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One to Watch: New Hope Borough Council meeting Tuesday night

new hope free press borough councilTuesday night’s Borough Council meeting includes enough pieces of controversial business to make the trip up the hill to the old St. Martin’s worthwhile.

The first seemingly innocuous agenda item is the Bucks County Playhouse (BCP) attempt to have its plan for illuminating its building, riverside view, the Ingham Creek, and an illegal sign approved by Borough Council without having to visit the Zoning Hearing Board. BCP also continues maneuvering to avoid receipt of a Notice of Violation for its unapproved river-facing sign, lately promising they will re-apply through the Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB) by Sept. 23, when borough officials have drawn another “line in the sand”.

Nonetheless, Borough Council will decide Tuesday whether or not to allow the Playhouse to illuminate its illegal sign and the rest of their riverside property, using approval of the lighting plan by the Historic Architectural Review Board (HARB) on Aug. 5 as justification for considering a proposal that appears to circumvent normal zoning procedure, protocol, and precedent.

Traditionally, HARB considers only the color of lighting proposed, while ZHB considers size/elevation of the lights, along with lumens visible at the property line. Yet, asserts a borough spokesperson, “HARB has jurisdiction over any work that requires a construction permit that is visible from a public right-of-way, including the Delaware Canal.”

Borough Hall also has a different spin on Ordinance 275-52, which appears to prohibit lighting of the BCP river-facing sign. The ordinance reads: “The following signs are prohibited: (4) Any sign that is animated or illuminated by the use of neon or any form of exposed tubes or bulbs, including LED displays.”

Borough Hall asserts that Ordinance 275-52 should be interpreted as applying only to “neon or LED signs that are internally or externally illuminated by LED ‘displays’…An ‘LED display’, as distinguished from an LED light, is a flat panel that uses an array of light-emitting diodes as a video display.”

Yet, according to the meeting agenda and BCP documents, the actual proposal is “to install LED lights to illuminate existing signage on the north and west face of the stage house, not “displays”. Net effect: The move could be interpreted by some as Council voting to illegally illuminate an illegal sign. The Bucks County Playhouse had no comment on the matter.

Next up, the developers at Gateway to New Hope LLC, who went before HARB seeking permission to tear down the remaining portion of the historic Odette’s 1784 tavern to make way for a boutique conference center, would like their very own zoning “overlay”, similar to the special business district created for the Playhouse.

Technically, Borough Council will consider authorizing submission of an ordinance amending the Historic River Hospitality Use (2008)  based upon a petition submitted by Gateway to New Hope. On the ground, it looks a lot another “cultural overlay” creation, not unlike the Mystery Spot in the Upper Penninsula of Michigan where normal laws of nature (or the Borough) don’t seem to fully apply.

Fortunately, the Gateway ordinance is limited Tuesday night to a vote on whether or not to send it on for review and comment by the Borough Planning Commission and the Bucks County Planning Commission. If it gets past those groups, the ordinance proposal could return to Borough Council by November, where it will be approved or shot down.

Finally, Tuesday night’s Borough Council meeting will feature review and discussion of ZHB Appeal 388, submitted by Michael Lombardo, owner of 46 North Main Street, for variances to allow a multifamily dwelling consisting of two living units. Although the property is located in the Commercial District of New Hope, a potential purchaser in the form of a deep-pocketed, high-end Italian restaurant, was turned down for required restaurant variances. Now, the owner wants to turn this prime commercial space into a residential facility, adding to  the ongoing shrinkage of New Hope’s commercial areas.

All in all, a meeting worth attending.

The meeting will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the Community Room at 125 New St.


About the author

Charlie Sahner

“Once you can accept the universe as matter expanding into nothing that is something, wearing stripes with plaid comes easy." - Einstein

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