Tuesday night’s New Hope Borough Council meeting had several interesting items up for discussion, but two were of particular note, in that Council continued to redefine the role of its advisory boards and commissions in decisions that appear to effectively exempt investors in some of New Hope’s neglected landmarks from several local regulations and procedures.
The first was the Bucks County Playhouse (BCP) proposal for illuminating its building, riverside view, the Ingham Creek, and a river-facing wall containing an unauthorized sign. Although the sign in question has lacked a required permit for nearly a year and a half, Borough Council voted unanimously to allow the Playhouse to illuminate their entire riverside property, using consideration of a lighting plan by the Historic Architectural Review Board (HARB) on Aug. 5 as justification for circumventing normal signage 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. The Council President did draw the line at multicolored lights, ordering that only white lights be allowed in keeping with her perception of the historic district aesthetic.
New Hope will now become the first river community in the area with illuminated signage visible from the Delaware River, shattering a 2004 watershed ruling which kept the new owners of Club Zadar from constructing a river-facing lit billboard.
Another key request considered by Council Tuesday night was by Gateway to New Hope LLC in their continuing attempt to tear down the historic Odette’s 1784 tavern to make way for a boutique conference center. Council voted to allow submission of an ordinance change by Gateway to New Hope, effectively circumventing the Zoning Hearing Board yet again, let alone HARB.
Borough Council will now send the proposed ordinance change on for review and comment by the Borough Planning Commission and the Bucks County Planning Commission. Other Borough officials and committees will input as well. Except, of course, the Zoning Hearing Board.
The Gateway proposal to build its 25,000 square foot per use resort complex by disassembling and symbolically incorporating pieces of the original 1784 tavern will be voted on by Borough Council as early as November.
Various Borough Council members expressed misgivings about both proposals, wondering why they were being tasked with responsibilities typically undertaken by the Zoning Hearing Board. Council leadership expressed their belief that setting zoning policy is not the purview of its own appointed zoning experts, who should be limited to the more simple technical rulings within their capability, rather than strategic complexities. Despite the grumbling, unanimous favorable votes were exacted, as is the wont of the Council President, according to at least one source close to the situation who spoke under condition of anonymity.
One unrelated item that bears noting: the Council President read aloud a letter by a merchant complaining about the closure of North Main Street for the Thompson Bucks County Classic bike race last week. New Hope Chamber of Commerce President Roger Green commented to Council that his business organization wanted a seat at the table of any future discussion involving the potential limitation of events requiring street closure.