Seniors from Hawleyville's Liberty at Newtown condo complex packed Newtown's Municipal Center Thursday, hoping an old agreement would keep developers from clearing out the woods near their homes at 178 Mt. Pleasant Road for extend rows of office buildings. They weren't disappointed.
"We won," said Liberty's Don Lewis after the decision.
Planning and Zoning members unanimously issued resolutions to reject three applications from Toll Brothers, who sought to rezone 1.17 acres of land neighboring Liberty to form a 2.71-acre lot bordering Route 25. Developers hoped to connect two separate parcels and expand their reach 190 feet into a nearby lot, zoned for elderly housing.
Toll Brothers are currently developing Newtown Woods, another condo complex for seniors, on property that borders Liberty. In between the two complexes sits a hilly, wooded rectangle of land with wildflowers, a pond and a hiking trail.
Toll Brothers' application would have rezoned some of their part of that land as "BPO," or business-professional development, allowing buildings to go up yards away from Liberty at Newtown residents' backyards, according to Lewis.
Commissioners said they felt the existing, smaller lot was enough for Toll Brothers to build on. It remains zoned for business and professional development.
Commission Members: 'Adequate Room'
"[Toll Brothers has] ample room to put even a larger footprint on a permanent building there without adding to the piece of property," said commissioner Robert Mulholland. "It's nice and level, and it's already got trees that have been removed in the back and rear. It'd be adequate room to put up a decent building of some commercial use."
Commission members took into account the size of Toll Brothers' existing lot as well as a promise to preserve the land for open space, dating back to 2007 when the property was owned by Bashert Developers.
"The harm it would potentially cause the folks at Liberty outweighs the benefits," said commission chair Lilla Dean. "It'd be problematic. As it is now, it's a buildable lot and I think that's good enough."
Planning and Zoning Commission officials had planned to vote on the measure at an August 1 meeting, but held off to walk the land and see the stakes Toll Brothers had placed to indicate the proposed property lines.
Attorney Robert Hall, who represents Toll Brothers, was unavailable for comment Thursday. At a previous meeting, Toll Brothers withdrew from consideration plans to extend its use of temporary office space for trailers on the property. Their permit to use the trailer expires October 6.
"They still have the right to sell it or build on it, because it's a BPO zone," said commission member Robert Mulholland. "From a town perspective that benefits the town. We can get some commercial use in that space. But it does not impact Liberty, and that was what most of the commissioners felt -- we didn't want to make a hardship for the people up there."
Lewis and other Liberty residents had worried their rural backyard view would be decimated by office buildings and parking lots. They worried about an increase in traffic, loss of property value and light pollution from the parking lot.
"There are already five other properties in this area for business / professional office buildings," Lewis told Patch before the decision. "Why destroy our lifestyle?"
Lewis said he was not entirely happy with the current status quo -- though the original plan was to turn the property over as a conservation easement, Toll Brothers still owns the property.
"But if somebody wants a doctor's office where the trailer is, God bless 'em," he added.
Regular Planning and Zoning commission members Michael Porco and Jane Brymer were absent and unable to vote, respectively. Alternates Rudolph Pozek and Ben Spragg took their place for the resolutions.