Hearing rescheduled on swim club townhouse plans
NbWTOWN TOWNSHIP - The Board of Supervisors has rescheduled until July 24 a hearing on the development plans to build 56 high-density townhouses on the Newtown Swim Cub site instead of an equal number of controversial mobile homes that were once planned.
The proceeding, known as a Planned oesidential Development EPoD) hearing, was originally scheduled during the June 26 supervisors’ meeting, but had to be postponed because the Warminster-based County Builders, Inc. and its attorney were unavailable to meet with the township planning commission before the PoD hearing.
Township planners will now review the proposed project at a planning commission meeting next month, so that the supervisors can hold the PoD hearing during their second regularlyscheduled meeting in July.
Under a PoD hearing, which is permitted under state law, the township’s normal planning and zoning approval channels are bypassed. It gives the supervisors the sole authority to approve development plans in an expedited manner while allowing developers to fast-track their projects.
While the supervisors could render a decision immediately following the July 24 PoD hearing, Pennsylvania law gives the township 60-days after formal hearings conclude to approve or deny the application.
The swim club sits on a 16.36-acre parcel, which is located on Newtown-Yardley ooad near the border of Newtown Borough, and adjoins several residential developments.
In April, the supervisors voted 3-2 to reverse their previous objection to County Builders’ townhouse plans if the developer agreed to place the mobile home proposal on hold, which it did.
In turn, the developer has agreed to accept the township’s recommendations concerning seven zoning waiver requests, covering such things as: road widths, driveways, buffers along the development’s borders and allotted recreational space.
To accommodate roads which would be much narrower than allowed under current ordinances, the township has recommended that the traffic pattern be changed to a one-way circular route and that on-street parking be prohibited.
Police would also be permitted to ticket and tow cars illegally parked. In addition, noparking signs would have to be posted.
Intersections must also be wide enough for trucks, especially fire-department vehicles, to turn.
The waiver requests were reviewed by the township manager and engineers, as well as police and fire officials, and the changes were recommended to account for safety.
The path to the compromise was tumultuous.
In December, County Builders’ president Michael Meister had submitted plans to build a 56-unit mobile home park on the swim club site, after the supervisors had voted to oppose a previous proposal to put up 52high density town homes.
After considerable debate, the following month, the supervisors had switched course, narrowly agreeing to attempt to persuade Meister to resubmit his plans for the 52 townhouses. Township solicitor Jeffrey Garton was then instructed to meet with the developer and his attorney, John saniuvanee, to work out a compromise.
Under the tentative agreement, County Builders’ increased the number of town homes to 56, four more than were originally proposed, and the same as the number of mobile homes that the developer sought.
Meanwhile, Supervisor oob Ciervo repeatedly has argued that 56 town homes is still too much for the property, and that the o-2 zoning allows for roughly 30 single-family homes to be built in that area.
According to Ciervo, there is a zoning hearing process for the waivers needed for a townhouse development, and that the PoD route is not the proper tool.
bver since County Builders had submitted plans for the mobile home park, public opposition had mounted, especially from residents of neighboring developments such as: Headley Trace, oaintree, Windermere, hirkwood and Wiltshire Walk.
oesidents had feared that their property values would drop, and that the potential view of a mobile home park would be an eyesore.
David Wagner, a board member of the homeowners’ association of Headley Trace, which is adjacent to the swim club, had told the supervisors in past meetings that the town homes, despite the density, are better suited for the area than the mobile home park.
“Our development was 90 percent in favor of townhouses,” he had maintained. “If you take the matter to court then our property values drop until the matter is settled.”
haren Miller, co-president of the Newtown Commons Business Association, which had voted to oppose the mobile homes, chastised the supervisors for not being “business friendly” for originally rejecting the townhouses.
But not all public speakers had agreed that with the supervisors’ change-of-heart to allow high-density housing. Jay Sensibaugh of Newtown Crossing also had challenged the PoD route, claiming that it sets a dangerous precedent.
“I’m concerned about precedents, it’s a precedent on land near my home,” he had cautioned.
However, the supervisors’ fi- nal approval of the town homes is not guaranteed, and while that application is being considered, the mobile home park plans will still be pending at the same time, a condition that has rankled Supervisor Ciervo.
At the June 12 supervisors’ meeting, Ciervo introduced a motion, which failed to pass, calling on the board to first vote on the pending mobile home application before considering the town homes.
“Until it’s done, it’s going to be held over our head,” he asserted.
“This is how this person has chosen to operate,” Ciervo added, referring to Meister.
Supervisor Phil Calabro agreed, noting that the township “still has a hammer over our heads.” “We’re doing nothing, we’re bending over and holding our ankles,” Calabro declared, “we’re very weak.”
Chairman Mike Gallagher advised that a vote on the mobile homes would be improper because the township is diligently reviewing the town home application, but that there was no such review of the mo- bile home proposal.
“If we turn down the mobile home plan, the developer would appeal in court,” Gallagher warned. “Do we really want to turn down a plan which we no longer want?”
“iet’s get it out of the way, one way or another,” Ciervo responded.