Bucks County Playhouse officials came out swinging at tonight’s meeting of New Hope’s Borough Council, the parent organization responsible for appointing members to the municipality’s Zoning Hearing Board. That latter group has drawn the ire of Playhouse owner Kevin Daugherty and Bridge Street Foundation President Tanya Cooper, who have been trying to get the zoning group to approve the addition of a bar at the back of the theater.
Zoning Hearing Board members have balked at the idea of what they perceive as a full blown restaurant addition, outdoor music, and the lack of a letter “readjusting” the 1999 FEMA flood map.
Daugherty questioned whether the Zoning Hearing Board possessed the ability to “focus on the technical aspects of our application,” also citing what he views as a “conflict of interest” involving one board member who was purportedly identified by some in the news media as “a potential bidder for the Playhouse in 2011.”
Another thorny issue stalling progress toward resolving the Playhouse’s application for bar and food service space to offset theater costs is an alleged incident in which the Zoning Hearing Board solicitor reportedly addressed Ms. Cooper as “young lady” during a heated hallway exchange. An apology letter has been requested but has not been received, according to Daugherty.
Borough Council has been cool to reigning in the Zoning Hearing Board or expediting the process, according to Playhouse developers. “We think Council has both the authority and the obligation to follow through on impediments to its own Strategic Plan by a Zoning Hearing Board appointed by Council,” said Daugherty.
“New Hope has an opportunity to reserve the Bucks County Playhouse as a self-sustaining theater that provides both an artistic and economic benefit to the community. We look forward to hearing from the Borough authorities on how we can proceed with the Riverfront Revitalization Plan that Council authorized and that we are prepared to fund,” he added.
Said one person close to the situation who asked not to be identified due to the sensitivity of issues involved, “The zoning board feels they don’t have what they need to make a decision. They want the Playhouse to succeed. But they need a determination on the FEMA map, clarity on the outdoor music issue, and a restaurant application if they’re going to be serving hamburgers back there.”
Playhouse officials, however, continue to question the objectivity, professionalism and technical ability of the Zoning Hearing Board.
“We are all extremely disappointed at the lack of action and investigation into our complaints and insist that you conduct an independent assessment of the zoning hearing board’s composition for technical proficiency and objectivity,” wrote Cooper in a letter to Council President Claire Shaw.