NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP >> With legal fees mounting, the Newtown Township Board of Supervisors on Feb. 24 voted 4 to 1 to approve a revised settlement agreement with the Arcadia Land Company.
The vote will allow the Philadelphia-based land developer to build 60 single family detached homes in the $700,000 price range behind the Newtown Reformed Church at Route 532 and the Newtown Bypass. That’s 16 homes fewer than Arcadia had originally sought to build.
The settlement ends all court litigation, including a suit filed by the Eagle Ridge community over a writ of mandamus filed by the developer claiming a clerical error by the township’s solicitor resulted in a deemed approval of the plan. The writ was subsequently deemed approved by a Bucks County Judge.
The agreement also attempts to resolve traffic concerns related to the entrance to the development on Buck Road and its location within yards of the Newtown Bypass. The plan shows traffic from the new development utilizing an existing service road that parallels the bypass and is currently posted as a right turn in and right turn out only at Buck Road.
Under the settlement agreement Arcadia has agreed to ask PennDOT to allow right-turn access into and out of the site directly from the Newtown Bypass.
If that option is denied by PennDOT, Arcadia will then ask PennDOT to permit left turns from the service road onto Buck Road northbound from the development.
The idea, proposed by Pete Ancona of Newtown Crossing, would add a new signal immediately south of the service road that when triggered by a pressure plate would stop traffic headed northbound on Buck Road to allow vehicles to turn out of the service road without any potential conflict with the traffic light at the Newtown Bypass.
If those two options can’t be worked out with PennDOT, a u-turn option would be added on Buck Road at Mill Pond Road and Diamond Drive for traffic from the new development looking to head northbound on Buck Road. The intersection would be improved to make the maneuver safe.
In addition, the agreement would prohibit all construction vehicles from using Mill Pond Road. In addition, no truck signs will be erected at either end of Mill Pond Road and at either end of Cherry Lane if PennDOT’s standards for no trucks is met.
Chairman Phil Calabro joined Supervisors John Mack, Dennis Fisher and David Oxley in voting for the settlement.
Calabro warned that by not approving the agreement the township could end up with 76 homes and no promise from the developer to work with PennDOT on a traffic solution.
“The option we have here is probably the best option in regards to what we could have,” he said. “This is a comprise. It can’t be all or nothing. It’s what everyone agrees they can live with ... Seeing the alternatives it could be a worse situation than what we are looking at right now.”
Supervisors Mack, Fisher and Oxley each cited escalating legal fees as part of their reason for voting for the settlement.
“Even though many may not be happy with the result, it has been long, tedious and has involved a lot of residents, which is the right way to do things. Not everyone is going to be on the same boat,” said Mack. “We’ll have to see how this works out. As far as the traffic is concern, I know PennDOT doesn’t have a problem with the u-turn. I hope the improvements to Buck Road will make that feasible.
“The township has spent a lot of money on this,” Mack continued. “I was surprised at our last meeting when (Eagle Ridge Attorney) Stephen Harris told us that he didn’t believe any of these fights against this will be successful in court. But we have to fix the reality.”
“I agree with Mr. Fisher and Mr. Mack,” said Oxley. “But I also like the passion the residents have brought to this. Everyone cares about Newtown. They have put in a lot of time and had a lot of conversations and meetings. That gives me a lot of excitement for what our township is going to be going forward.
“Traffic could be a concern, perhaps,” said Oxley. “But the bypass is already a tough place when we have those rush hour time frames. And that’s regardless of develoment or not ... It’s better for us to continue to move forward with this rather than continue to spend more money on legal fees and then potentially losing ... I’d like to see this thing move forward.”
Republican Supervisor Kyle Davis broke with the four Democrats on the board, casting the lone vote against the deal. He urged the board to continue the fight.
“I’m not in favor of this settlement agreement,” he said. “There are a lot of promises in here. A lot of what if’s. The only real tangible item would be the reduction of homes. It’s going to be a nightmare for traffic for not just those living in the area, but those going through on 532. It’s worth the fight to try to stop this from going in there.”
The vote puts to rest a six year battle over the proposed development, in which the supervisors formally voted three times to deny the project over traffic concerns at the entrance to the proposed development.
Attorney John VanLuvanee said Arcadia is “fully supportive” of the settlement. “And we will perform in accordance with its requirements ... We have also worked pretty hard to get to a compromise that’s acceptable and we appreciate the efforts of the others who have worked with us to get there.”
Ancona, the president of the Newtown Crossing HOA, said while the HOA has worked hard to find an acceptable solution, a good percentage of residents are not happy with the agreement.
“I stood before you to comment about my concerns over traffic and safety in 2017 for the Arcadia 2 application and the board denied the application. I stood before you to repeat my same concerns in 2018 for Arcadia 3 and again the board denied the application,” said Ancona. “It’s very disappointing that we’re here again in 2021 having a conversation regarding a settlement since the application for Arcadia 3 was denied by the supervisors in 2018.
“Arcadia pursued a writ of mandamus on a legal technicality of how they were notified by the township of the denial. While this is disappointing and frustrating it is understandable on their part. They are trying to build houses,” said Ancona.
“While I’m upset that Arcadia used a technicality to get their application approved I’m more upset that the unelected solicitor failed the supervisors,” he said.
“We’re here tonight because the board of supervisors, in an attempt to resolve a bad situation involving multiple lawsuits and appeals, decided to give the settlement another shot involving the community and their HOAs to try and address the community’s concerns.
“For Newtown Crossing, besides wanting to see the lots preserved as open space forever, our concerns have always been traffic and safety ... Obviously we would all like to see the ground stay open forever, but short of someone buying the property and donating it to the township as a park, it’s not going to happen.”
During the Zoom meeting, 13 residents from Newtown Crossing, Crown Point and Eagle Ridge spoke publicly urging the supervisors to vote against the settlement, many of them praising Davis for taking a stand against the settlement, but blasting the solicitor over the clerical error.