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New Hope Borough Council proposes zoning law changes including crackdown on business signs


Business signage (file photo)

Borough Council proposed sweeping changes to current zoning law and enforcement Tuesday night at the group’s monthly meeting.

The draft ordinance, which appears in its entirety below thanks to the helpful folks at Borough Hall, would amend the definition of both “impervious surface” and “base site area,” in effect making construction or expansion over the Delaware River more difficult, and would prohibit river-facing signs.

The ordinance would also address what the borough perceives as a preponderance of unauthorized business signs that pop up, and are then removed before zoning citations can take effect, and also “A-frame” or “sandwich-board signs,” which the borough says can block foot traffic. The ordinance authorizes the confiscation of “certain prohibited signs.”

Said one borough official, “We don’t just want to ticket the signs, we want to take them.”

Lastly, the proposed amendments would also change alternative parking provisions to eliminate the option of a business satisfying its parking requirement by leasing additional spaces.

The draft ordinance was tabled Tuesday evening for continued discussion at Borough Council’s December meeting.





B A C K G R O U N D:


  1. On November 15, 2006, by Ordinance No. 2006-13, New Hope Borough Council (“Council”) enacted a zoning ordinance (“Zoning Ordinance”) pursuant to its statutory authority, the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (“MPC”), Act 247 of 1968, as amended (53 P.S. §10101 et seq.).


  1. The Zoning Ordinance, as amended, is codified at Chapter 275 of the Code of the Borough of New Hope (the “Code”).


  1. Through careful study, the Council, with the assistance of its committees and staff, recognizes that the Zoning Ordinance should be amended as follows:


  1. to amend the definition of “IMPERVIOUS SURFACE” to include crushed stone, gravel, paver blocks and wood decks.


  1. to delete the first definition of “BASE SITE AREA;” and to amend the definition of “BASE SITE AREA” (found in the “SITE AREA” category of definitions) to specifically exclude streams, waters of the Commonwealth, waters of the United States and watercourses from the calculation of BASE SITE AREA.


  1. to revise the prohibited sign regulations to prohibit any sign from being placed in any yard on a property that is adjacent to the Delaware River where such sign would be located on, or between, any building or structure and the Delaware River.


  1. to declare that certain prohibited signs are public and private nuisances; and to authorize the confiscation of such signs as part of the available enforcement remedies.


  1. to delete the option to lease parking spaces to satisfy the off-street parking requirements in the Alternative Parking section.


  1. to revise and clarify the minimum requirements for an appeal or application for a hearing before the New Hope Borough Zoning Hearing Board to be considered complete and ready for acceptance.


  1. The proposed amendment was submitted to the Bucks County Planning Commission and the New Hope Borough Planning Commission by letter dated , 20 .


  1. The Bucks County Planning Commission issued its review of the proposed amendment by letter dated , 20 .


  1. The New Hope Borough Planning Commission reviewed the proposed amendment at its , 20 meeting.


  1. The proposed amendment has not been substantively altered or changed since it was last forwarded to the Bucks County Planning Commission and the New Hope Borough Planning Commission.


  1. The proposed amendment has been reviewed, published pursuant to public notice, advertised, considered at a public hearing, posted (where applicable) and reviewed in accordance with MPC Sections 609 and 610 (53 P.S. §§10609, 10610).


NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT ENACTED AND ORDAINED, and it is hereby ENACTED AND ORDAINED by the Council of the Borough of New Hope, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, as follows:


Section 01: In Section 275-6, Definitions, of the Code, the first “BASE SITE AREA” definition (currently found between the definitions of “BASEMENT” and “BUILDING”) is deleted, as being repetitive of a definition found later in Section 275-6 of the Code.


Section 02: Section 275-6, Definitions, of the Code, is amended to revise the definitions of the following words and phrases:


“IMPERVIOUS SURFACE – any surface that does not absorb precipitation and/or surface water. All buildings, parking areas, driveways, roads, sidewalks and any areas in or made of concrete, stone, asphalt, crushed stone, gravel, paver blocks, wood decks, and any other areas that do not absorb precipitation and/or surface water are considered impervious surfaces.


  1. BASE SITE AREA – The site area minus existing roads and their ultimate rights-of-way, utilities rights-of-way, other public easements, land which is restricted from development due to easements or covenants, streams, waters of the Commonwealth, waters of the United States, watercourses, and land shown on previous subdivision and/or land development plans as reserved from development for natural resources, recreation and/or open space restrictions.”


