NEWTOWN BOROUGH >> During its April meeting held via live teleconference, the Newtown Borough Council voted unanimously to approve a resolution supporting a grant application for state funding to develop a passive community park at 112 Court Street behind the Bird In Hand at a cost of $108,655.
The Small Communities grant request, authored and submitted by Councilor Julia Woldorf on behalf of the borough, is seeking $69,327 from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources for the project.
The grant provides the first $30,000 without a match. Above and beyond that, it would require a 50-50 match, or $39,328 from the borough, of which $3,250 would be achieved through volunteer labor.
If awarded to the borough, the funding would be used to hire a contractor to install paths and park benches, regrade the site and create formalized entrances to the park. In addition, perennial beds would be planted by community volunteers.
In addition to submitting the resolution to the state, the grant application included letters of support from the Newtown Mercantile Group, the Newtown Business Association, the Newtown Historic Association, the Newtown Friends Home and Village and from neighbors.
Woldorf said that in each of their letters members of the NHA, the Friends Home and Village and the neighbors offered to assist with the planting of the gardens to help provide the non-cash match for the project.
Woldorf also noted that the Newtown Historic Association is continuing its preservation fund and will be accepting donations from the community earmarked for park development.
Grants are scheduled to be announced in late October or early November. If awarded, the borough would have until the end of 2023 to spend the funds.
In March, the borough hired NAM Planning and Design to develop a concept design for the property and to produce the documentation needed to apply for grant opportunities to fund development of the project.
NAM’s concept design will serve as the blueprint for the development of the pocket park located a block from the Historic State Street business district.
The borough purchased the piece of open space known as Bird in Hand Lot B at Court and Mercer streets in January 2019 to preserve the site’s historic significance and to create a public pocket park to enhance the surrounding historic Court Street neighborhood, a section of tree-lined streets with brick sidewalks, Colonial-era buildings and period street lighting.
The Bird in Hand property is the site of the only Revolutionary War skirmish in Newtown, a 1778 Loyalist raid on the Bird in Hand Tavern where tailors were making uniforms for the troops at Valley Forge. Five American soldiers were killed, four were wounded and others were captured.
In addition, the land is part of the last remaining lot of the original six squares of property that comprised the layout of Newtown by William Penn.
Building Lease Renewal
In other business, council voted unanimously to send a letter to the Newtown Fire Association indicating its intentions to renew a building lease with the NFA for another five years.
The borough has been renting space from the NFA for its Liberty Street police department for the past 20 years under an agreement that included an initial five year lease and four subsequent five year renewals.
Borough solicitor Lauren Gallagher informed council that this is the final five year renewal for the space under the lease.
“Over the next five years the borough will have to decide whether it wants to negotiate a new agreement or find some other arrangements” for its police department, she said.
Under the final renewal approved by council in April, the lease will be extended from August 1, 2020 to July 31, 2025.
2020 Road Program
In other action, council voted unanimously to approve its 2020 road improvement program, which will be paid for with liquid fuels funds - an annual allotment that the borough receives from the state from the state’s gasoline tax.
The work, expected to take place over the summer, includes:
- North Chancellor Street from Jefferson to the borough line: Base repair, milling and overlay.
- Mercer Street from State to Congress: Base repair, milling, overlay and ADA ramps.
- East Centre Avenue: 200 yards of Base repairs.
- Pothole repairs on East Green Street and at Congress and Jefferson.
The program also includes an alternate add-on - some base repairs and fixing a depressed inlet on Jefferson Court.
Also as part of the road program, 75 feet of concrete curbing on North Chancellor Street and 40 feet of replacement sidewalk on Mercer Street will be paid for by individual property owners.
Bids are scheduled to be awarded at the council’s June business meeting with work beginning in August.
The work on North Chancellor Street is being coordinated with the Newtown Artesian Water Company, which will be dogging up the street to replace water lines along the street. The coordination will save the borough in capital outlay for its road project.
In other action, council ratified the following motions previously approved in an early April executive session:
- A motion approving a Covid-19 disaster emergency declaration signed by the mayor. The declaration continues in effect through the duration of the emergency.
- A motion delaying the start of the penalty period for unpaid property taxes to July 31st.
- A motion directing its solicitor to draft a letter to Newtown Township agreeing to pay 50 percent of the engineering fees associated with a grant application for a pedestrian bridge linking the borough with Newtown Township. The cost will not exceed 50 percent of $2,124.
In other announcements, Council President Tara Grunde-McLaughlin took a moment to praise borough residents for stepping forward during the Covid-19 pandemic in support of the borough’s businesses, medical personnel, first responders, the elderly and those in need.
“We have residents and businesses that are donating time and money, collecting and sorting food for our pantries, sewing hundreds and hundreds of masks, cooking meals for medical personnel and first responders. I am so proud and grateful for my community,” she said.
“As we go forward, I ask that we support our local businesses. Many are open for prepay, pickup and shopping online. The storefronts may look closed, but they aren’t,” said the council president.