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Bucks County Playhouse and New Hope officials near deal to break zoning impasse

Bucks County Playhouse rear bar deck

Workers (R) joining Bucks County Playhouse parking lot to rear bar deck entrance ramp Monday (Photo: Charlie Sahner)

While relations have been stormy at times between New Hope’s Zoning Hearing Board and representatives of the Bucks County Playhouse, discussions have quietly been taking place between high-level Playhouse and New Hope officials to reach a compromise solution that would resolve the current project approval impasse, Borough Hall confirmed Monday.

At stake is the addition of amplified music to an expanded bar section at the rear of the Playhouse, near the banks of the Delaware River. The Playhouse, and parent entity Bridge Street Foundation, have also requested approval of restaurant service, in addition to alcohol, asserting that they are necessary funding components. Progress on the zoning variances required ran aground in recent months as some on the Zoning Hearing Board and Bridge Street Foundation publicly jousted on a variety of issues.

Cooler heads are apparently prevailing, as Borough Hall and those at the top of the Bridge Street Foundation have been talking compromise and moving the Playhouse project process forward. The essence of the proposed solution, which will be open for discussion at the next Borough Council meeting, is to declare the area adjacent to the Bucks County Playhouse a new “overlay” or “riverfront revitalization” district, hence requiring fewer zoning variances and bringing borough and county planning officials into the process.

“The establishment of zoning regulations for the Bucks County Playhouse and surrounding areas has been under discussion for several months,” acknowledged Borough officials Monday. “Borough staff and consultants have reviewed the current ordinance standards and have met with the representatives of the Bridge Street Foundation and Playhouse to hear their requests regarding future development.

“The draft ordinance provides a general approach that could be used to make the theater a conforming use and to address some of the requests of the Playhouse owners,” they added.

Other sources close to the situation say that the concept of enclosing the rear bar deck of the Playhouse within a glass structure is also being floated to address concerns about outdoor amplified music while preserving scenic river views.

In other Bucks County Playhouse news, Tanya Cooper, president of the Bridge Street Foundation, will be leaving the organization at the end of August, the group recently announced.

Said Herb Millman, co-owner of Cockamamie’s Art Deco Emporium at 13 N. Main St., in reaction to news of a potential compromise, “Bucks County Playhouse is the jewel in the crown of New Hope and anything that can be done in a positive sense to help get it going is a good thing for the entire community.”

A spokesperson for the Playhouse was not immediately available.

According to the Borough, “In order to go into effect, a zoning amendment must be reviewed by the borough and county planning commissions, be advertised, be considered at a public hearing, and be adopted by Borough Council. Any part of the proposal may be revised before the adoption is complete.”

The full text of the draft amendment and procedure is as follows:

“The New Hope Borough Zoning Ordinance would be amended by adding a new overlay district, the Riverfront Revitalization District Overlay. This district was identified in the New Hope Borough Riverfront Revitalization Strategic Plan, and the boundaries of the overlay district follow those established in the plan. The tax map parcels included in the Riverfront Revitalization District Overlay are: 27-10-142, 27-10-143, 27-10-144, 27-10-145, and 27-10-146. The Riverfront Revitalization Strategic Plan has been adopted by Borough Council and creates an opportunity for an overlay district.

“The intent of this zoning overlay district would be to allow for the continued use of historic cultural and entertainment institutions, revitalization of existing properties with frontage along the Delaware River, development of facilities that will support and complement cultural institutions, development of land in support of the Riverfront Revitalization Strategic Plan (2008), and protection of the businesses and residences in the surrounding business district and neighborhoods. The proposed uses must complement the Borough’s existing character; diversify the local economy; support the visual/performing/creative arts; provide goods and services to local residents, businesses, and employees; create additional employment opportunities; encourage historic preservation and adaptive reuse; and provide accessibility to the Delaware River and adjoining parkland.”

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Charlie Sahner

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