Section 03: Section 275.52, Prohibited Signs, of the Code shall be retitled as “Prohibited Signs; Confiscation of Certain Prohibited Signs.”


Section 04: Subsection B of Section 275-52, Prohibited Signs; Confiscation of Certain Prohibited Signs, of the Code is amended to read in full as follows:


“B. Signs Along Canal and River. No freestanding sign, except street identification and directional signs installed by the Borough or Commonwealth may be erected within 20 feet of the Delaware Canal, as defined in Article II of this Chapter. A sign may not be placed on any property adjacent to the Delaware River where such sign would be or is located on, or between, any building or structure and the Delaware River.”


Section 05: A new subsection C shall be added to Section 275-52, Prohibited Signs; Confiscation of Certain Prohibited Signs, shall be added to the Code and shall read in full as follows:


“C. Confiscation of Certain Prohibited Signs.


  1. Purpose. This subsection is intended to provide a method to promote the public health, safety and welfare of the visitors, merchants and residents of and to New Hope Borough by providing an effective means for the removal of certain prohibited signs located in the public rights-of-way, thereby reducing visual clutter along roadways, sidewalks, and other public ways and public properties, and reducing the potential for driver distraction and pedestrian hazards.


  1. Findings.


  1. Certain signs prohibited under subsection A above are often temporary in nature, inexpensive, and easily and quickly placed in the public view. As a popular tourist town, New Hope Borough experiences a proliferation of certain kinds of prohibited signs within the rights-of-way of public streets, roads and sidewalks, especially in commercial areas, which greatly increases the visual clutter along roadways and threatens traffic and pedestrian safety.


  1. Certain signs prohibited under subsection A above are also detrimental to the public health and safety in that they result in litter, obstructions and hazards within and adjacent to the traveled portions of the public rights-of-way, especially in windy conditions. The problems are especially acute in commercial areas.


  1. Existing enforcement options under this chapter, while available at any time to correct a sign violation, have proven ineffective in ensuring timely compliance with the sign regulations contained in this Article VII. By the time a violation is observed, an enforcement notice of violation drafted, mailed and received, and the violation is either corrected or appealed, the illegal and prohibited sign could be in place for up to thirty days, which is often the effective life span of such a sign. In essence, violators “game the system” and ignore the provisions of this Article VII, knowing that enforcement penalties can be evaded.


  1. The enforcement provisions set forth in this subsection are deemed reasonable and necessary to curtail this illegal activity and protect the public safety while guaranteeing the rights of property owners to the due process of law.


  1. Accordingly, those prohibited signs identified in subsection (3) below are hereby declared to be a nuisance within New Hope Borough, and when placed and/or located within a public right-of-way or on public property, are subject to immediate confiscation by the Zoning Officer and any other authorized enforcement official(s).


  1. Prohibited Signs. Subsection A of this Section 275-52 identifies signs that are prohibited in New Hope Borough. The following prohibited signs are specifically identified as those signs that may be confiscated when placed and/or located within a public right-of-way or on public property, in accordance with the provisions of this subsection:


  1. Signs interfering with any electric light, power, telephone or cable wires or the supports thereof (Section 275-52.A(7)).


  1. Banner signs (Section 275-52.A(8)).


  1. Pennant signs (Section 275-52.A(9)).


  1. Portable signs (Section 275-52.A(10)).


  1. Advertising vehicular sign (Section 275-52.A(11)).


  1. Signs attached to trees, utility poles, etc. (Section 275-52.A(12)).


  1. Special promotional devices (Section 275-52.A(14)).


  1. Signs confused with traffic signal controls or signs (Section 275-52.A(15)).


  1. Signs at intersections (Section 275-52.A(16)).


  1. Neglected and/or deteriorated signs (Section 275-52.A(17)).


  1. Abandoned signs (Section 275-52.A(18)).


  1. Signs on benches (Section 275-52.A(19)).


  1. Snipe signs (Section 275-52.A(20)).


  1. Enforcement.


  1. The Zoning Officer, and any duly authorized code enforcement officer or agent, is hereby authorized to remove and confiscate any sign identified in subsection 3 of this section that is placed and/or located within a public right-of-way or on public property. If the confiscated sign is of a permanent nature (i.e. more than a flyer, piece of paper, etc.), such confiscated sign shall be stored in a secure facility in accordance with the provisions of this subsection. Non-permanent signs may be disposed of immediately. The Borough shall have the right to recover from the owner or person placing such signs the full costs for the removal, storage and disposal of such signs.


