New Hope closes in on Riverfront District
Area affects Playhouse Inn and promenade next to theater
Although the New Hope Borough Council spent several painstaking hours Tuesday night on a draft ordinance for the proposed Riverfront Cultural Overlay District, a vote was tabled until the October meeting because more information was required.
The overlay district would comprise five properties, but its regulations would pertain only to the Bucks County Playhouse, the proposed Playhouse Inn (an overhaul of the former Club Zadar) and the riverfront promenade, which are owned by Kevin Daugherty's nonprofit Bridge Street Foundation.
Fifteen items contained in the draft were up for discussion Tuesday, and while many of them were approved by the council and Daugherty, several were tabled.
One key sticking point was resolved, however. The ordinance would not place an 11 p.m. curfew on the outdoors sale of food and drink at the Playhouse. Even that issue would become moot, though, if the Playhouse is permitted to build an enclosed lobby where the deck now exists, as planned.
Daugherty made one thing clear from the outset Tuesday: The overlay district's regulations must eliminate the need to apply to the zoning hearing board for variances. Last October, the ZHB rebuffed the Playhouse's overture to build a deck, and Daugherty unsuccessfully called for the removal of some of its members, calling them unqualified.
All along, the council has been enthusiastic about the Playhouse's aspirations, and it has been working with Daugherty and Bucks County Planning Commission Director Lynn Bush on the overlay proposal. Once the draft ordinance is finalized, it must be reviewed by the borough and county planning commissions and presented for public comment before the council can vote on it. That could take months.
Also impeding the Playhouse's riverfront plans is the Federal Emergency Management Agency's adoption of an updated flood map. FEMA has released the update, but it will not be formally presented to municipalities for ratification until December, and it cannot be ratified before next June.
Daugherty's third request for a map revision, which would preempt the updated map, is being reviewed by a FEMA contractor.
In the meantime, the Playhouse wants to increase its self-sustaining revenue by selling drinks in its front courtyard, which its liquor license permits two hours before and one hour after any performance. Live music in the courtyard could extend that performance window to 2 a.m., the state limit for liquor sales.
Homeowners bordering the Playhouse have had strong objections to the potential for noise, be it music or voices. Daugherty seemed to assuage those fears Tuesday, promising that there would be no music on the back deck until it becomes an enclosed lobby and that any music in the courtyard, where a waterfall drowns out much noise, would be only acoustic and meet the state regulation that sound does not project beyond a property's borders.
That was good enough, barely, for Gail Pedrick, who lives on Waterloo Street and has made her objections known at council meetings.
"As long as it doesn't disturb the neighbors, I guess that's good enough," said Pedrick, who has a long history with the area. "I used to be a waitress at the original Playhouse Inn, and let me tell you, that was a pretty lively place."
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