NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP >> The Board of Supervisors on August 11 tabled approval of court ordered land development plans for Arcadia Green until its next meeting on August 25 citing the need for additional information on traffic and safety.
During a sometimes testy exchange over traffic, which included a motion to deny and the chairman slamming PennDOT over its acceptance of a U-turn option, the board of supervisors considered plans for a court ordered land development plan submitted by Arcadia Land Company and developer Jason Duckworth.
Under the plan, Arcadia is seeking land development approval from the township to build 60 homes at Buck Road and the Newtown Bypass.
The proposed development would access Route 532 via a service road that parallels the Newtown Bypass. That’s where the challenge lies.
Due to the intersection’s location just yards from the bypass, there’s no safe way to make a turn left out of the service road and onto northbound Buck Road to access the bypass and points north.
Without a left turn option, residents living in the new development would be forced to drive into Northampton Township before doubling back.
As part of the settlement agreement, Arcadia was tasked with reaching out to PennDOT to explore workable solutions, including the possibility of a direct access road onto the Newtown Bypass.
But in a letter to Arcadia, PennDOT rejected the direct access idea and instead said a U-Turn option at Mill Pond Road and Diamond Drive is the only “acceptable” alternative.
“The condition of rights out from the Service Road followed by u-turns at this signal is safer than allowing lefts from the Service Road,” said PennDOT in its letter.
Calabro blasted that idea, calling it “appalling that PennDOT would even consider such a dangerous maneuver. This is a disgusting situation.
“God forbid there’s some sort of accident or fatality there. Everyone’s going to look at Newtown, but my fingers - all of them - are going to be pointing at PennDOT,” said Calabro.
Ironically, Calabro noted, at one point PennDOT had put up no U-Turn signs at the very same intersection. “Now all the sudden they deem it a safe maneuver.”
Arcadia’s land development attorney John VanLuvanee noted that PennDOT wouldn’t just put up a sign. “There are improvements to be made that PennDOT has preliminarily determined will make the movement safe. And they are significant improvements,” he said.
Unfortunately, said VanLuvanee, “this is the hand that’s been dealt to both the developer and the township by PennDOT.
“PennDOT built the service road and turned it over to you as a township road,” said VanLuvanee. “We don’t even need a permit because we don’t directly access Buck Road. What we are trying to do here is address the concerns that frankly we never had an obligation to address, but were legitimate from a matter of public health and safety. And Mr. Duckworth is concerned about his future residents.
“We have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to try to address this and it will probably cost us another seven figures that we essentially volunteered to make in the interest of addressing your concerns.”
Calabro asked what would happen if PennDOT decides suddenly the U-Turn is not a viable option. “What’s your selling point going to be when you’re telling them they can’t make a left hand turn? How are you going to proceed if PennDOT decides this U-Turn is insanity?”
“Right now we have four access possibilities,” said VanLuvanee. “If none of them are approved, Arcadia is at risk and we will have to figure out what the next best course of action will be. And probably we will be back in litigation somewhere down the road, but right now we are not there. And we don’t expect that to happen.”
According to township solicitor Dave Sander, the court ordered settlement requires that the options for access to the development “be diligently prosecuted” by the applicant and sets forth an order of preference for the options, number one being access directly onto the bypass, two others involving left turns out of the development and the U-turn.
“Unfortunately PennDOT made an initial determination that they were not interested in options one, two or three and option number four is at least viable subject to the applicant submitting additional plans and studies,” said Sander.
When several supervisors questioned why the developer hadn’t pressed PennDOT harder for a better solution, VanLuvanee defended his client’s actions.
“Mr. Duckworth would love to have access to the bypass,” he said. “There was no request by PennDOT for additional information for access to the bypass. They said we will not approve it.”
“We are proceeding as we are required to under the stipulation and we will take the PennDOT process as far as we can go,” said Duckworth. “Given the letter that describes (the U-turn) as the only viable option, that language suggests to me it is reasonable to assume that a highway occupancy permit will be obtainable for that option.”
PennDOT’s original option was to direct traffic to Mill Pond Road, which provides a link to Route 332. That option, however, was rejected by the two Homeowners Associations.
“We would have loved to have had a bypass access,” said Duckworth. “I, too, was disappointed by this outcome. We have it a good faith effort and we will continue through the PennDOT process.”
During public comment, Eagle Ridge resident Andrea Ahern called on the board to hold off on approval.
“It is clear the traffic plans are incomplete and have not been finalized by PennDOT. Simply stated this project is not ready for final land development approval,” she said.
Ahern also called on the board to arrange a meeting with PennDOT, Arcadia, the township and residents to give residents an opportunity to share their concerns related to the proposed u-turn.
Added Eagle Ridge resident Dennis Schoner, “That U-turn has always been a sore thumb. It’s not acceptable for PennDOT to ram that down the residents’ throats. Direct access to the bypass was always the preferred option.”