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Newtown Township still mum on Toll Brothers project

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Last week, representatives for Toll Brothers came to Newtown Township seeking approval of a conditional use permit that would have allowed the builder to move forward with a plan to erect homes on a large parcel of land owned by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia that was originally planned as part of All Saints Cemetery.

They left the Feb. 26 board of supervisors meeting with no decision.

Toll is proposing to build 45 single-family homes on a piece of land zoned Conservation Management that sits at the southwest corner of Durham and Twinning Bridge roads. The plan includes a proposal to redistribute a large portion of the 158-acre parcel back to the township for open space and cluster the homes on 36 acres.

While cluster developments are sometimes permitted within the CM Zoning District, the supervisors have to sign off before the first shovel is turned.

In Toll’s original plan, submitted before the board in September 2018, the developer proposed a sketch that included 171 homes. The builder would have needed a change in zoning, however, to build that many houses and attorney Greg Adelman, who represents the builder, said the company decided there was no appetite within the township to do that.

“I know that the ordinance allows this but it seems to be a contradiction to have this kind of development in a conservation management area,” said board Secretary-Treasurer John Mack. “I think there’s enough development in Newtown, as it is.”

Additionally, public opinion doesn’t seem to favor the proposed plan for the property, which lies just north of the Township Municipal complex.

“When you start pushing things together – yes, you’re giving more open space over here – but you’re creating more problems because you’re increasing the density in a smaller space, which, to me, is antithetical to what conservation management is supposed to do,” said Eric Pomerantz, of Dorchester Lane.

“Why have it? You’re supposed to be protecting the land from an overly-developed area.”

Adelman disagreed.

“This is what I call smarter, cluster growth,” the attorney said. “You have 36 acres of a 158-acre property developed and that is conservation management.

“It allows for some low density development and some very large swaths of perpetual preservation or conservation of natural resources or agricultural uses.”

In his presentation before the board, Adelman said the builder wants to erect homes on parcels that are, on average, 35,000 square feet, about 3/4 of an acre. Along the side that borders a creek that runs through the property, the plan is to erect some type of physical barrier to keep people from disturbing that area. Restrictions on the homeowners’ use of the land will also be placed on deeds to the properties, the attorney said.

“While the lot – in ownership – will be a lot larger, the actual used area will be a lot less,” he said.

The builder is proposing to offer a little more than 88 acres for dedication to the township. If the township doesn’t accept, the land would remain property of the homeowners association.

Large buffer zones, a minimum of which are 150 feet wide and go as high as 526 feet, are planned for the development.

A 50-foot wide roadway, which would remain private and hence, would not have to be maintained by the township, would have two exit/entry points along Twining Bridge Road. The houses would be connected to public sewers and be serviced by Newtown Artesian Water Company.

Farming activities that currently take place on two portions of the land would be permitted to continue.

“There’s been so much development here the last 15, 10, five years, that the character of the town is under assault,” added Pomerantz. “Pretty soon, they’ll be no conservation management land left.”

Adelman says the current proposal meets the goals of the Conservation Management District.

“What is being proposed for the property is consistent in terms of density to the north, south, and southwest,” said Adelman, adding that Newtown Meadows is within the CMD. “The majority of the property remains open space.”

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