding this issue.

Posted on 18 Mar 2021, 11:11 - Category: Development

Residents Lash Out Against Arcadia Settlement

Dozens of angry residents of Newtown Crossing, Eagle Ridge, and other Newtown communities attended the February 24, 2021, Newtown Board of Supervisors (BOS) Meeting to oppose a settlement agreement with the Arcadia developer to build 60 homes at Buck Road and the Bypass. 

Despite the opposition of residents who attended the meeting, the supervisors approved the final settlement agreement 4-1 with Mr. Kyle Davis casting the lone "nay" vote. Afterward, several residents expressed their displeasure with the vote. Eric Scott Gold, a resident of Eagle Ridge, for example, lashed out against me for voting in favor of the settlement. Township Solicitor Dave Sander objected to his language and Chairman Phil Calabro had to calm everyone down.

Other residents were not as abusive as Mr. Gold, but strongly suggested that Mr. Sander be fired and that I resign. Of course, there were threats that - come election time - the supervisors who voted in favor of the settlement would be voted out of office.

Listen to comments from Mr. Gold and other residents in the following audio clips from the meeting. You can also view the entire Zoom meeting here.

Mack's Newtown Voice · Residents Lash Out at Supervisor Mack & Solicitor Dave Sander at Arcadia Meeting

Even the Residents' Lawyer Recommended Settling

"Although Dave Sander was a convenient whipping boy," said Mr. Steve Harris, lawyer for Eagle Ridge HOA, in an email to supervisors, "I would have recommended the settlement, even if the plan had not been deemed approved. Given the uncertainty that would result from the land use appeal that would certainly have been filed by Arcadia from a denial of the tentative plan, I would have also encouraged the parties to explore a settlement.

"You were able to negotiate a settlement that resulted in a more than 20% reduction in the number of homes that were proposed and an agreement to have all of the homes be single family dwellings, both of which are very significant," said Mr. Harris. "Furthermore, PennDOT indicated that it would approve the U-turn at the Buck Road/Mill Pond Road/Diamond Drive intersection once the tentative plan was approved, so there was no way of eliminating that possibility. You were able to negotiate a multi-tiered approach to the U-turn alternative which begins with the developer's agreement to pursue a right in/right out entrance to the Bypass which would eliminate the necessity of the U-turn movement. That was a huge accomplishment. I do not know whether Arcadia will be able to secure a permit for that entrance, but just simply getting the agreement was very important," concluded Mr. Harris.

A "Crap Shoot"

It seems that many residents thought I would oppose the settlement and that I let them down and that I and other supervisors voted without listening to their comments.

"I don't recall you ever representing anything else to people other than you wanted to know what people are thinking and to encourage involvement," said a sympathetic resident in a personal email after the meeting. "I guess some folks read more into it than that."

Regarding listening to comments - prior to this meeting, supervisors spent many weeks listening to all parties - including residents of neighboring communities and their representatives - at public and private meetings. From October, 2020, through February, 2021, I spent a minimum of 20 hours in discussions about this case with residents via personal phone and email communications, Facebook posts, and in Zoom meetings, including the following:

  • On October 12, 2020, I hosted a 1 hour Meet Mack Monday "Town Hall" Zoom meeting with residents to discuss Arcadia Litigation.
  • On December 29, 2020, I participated in a 1.5 hour Zoom meeting hosted by Eagle Ridge residents. 
  • On January 19, 2021, I participated in a 2 hour Zoom meeting hosted by Newtown Crossing residents.
  • On February 8, 2021, I hosted another Meet Mack Monday "Town Hall" Zoom meeting at which I discussed the details of the Arcadia III settlement agreement with residents.

I was sympathetic to continuing the fight - voting at least 2X with Kyle Davis to discuss how Newtown Township can help Eagle Ridge in its case against Arcadia - until Mr. Harris said at a Feb 5, 2021, BOS EXECUTIVE MEETING (which was NOT a public meeting but at which many residents and resident representatives attended) that he believed Newtown's Mandamus case was unwinnable - that no judge would overturn the decision of a colleague in this case. He also said the Eagle Ridge case was a "crap shoot." A crap shoot is not a 50-50 chance as some residents led us supervisors to believe was his opinion. After that I lost all hope that we could fight the good fight and win.

