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.