Are mo­bile homes next? New­town Swim Club with­draws plans for 52 town­houses

The Advance of Bucks County - - FRONT PAGE - By D.E. Sch­lat­ter

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.”

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