So although several residents accused the supervisors of coming into the February 24 meeting with their minds already made up, the truth is I did not hear any new convincing arguments against approving the settlement.

Looking Ahead Despite "Cancel Culture"

In the end I listened to the residents who helped craft the settlement because I believe whatever decisions we make, residents with cooler heads should be involved. It is too bad that some residents now believe getting involved does not accomplish anything. They are greatly mistaken in my view. Residents helped create a better if imperfect settlement and they raised some issues that I will pursue going forward such as arranging for residents to participate in the Access Evaluation Process with PennDOT and to make sure that promises made in the settlement agreement are kept.

But some residents were not interested in keeping the lines of communication open going forward. Immediately after the vote, moderators of the Newtown Crossing and Eagle Ridge Facebook invitation-only group pages decided to block me from seeing or making posts to their pages, which is their prerogative. "Cancel culture" at work is how one resident put it.

Posted on 01 Mar 2021, 14:32 - Category: Development

Newtown Gate Residents Versus Doggy Dayz K9 Resort

UPDATE (29 Mar 2021): Doggy Dayz will be withdrawing their application to the ZHB.

“We Love Dogs,” Says Newtown Gate Board President, But Not 120 of Them Less Than 600 Feet From Us!

Here we go again! Residents again have organized to oppose a dog kennel in Newtown. Recall that in 2018 residents opposed giving zoning variances to the Sit.Stay kennel claiming that the kennel, and noise from its dogs, would “alter the essential character of the neighborhood.” The residents lost that case. [Read "When It Comes to Zoning Variances for the Sit. Stay. Kennel, Some Residents Will Not Let Sleeping Dogs Lie".]

This time, Newtown Gate residents have organized a campaign opposing the application of Doggy Dayz to set up an indoor “K9 Resorts Luxury Pet Hotel” at 8 Pheasant Run (at the intersection with Terry Drive) in the LI (Light Industrial) district of Newtown Township (see aerial view above).

The application came up for review for a second time last night (February 16, 2021) before the Newtown Planning Commission (PC). This time, Mr. Fred Kurtz, president of the Newtown Gate Homeowners Association and several residents attended the meeting. The residents – including the Master Board of Newtown Gate – sent letters opposing the application to all PC members as well as to all Newtown Supervisors and members of the Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB)..

“We have many concerns regarding the continuous seven day a week operation of a dog kennel with outdoor dog runs located less than 600 feet with direct line of site from our community's boundaries,” said Mr. Kurtz in the Master Board letter [link]. Two major concerns are summarized below.

Too Little Space

“This application requests that up to 120 dogs be permitted which would require 25 acres to house the number of dogs that are intended. The applicant in their presentation argued that those requirements were because traditionally kennels were outside of city boundaries in rural areas. There is a reason for that- nobody wants 120 dogs barking in their backyard! Having an appropriate amount of space maintains the peace by creating adequate separation from neighbors.”

Mr. Kurtz noted that “the applicant quotes the parcel size of 3.2 acres which materially misrepresents the space allowed for the dogs. They are including space which belong to other businesses, including parking areas and outdoor spaces dedicated to those other businesses.”

Too Much Noise

The main complaint, however, is the noise of barking dogs when they are let outside to play and exercise. The play area is only 551 feet from the Newtown Gate boundary (see aerial image).

“Dogs bark at levels reaching 110 decibels, and multiple dogs barking during regular ‘play time’ would result in a sustained daily violation of Newtown Township sound ordinances,” claimed Mr. Kurtz. § 2-201 - Unlawful to Disturb the Peace. (Ord. 89-0-220, 9/7/1989, § 1) was cited:

“No person shall allow any dog or other domestic animal owned by him or under his control, or any nondomesticated animal confined on that person's premises, to make any loud or harsh noise or disturbance, by barking or otherwise, which shall interfere with or deprive the peace, quiet, rest, comfort, repose, health or sleep of any person within the Township. The Township declares that permitting such behavior by any animal shall constitute a nuisance.”

