NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP >> After a public hearing lasting more than two hours, the board of supervisors declined to approve Toll Brothers conditional use application to build 45 high-end single-family townhomes on a tract of land off of Durham and Twinning Bridge Roads.
More than 50 neighboring residents opposing the project packed the Feb. 26 board meeting, imploring the supervisors to deny the use, mostly for concerns over traffic and land conservation.
At the end of the public hearing, none of the five supervisors put forth a motion to vote on the developer’s conditional-use request, so as a matter of procedure the application, for the time being, is effectively in limbo awaiting a formal determination by the board.
There was no comment or debate among the supervisors, which included Chairman Phil Calabro, as well Supervisors John Mack, Dennis Fisher, Kyle Davis and David Oxley.
According to township solicitor David Sander, because a mandated public hearing was held on the issue, the board of supervisors in effect acted as a “quasi-judicial body.”
That means in the coming weeks the supervisors are legally permitted to discuss the matter behind closed doors out of public view.
Sanders explained that the board is also required to have him prepare a written decision, which the supervisors must publicly vote on within 45 days of the Feb. 26 meeting, as required by law.
If the board’s recent inaction on Tolls Brothers’ conditional-use application is any indication of its intent, it’s expected that it will be officially denied unless an agreement can be reached, or the development plans changed to the board’s liking.
The developer’s plan calls for a cluster development on B-12 zoned land which would take up only a small portion, roughly 36-acres, of the 158-acre tract on the southwest corner of Durham Road (Rte. 413) and Twinning Bridge Road, which lies just north of the Newtown Township municipal complex.
Because the parcel is zoned Conservation Management (CM), a cluster development is allowed by use, but not by right, so that’s why Toll needed the conditional-use approval instead of a zoning change.
According to Toll Brothers’ attorney Gregg Adelman, about 88.6 acres of the site would be left as open space and turned over to the township for public use, if the supervisors want to accept it.
If not, the land, which also has a stream running through it, would remain under the purview of the homeowners’ association.
Adelman said the developer chose to build 45 clustered luxury townhouses, instead of the maximum 61 allowed under the ordinance for CM-zoned land.
Each detached home would be on a minimum 30,000 square-foot lot size, with hookups to public water and sewer lines that run under Twinning Bridge Road.
Originally, an on-site sewer treatment facility had been planned, but that idea has been abandoned.
The proposed development also calls for a multi-use trail running through the site instead on internal sidewalks.
However, a sidewalk would be installed for the length of the property along Twinning Bridge Road, as required by township ordinance.
A minimum 150-foot tree-lined buffer would surround the entire tract, and each home would have about 45-feet of space behind it, with an expansive front yard.
Under the proposal, there would be two access streets off of Twinning Bridge Road, which would be widened and improved by the entrances.
“There’s no impact on the local roadways,” Adelman told the supervisors, noting that there would also be adequate sight distance for approaching vehicles on Twinning Bridge Road.
Although a traffic impact study was not required under township ordinance, he said that Toll decided to do one anyway.
The streets inside the development will be 50-feet wide, with a 30-foot wide cartway, but will remain private and not dedicated to the township.
According to Adelman, because the developer did not want to seek any outright zoning changes in the Conservation Management district, Toll Brothers considerably downsized its housing plan from what had been originally presented to the board of supervisors in September 2018.
Under that plan, 173 new high-end homes in a variety of styles would have been constructed on the site which was owned by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and originally envisioned to be part of the nearby All Saints Cemetery.
To keep traffic off of Twinning Bridge Road, the original plan had called for building a new 1,200-foot single-access road through the cemetery to connect with Route 413 and Wrights Road.
That proposal, which would have required an easement for the roadway, had angered many area residents who had labeled the plan “ridiculous.”
But in October, Toll had amended its application, as well as downsized the number of proposed homes for the property.
A new plan was submitted to the township which instead called for 45 single-family luxury homes to be built with no zoning change needed, just conditional-use approval.
Under the new application, two access roads would instead be located on Twinning Bridge Road.
The revised proposal was to have been discussed at a supervisors’ meeting in December, but had been postponed three times at the developer’s request in order to tweak it.
Most of the opponents cited an increase in traffic on Twinning Ridge Road, which they claim would also impact Durham Road to the east and Swamp Road to the west. Both intersections, they argued, are already dangerous because there are no traffic lights.
Eric Pomerantz of nearby Dorchester Lane brought up the traffic concerns saying, “This is a significant and real issue that has to be thought through.”
He also asserted that the township has “come under assault in the last five-to-ten years” over maintaining open space.
“What conservation management is all about, I believe, is being violated by cramming all of these houses in a small space,” Pomerantz argued.
That sentiment was echoed by Joe McAtee who lives on Twinning Bridge Road.
“It was devastating on so many levels when I found out that this land would be developed,” he argued.
In addition, McAtee said that his front yard would lose footage when the roadway is widened to accommodate the development’s access roads.
He also warned that the increased traffic on Twinning Bridge Road would be hazardous at the Swamp Road intersection, which has recently seen a motorist fatality.
Several other residents pointed out that the road’s treacherous curves would endanger residents, as well as children waiting for school buses.
There is no word yet whether Toll Brothers would take legal action if its conditional-use application is formally denied in the coming weeks.