As expected, New Hope’s Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB) on Thursday unanimously voted down Borough Council’s proposal to settle an appeal by Bucks County Playhouse (BCP) that would have allowed the theater to continue displaying an unauthorized, illuminated river-facing sign — a potentially precedent-setting action that some believe flies in the face of the national Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
The shocker: Although Borough Council is named as an “intervenor,” or interested party, in the Playhouse legal appeal of a Zoning Hearing Board decision, it lacks the authority to enter into a settlement without the Zoning Hearing Board’s permission.
It gets worse. Based on publicly-available documents and interviews with individuals close to the situation, when New Hope Borough Council voted on Sept. 15 to overrule ZHB and unilaterally agree to the appeal filed by Bucks County Playhouse, Borough Council members were unaware that its Zoning Hearing Board can only be overruled by a Bucks County civil judge.
ZHB is the advisory group to New Hope’s Borough Council that is responsible for adjudicating zoning matters. Borough Hall did not respond to requests for information, and BCP did not comment.
In fact, it appears that Borough Council pursued its proposed agreement with Bucks County Playhouse without the knowledge and input of ZHB members.
And though Borough Council President Claire Shaw, members of the ZHB, and several New Hope residents on Sept. 15 decried the dangerous precedent of allowing the first signage facing the Delaware River, council members Geri Delevich, Ray Velasco, Cliff Montgomery, Nick Gialias, and Connie Gering voted to grant Bucks County Playhouse a special exception, although no hardship had been demonstrated. “It’s nice,” said Gering of the Playhouse.
Apparently, Gering and company were unaware that they lacked the ability to grant anything regarding BCP’s appeal that night.
Sources say Borough Council was taken aback when informed that their decision to overrule their Zoning Hearing Board had to be approved by that same Zoning Hearing Board.
Separately, Borough Council will consider on Nov. 17 the zoning application of Bucks County Playhouse to enclose its eastern outdoor deck. BCP is seeking to reduce the number of required off-street parking spaces for theater use, allow the required riverwalk to be less than the entire length of the property’s frontage along the Delaware River, and modify the required 20-foot wide riparian buffer on BCP’s frontage along the Aquetong Creek and Dark Hallow Run.