The New Hope Borough Council meeting on Tuesday night was loaded with so many items for discussion that a brief break and seventh-inning stretch were needed, as the gathering passed the 10 p.m. mark. Despite the meeting’s length, it all went fairly according to script, with unanimous, mumbled votes as temperatures outside the Community Room plunged.
Of note was passage of Resolution No. 2014-‐19R amending a recently-approved policy regarding the recruitment and retention of advisory board members. Specifically, the proposal allows alternate members of various borough committees in good standing to apply for vacant member positions without having to the submit to the borough’s new application process, which some consider onerous.
Also passing handily was a request by the newly-formed New Hope Business Alliance for permission to close a portion of West Ferry Street to accommodate the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony on Nov. 30 at 6 p.m.
Up next was a series of four proposals essentially allowing Gateway to New Hope, LLC to tear down the historic Odette’s tavern to make way for a $25 million boutique conference center. Borough Council voted to allow submission of an ordinance change by Gateway on Sept 16, in effect circumventing the Zoning Hearing Board and overruling a Historic and Architectural Review Board (HARB) decision saying the site was historic and should be preserved.
Partner Mike Amery made an effective presentation, drawing from his own history with property and calling the new team’s plans “transformational.”
Preservation expert Kathryn Ann Auerbach questioned the borough’s public advertisement of the project, which stated that the Odette’s property had been completely stripped of its historic designations. Auerbach pointed out that a HARB decision would have been required for that to occur, and thus the proposal was incorrectly advertised and defective.
Borough Council lawyer T.J. Walsh disagreed, despite the presence of two additional residents from homes near the proposed site who claimed they also had not received adequate notification of meetings. The closest neighbor according to Walsh’s calculation in fact is Borough Council President Claire Shaw, whom despite owning a home adjacent to the proposed site, refused to recuse herself from decisions throughout consideration of the project.
When the dust settled, the proposal passed, much to the relief of many eager to see the site developed and hopeful of its potential economic benefit. Construction should start in a couple of months and take a couple of years to complete, in the simplest terms.
Also of note was a positive decision by council essentially waiving certain procedural requirements for submission of plans for converting the single-family structure at 8 E. Mechanic St. to a three-room annex of the Playhouse Inn, a project that would replace the former Club Zadar next to the Bucks County Playhouse.