NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP >> At its first in-person meeting since March, the Newtown Township Board of Supervisors on August 26 voted unanimously to deny a conditional use application submitted by Toll Brothers.
Toll had requested the conditional use to build a cluster of 45 high-end single family homes on 150 acres located at Route 413 (Durham Road) and Twining Bridge Road.
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 explained about 88.6 acres of the B-12 zones 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.
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.
At a meeting in early March, the supervisors were poised to vote on the developers’ application, but decided to table the motion after several neighboring residents again voiced their opposition to the project, mostly over traffic concerns.
The supervisors had intended to announce its decision at its March 25 board meeting, which was subsequently canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak. Under an extension agreement with Toll, the supervisors postponed its announcement until its first in-person meeting, which took place this week.
With officials and members of the public seated six feet apart and everyone wearing masks, the supervisors heard one more round of public comment before casting its vote.
Board members made no public statements as to why they voted to deny the request, but their decision prompted applause from the less than 20 members of the public who were allowed inside the meeting room.
Under the law, Toll Brothers has 30 days to file an appeal in county court.
At its March meeting, residents had questioned why the board doesn’t simply reject Toll’s application, to which township solicitor Dave Sander replied that the developer would most likely take the township to Bucks County Common Pleas Court, and in all likelihood win.
Sander said the court would most likely overturn any municipal challenge to the 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.
During public comment this week and also in February and March, residents said their biggest concern is traffic on Twining Bridge Road, a two lane road that has several sharp turns and a problematic intersection with Swamp Road.
Residents are strongly opposed to the development taking access onto Twining Bridge Road, suggesting instead access be from Durham Road at a signalized intersection with North Drive.
Twining Bridge Road resident Joseph McAtee, who lives less than 300 feet from the development’s proposed access road, said he’d find it hard to believe that residents living in the new development would head to Durham and not Swamp Road when exiting the site.
“Otherwise you have to go around dog legs to get to Durham Road. It takes much longer because you have to go super slow and be super careful,” said McAtee. “I understand it’s not Toll’s responsibility to study Swamp Road, but there is going to be an impact. It’s up to the township to decide if this is a safety cost they want their current residents to pay. I hope the township and the board understand how the residents living there will be impacted by this community.”
Twining Bridge Road resident Joanne Charleton also voiced deep opposition to the development, speaking publicly against the plan over traffic and safety concerns and issues concerning flooding, drainage and acquifer recharge.
“Twining Bridge Road is a small rural road with two dangerous 90 degree turns with limited visibility. The road is not built for or intended for heavy traffic,” she said. “We have expressed concerns over current conditions without the increased congestion.
“Twining Bridge is sandwiched between two very busy roads - Durham Road and Swamp Road. Turning off of Twining Bridge to either of these roads is particularly challenging and potentially deadly without added congestion. In fact Swamp Road is notoriously the most dangerous roadway in Bucks County.
“Toll’s proposal to structure the development with only two entrances and exits pouring out onto Twining Bridge is non-sensical. And as one resident put it at the hearing, ‘pure insanity.’”
Charlton questioned the veracity of the Toll-funded traffic study, which she said “was dumped on the board of supervisors only minutes before the hearing depriving the board of any meaningful opportunity to adequately review, consider and question the submissions. The traffic study was not thoroughly considered or challenged. We’re expected to simply take Tolls’ word. Once these homes are sold Toll will be out of the picture leaving us to deal with the mess.”