New Hope Borough Council President Claire Shaw would be well-advised to create some distance between herself and the borough’s review of the proposed four-story boutique conference center that investors want to build next to her property to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, say ethical experts.
Shaw disagrees: “I have no intention of recusing myself from the decisions on this project. The location of my property to the proposed site is not a conflict of interest and I find your suggestion that it may be, offensive.”
As previously reported, members of New Hope’s Historic Architectural Review Board (HARB) were shocked at their June 3 meeting by Borough Council President Claire Shaw’s pronouncement that not only had their request to retain a structural engineer to assess the feasibility of preserving the former Odette’s restaurant been overruled, but also that “Council decided to handle this from this point forward.”
Getting a structural engineer to assess the cost of preserving the remaining portions of the historic 1784 structure is vital to HARB members because it lets them assess practicality of preservation efforts and their financial burden on the project applicant.
In response to questions by HARB members, Shaw asserted at the June HARB meeting that, ”We are not really getting a study, we’re having an open house…council will then decide if we want to request a formal structural report. Based on what we see and hear, the seven of us will decide what to do next.” Council and HARB members attended a tour of Odette’s last week organized by the applicants although HARB members had asked to delay the tour until they first reviewed a valid structural engineer’s report.
Under further questioning on June 3, Shaw explained, “I think this was sort of taken out of your hands because they [the applicants] were not treated very fairly at the first go around with this board.”
HARB member Dee Dee Bowman responded, “We simply stated that we did not think their report was adequate.”
“Because of what transpired, right or wrong, Council decided to handle this from this point forward,” said Shaw.
But what Shaw did not mention was that she had already received a verdict by an outside structural engineering consultant indicating that the two previous structural reports contained “insufficient information to make an opinion” according to minutes of a May 13 meeting of Borough Council. At that meeting, Shaw mentioned she had received a decision from the engineering consultant that showed structural reports submitted by the applicant to be inadequate, and then initiated discussion of the planned tour or “walk-through” of the Odette’s property.
It is not clear whether HARB members were informed about the result of Shaw’s study, despite their continuing requests for a valid structural report. One HARB member who spoke on condition of anonymity because of their fear of retaliation indicated that they had never heard of it.
“What was taken out of ‘HARB’s hands’ was their request for an independent structural study. No advisory board has the authority to obligate or expend Borough funds. Only Council has that authority,” said Shaw.
“As I stated in a communication to Ian [Haight-Ashton] on April 25, 2014, ‘although I have been told HARB would like to ask questions of the engineer performing the analysis and offer direction on the structural study, this will now fall within Council’s jurisdiction. Of course, Council will share the structural study at the appropriate time.’ In my opinion, HARB was inappropriate in stating a demand for an independent study when, at that time, the previous studies completed by the applicant had not been provided to our engineer.”
But, of the three Borough Council members who responded to questions by the Free Press, all indicated they were not involved in any decision to take the review of the Odette’s proposal out of HARB’s hands. When queried whether he was asked about taking the Odette’s proposal away from HARB, Council Member Cliff Montgomery said, “I was never asked.” Montgomery also indicated he was not aware of any meeting or vote on the matter, and that he doesn’t think this matter should be taken out of HARB’s hands because they were “unfair” to the applicants.
Council Member Geri Delevich said, “I never agreed privately to anything in this regard. The question of an independent structural engineer was brought up at the May council meeting. I thought it was not an unreasonable request by HARB and it made sense to me.