John Mack - Newtown Supervisor
Development Category

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 Nextdoor.com 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

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

Super Wawa Survey Comments

Previously, I summarized comments from residents made at a public meeting regarding a proposed plan to build a Super Wawa on the Newtown Bypass (read "Residents Present Their Case For and Against a Super WaWa on the Bypass"). Here I summarize pro and con comments made by respondents to my personal Super Wawa Survey. Over 275 comments were collected. The following are just a few representative samples. Keep in mind that comments made online and in surveys do not offer any means to debate their validity or to offer counter arguments. 

DISCLAIMER: This is not an official Newtown Township approved survey. 

Comments AGAINST

Ambience/Open Space
  1. Newtown is over-developed now.  Enough is enough!  Leave some beauty, leave some nature
  2. Let’s not tarnish this ‘gateway’ area into Newtown!
  3. The small town feel is disappearing
  4. We have such little open space that we need to preserve what we have left.  Everywhere I look within Newtown and Middletown Township there are banks, coffee shops, and gas stations. We do not need a Wawa
  5. Keep the green and open look. Keep the area more historical looking.
  6. The whole area will be affected in a negative spiral.  It would open up the start of many more commercial businesses which we do not need here.  Just makes me want to seek out a different place to live as the quaintness of Newtown is disappearing....
Traffic/Safety
  1. Proposed location of WaWa represents a traffic choke point at this critical intersection which serves as the gateway for both the Newtown Township and Borough. When asked at the township meeting of what benefit the WaWa would provide to the Township there was no answer. That is because the benefit of a WaWa at the gateway to Newtown vastly benefits the outside travelers coming off of I-95 at the expense of the negative impact to Newtown roads. Please challenge WaWa representation that the "prototypical design" discourages truck traffic. What are the details of there design that does that?
  2. Poor location with driveways on a curve with poor sight distance at a location that already experiences recurring queuing from the traffic signal at the bypass at this location. Heavy left turning traffic backs up to where this driveway will be located. Safety concerns.
  3. I want to clarify that I am not against a Wawa in Newtown. It would be a nice convenience. What I am against is it’s placement at a spot on the bypass that is already a traffic nightmare during morning and evening rush hour.
Zoning
  1. The zoning was specifically chosen to keep commercial development from dominating the bypass. Do NOT change the zoning to allow this. Huge can of worms and terrible decision making.
  2. It gives the township nothing in exchange for a very favorable and profitable zoning change.
  3. I want to clarify that I am not against a Wawa in Newtown. It would be a nice convenience. What I am against is it’s placement at a spot on the bypass that is already a traffic nightmare during morning and evening rush hour.

Comments in FAVOR

Lower Gas Prices
  1. Newtown gas prices are among the highest in the area, due to a lack of stations in the general vicinity. All the local stations near the bypass are within the borough, limiting supply options and keeping demand high for township residents.
  2. Newtown may finally have gas prices that are not excessive.
Bring Business/Benefit to Newtown
  1. I believe it would help with bringing people to State and Sycamore Streets for the shopping destination. The Wawa would be a place that people stop on the way in and out of town. Similar to how the one in Doylestown works.
  2. Would be a great asset to the local community. It would bring in jobs.
  3. This will generate revenue from surrounding business (Optimal Sport health club, performance spine and sports medicine, Newtown rental center, star gas, centrak). If employees of these companies have access to a wawa, revenue would skyrocket. There is currently nothing around those businesses for a quick bite to eat on a lunch break.
  4. The industrial park employees thousands and this new Wawa would assist tremendously in supporting the needs of commuters to the park.
An Alternative to 7-11
  1. The 7-11 in town is a s#$thole
  2. What’s available at the 7-11 on Sycamore shouldn’t even be labeled “food”.
  3. It's too bad we can't get rid of the 7-ll on Sycamore St..WAWA is far superior in every category.
  4. Hopefully, it will detract business from the eyesore and public disgrace that is 7-11.
Love
  1. I love wawa. We need this. Easy access to wawa gas and store. Great quick food. Newtown needs to get on board.
  2. It would be absolutely amazing to have such a great convenience store in town!! Please, please, please do it!!!!
  3. It's iconic to this part of the country
  4. I personally have been wanting a WaWa located in Newtown for as long as I can remember.
  5. Newtown needs to accept that it is the 21st century
  6. Wawa is life!
  7. I mean, it's Wawa!

