Published On: Thu, Sep 4th, 2014

New Hope Zoning Hearing Board to weigh LED lights and parking lot tents for Bucks County Playhouse

Bucks County Playhouse New Hope Free PressThe New Hope Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB) will publicly meet Thursday night at 7 p.m. with Playhouse representatives to continue discussion of their request to install LED lights and new signage around their Delaware riverfront property and erect up to four large tents in their parking lot.

In its proposal for zoning variances, the Bucks County Playhouse is seeking to enhance illumination of its main building, along with the Ingham Creek, waterfall, surrounding shorelines, and an unauthorized river-facing sign, with multicolored LED lighting. It has also requested up to four semi-permanent tents be constructed in its parking lot, providing additional special event space, but also eliminating valuable parking spaces.

ZHB asked Playhouse officials to present a complete list of existing and proposed sign details — including exact locations, dimensions, illumination desired and permits — during their original presentation Aug. 7, which they were unprepared to provide at that time.

New Hope Borough Council has also previously weighed in on the Playhouse variance issue, tabling on Aug. 19 the lighting variances of the Playhouse proposal pending a technical study ordered to be undertaken due to concerns by East Mechanic Street residents over potential late-night glare.

Council undertook its consideration of Playhouse lighting prior to ZHB approval based on the plan’s prior purported okay by New Hope’s Historic and Architectural Review Board (HARB). Two people familiar with the situation who requested anonymity said HARB has not approved any formal lighting plan. In fact, for at least the past several years, ZHB has exercised jurisdiction over lighting, not HARB.

The Borough hopes that the ZHB will approve the Playhouse proposal, in part to avoid issuing warnings and a citation to the Playhouse for an unapproved sign. The north-facing sign also violates the spirit of a 2004 Zoning Hearing Board decision denying similar lit advertising on the Delaware to the owners of the former Club Zadar, and seeking to keep views of the Delaware River pristine and bucolic.

While many support the idea of tasteful lighting about the Playhouse, some are additionally concerned with a milestone precedent which could potentially make it more difficult to prevent the appearance of other neon lights and signs along the banks of the Delaware River.

Not present at Thursday night’s meeting will be long-time ZHB member Laura Hahn, who has apparently resigned after many years at the key advisory group. Hahn was an influential voice on borough issues, and her departure from ZHB creates a larger-than-usual political void.

And while an advisory board member’s resignation is typically due more to personal priorities after long hours of volunteering, some New Hope political watchers expect more turnover at the borough’s advisory commissions and boards. Three New Hope officials who requested anonymity to avoid potential retaliation said they were concerned about recent moves towards greater centralization of power under current borough council leadership.

A proposal enacted during Borough Council’s Aug. 19 meeting effectively puts the “recruitment, selection, retention and removal of members of advisory boards” more tightly under the purview of Borough Council President Claire Shaw. That proposal, according to public statements by some council members, appears to raise the bar for potential new volunteers to committees like HARB and the Zoning Hearing Board that are already hard-pressed for new membership.

Thursday night’s meeting is open to the public, and will start at 7 p.m. in the New Hope Community Room at 125 New Street.

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