NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP >> The Newtown Township Board of Supervisors will hold an in-person meeting on August 26 to announce its decision on a conditional use application submitted by Toll Brothers.
Toll is proposing to build 45 high-end single family homes on 150 acres of land located along Route 413 (Durham Road) and Twining Bridge Road.
At an early March meeting, the supervisors were poised to vote on the developers’ application, but decided instead to table the motion after several neighboring residents voiced their opposition to the project.
The supervisors had intended to announce its decision at its March 25 board meeting, which was canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak. Under an extension agreement with Toll, the supervisors postponed its announcement until its first in-person meeting.
At its August 5 meeting, the supervisors voted to announce its decision at an in-person meeting to be held August 26. Due to coronavirus regulations, only 20 residents will be allowed to attend the 7 p.m. meeting, which will be broadcast on local cable.
Also during its August 5 meeting, township manager Micah Lewis read public comment from a handful of residents who raised traffic concerns with the project, especially its impact on Twining Bridge Road.
Michael Curran of Ridge Road wrote many of the residents who live in and around the site feel “betrayed” by the Archdiocese, having purchased their homes with the understanding that the land would forever be a cemetery.
“Twining Bridge Road does not have the capacity for the traffic the development would bring,” he said. “The egress should be changed to Route 413 with a new traffic light at North Drive. The plans can easily be altered to reflect that change.”
Resident Judith Russo suggested new traffic lights be installed at Swamp and Twining Bridge and Durham and Twining Bridge to accommodate the increased traffic and to prevent accidents. “These intersection are already hazardous and this is only going to increase the problem.”
And resident Amy Paccapaniccia of Providence Court called on the supervisors “to address the horrible situation that is Twining Bridge Road.
“The road is extremely dangerous to turn off onto both Swamp and Route 413,” she said. “Since both do not have turning lanes, it makes it unsafe to turn onto Twining Bridge Road. It also floods frequently with bad weather. These two things are terrible for the families who currently live here.
“Adding 45 additional houses will make these issues even worse,” she said. “You should require Toll to straighten Twining Bridge Road to allow it to connect to a light at the Newtown Grant neighborhood. Creating this would alleviate Route 413 safety issues and will avoid traffic from flooded, dangerous curves.”
At the last in-person hearing held in early March, Eric Pomerantz of Dorchester Lane also questioned whether the planned development would disturb pristine agricultural soils if a multi-use trail were built on the open-space land.
That sentiment was echoed by Joe McAtee, who lives on Twining Bridge Road, and had also spoke at the meeting.
McAtee also questioned why the two access roads were planned for Twining Bridge Road, instead of a single access from Durham Road (Route 413) where there is currently a traffic light at the entrance of Newtown Grant on North Road.
“We need to prioritize safety,” he told the supervisors.
Earlier this year, township solicitor David Sander said the board would have to agree to six conditions in order to grant conditional-use approval.
One would be that Toll Brothers would have to conduct, and pay for, an in-depth traffic impact study before any preliminary and final land development plans would be considered by the township planning commission and board of supervisors.
Other conditions include the installation of a multi-use trail in place of sidewalks, as well as the future homeowners’ association restricting the homeowners use of their outdoor property so not to impeded on any designated open space.
When the residents attending the March meeting questioned why the board does not simply reject Toll’s application, Sander quickly replied that the developer would most likely take the township to Bucks County Common Pleas Court, and in all likelihood win.
According to the township solicitor, Toll is permitted to build a cluster development on land which is zoned B-12 in the Conservation Management (CM) Zoning District, but needs conditional-use approval by the board of supervisors to do so.
The court would most likely overturn any municipal challenge to that application, with the judge directing the project to move forward over any township dissent.
In addition, Sander warned that if the supervisors do reject the application, then Toll would be allowed to build up to 61 single family homes, each on about three acres with no open space. That’s because the developer has the right to do so under the zoning now applicable to that property.
“If that happened, there would be about 50-percent more traffic,” Sander warned.
At a two-hour Feb. 26 public hearing on the conditional-use application, more than 50 neighboring residents voiced their opposition to the project, mostly over concerns with traffic and land conservation.
At the end of that mandated public hearing, none of the five supervisors commented or debated the issue. In addition none had put forth a motion to vote on the developer’s conditional-use request, so as a matter of procedure the application was effectively declined for the time being.
According to the township solicitor, because the board had acted as a “quasi-judicial body” overseeing the February public hearing, the supervisors were legally permitted to discuss the matter behind closed doors out of public view.
If the conditional-use application is formally denied, then Toll Brothers would have 30 days to file an appeal in county court.
Meanwhile, the developer’s revised plan calls for a cluster development on B-12 zoned land which would take up only a small portion, roughly 36-acres, of the 150-acre tract.
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.
At the March public hearing, Toll’s attorney Gregg Adelman said 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 wanted 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 houses, instead of the maximum 61 single-family high-end homes allowed under the ordinance for CM-zoned land.
Under the plan, each detached home would be on a minimum 30,000 square-foot lot size, with hook-ups to public water and sewer lines that run under Twining 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 Twining 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 Twining Bridge Road, which would be widened and improved by the entrances.
“There’s no impact on the local roadways,” Adelman had told the supervisors, noting that there would also be adequate sight distance for approaching vehicles on Twining Bridge Road.
Although a traffic impact study is not required under township ordinance, he had said that Toll decided to do one anyway. It is also now one of the six conditions that will be required required if the supervisors decide to approve the application.
The streets inside the development will be 50-feet wide, with a 30-foot wide cartway, but will remain private and not dedicated to Newtown 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 the original plan, 173 new high-end single-family detached 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 Twining Bridge Road, the original proposal had called for building a new 1,200-foot single-access road through the cemetery to connect with Route 413 and Wrights Road where there is currently a traffic light.
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, realizing it had an uphill battle for that plan, had amended its application, as well as downsized the number of proposed homes for the property.
A new proposal 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 Twining Bridge Road. The revised plan 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 continue to cite an increase in traffic on Twining Bridge Road, which they claim would also impact Durham Road to the east and Swamp Road to the west.
Both intersections, they argue, are already dangerous because there are no traffic lights.