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.
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 a supervisor 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