Sunday, February 14, 2016

Lower Makefield rejects Aria Health center

The issue was back before the township zoning hearing board, three years after it granted an exception for the complex. An overflow crowd cheered the vote.

Lower Makefield rejects Aria Health center

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Still wearing their "No!" stickers after Tuesday's vote are (from left) Mike, Lynne amd David DiBonis, with Dan Sadley, all of Lower Makefield. (Bill Reed/Staff)

Aria Health’s controversial plan to build a medical center next to Shady Brook Farm in Lower Makefield Township  was rejected Tuesday night, though the proposed development is far from dead.

An overflow audience of nearly 150 residents gave the township zoning hearing board a standing ovation after the 4-1 vote to reject Aria’s appeal. In 2009, the board granted an exception for the center, triggering opposition by the township supervisors and a residents’ group that landed in Bucks County Court before being returned to the zoning board.  

“The people ruled,” Mike DiBonis of Lower Makefield said after the vote. Like most of the audience members, he wore a “No!” sticker.

“It’s not that we don’t want a hospital,” DiBonis said. “It’s where they want to put it.”

The plan calls for a hospital, medical office building and surgery center to be built along busy Route 332, a few hundred yards from the Newtown I-95 interchange. The center’s impact on traffic has prompted much of the opposition.

“I have to go that way twice a day, and it is painful,” said DiBonis’ son, David.

Nancy Terry of Newtown summarized the issue in one word: “Overdevelopment.”

“The roads can’t take any more traffic,” she said. “We live here because it’s a good place. More and more development make it a bad place.”

The zoning hearing board must issue its written ruling by Aug. 6, said David Truelove, who represents the township supervisors in the case. Once the written ruling is issued, Aria’s 30-day window to appeal in county court will start.

Aria’s appeal was the first item on the agenda, and it was completed within minutes.

Chairman Paul Bamburak reminded the residents and lawyers for both sides that the five board members are volunteers.

 “We don’t get paid, we don’t get training, we don’t get township insurance,” he said with a laugh.

The board members had considered the issue long and hard, Bamburak said, but he had not polled them and did not know how the vote would go.

Board secretary Jerry Groen made the motion to reject the appeal, and and it quickly passed, with only Tony Zamparelli voting against it.

Minutes later in the parking lot, a resident warned that Aria will appeal the ruling.

"Then we'll be back here," another resident pledged.

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About this blog
Chris Palmer covers Bucks County for the Philadelphia Inquirer. His previous work has appeared in the New York Times and on several Times blogs, including City Room, the Local East Village and SchoolBook (which has since been taken over by WNYC). Contact him at, 610 313 8212 or on Twitter, @cs_palmer.

Ben Finley covers Bucks County for The Philadelphia Inquirer. He previously worked for The Associated Press, and the Bucks County Courier Times, where he won more than a dozen journalism awards from organizations including the Education Writers Association, the Society for Features Journalism and the Pennsylvania Bar Association. He grew up in Columbus, Ohio and graduated with honors from The Ohio State University with a degree in journalism. Contact him at, 610-313-8118 or on Twitter, @Ben_Finley.

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