  1. Within seven (7) business days of the confiscation of a sign, if the owner and/or the person placing the sign can be identified, the Zoning Officer shall notify such individual(s) of the sign violation by sending an enforcement notice in accordance with Section 275-69 of this Chapter. The enforcement notice shall also state that the sign has been confiscated and where it is being stored.


  1. If any responsible party believes that a sign has been erroneously confiscated and/or disposed of, that party may request a hearing before the Zoning Hearing Board by filing an application for a hearing, in accordance with the applicable provisions of this Chapter and the enforcement notice. A sign shall continue to be stored while any appeal is pending. Any party may redeem a stored confiscated sign at any time upon payment of an impoundment fee as set by separate resolution of New Hope Borough Council. Any unredeemed sign may be disposed of after the expiration of all applicable appeal periods or final disposition of any appeal.


  1. This subsection C is intended to provide an alternative and supplemental means for the Zoning Officer to enforce the provisions of Article VII of this Chapter. The Zoning Officer shall have the option to enforce the provisions of Article VII in the manner set out in this section. Alternatively, the Zoning Officer may also elect to enforce the provisions of Article VII of this Chapter in accordance with procedures and penalties set forth in Article X of this Chapter.”


Section 06: Subsection M, Alternative Parking, of Section 275-57, General regulations apply to required off-street parking facilities, of the Code is amended in full to read as follows:


“M. Alternative Parking. Within the Central Commercial, Highway Commercial, Mixed Use, Limited Commercial and Light Industrial zoning districts, any uses existing as of the effective date of this chapter which can be lawfully expanded, or any new use than cannot meet the parking requirements of this chapter within the lot or boundary lines of the principal use may meet the parking requirements of this chapter by paying New Hope Borough a fee-in-lieu for each required parking space. Such fee shall be determined from time to time by resolution of the Borough Council. This option may be used to meet up to one hundred percent (100%) of the parking requirement.”


Section 07: Section 275-89, General rules and procedures for appeals and applications, of the Code is amended in full to read as follows:


“A. Any appeal from a determination of the Zoning Officer, any application to the Zoning Hearing Board for a special exception and/or variance from the provisions of this Chapter, or any other application to the Zoning Hearing Board for relief shall be filed with the Zoning Officer on forms specified by New Hope Borough. No appeal or application form shall be considered complete or accepted unless all of the following are met at the time the appeal or application is submitted:


  1. The applicant shall pay to the Zoning Officer all requisite fees and escrows in accordance with fee schedule adopted by New Hope Borough Council from time to time.


  1. The appeal and/or application shall include and set forth the name and address of the applicant; the name and address of the owner of the real estate affected by the appeal and/or application; a copy of the most recent deed for the real estate; written authority from the owner(s) of the property if different from the applicant, if applicable; and a list of record owners of properties within feet of the subject property.


  1. The appeal and/or application shall set forth a brief description and location of the real estate that is the subject of the appeal and/or application.


  1. The appeal and/or application shall identify the present zoning classification of the real estate that is the subject of the appeal and/or application, the improvements thereon, and the present use thereof.


  1. The appeal and/or application must refer to the specific determination of the Zoning Officer (with a copy of such determination), if applicable; the specific section(s) of this chapter and/or the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code under which the variance, special exception and/or other relief requested may be allowed; and the reasons for which relief should be granted.


  1. The appeal and/or application shall include a plot or site plan of the property setting forth a reasonably accurate description of the present and proposed improvements and/or use(s) and any additions to be made under the application.


  1. A copy of any prior decisions of the New Hope Borough Zoning Hearing Board affecting the subject property shall be included with the appeal and/or application.


  1. Any appeal from a determination of the Zoning Officer concerning the enforcement and/or interpretations of the provision of this chapter shall be filed with the Zoning Officer within thirty (30) days, or as may be extended by the Zoning Officer in writing, after the date of the Zoning Officer’s adverse determination.”


Section 08: In addition, all inconsistent provisions of other ordinances or resolutions are repealed to the extent of the inconsistency. All other provisions of the ordinances of New Hope Borough shall remain in full force and effect.


Section 09: The provisions of this ordinance are declared to be severable. If any provision of this ordinance is declared to be invalid or unconstitutional by a court of competent jurisdiction, such determination shall have no effect on the remaining provisions of this ordinance.


Section 10: This ordinance shall be effective immediately.


ORDAINED and ENACTED this day of , A.D., 2015.


Claire Shaw, President
John J. Burke, Secretary
APPROVED this day of , A.D., 2015.
Laurence Keller, Mayor

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


  • Really? Gravel is impervious? We have a gravel driveway, and rain water goes right through it, and into the ground. No runoff. Is the impervious ordinance intended just so the total % of impervious surface on one’s property can be recalculated, thereby triggering an expensive zoning hearing/variance application?