Posted on 02 Jun 2018, 07:15 - Category: Development

Residents Present Their Case For and Against a Super WaWa on the Bypass

Previously, I summarized the case made by the developer and his legal counsel for approval of a Super WaWa (convenience store + gas station) on the Newtown Bypass (read “Developer and Attorney Present Their Case for a WaWa Superstore on the Newtown Bypass”). In this post, I summarize comments from the audience made at the May 14, 2018, Board of Supervisors (BOS) Work Session. Since work sessions are not video recorded, I recorded the audio, which I used to create this summary.

Biggest Speed Bump: Traffic

Increased traffic volume and safety issues were a concern of many residents. “The overriding issue we have, of course, is traffic,” said Rick Fuerman representing the Wiltshire Walk Homeowners Association. “What really needs to be done here first is to have that traffic study done before anything really gets considered because that’s really the big speed bump to getting things done. “Let’s not kid ourselves. There will be billboards out there on route 95 that advertise ‘get off at this exit for WaWa’ and you will have a lot of traffic coming in off the Bypass for that.”

Quality of Life Issues

Mr. Fuerman also expressed concern regarding 24-hour lights and sounds (the proposed WaWa site is located only 0.4 miles from Wilshire Walk). It should be noted that, according to the minutes of the May 10, 2017, BOS meeting, a Supervisor said that “at one time WaWa had been in discussions with the owners of Newtown Rental Center [much closer to Wiltshire Walk] and she and Planning Commission Chairman Allen Fidler had participated but it seemed WaWa did not consider the rental center property desirable because of the high tension Wires.” The current location under consideration ALSO lies beneath these wires, but does not seem to be a concern this time around.

Preserving the Historic Nature of Newtown

One specific complaint often heard is that by permitting this retail use on the Bypass it will set a precedent for other land along the Bypass to be opened for retail use as well. As one resident put it: “It would open a Pandora's box for development on the bypass. Pretty soon it will look like Route 1.”

Keeping the rural look of the Bypass has been a tradition in Newtown. Several years ago a car dealership was denied its application to open on the Bypass in the same location, I believe. This decision was upheld by the State Supreme Court.

Rick Steele, owner of Rick Steele Gulf Service on Newtown Yardley Road, noted that “Stockburger tried to build out there…did not want to have the berm…you guys [previous BOS] gave him a hard time about the landscape. Now they [WaWa] want to come in and take that away.”

Typical WaWa Road Sign

Mr. Steele also asked about signage: “What kind of signs are these guys going to put up? The LED lights that all WaWa’s use? We got declined for that.”

“The reason I moved to Newtown was because of its historic nature,” said Norman Seeger of Willow Drive. “When you come in from 95, you see farms, a beautiful office complex. You don’t see a Pizza Hut. You don’t see a McDonalds. You don’t see what you see in a lot of other towns. And that’s the beauty of our town. So, I am opposed to that site.” 

Listen to Mr. Seeger’s comments, which also speak how a WaWa at the proposed site would draw people away from businesses downtown:

What’s the Economic Value?

At least two Newtown residents supported the establishment of a Super WaWa convenience store and gas station on the Bypass. Shelly Howland said: “I hope, someday, to see WaWa on the Bypass. That property is vacant land…I believe the tax revenue is less than $200 per year. I think this is a revenue generator.” She claimed that Newtown lacks the infrastructure and support for people that work in office areas. “There is no place to get a normal sandwich for less than $15. I think reasonable people can find reasonable ways to accommodate WaWa in Newtown.”

