John Mack - Newtown Supervisor
Development Category

It's Strike Two for 27 Townhomes on Durham Road!

The Plan

At the November 13, 2019, Newtown Board of Supervisors (BOS) meeting, Durham Partners Group, LLC, submitted a Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB) application for twenty seven townhomes and associated dimensional variances on the property located at 413 Durham Road in the PS-2 (Professional Service) Zoning District. The BOS heard from the applicant's professionals that the proposed townhouse use is much lower impact from a traffic and development standpoint than a permitted medical office building.

Strike One!

After extensive questioning by Supervisors, the BOS voted 4-1 to send the Township Solicitor to the December 5, 2019, ZHB meeting to oppose the developer's request for 7 variances (for more details, read "Newtown Supervisors Oppose Plan To Build 27 Townhouses" in the Newtown Patch). Supervisor Kyle Davis cast the lone "nay" vote.

According to resident Mike Horbal in a private comment to me, "this is a classic example of 'overdevelopment' or, worse, 'land grab.' This use is not permitted as a use by right, a conditional use, OR a special exception in the PS-2 district," said Horbal.

In comments before the BOS, Mr. Horbal noted that without any variances, only one single family home would be allowed at this location. He said "to propose twenty seven townhomes on a 5-acre property makes very little sense except for the developer." Mr. Horbal said that if the town is really against overdevelopment this would be a "perfect example" to oppose. "Don't come to town," said Mr. Horbal, "if you can't propose a project that meets the requirements of the zoning regulations."

Resident Joyann Charlton echoed Mr. Horbal's comments and implored the BOS to take a position against the development. Ms. Charlton mentioned the strain on already overcrowded schools and busing.

View the following video of the Q&A and comments from the BOS and residents:

Strike Two!

Heath Dumack, the engineer hired by the developer, appeared before the Newtown Planning Commission at its November 19, 2019, public meeting "as a courtesy."

Mr. Dumack responded to questions by the members of the Commission and commented that "You're being much nicer than the reception I received last Wednesday" (he was referring to the reception by the Board of Supervisors).

But the "niceties" did not last long. PC member Paul Cohen said "I don't want to be too impolite about it, but this is crazy! This is just a blatant effort to squeeze as much as possible out of this. To come in and propose - where there's supposed to be one home - twenty-seven is... incredibly bold."

Listen to the discussion at the PC:

Strike Three?

The next step for Durham Partners Group is to appear before the Zoning Hearing Board. Will the third time be the charm or will it be strike three and "yer out!"? With the Township Solicitor there to oppose awarding variances for this plan (see below), it is my hope that the ZHB denies the application.

The Variances Requested

Would it have been possible to save the township some money and just send a letter to the ZHB? I don't think so. It is my experience that developers will never give up and they are willing to spend the money on lawyers. You can't fight that with a letter!

Posted on 20 Nov 2019, 01:57 - Category: Development

Newtown Creek Coalition Proposes a NEW Pedestrian Bridge to Supervisors

At the September 16, 2019, "Work Session" meeting of the Newtown Township Board of Supervisors, Mike Sellers, a member of the Newtown Creek Coalition, invited the Township to join in a project to construct a pedestrian bridge over the Newtown Creek in a partnership with the Borough of Newtown and the Coalition.

The prospective site for the bridge would connect Sycamore Street in Newtown Township with Frost Lane in Newtown Borough (see the map below).

The project, as it was explained to me in a personal tour of the site, would include an elevated walkway from Edgeboro Drive to the actual bridge. This is necessary because there is a storm water drainage ditch that runs from Edgeboro Drive to the Creek.

Concept of the project as envisioned by John Mack. NOT the official plan.

Mr. Sellers also said the proposed bridge would connect the current ends of the Newtown Trail System, and provide a vital link for the regional trail system. However, as shown in the map above, the Newtown Trail ends at Andrew Drive and Frost Lane. It is impossible for pedestrians and even bicyclists to walk or cycle safely on Frost Lane from that point to the proposed bridge entrance at Edgeboro Road.

There are other bridges over the creek that allow pedestrians to cross. So, why is another bridge needed or desired?

Mr. Sellers pointed out that these other bridges – including the nearby bridge at Jefferson Street – only have one-sided pedestrian crossings. "It's particularly difficult for bikers, walkers, or for people with strollers to get across," said Sellers.

A Resolution

Mr. Sellers requested that Newtown Township pass a Resolution drafted by the Coalition by which the Board of Supervisors of Newtown Township "finds the concept of a proposes pedestrian bridge over the Newtown Creek has merit Warranting further investigation." The proposed Resolution further says "that authorization is hereby given for staff and professionals of Newtown Township to participate in the exploration of the requirements for such a project, including available funding sources."

After Newtown Township passes this Resolution, Mr. Sellers said that he would present the proposal and a similar Resolution to the Newtown Borough Council for its approval. The plan is to have the two municipalities work jointly on the project.

Who Pays For This?

First, there are the fees that the Township must pay to its "professionals" (e.g. Township Engineer) to "explore the requirements" for the project. Then, there is the cost of the project itself, which would be split between the Township and the Borough. Mr. Sellers pointed out that the major portion of the real estate involved is in Newtown Township and also the most expensive part – the bridge itself. Consequently, according to Mr. Sellers, Newtown would be responsible for the majority of costs involved. But he did not give the Supervisors any estimate for those costs.

What Do You Think?

The Board of Supervisors did not make any decisions at the Working Session. Consequently, Mr. Sellers is scheduled to come before the Board at its next regular public meeting on September 25, 2019, to present his proposal again so that a formal vote can be made regarding the resolution he put forward.

Understanding that many residents may not be able to make this meeting, I invite you to respond to my online questionnaire to give me your opinion of this proposal. All responses will be confidential unless you give permission to use your name.

