Tuesday night’s meeting of Borough Council had a slightly more Kafkaesque quality than usual, owing largely to Council President Claire Shaw’s late decision to axe a scheduled discussion by well-known New Hope jeweler Diana Michaels about traffic closures during special events.
After Shaw removed the discussion from the agenda, she appointed council members Gering and Scandone as intermediaries to negotiate with Michaels and New Hope Chamber of Commerce board member Christina Mertz on the issue.
Shaw opened the floor to public comment, and the very conversation she had apparently sought to avert, ensued.
The discussion had originally been scheduled in response to a request from Michaels for the borough to reconsider its approach to closing entire blocks to vehicular traffic during special events like the Thompson Bucks County Classic bicycle race on Sept. 7. Michaels was not immediately available for comment.
Shaw justified her actions at Tuesday’s meeting, saying, “Originally I placed it on the agenda for tonight, but I decided not to keep it on the agenda for a couple of reasons. The main reason is that I feel a discussion is counter-productive, really.
“We know there’s two sides to it,” continued Shaw. “There’s those who want roads closed, those who do not. We don’t need discussion.”
Despite Shaw’s efforts, discussion of road closures began in earnest, as audience members took to the microphone.
“Closing the roads is really affecting some of the businesses,” said Joe Balderson, co-owner of the jewelry store in question. “During that particular event on a Saturday, we did zero business. And I just have to think that there are alternate routes that could avoid the business section. I’m sure some of the residents are starting to get tired of this, too.”
Bryan Montgomery of Three Cranes Gallery said, “We don’t have a problem with you closing the roads, it’s closing them for five hours for a one-hour event.”
Said John Dwyer of Cocksmamie’s, “One of the problems with the bike race was that we didn’t have a buy-in by the businesses on North Main Street.”
Businesses canvassed after the meeting indicated that the conversation about how to more intelligently use traffic restrictions during special events would continue, with or without Borough Hall’s offer to mediate.
Another key item Tuesday night was council’s authorization of its lawyer T.J. Walsh to start advertising consideration of an ordinance amending the “historic river hospitality use” based upon a petition submitted by Gateway to New Hope, LLC, who want to demolish the historic Odette’s tavern to make way for a luxury hotel.
“This is just following up on what discussion was at the last meeting,” explained Walsh. “This is actually just…it’s advertisement of the public hearing. This is nothing more than — the public meeting will be in November. I believe it’s going to the Planning Commission Nov. 7, so I need just the authorization to advertise for the public hearing.”
Despite disapproval from the Historic Architectural Review Board of the original “Odette’s” proposal, and lack of review by the Zoning Hearing Board, Borough Council voted to start advertising the proposed ordinance change, and may attempt to push through approval at next month’s meeting, say observers. New Hope Borough Council President Claire Shaw has refused to recuse herself from voting on the proposed boutique conference center that investors want to build next to her property.