Listen to Ms. Howland's comments here:

BTW, you can get great sandwiches at Joey G’s at 861 Newtown Yardley Road for about $8. Just sayin’

Ms. Howland did not explain how a WaWa would generate revenue for Newtown when others have noted the minimal EIT that would be collected and how a WaWa would draw business away from other local businesses. Mr. Fuerman said: “Regarding office space – even if you build an office building with 20 employees you’re still collecting a higher EIT [Earned Income Tax] than from WaWa employees,” noted Mr. Fuerman. “The question is ‘what is the economic value of a WaWa?’”

If You Build It, Will They (Employees) Come?

Meanwhile, another resident (Ms. Ward), an HR manager, asked: Where will WaWa find employees? Wendy’s for example had to “face the fact that they were not going to have employees show up on a regular basis and work the hours that they [needed them to work] without suffering lapses in coverage. Children in Newtown, whether we like it or not, do not work. If you build it, they may NOT come.”

“Another thing we know, if you want to buy drugs,” said Ms. Ward, “the WaWa in Richboro and the 711 in Newtown, is where I can score any drug I want. The Bypass is going to be a perfect place to go. We’re already overtaxing our police force as it is. Do we want to add on to that?” See got a round of applause.

Next Steps

Although a traffic study was mentioned, there was no promise when that would be completed, only that it would be made publicly available during the course of pursuing a rezoning effort, which was suggested as the next step in the process. This was explained by attorney John VanLuvanne. Listen to his comments:

UPDATE 5/24/2018: According to the Newtown Solicitor in comments made at the May 23, 2018, Newtown Board of Supervisors meeting, the draft amendment to the JMZO ordinance has not yet been received by the Town. That would be the first step in the process before anything goes to the Jointure. The Newtown Supervisors would review the draft and it would come up for discussion at a public meeting of the Board of Supervisors BEFORE going to the Jointure, if at all. People should keep an eye on the agendas of upcoming meetings of the Newtown Board of Supervisors before attending Jointure meetings. This process may take several months. Stay tuned.

UPDATE 5/29/2018: If the ordinance is not amended, the developers would have to seek at least 10 “variances” from the Zoning Hearing Board, including:

  1. To permit a proposed convenience store with motor fuel sales in the OR Office Research District.
  2. To permit a minimum lot area of 5.09 acres, instead of the required 15 acres.
  3. To permit a front yard of 61.0 feet (from proposed canopy) along Newtown Bypass, and 100.3 feet (from proposed building) along Lower Silver Lake Road, instead of the required 150 feet.
  4. To permit a minimum lot width at the building setback line of 170 feet instead of the required 400 feet.
  5. To permit access to roads less than 200 feet from intersection of any street.
  6. To permit primary building or use to be erected on a lot that is less than the minimum lot area in the Office Research District.
  7. To permit a 16-foot drive aisle along Lower Silver Lake Road strictly right-in traffic only.
  8. To permit signage for a joint use that has a combined lot area greater than five acres.
  9. To permit signage for a joint use to be greater than the maximum allowed 20 square feet.
  10. To permit a freestanding sign for joint use that exceeds the 5-foot maximum.

Posted on 17 May 2018, 10:06 - Category: Development

Developer and Attorney Present Their Case for a WaWa Superstore on the Newtown Bypass

Details of the application for a Wawa at the southwestern corner of Newtown Bypass and Lower Silver Lake Road were presented at a Work Session meeting of the Newtown Board of Supervisors (BOS) on Monday, May 14, 2018. No decisions are made at BOS Work Sessions.

Michael Cooley of the Provco Group, which was hired by the owners – Innovative Hospitality Management – to develop the site, presented sketches and concept images of how the Wawa Superstore would be laid out and look to drivers (see below).