    Also, why can’t those enforcing the tent board ordinance, just go in and give the offending shop owner a warning, or make a suggestion as to an alternative placement, rather than outright confiscation of the board? Seems like more potential legal hassles ahead – and it makes New Hope seem punitive.

  • Dear Charlie, Thank you so much for your excellent coverage of the New Hooe area! Is there a noise pollution ordinance in New Hope that prohibits stores from playing amplified music outside? There is a store across the street from the information center on Mechanic Street that has outdoor speaker blasting music out onto the sidewalk. Another store across the street from Starbucks also projects music to the sidewalk area from outdoor speakers. I think this noise pollution is tacky, brings the New Hope experience down a notch.

    • John, there are limits to amplified music in terms of decibels and reach in borough ordinances, available online. In this case, see: Section 192-3, C2: Operating, playing, or permitting the operation or playing of any radio, television, audio equipment, sound amplifier, musical instrument, or similar device that reproduces or amplifies sound through electric or battery means in such a manner as to create a noise disturbance or to cause annoyance to persons in the vicinity for any person other than the operator of the device or to be audible greater than 30 feet from the source and not operated upon the property of the operator or with the knowledge, permission or consent of the owner or legal occupant of the property, and if operated on the property of the operator or with the knowledge, permission or consent of the owner or legal occupant of the property, then so as to be audible greater than 30 feet from a boundary of the property.
      [Amended 11-9-2004 by Ord. No. 2004-15]

      • Dear Charlie, Thank you very much! You nailed it! This is very informative and helpful. I will refer to the ordinance if / when I voice a complaint to New Hope police about noise that violates the ordinance. Thank you for providing the New Hope Free Press and for all that you do for the New Hope / Lambertville community. Take good care. –John

  • In this application for a variance concerning impervious allowance in Newtown, the wooden deck is not considered impervious. The New Hope Zoning board might as well call this new change in the ordinances, Let’s Attack The New Hope Playhouse Wood Deck Impervious Policy. Wood Decks are not impervious!

    Application of Mr. and Mrs. Anthony Meehan

    Mr. & Mrs. Anthony Meehan, owners, requesting a variance from the Joint Municipal Zoning Ordinance of 2007 as affected by the Foxhall Estates final plan to permit the construction of an in ground swimming pool with spa, coping, and decking totaling 2,598 sq ft resulting in 8,117 sq. ft. of impervious surface area where 6,000 sq ft is permitted. The subject property is 5 Hillview Drive, in the CM, Conservation Management District, being known as tax parcel number 29-16-2-11.

    Bill Coyle of Sylvan Pools and Anthony Meehan were sworn in.

    Mrs. Doorley asked if anyone present wished to be party to the application. There was no response.

    Mr. Meehan explained that the Board of Supervisors had reviewed his application and were concerned about the large amount on increased impervious surface. He then spoke to Mr. Vogt and submitted a revised plan to the Township. This was entered as Exhibit A-1/

    Mr. Meehan explained that he wants to put a pool in his yard for his five young children. His original plan showed a pool, spa and stamped concrete patio which were 2117 square feet above the permitted 6,000 square feet of impervious. The Supervisors asked that the plan be changed so that it would only increase the impervious by 12-1500 square feet. He had changed the patio to a wooden deck, reducing his request to 1277 square feet of additional impervious for a total of 7277 square feet. In response to Mr. Auchinleck’s questions, he pointed out the portions of the project which have been changed to decking. He noted that he also reduced the size of the coping and decking surrounding the pool, and had replaced the path from poured concrete to gravel with porous stepping stones.

    Mr. Lionetti asked whether the gravel and stone are considered porous in Newtown’s ordinance.

    Martin Vogt was sworn in. Mr. Vogt explained that the gravel might be considered impervious depending on the compaction. This is a subjective call by the Township Engineer.

    Mr. Meehan said he was not sure of the type or size of the gravel at this time. It was his intention to make it porous to the satisfaction of the Township Engineer.

    Mr. Vogt referred to the relevant section of the Ordinance which defines “packed stone” as impervious.

    Mr. Auchinleck said that some landscapers, for example, use small stones instead of mulch in gardens.

    Mr. Vogt said that these stones are loosely placed and not considered impervious. He then discussed porous pavers, which allow water to pass directly through.

    Mrs. Doorley asked about stormwater management for the increased impervious surface.

