NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP >> The Newtown Township Board of Supervisors on Jan. 13 voted 3 to 2 to reject a settlement agreement with Newtown Bucks Associates LLP for proposed improvements to the Newtown Shopping Center, including traffic improvements for the Chick-Fil-A and a new retail pad site.
Anchored by ACME Markets, the shopping center is home to a Staples store, Bed, Bath & Beyond, Applebee’s, TD Bank, Chick-Fil-A and Corner Bakery Cafe.
The agreement would have settled a zoning appeal filed by the shopping center owner after the township’s zoning hearing board granted variances for parking and loading zone, but turned down a variance request seeking 61.7 percent impervious surface coverage, an increase of slightly more than two percent.
Newtown Bucks Associates is proposing to add kitchen space to the Chik-Fil-A building and to significantly improve traffic flow circulation in and around the fast food eatery. In addition, it has proposed a new retail pad site to give the shopping center “a retail shot in the arm.”
As part of the settlement, the shopping center owner made an attempt to reduce impervious surface coverage by paring down the proposed new retail pad from 12,500 to 9,000 square feet.
“By reducing the size of the building, it has allowed us to reconfigure the parking such that every space will be contained on the pad site itself,” said Meginniss, noting that under the previous plan there were parking spaces planned along the main access drive serving the center. “The effect of that is that it’s reducing impervious surface, but it has not reduced it to a percentage where we would be compliant with the zoning ordinance.”
Township solicitor Dave Sander agreed, pointing out that even with that change, impervious relief would still be required under township ordinances.
“The site, currently to do anything, needs a variance for impervious coverage,” said Meginniss. “To put one square foot of impervious out there it’s going to need a variance. Even if that whole pad site went away, just to do the Chick-Fil-A improvement you’d need a variance for impervious surface coverage.”
While the zoning board rejected the plan based on impervious surface, the shopping center officials said the zoning board was more concerned with the parking configuration at the proposed pad site, which the settlement plan would address.
“The settlement agreement was our way of threading the needle,” said Meginniss. “We think this is the better concept ... I don’t want to speak for the zoning hearing board, but my understanding is their disposition is more friendly toward this design. It is an improvement, but it does not solve the impervious surface issue.”
The owners previously said the new retail pad would be occupied by an Old Navy store, but during the meeting this week they did not say whether the scaled down pad site would still house the popular clothing retailer.
Much of the discussion at the meeting focused not on the key issue of impervious surface, but on the plans for traffic improvements at the fast food eatery.
The improvements include constructing a 400 square foot addition to the kitchen of the popular Chick-Fil-A eatery, a right turn lane along West Road and a number of on site improvements to eliminate significant congestion in and around the restaurant.
“The Chick-Fil-A as it is currently constituted has significant stacking issues, which everyone knows exists at the shopping center,” said Meginniss. “We believe these improvements, in tandem with the expansion of the kitchen, will dramatically cut down on the traffic issues. You’re not going to see any cars spilling out onto Route 413. And the right turn only lane should be sufficient to handle all of the Chick-Fil-A generated traffic.”
During busy days, especially holidays, the drive-thru lanes at the eatery back up onto West Road and sometimes as far as Durham Road creating traffic congestion in and around the shopping center.
The kitchen expansion is designed to reduce service time per order and improve traffic flow, said Meginniss.
In addition, plans call for the creation of a dedicated right turn lane into the eatery from West Road to prevent traffic backups at the entrance to the restaurant and to allow traffic headed west to Staples and Bed, Bath and Beyond to continue unimpeded.
Other proposed improvements designed to improve traffic cueing and to eliminate backups include the addition of a bypass lane on the Staples side of the eatery. The bypass lane would allow customers who have already received their orders to drive past the pickup window and exit the lot. Under the current set up, traffic must wait until every vehicle drives by the pickup window.
“We think the addition of the second lane is going to have a drastic reduction in the service time and allow for greater circulation,” said Meginniss.
The supervisors didn’t seemed to be convinced by the plans, asking numerous questions about how the improvements will better the situation.