Are mobile homes next? Newtown Swim Club withdraws plans for 52 townhouses
NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP -- The Newtown Swim Club has formally withdrawn its request for a zoning variance to build 52 high-density townhouses on the site, a move that has sparked concerns among Newtown Township Supervisors that a mobile home park could be placed there after the swim club closes next summer.
David and Geraldine Platt, who own the swim club, have notified the township Zoning Hearing Board that they are withdrawing the application for the zoning variance needed for the proposed townhouses on the 16.36-acre plot.
Under current R-2 zoning, only 30 single-family homes, or a 64- plot mobile home park, are permitted on the property, which is located along Newtown-Yardley Road just outside Newtown Borough in the eastern part of the township.
The Zoning Hearing Board was scheduled to hear the matter on Dec. 6. Last week, the supervisors had voted 3-2 to send the township solicitor to the zoning board to oppose the variance request.
After that split vote on Nov. 28, developer Mike Meister, president of County Builders, lambasted the supervisors during the meeting, declaring that plans would proceed to place mobile homes on the site.
“I just wanted to show you what’s coming here,” he shouted, waiving the alternate plans.
Meister’s outburst, along with the zoning application withdrawal, apparently has worried the supervisors, who at their Dec. 5 meeting discussed amending the current ordinance to require that the 15-acre minimum for a mobile home park be increased to 25-acres.
However, the board noted that any future changes would not apply to the Newtown Swim Club since it is covered by the existing ordinance which allows for mobile homes.
Because Newtown Township is part of a goint Municipal woning Ordinance (gMwO), along with Wrightstown and Upper Makefield townships, all three municipalities must approve any zoning changes.
With that in mind, the supervisors voted 5-0 at Wednesday’s meeting to send a letter to the two other townships seeking to discuss the issue of increasing the minimum land needed for a mobile home park to 25 acres.
“For some reason, we had dropped the mobile home park requirement to 15 acres,” said Supervisor Rob Ciervo. “If we don’t start on this it will be one of those things that will languish.” “We have to protect the future,” he said. According to Ciervo, several residents recently had told him that they were surprised that Newtown even allows mobile homes.
Ciervo said that he had spoken with Bucks County Planning Commission executive director Lynn Bush, who recalled that the last mobile home park which opened in the county was Buckingham Springs more than 20 years ago.
“We have to make sure that this use is in line with the other high-density uses in the R-2 zone,” he said.
However, severely restricting certain types of development by requiring minimum lot sizes can open up the township to litigation.
“What it comes down to is an exclusionary use,” warned township solicitor gohn Torrente.
Supervisor Ryan Gallagher, who is also an attorney, agreed.
“While I certainly understand your intent,” he told Ciervo, “on this it’s a concern for future litigation.”
“I don’t know another area in the township that can accommodate 15 or even 25 acres [for a mobile home park],” Gallagher asserted. “I hate to see us getting involved in litigation that’s going to cost the township a lot of money.”
Any potential lawsuits over restrictive zoning could also involve Wrightstown and Upper Makefield because they are part of the gMwO.
The dispute centers on whether the Platts’ property should be considered a traditional R-2-zoned residential use when the club originally opened, which the owners contend would allow more housing units than under the current joint municipal zoning.
The swim club is now zoned B-19, which allows more residences on a property only if it adjoins Newtown Borough, or is next to a district which is zoned Office-Light Industrial (OLI) or Park and Open Space (POS).
A zoning variance to build high-density residences would be required because the Platts’ property is not contiguous with the borough, so cannot be considered B-19-zoned land in an R-2 area. The allowed use for the site requires a mix of housing types and a minimum of 25 acres.
Although traffic congestion and the possibility of an increase in students to the Council Rock School District were some of the township’s concerns, the main issue surrounding the proposed 52-unit townhouse development was housing density.
Each of the proposed three-bedroom town homes would be roughly 2,600-3,000 square-feet. In addition, 55 percent of the property, about 9 acres, would remain open space.
The developer had also indicated that preliminary discussions were held with the neighboring 100-unit Headley development to enhance its recreational facilities, including tennis and basketball courts, as well as the pool and cub house, so that residents in both developments could use them.
Several supervisors have disputed the Platts’ claim that the current zoning is burdensome, and should be waived. However, the developer argued that the planned density is similar to surrounding developments.
Originally, the Platts had submitted plans to build 64 town homes on the site, but they modified that proposal when the supervisors unanimously voted in guly to send the township solicitor to formally oppose that variance request before the woning Hearing Board. That application also was withdrawn.
The reason for developing the property at this time is that David Platt, who suffers from melanoma, plans to close the swim club at the end of the 2013 summer season.
In a letter sent to residents over the summer, he explained that his decision to shutter the club is based on health reasons.
To date, neither the supervisors nor any other township agency has taken an official action on the Newtown Swim Club’s development plans.
Prior to Wednesday’s supervisors meeting, when asked if the Platts are serious about the mobile home park, or it’s just posturing, Chairman Mike Gallagher responded, “I think that they’re very serious.”