Planning Commission: Wendy Leland, Chair, Bill Westhafer, Vice Chairman, Michael Allen, Michael Churchill and Andre von Hoyer.
Consultants: Daniel Wright, P.E. and Thomas Comitta.
Staff: Linda Csete, Township Manager
Public: John Mostoller
Mrs. Leland turned the meeting over to Mr. Westhafer to chair this evening.
Mr. Allen provided a report on the lengthy Board of Supervisors meeting that took place on June 2nd, summarizing the following items:
Mr. Comitta announced that the Supervisors passed two Resolutions on June 2nd with regard to Act 209: the Land Use Assumptions Report and the Roadway Sufficiency Analysis and setting of the impact fee. He said the hearing to enact the transportation impact fee ordinance will be held at the July 7th Board of Supervisors meeting.
Mr. Churchill gave an update on the Devault Line Rail Study, stating that he’ll respond to two letters from residents adjacent to the trail who expressed concerns about the possible rail to trail conversion. He said the Committee’s consultant, Bob Thomas, is arranging for approval from Norfolk Southern for the Committee to walk the trail before the next public meeting. He said the Committee will hold a work session before the end of June to set up the schedule for future meetings.
Mr. Allen proposed the following changes to the May 13, 2014 draft minutes:
Mr. Churchill moved to approve the May 13, 2014 minutes with these changes, and Mr. von Hoyer seconded. Mr. Westhafer called for discussion, there being none, called the vote. All were in favor.
John Mostoller was present to discuss proposed revisions to the Preliminary Subdivision Plan for Devault Village at Spring Oak. He displayed Plan A-1, which he said was the result of six conceptual plans developed over the past two years. The plan shows two retaining walls in Very Steep Slopes, which would require variance approval. The Supervisors indicated at their June 2nd meeting they wouldn’t support this request. Mr. Mostoller believes that without their support, they must look to one of two alternate plans, A-2 or A-3.
Mr. von Hoyer asked if either of the alternate plans will cause them to lose any units, and Mr. Mostoller said no.
Mr. Mostoller showed plan A-2, which had been presented to the Supervisors on June 2nd. Two problems with this alternative are that the two walls would be replaced by one 16 foot wall, and there would be no room for the walking trail. The single wall would still require a variance.
Mr. Mostoller went on to show plan A-3, which they developed following the June 2nd meeting. The walls were moved up and made into one wall that is now out of the Very Steep Slopes. The trail would remain in basically the same location as in A-1. He asked for the Planning Commission’s feedback on A-3. While the number of units wouldn’t change, there would be fewer of the large single homes that had wider lots, which have more privacy and larger rear yards.
Mrs. Leland asked why the alley has to run behind the lots, and Mr. Mostoller said it’s required by the zoning ordinance, which states that no front-loaded garages are permitted except for the larger single homes as part of the streetscape design. He indicated that he wasn’t willing to go through the ordinance amendment process to seek changes to these requirements.
Mr. Westhafer asked about the elevation of the larger single homes, and Mr. Mostoller said they allowed for walkouts in the rear. Mr. Wright asked if he considered extending the alleys, but Mr. Mostoller said this would create grading issues and the need for a larger retaining wall. Mr. Churchill asked for the height, and Mr. Mostoller said it would have to be calculated as part of the preliminary plan revision process, but he doubts it would be as high as 16 feet. Mr. Churchill said with a reduction in height they may want to reduce the grade, which would currently require a lot of water handling. Mr. Mostoller said walkouts are more desirable, and he doesn’t think the water handling will be a problem due to the retaining wall which allows for lesser slopes. He said they would have to shelf-in the trail, otherwise that area would be unusable. Mr. Churchill asked for the width of the central green overlook, which Mr. Mostoller said is 90 feet.
Mr. Allen noted that A-3 shows the loss of two single homes on the left side of the overlook, and said he doesn’t like the orientation of the twin homes. Mr. Churchill said he’d like to see a couple of singles returned to the left side, and Mr. Mostoller said he could change the mix of unit types so that could be done. Mr. Allen asked if the finalized height for this plan would be similar in grade to plan A-1, and Mr. Mostoller said it would be similar for the back of the houses.