Zoning

One major stumbling block is the fact that the site is within the Office Research (OR Definition) zoning district, which does not allow retail stores or the selling of gasoline according to a memorandum prepared by CKS Engineers.

According to Article III, paragraph 300, of the Newtown Area Zoning Jointure (JMZO Definition), an OR zone is specifically intended to “provide for special office and research, industrially related uses on large tracts of land, which will provide a major employment center for the Region while enhancing its open space characteristics and natural features.”

It should be noted that employment centers envisioned by the OR zone could generate significant Earned Income Tax 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 tax income for the Township.

 “This site is never going to be a corporate headquarters or office building,” claimed land use and zoning law attorney John VanLuvanne in remarks to the BOS. Therefore, Mr. VanLuvanne proposed to amend the OR ordinance to allow as a special condition the use of the site for a Super Wawa type convenience store with fuel pumps. Supervisor Mack questioned Mr. VanLuvanne on this issue and asked what, if anything, would be the financial benefit to Newtown.

UPDATE: Updated Wawa Plan Presented to Newtown Planning Commission

If the ordinance is not amended, the developers would have to seek at least 10 “variances” from the Zoning Hearing Board, including:

  1. To permit a proposed convenience store with motor fuel sales in the OR Office Research District.
  2. To permit a minimum lot area of 5.09 acres, instead of the required 15 acres.
  3. To permit a front yard of 61.0 feet (from proposed canopy) along Newtown Bypass, and 100.3 feet (from proposed building) along Lower Silver Lake Road, instead of the required 150 feet.
  4. To permit a minimum lot width at the building setback line of 170 feet instead of the required 400 feet.
  5. To permit access to roads less than 200 feet from intersection of any street.
  6. To permit primary building or use to be erected on a lot that is less than the minimum lot area in the Office Research District.
  7. To permit a 16-foot drive aisle along Lower Silver Lake Road strictly right-in traffic only.
  8. To permit signage for a "joint use" (see Article XI of the JMZO) that has a combined lot area greater than five acres.
  9. To permit signage for a "joint use" (see Article XI of the JMZO) to be greater than the maximum allowed 20 square feet.
  10. To permit a freestanding sign for joint use that exceeds the 5-foot maximum.
Traffic

Another issue discussed at length was the increased traffic that a Super Wawa would bring. According to the traffic engineer hired by the developer, it is estimated that approximately 2,000 vehicles would visit the store in a 24-hour period. He suggested that of these, only 500 vehicles would be added to the Bypass traffic as a result. Mr. VanLuvanee said a traffic study would be submitted to the Supervisors and available to the public in the "interim" during the process of amensing the OR ordinance.

Frontage

There was concern about the 400 feet of frontage (see “Street View” in the photo above) and its impact on the “rural” nature of the Bypass. Supervisor Phil Calabro, for example, noted that the Bucks County Planning Commission recommended that “the locations of the building and the fuel pumps/canopy be flipped so that the building is situated closer to the Bypass… The canopy could be positioned with the shorter end toward the Bypass to minimize the visual impact of its mass.”

“Technically you have two frontages,” said Calabro. “You have the frontage on Lower Silverlake Road and the frontage on the Bypass. Why is it more important to have [the fuel pumps] facing the Bypass than having the building facing the Bypass?”

“The simple answer,” said Mr. Cooley, “is that it is not in Wawa’s business model to have pumps located behind the convenience store off of the main road.” Although Mr. Calabro tried to make a case of it being “six of one, half a dozen of the other,” it is obvious that Wawa wants the gas pumps to be as visible as possible to the maximum number or passing cars. “That’s why the gas pumps are located where they are, so that when you are traveling down the Bypass you can see that the Wawa has the gas offering,” said Mr. Cooley. This, of course, would alter the “natural features” and rural feel of the Bypass.

Several members of the public made comments. I will have more to say about this in a future post.

Posted on 15 May 2018, 10:57 - Category: Development

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