Bucks County Playhouse management wants to extend the promenade that begins behind the former Club Zadar at 50 S. Main St. to the rear of the theater, where they will construct a multilevel outside bar and decks over the Delaware River. The first stop on their bureaucratic journey was the New Hope Borough Council meeting on Tuesday evening, which usually consists of an architectural dog-and-pony show followed by council’s referral of the application to its Zoning Hearing Board. But last Tuesday was different.
The Playhouse had asked as part of its zoning application for more that 20 variances, exceptions or appeals. Among them was for permission to use the 2010 FEMA flood plain map as the basis for its requests. Borough Council ruled that the 2010 map could be used by the Playhouse, but went on to say that the borough is not authorized to use it to regulate development, and demanded that regardless of what its Zoning Hearing Board recommends, the Playhouse also get its project approved by FEMA.
Borough council explained that their move was intended to help businesses and homes retain flood insurance. But it’s also true that while publicly fawning over the resurrection of the Playhouse, some borough council members have historically expressed their unease with the nightly alcoholic consumption common to tourist towns like New Hope, according to previous statements at public meetings. And lawyers for both Borough Council and their Zoning Hearing Board figure and comment prominently in decisions, eclipsing chairpersons at some meetings, their litigation-averse recommendations carrying great weight.
The big problem is also that the business model being used by those running the Bucks County Playhouse, Lambertville Music Hall, and former Zadar’s involves selling booze. What has evolved from the MOMA Museum Store of the 1970s is today’s entertainment center/bar combo. Whether one agrees with the model or not, the plan is to tie a given project into a historic or artistic theme, claim non-profit status, and open a bar and/or restaurant.
Co-owner Kevin Daugherty has previously said of potential waterfront development, “Our view on the promenade is to continue it around the back of the Playhouse, where we’ve designed a series of cascading decks that lead you up to the level where the deck is currently, put a bar out there for patrons and others, and provide a place to sit and enjoy the views — again creating another revenue stream to support the non-profit theater, with the idea that if we do enough of these things, we don’t have to pass the hat as much and we can be true to the community.”
For now, the Playhouse continues to emphasize that it needs revenue from a bar to offset mounting losses.
New Hope Borough’s Zoning Hearing Board, which was scheduled to hear the appeal and application on Thursday, will now examine a revised application one month later on Oct. 13. The Playhouse’s latest version appears to contain closer to 25 variances and the like, and while language has been changed substantially, the project itself does not appear to be dramatically altered in scope. Projects of this size are not usually reviewed fully in one or two sessions. Indeed, the Zoning Hearing Board’s review of the proposed restaurant at 46 N. Main St. took four meetings to conclude in a denial of the application.
When asked about their application, Playhouse officials stressed that they have the community’s interests in mind, but believe it’s early in the process to be commenting. That may change, because where this one is going is anyone’s guess. Up until now, the Bucks County Playhouse rescuers and New Hope’s officialdom have enjoyed a pleasant if uneventful honeymoon, according to local observers. But we’re entering election season — nationally and locally. This affair promises to get messy if the current trajectory remains true.
The official public notice of the upcoming Zoning Hearing Board meeting:
“The Zoning Hearing Board of New Hope Borough, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, will hold a public hearing on Thursday, October 11, 2012 at 7:00 P.M., at the New Hope Borough Hall, 125 New Street, New Hope, PA, 18938, to consider the application of Playhouse Inn Property, LLC, regarding Tax Parcel No. 27-10-142 which is located at 50 S. Main Street in New Hope Borough’s CC, Central Commercial Zoning District. The Applicant appeals the determination of the New Hope Borough Zoning Officer to deny a zoning permit application for the construction of an extension of an existing concrete and steel promenade to the southern property line. The Applicant also requests the following relief from the New Hope Borough Zoning Ordinance: (1) variance from §275-47.B in order to allow a deck or patio for non-residential use, higher than two (2) feet above ground level, to be located at a zero rear yard setback distance; (2) a variance from §275- 31.C.2.f.3 to expand a nonconforming use to permit a proposed deck configuration with a zero foot rear yard setback distance; (3) a variance from §275-38.C.4 to permit a patio, balcony or deck to infringe into the required rear yard setback distance; (4) a variance from §275-42.A to permit the construction of a proposed deck within the 100 year floodplain; (5) an interpretation, special exception, or variance with regard to §275-43.J to allow such a structure and use within floodway areas; (6) a variance from §275-42.E in order to develop, disturb, fill, pipe or divert waters of the United States; (7) a special exception pursuant to, or a variance from §275-42.G to permit a disturbance in natural resource restricted areas; (8) an interpretation of, or a variance from, §275-43.Z to permit the use of a 2010 FEMA flood map draft in place of the 1999 FEMA flood map; and (9) a special exception, pursuant to §275-62.C to permit the expansion of a nonconforming use on the subject property. Materials regarding this Application may be examined at the New Hope Borough Hall during normal business hours and on the date, time and place of the Hearing.
“The Zoning Hearing Board of New Hope Borough, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, will hold a public hearing on Thursday, October 11, 2012 at 7:00 P.M., at the New Hope Borough Hall, 125 New Street, New Hope, PA, 18938, to consider the application of BCP Property, LLC, regarding Tax Parcel No. 27-10-146 which is located at 70 S. Main Street in New Hope Borough’s CC, Central Commercial Zoning District. The Applicant appeals the determination of the New Hope Borough Zoning Officer to deny a zoning permit for the removal of the existing wood deck, construction of a new concrete and steel promenade, construction of a new wood deck, and construction of a new bar and toilet rooms. Further, the Applicant requests the following relief from the New Hope Borough Zoning Ordinance: (1) a variance from §275-47.B in order to allow a deck or patio for nonresidential use, higher than two (2) feet above ground level, to extend to a zero foot side yard setback distance; (2) a variance from §275-40.B.1 to eliminate the requirement for a buffer yard separating the subject property from a residentially zoned district and/or residential use; (3) a variance from §275-31.C.2.f.2 to permit the construction of a deck at a zero foot side yard setback distance; (4) a variance from §275-38.C.4 to allow a porch, patio, balcony or deck to infringe upon the side yard setback requirements of the Ordinance; (5) a special exception pursuant to, or a variance from §275-42.A to permit the construction of a proposed deck and building addition within the 100 year floodplain; (6) a variance from §275-42.E to develop, disturb, fill, pipe,or divert waters of the United States; (7) a variance from §275-42.G to allow a disturbance of natural resource restricted areas; (8) an interpretation of §275-43.Z or a variance from those provisions that will permit the application of a 2010 FEMA flood map draft in place of the 1999 FEMA flood map; (9) an interpretation of, or a special exception pursuant to, §275-43.J to permit the construction of the improvements and structures proposed within the 100 year floodplain; and (10) a special exception pursuant to, or a variance from §275-62.C to permit the alteration, extension or enlargement of a nonconforming use. Materials regarding this Application may be examined at the New Hope Borough Hall during normal business hours and on the date, time and place of the Hearing.”
while I think that it would be a mistake not to keep to FEMA standards and planning I also think that its a mistake for the town to look this gift horse in the mouth. if the various branches of local government decide in the long run not to allow the bar/restaurant option in some variant it is fairly obvious that the theater will not be financially viable. those opposing the proposed plan should include in their opposition a plan for what to do with the property should the foundation not to be able to complete their project. lets face it, an empty playhouse and abandoned zadars is not good for anybody here. its highly doubtful anyone else will be interested in taking on the playhouse.