Mr. Comitta said he agreed with Mr. Allen at the June 2nd Supervisors’ meeting that the original plan A-1 was superior to the other options. He asked Mr. Mostoller if he had considered going to the Zoning Hearing Board, and Mr. Mostoller said they did until they received negative feedback from the Supervisors. Mr. Comitta reviewed the five reasons why a variance may be granted, and again stated he believed that could be achieved. Mr. Mostoller was concerned with the time it would take to go to the Zoning Hearing Board. As an aside, he indicated to Mrs. Csete that he’ll be requesting a further continuance to the conditional use hearing at the July 7th meeting.
Mr. Westhafer led a discussion on how submission requirements should be updated, which was listed on Mr. Comitta’s take-aways from their February 8th strategic planning session.
He said applicants should be required to show the surrounding properties on their plans, which Mr. Wright said is easy to do now that free topographical maps are readily available. Mr. Churchill said cross-sections should be shown, although Mr. Mostoller said this can’t be done until a grading plan is prepared.
Mr. Westhafer said a factor to consider is how to get more information without burdening the applicant. He used Spring Oak as an example, saying he didn’t realize there would be such a prominent view of the Devault Foods processing plant from Rees Road until the trees were taken down as part of the site preparation. He noted that aerial imagery for the Pickering Crossing development would have been helpful as well. He offered to talk to Mr. Wright and Mr. Comitta about creating standards for requiring this information.
The group discussed whether there should be different requirements depending on the complexity and/or nature of the application, for example, using a Google image overlay for some plans and a true model for others. Mr. Westhafer said the type of site section Mr. Mostoller displayed takes about two hours to prepare, which he believes is reasonable. Mr. Wright said he prepared for a presentation last week at West Bradford Township using Google aerial data and overlaying it on their site plan, which didn’t take a lot of time.
Mr. Allen suggested they not distinguish between types of applications or plans, but to have the Supervisors waive the requirements at their discretion. Mr. Churchill said the determination would have to be done during the sketch plan phase. Members agreed this further emphasizes how the submission of a sketch plan, which is an optional step in the planning process, can be beneficial to the applicant in terms of cost, time, and the aesthetics of the final project.
Mr. Westhafer asked if the Township does a completeness review when plans are submitted, and Mrs. Csete said yes.
Electronic submissions were discussed, and it was generally agreed that at least one disk should be required for the Township records. For general distribution, recipients could continue to opt for paper or digital plans as long as each individual was consistent with which format was preferred, perhaps updating their preferences annually.
There was discussion on requiring applicants to provide a 3-D rendering. Mr. Comitta said his office uses Google Earth Pro at a software cost of approximately $400.00, with an additional $520.00 software license to prepare Google 3D sketch-up modelling that provides distance and scale. He suggested that the Township could specify a particular standard “or equal” that wouldn’t be too difficult for the applicant to provide in terms of cost or time.
Mr. Churchill said representative cross sections should be provided when slope changes are involved, to which Mr. von Hoyer agreed.
Mrs. Leland asked why the dilemma with Devault Village at Spring Oak wasn’t detected sooner as to their need to seek a variance for the retaining walls as shown in the original preliminary plan. Mr. Wright explained that it was due to a question of interpretation of the zoning ordinance that wasn’t identified earlier in the review process. Structures in very steep slopes are permitted if they are accessory to a primary use by conditional use, but the question became whether the retaining wall could be defined as an accessory use to the back yards of the homes. The Board’s interpretation was that they could not be defined as such. Mr. Wright said the need for a variance was noted in his review letter dated 2/7/14 for the conditional use application (Note #5), which wasn’t prepared until the preliminary plan was submitted. Prior to that time, neither side recognized the issue as a point to address. Mr. Wright said the Solicitor agreed with his assessment that the applicant would have to obtain a variance rather than a conditional use approval, and as such the Supervisors had no authority to grant any leeway. Mrs. Leland suggested this be an action item moving forward, that they pay closer attention to the shaded areas depicting steep and very steep slopes on concept and sketch plans.
The summer meeting schedule was discussed, with the possibility of moving the July 8th meeting to July 22nd. Mrs. Csete was asked to inform the Planning Commission if any new matters come in other than the expected revised plans for the Marriott (General Warren Village).
Mr. Westhafer adjourned the meeting at 9:00 p.m. The Planning Commission’s next scheduled meeting is July 8, 2014 (tentatively) at the Great Valley Middle School, Room 154.