    Mr. Meehan said that the original plan called for seepage beds to absorb 2117 square feet of additional impervious.

    Mr. Coyle said that the beds would be reduced to accommodate the new plan’s additional 1277 square feet.

    Mrs. Doorley said that she had noticed a retention wall on the property.

    Mr. Meehan said that this is not a wall but a berm. It is not on his property.

    Mr. Coyle explained that there is a two-foot elevation around the pool, which will prevent run-off from leaving he property as water is directed to inlets to the infiltration basin.

    Mr. Lionetti suggested granting a variance to allow 32.72% impervious surface and allowing the applicant to determine the size of his patio and walkways within that amount. He would also want to include a condition that the applicant address additional run-off with a seepage bed to handle the additional 1277 square feet of impervious.

    Mr. Iapalucci said that he has concerns about run-off toward the adjacent neighbor to the left. He would favor a larger seepage bed to accommodate at least 1500 square feet of impervious surface.

    Mr. Coyle said that he did not want to add unnecessarily to the cost of the project. The proposed bed would be more than adequate, as it is designed to address the 100 year storm.

    Resident Tom Ames of 61 Gaucks Lane was sworn in. Mr. Ames said that his home is adjacent to Foxhall Estates. Many of the homes in this development have already added a pool. The residents of Gaucks Lane must maintain Gaucks Lane as it is not a dedicated street. He wants to be sure that the additional run-off will not spill into the Foxhall detention basin, as if this basin overflows, it would impact Gaucks Lane.

    The members discussed increasing the impervious surface to accommodate a paved path. They considered the size of the pool, which is considered by the Ordinance to be impervious although it can act to retain rainwater. Mr. Wind pointed out that although the pool might contain some run-off it would not recharge the groundwater.

    After some discussion, the members agreed that they would grant a variance for increased impervious and allow the applicant to decide what changes he would make to the plan to use the additional impervious surface.

    Mr. Auchinleck said that Mr. Meehan would receive a written decision, but this would not change the recorded plan for Foxhall Estates.

    Mr. Potero moved to grant a variance from the final plan for Foxhall Estates to allow an increase in impervious surface of 1277 square feet to allow construction of a pool, spa, decking and walkway totaling 1758 square feet for a total of 7277 square feet of impervious or 32.72% where 6000 square feet is the maximum, subject to the condition that a seepage bed to accommodate an additional 1500 square feet of impervious surface is installed. Mr. Wind seconded and the motion passed 5-0.

  • Really? They’re concerned with sign placement but still ignore our right to breathe *air* instead of cigarette smoke in common areas such as sidewalks???

    New Hope, look at your health laws…or lack thereof. I’ll never live there again or visit there again until you finally get some health laws or regulations together.

  • Is it just me or is this ordinance very unclear as to whom it is supposed to “help”? Clueless me, as it is said, but it was my impression that ordinances, both zoning and community, are made to help people, revitalize the town…help tourism…help investors and to help the dreamers who think they can make it by renting a shop and selling roasted kumquats if they want. It used to be that we had someone who went through town after someone complained and took all the sidewalk signs or told businesses to remove their banners or unapproved signs and for a while the town groaned a bit but we didn’t need an ordinance to comply. There a lot of words up there that just seem to point to one fact; that the borough doesn’t seem to want what the businesses want or what the home builders want or what a developers want and when they raise the meter fares again, what the tourists want…and are going to make it a rule that everyone comply. I’ve never heard a visitor to town tell me that any sign got in their way or that the old store up the street has too many signs and they are annoyed. In reality this sounds like Borough Council is creating an issue so they can solve something. Are the residents complaining? If so, I haven’t heard them. Are the home builders complaining? I doubt it. Are the developers complaining? Yes…but they are complaining because of all the roadblocks thrown up to hinder development projects all over town. If the town needs to increase its revenues just let the existing projects begin and the increased tax revenues alone can fill the gap. As for restaurant parking issues I am clueless as to what the borough wants or doesn’t want here…it’s all “legalspeak” to me. So who actually “wants” this and why do they want it?

  • Ok, I thought that impervious created run off, so I don’t see how a wood deck can be impervious, since the water goes between the planks of wood. That part doesn’t make sense. The situation with the crappy banners at the Eagle Fire Co at the intersection of Sugan and 202 is an eye sore, and that practice should end. Same with the crappy banners at St. Martin’s church. Also, selling used cars at the Eagle Fire Department should cease as well. Who will be on the banner SWAT team? Any citizen? Is the wood deck impervious rule retroactive?

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