NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP >> In a move to spur business growth and raise new revenue, the township’s Economic Development Committee is recommending that new and expanded uses be considered in the Newtown Business Commons to make it more attractive to companies looking for a home.
The new, complementary uses, said Supervisor David Oxley, would provide a “shot in the arm” to the township’s light industrial and office/light industrial zones, while benefiting the township’s bottom line.
According to Oxley, the EDC came up with the recommendations after speaking to numerous businesses in the Commons and interviewing a number of real estate agents who handle properties in the business park.
“We’ve heard that certain amenities that businesses are looking for don’t exist in the Commons for their employees,” said Oxley. “We’d like to see more options,” he said.
The EDC is recommending an expansion of allowable services (dry cleaners, barbers, convenience shopping, etc.), more restaurant uses, expansion of entertainment uses as was granted to Rafters and the Brewery, consideration of an overlay district for multi-family housing and other possible uses that might fit into the Commons that are currently not permitted or are only permitted as special exceptions/variances.
“We have heard that Newtown is highly desirable, especially in the life science, pharma and bioscience area,” said Oxley. “We can provide a great deal of opportunity to companies looking to relocate, especially from New Jersey. We have a great shot here.”
The changes are necessary, he said, for the township’s long term financial picture and for the continued success of the Commons. “This is something we need to pass onto the planning commission to hear their thoughts as well.”
Planning Commission Chair Allen Fidler, who has sat in on meetings of the EDC including discussions regarding the Commons, said he would recommend securing the services of a professional county planner and an economic development expert to come up with uses “that have been successful in neighboring areas so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
“We’ve heard a lot about redevelopment. And we’ve seen that first hand with Doggie Day Care, the pet hotel, which is a redevelopment of an existing building. When you look at the Commons area, a lot of revitalization may be in the form of modifications to existing buildings. But the attraction would have to be economically sustainable.
“That’s where the EDC has said some of these support based services may be a good inclusion. Employees, on their limited lunch periods, don’t have time to go into the commercial district. Having some services close by can benefit the residential neighbors in addition to the employees who are in the Commons.
“Will that drive an economic engine?” asked Fidler. “I don’t have the depth of knowledge to validate that without getting some professional opinions on what kind of accessory business uses stimulates interest in a commercial park.”
Supervisor John Mack said with COVID-19 forcing a restructuring of business across the nation, grant dollars may be available to pay for the county professionals to determine the best amenities and uses.
Solicitor Jerry Schenkman suggested the township also research what has been done successfully in other business parks, both inside and outside the county. “If we’re going to make some changes, let’s make them work for the next 20 years. So we may want to have a bigger picture of what’s possible,” he said.
In addition to a discussion of uses, Engineer Michelle Fountain said consideration should be given to amenities, like creating walkability and exploring public transportation opportunities.
Fountain dissuaded the inclusion of single family dwellings or townhouse dwellings in the Commons simply because they take up a lot of room with setbacks and parking. But she said that redevelopment of an existing building could offer the opportunity for multifamily dwellings or apartments “if you want to have a residential use in the Commons.”
Chairman Phil Calabro liked that idea.
“That’s one thing we don’t have in the township - an apartment complex. I think that would benefit the township because it would bring maybe younger professionals who may not have the money to buy a house in Newtown, but want to live in Newtown. It also gives older couples who want to downsize a place to live who want to stay in Newtown.”
Supervisor Kyle Davis praised Oxley and the EDC on its recommendations and agreed that amenities are needed to bolster the appeal of the Newtown Business Commons, which has seen an increase in vacancy rates.
“I think it’s a great idea and making it more attractive is awesome,” said Davis. “I do, however, want to make sure we don’t change the zoning in such a way that will enable it to be bulldozed and a strip mall put in. We need to be careful of how we make those changes.”
Oxley agreed. “Obviously we would lean on our solicitors, our planners and our engineers to make sure we do the right thing to cover and protect our township.
“A lot of what I feel, the reason why we put this out there, is because we need a tremendous amount of revenue. We want to avoid tax increases in the future. And the only way we can do that is finding other ways to raise revenue. That’s why this is important.”
Chairman Phil Calabro commended the concept, but said now the township needs to connect the dots by involving not just the township’s planning commission, but also the Bucks County Planning Commission and the township’s legal team.
“There are a lot of possibilities. We just need some more study with our planning commission, engineers and lawyers all putting their heads together,” said Calabro.