Hilltown to vote on age qualified community ordinance
By: Emily Morris, Staff writer
In response to comments from the Hilltown and Bucks County planning commissions, Hilltown Township Supervisors made the final round of adjustments and approved advertisement of an ordinance that would create an Age Qualified Residential Community (AQRC) zoning district in the township at the board of supervisors' May 31 meeting.
It is one of the final steps before the ordinance could be voted on for approval - something supervisors said they expect could happen as early as the board's June 25 meeting or possibly in July. The drafting and lengthy discussions over the ordinance occurring over the past six months are the result of a proposal by McGrath Homes of Langhorne to place a 268-unit age-qualified community on approximately 186 acres off Minsi Trail located near the intersection of routes 113 and 313.
Supervisors have carefully worked to draft the ordinance so that its standards would be applied to any area of the township where an AQRC might be proposed, not just the McGrath property or the desires of that applicant. However, in its review, the Bucks County Planning Commission requested the township identify the exact property where the zoning district would be located in order to avoid any potential challenge to the ordinance. In response, supervisors specified that at this point the AQRC district would be applied to the several tax parcels that make up the McGrath property.
While there were several other suggestions from the township and county planning commissions regarding the draft ordinance, township supervisors found that most of the suggestions had either been addressed already or were in conflict with what supervisors would like to see. The board did approve suggested changes regarding flood plain specifications and a clarification of impervious surface ratio for the properties.
Some suggestions the board did not take include recommendations on items like minimum open space percentage, pedestrian circulation system, allowed dwelling types and building setback. The township planning commission recommended the board increase the minimum amount of open space required in an AQRC to 50 percent of the property rather than the 40 percent proposed. Supervisor Jack McIlhinney said that with the 40 percent requirement, the McGrath property would provide 136 acres of open space, which he felt was adequate.
In regards to the pedestrian circulation system, supervisors felt they would have adequate chance to discuss sidewalks and other requirements during the land development process under the Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance as is.
Regarding items like setback from street line and dwelling types, supervisors said they stood by the ordinance as written. Minimum building setback from the street line will remain at 300 feet despite the county's suggestion that it "seems unnecessary." The AQRC will allow only quadraplexes or single-family dwellings as dwelling types in the communities despite the planning commission's suggestion that other types of housing like twins, multiplexes, townhouses and apartments be allowed as they are found in other age-restricted developments in the county.
Only when the ordinance is advertised and approved will any property in the township be eligible for a zoning change to AQRC - and even then, each property, including McGrath Homes, will have to be considered individually for the formal change.
The ordinance includes specifications that any property that would rezoned AQRC would have to be at least 100 acres in size for the base site area and could only have 2.5 dwelling units per acre based on the net buildable site area. It would also require that 40 percent of the property be used as open space. Impervious surface would be limited to 35 percent of the net buildable site area, with maximum building coverage being 25 percent of that buildable area.
Regarding the minimum site area of 100 acres, the county planning commission recommended a minimum base site area of just 50 acres instead. The county said that data from the Bucks County Board of Assessments shows no parcels of 100 acres or more, only 37 parcels of 50 acres or more and only one of the 37 parcels of 50-plus acres is located in an approved Development Area zoning district.
"And there do not appear to be a significant number of smaller parcels that could be consolidated to compromise a 50-acre site, let alone a 100-acre site in the Development Area zoning districts," reads the county planning commission's letter.
While there was discussion at the meeting as to whether the changes needed to be reviewed once again by the township and county planning commissions, township Solicitor Frank Grabowski said he felt the ordinance could be advertised with the changes and not return to the planning commissions.
In response to who might defend the ordinance if there was an appeal, Tom Hecker, attorney for McGrath Homes, said the applicant was satisfied with the changes and the final draft of the ordinance and would defend any challenge to the ordinance.
Grabowski said the township zoning officer would need to post the McGrath property as part of the advertising process, since the property has now been named in the proposed ordinance. Additionally, neighbors of the property will have to be notified by mail of the proposal, he said.
©Montgomery Newspapers 2007