Concerns over a trailer park coming to town drew the largest crowd at a Newtown Township Board of Supervisors meeting in recent memory.
Despite the fact that the application for a 56-pad trailer park at the Newtown Swim Club site was not on the agenda, more than 150 residents attended the Wednesday meeting. Several took the opportunity to speak against the proposal during public comment.
In response to the public outcry, the board voted 4-1 to direct the township solicitor to approach Mike Meister of County Builders and request that he resubmit plans for a townhome community on that site.
Newtown Swim Club owner David Platt is working with County Builders to create a residential development on the 16-acre property on Newtown-Yardley Road once the club closes after this summer.
The application for a mobile home park was submitted in December after the Newtown Township Board of Supervisors voted to send its solicitor to the Zoning Hearing Board to defend the township's zoning regulations with regards to County Builders' 52-townhome proposal.
Fears over declining property values and the prospect of tainting the gateway to a historic community were among the reasons residents expressed distain for the proposal.
David Wagner, a Headley Community Homeowners Association board member, said a coalition of area HOAs and businesses plan to do whatever it takes to stop the trailer park from coming to the site. “We are prepared to take this as far as we need to take it,” Wagner said. “We will fight this thing until there is no more fight left.”
Residents of several surrounding communities presented the supervisors with petitions that reflected opposition to the trailer park. Communities that have offered petitions against the project include: Headley, Newtown Walk, Wilkshire Walk, Kirkwood and Raintree/Windermere. The board of the Newtown Business Commons also opposes the trailer park.
Mike Jacobs, a Raintree resident, said the proposal for the trailer park seems to be an act of anger on the part of the developer because his initial plans weren't supported. “To put something like this within 700 feet of my home makes me just shake my head all day long. Why County Builders, located in Warminster, would even think of doing this, I don’t know.”
Headley resident Lisa Mercantate said a trailer park wouldn’t only negatively impact surrounding neighborhoods but the town as a whole. “We’re jeopardizing Newtown. What we’ve created here in Newtown, we stand to loose if we let them put in a trailer park.”
At a meeting in November, the supervisors voted 3-2 to send its solicitor to the Zoning Hearing Board to defend the township's zoning regulations with regards to the application for 52 townhomes. The townhome proposal required a variance because it exceeded the housing density permitted in that zoning district.
Board members Rob Ciervo, Matt Benchener and Phil Calabro voted in favor of sending the solicitor to represent the township. Since then, in response to the community’s outrage over the trailer park proposal, board member Matt Benchener said he would now support townhomes.
“We can now say the facts have changed,” Benchener said, adding the developer is serious about the mobile home park. “Given that, I think it’s incumbent of this board to not let perfect be the enemy of the good.”
On Wednesday, though, board member Ciervo stood by his original sentiments, calling the motion to seek out Meister to resubmit the previous plans “negotiating our surrender.”
“I think this is exactly where this builder wanted to be. He wanted to be in a room with a lot of angry people who would all the sudden support his plan. This is something that was done for many decades in Bucks County -- developers got what they wanted because they made threats,” Ciervo said.
Ciervo pointed out the only use “by right” on the property is single family homes. Everything else for residential use – including the trailer park – goes through a through a Planned Residential Development hearing process.
“If the builer wants to come and submit another plan, he can do so. But telling him ‘you can have this number and come on back and we’ll support you’ without seeing the plans is not the right message,” Ciervo said.
Calabro, while voting in support of sending the solicitor back to approach Meister, stood by his original vote to uphold the zoning on the site. “If the builder was so confident with his plan, he could have taken it to the Zoning Hearing Board.”
“The bad guy is the builder in this case. He is the one that did not come to us for negotiation. Instead he went off with his threat and at this point, he’s winning,” Calabro said.
Benchener said the primary goal of the board “is to reflect the will of the residents.” Zoning is merely a tool, he noted. “Unfortunately in several incidences, and in this case, it is a tool that has failed.”