John Mack - Newtown Supervisor
Development Category

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

Newtown Board of Supervisors Shoots Down Drive-thru Starbucks

Despite a recommendation for approval of a “conditional use” application for a drive-thru Starbucks cafe by the Newtown Planning Commission, the Newtown Board of Supervisors (BOS) voted 5-0 against the application at the May 9, 2018, public meeting. The cafe is proposed to be located in the Village at Newtown West at 2896 South Eagle Road - in the entrance to the McCaffrey Supermarket parking lot.

Here's the proposed plan that was presented before the Board. The Starbucks building is shown as "Cafe" and the drive through lane is between the "Cafe" and South Eagle.

I've indicated the path that traffic to and from South Eagle Road would have to take to get in line for a Triple Mocha Frappuccino® or just a plain old Cold Foam Cascara Cold Brew. No wonder Starbucks is "slower than its major competitors in the drive-thru lane" - it takes on average 4.4 minutes to get your order.

Bloomberg says: "Starbucks is still pokey in the drive-thru, and will have to speed things up if it wants to compete with the likes of Dunkin’ Brands Group Inc. and McDonald’s Corp. Getting it right could make or break the strategy that the Seattle-based company is counting on to jump start sales after revenue disappointed analysts in eight of the past nine quarters."

Chairman Calabro commented on the potential traffic problem and Supervisor Kyle Davis said the developer is trying to stuff too many stores into the space. Note that there is also a drive-thru bank located in the same area. I can imagine cars lined up to get access to the drive-thru lanes of the bank and Starbucks. I commented upon the dearth of allotted parking spaces.

Newtown resident Kierstyn Piotrowski Zolfo commented on Facebook: "Agreed that the location for that Starbucks would have been a traffic nightmare, and the number of parking spaces sounded altogether inadequate... especially for a Starbucks, where some people will come and stay for hours. But you do not know they joy that the words "drive . thru . Starbucks" briefly brought into my heart last night... I hope that there is some place in town where such a drive-thru could be opened without the same type of traffic difficulties."

Kierstyn balanced that against the fact that at the same meeting the BOS passed a resolution sponsored by Fair Districts in support of a Citizens' Commission for Legislative and Congressional Redistricting. 

UPDATE (June 22, 2018): Starbucks goes to court to contest the Board's decision; says the Board committed an "abuse of discretion"; i.e. Failed to take into proper consideration the facts and law relating to the application. Newtown Township says: "The Board of Supervisors neither abused its discretion nor committed an error of law by denying the application."

Posted on 10 May 2018, 13:47 - Category: Development

Newtown Township Traffic Impact Fee Advisory Committee

The Newtown Township Board of Supervisors is currently accepting resumes for consideration for the Newtown Township Traffic Impact Fee Advisory Committee (TIFAC). Resumes will be accepted until 12:00 noon on Monday, April 12, 2018.

The TIFAC assists with developing studies required for the adoption of the Ordinance regulating traffic impact fees, and provides recommendations to the Board of Supervisors for approval or disapproval of reports at various stages of the process, in accordance with Pennsylvania Act 209 and the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code. All applications will be considered, however,  professionals with backgrounds in Real Estate, Development, and the building industry that reside or conduct business in Newtown Township are strongly urged to apply. The TIFAC will coordinate with professional traffic engineers and will be primary focused on assessing existing traffic conditions throughout the Township, developing recommendations for potential traffic improvements – such as location of additional traffic signals, and developing impact fees for future development based on potential traffic improvements.

Please submit a letter of interest and resume to Olivia Kivenko, Newtown Township, 100 Municipal Drive, Newtown PA 18940, by email to oliviak@newtownpa.gov or by fax at (215)968-5368.

Posted on 28 Feb 2018, 15:20 - Category: Development

Newtown Township Board of Supervisors Approves Nina's Waffles

See story below. Alexis Zanias describes how Nina's Waffles is unique in comments to the Newtown Board of Supervisors on 14 February 2018.

Posted on 23 Feb 2018, 13:52 - Category: Development

Arcadia Green Development Hearings, Part 1

On November 8, 2017, the first session of hearings before the Newtown Board of Supervisors regarding the proposed Arcadia Green development project took place. On October 11, 2017, there was public comment and the selection of "witnesses" who would testify at the hearings (for more on that, read "Newtown Crossing vs Arcadia: Residents Speak Out").

I had to leave by 9:30 pm after more than an hour of testimony by Arcadia’s president Jason Duckworth who desribed the project in much detail. I was able to capture an image of the proposed project (see below) from the multi-page document that Arcadia introduced into evidence.

Proposed Arcadia Green Developemnt

The main issue for many residents of Newtown Crossing is the impact of traffic. The plan calls for an egress road through High Street. Residents at the meeting were dismayed that Arcadia has yet to supply the Township with a traffic impact study, which is needed before an iinformed decision by the Board can be made.

I will continue to follow this issue. Meanwhile, see the piece below for some history regarding this proposed development.

Posted on 09 Nov 2017, 01:29 - Category: Development

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