Access the Questionnaire Here

You can also listen to Mr. Sellers' September 16, 2019, 16 minute presentation below:

Posted on 21 Sep 2019, 01:48 - Category: Development

Parking & Traffic in the Village at Newtown

Village at Newtown Center

The Village at Newtown "Shopping" Center is currently in the final phase of a 35 million dollar makeover that Brixmor Property Group - the owner - hopes will revitalize the center. The plan is shown above.

Yes, parking and traffic in the Center has been a mess for some time. Will things improve once construction is complete or will parking and traffic remain problems after all is said and done?

I don’t know if there is a DEFINITIVE answer to that question, but I do believe there are signs that all will be well in the Center eventually.

At least that seems to be the opinion of Allen Fidler, Chair of the Newtown Planning Commission Definition although he acknowledges that not everyone will be happy in the end.

In response to a resident’s comments at the May 8, 2019, Board of Supervisors (BOS) meeting, Mr. Fidler recounted the history of this project and explained the ultimate goal of Brixmor, the company that owns and manages the Center. Listen to this podcast:

Meanwhile, the renovation in the McCaffery's Food Market section of the Village at Newtown "Shopping" Center is essentially complete. On Tuesday, June 4, 2019, around 1:30 PM I drove through the area entering where the new Bank of America building and Starbuck's are located. There was no traffic problem and parking was plentiful. View the video:

Section #1 (Bank of America and a small office building; see plan above) will be completely redeveloped. Pre-existing buildings have already be removed and new shops will be built closer to Durham Road. Many of these have already been approved by the BOS. This is the primary location for an estimated additional 58,000 square feet of retail space (they will also be new space added to section #3.

History of Parking Variances

The Newtown Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB Definition) approved the parking plan on October 16, 2016. In attendance and voting for the plan were: Chairman Timothy Potero, Vice Chairman Michael Iapalucci, Secretary Robert Whartenby and members Shawn Ward and Brandon Wind. According to the minutes of the Omeeting: "There had been relief in 1991 for parking ratio. The existing variance [as of October 2016] is 5.5 spaces. The applicant is seeking 4.7 spaces per 1000 square feet of retail [which was approved by the ZHB]." Before the renovation there were 1007 spaces and the new plan shows 1065 spaces. 

At the ZHB meeting, the architect on the project said he has "spent a lot of time observing the center and noting customers’ behavior. Many customers come in and park, walk directly to the shop they are going to and go back and move the car rather than walk to their next stop, even within the same section. The proposed changes to the pedestrian accesses will encourage shoppers to walk from one destination to another." This is the "walkability" concept that has often been discussed at recent BOS meetings. For more about that, view the video below:

Dan Disario, traffic engineer for Brixmor, testified that there has been a "decrease in peak demand for shopping center parking in recent years and that standard need is 3 spaces per 1000 square feet. For this shopping center, extensive studies and counts have been conducted during lunch and dinner hours on Fridays and Saturdays in May, September, and November of 2015 and in September of 2016. Over 56 hours of counts have been conducted at fifteen minute intervals. The peak for the entire center, all four sections, was on Saturday, September 21 at 1:45 PM, when 458 vehicles occupied the 1007 parking spaces for only fifteen minutes. There have been a number of comments about difficulty with parking in lot #4 on weekend evenings. On Friday, September 2 at 5:54 PM the highest demand was 3.5 vehicles per 1000 square feet. Mr. Disario said that all calculations have considered the current unoccupied space and the projected numbers for full occupancy."

The goal for this redevelopment is a mix of retail and restaurant uses that complement each other. Shoppers window shop then stop to eat. No tables are available right now at your restaurant? Then sit outside in the amphitheatre for a few minutes or explore the other stores in the mall and come back 30 minutes later.

“An emphasis on fine dining and events is also helping to make malls the hub of the local community – a place to share quality time with friends and family… It is critical that malls be about much more than stores.” Source: “The Future of the Shopping Mall”; https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/marketing-and-sales/our-insights/the-future-of-the-shopping-mall [accessed June 6, 2019]

It is essential to his business success of Brixmor that it correctly planned for adequate parking. If there is inadequate parking the businesses will suffer. 

Posted on 06 Jun 2019, 13:27 - Category: Development

Arcadia Green PRD Three Peat: Denied Again!

For the third time in as many years, the Newtown Board of Supervisors (BOS Definition) voted unanimously to deny approval of a tentative Arcadia Green Planned Residential Development (PRD Definition) project!

The vote was made at the November 14, 2018, BOS meeting. For background, read summaries of minutes of previous BOS meetings, “Newtown Crossing vs Arcadia: Residents Speak Out” and “Arcadia Green Development Hearings”.

Here's what I had to say: “After listening to all the testimony, reading the reports of experts, and listening to residents of surrounding communities, I will vote to deny the current Arcadia PRD because I think it would be unsafe for residents of that development – should it go forward – to exit and enter the development. Also, let’s not forget the additional traffic it would bring to the intersection of Buck Road and the Bypass. Lastly, the plan for a U-turn to allow access to the Bypass is totally impractical, unsafe, and will cause major delays in my opinion, which seems to also be the opinion of PennDOT and other experts.”

Having sat through several hearings regarding this PRD, I am happy that I will never need sit through such hearings again. This assumes that Wrightstown and Upper Makefield have followed Newtown’s lead and approved the amendment of the JMZO to remove PRD as a permitted use. For more about that, read “Newtown Votes to Delete Planned Residential Development (PRD) from JMZO”.


Posted on 15 Nov 2018, 13:31 - Category: Development

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

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The opinions expressed here are solely those of John Mack and do not represent the opinions of any other person or entity.
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