It should be noted, however, that Township supervisors opted to cut several sections from local code governing “excessive and unnecessary” noise, including from animals or birds making continuous noise longer than 15 minutes if it is deemed to have “annoyed” people. Officials described the section as “subjective” and difficult to enforce, in that dogs often would stop barking between the time they got a call and arrived on the scene.

“Clearly,” said Mr. Kurtz, “[the noise of barking dogs] would disturb the ‘peace, quiet, rest, [and] comfort’ of our residents, particularly those closest to the business, and therefore granting a variance to the applicant would be in violation of the basic rights of residents in our community.”

Not only that, the noise might be detrimental to the business of Baylinks Golf located next door to the proposed kennel site in the same building. “Not only were they wholly unaware of this proposed application,” claimed Mr. Kurtz, “but they were also very much not in favor of it.” Mr. Kurtz pointed out that “people are expected not to even talk when someone begins their backswing, a courtesy even strangers who play there extend to each other.”

Not in Our Back Yard!

Mr. Kurtz urged the applicant to find an alternate location, “perhaps on the other side of the office park where there are no residents close by. We support your desire to locate a business in the community, but not as proposed and certainly not at the expense of our residents.”

You can listen to all of Mr. Kurtz’s comments as well as the response form the Doggy Dayz lawyer in the following 9-minute audio clip excerpt from the Planning Commission meeting.

Mack's Newtown Voice · Newtown Gate Residents Oppose Doggy Dayz

In the end it was decided that representatives of Newtown Gate and Doggy Dayz would meet separately to see if they could hash out their differences before the application goes before the Board of Supervisors and the ZHB. The PC members indicated it would be a good idea for Doggy Dayz to do a study of the noise at one of their other locations to see if there is a problem. This would be at their expense just as was the case with the traffic study that was submitted.

Time To Redefine the LI Zone

This is NOT a new use – it’s an application for multiple variances to allow this specific use, which is not likely to be sought again by another applicant. The township cannot continue to willy-nilly grant variances to enable different very specific businesses to occupy space in the Newtown Commons/LI district area. What we need is to completely redefine the LI zone – which encompasses the Business Commons – to allow “by right” different businesses than are currently not allowed now – especially high-paying businesses with multiple employees. Industrial use simply is not going to cut it in this day and age.

There has been much discussion about how to do this by the Newtown Economic Development Committee (EDC). In fact, the EDC recently submitted some suggestions to the Board of Supervisors for rezoning the district to allow amenities such as the K9 Resort, restaurants, etc. Download the EDC memo for more details.

Posted on 17 Feb 2021, 14:57 - Category: Development

Will Newtown Help Residents Fight Arcadia III?

At the January 13, 2021, Newtown Board of Supervisors Meeting, Mike Gallagher, former Supervisor, current Bucks County Deputy Chief Information Officer, and resident of Newtown Crossing, said that the Eagle Ridge HOA had a better chance of winning its appeal against Arcadia III than does Newtown. Consequently, said Mr. Gallagher, it would make sense for Newtown to help with their case, which is distinct from the "Mandamus" case filed against Newtown by the developer.

Recall that Newtown recently failed to approve a settlement agreement with the developer to settle its "mandamus" case along with other court challenges made by the developer. The judge in that case “deemed approved” Arcadia's proposed 76-home community even though supervisors were unanimous in denying the project (see story below). The Eagle Ridge Community Association filed a separate Notice of Appeal from the asserted deemed approval.

According to Eagle Ridge resident Eric Scott Gold, some residents of Eagle Ridge and other nearby communities, including Newtown Crossing Community Association, Crowne Pointe Community, Liberty Square, are interested in setting up a fund to help finance the legal battle.

Mr. Gallagher and other residents wanted to know if Newtown Township was willing to help residents fight the case in some way, including helping pay the legal fees. The Supervisors agreed they need more information before they could decide and will arrange an executive session with residents and their lawyer in the near future to discuss the options.

Listen to the following short audio clip of the discussion. The entire video archive of the meeting is available here.

Mack's Newtown Voice · Will Newtown Help Eagle Ridge Fight Arcadia III?

Posted on 14 Jan 2021, 13:08 - Category: Development

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