New Hope is considering changes to the residential zoning district that have riled some builders, architects and land use attorneys that do business in the borough.
Borough officials have floated a plan to split the residential district in two, where different rules will dictate what’s permitted on the properties closer to the center of town from those to the north and west.
According to a draft of the proposed ordinance, the idea behind the move is to ensure development “retains the character of the neighborhoods in the borough and reduces nonconformities.”
“The purpose of this amendment would be to address lot sizes and setbacks and provide requirements for size and location of proposed structures,” said Borough Manager Peter Gray in an email.
Paul R. Cohen, a partner at Curtin & Heefner LLP, said he believes the new zoning regulations will create unnecessary complexity that’ll make it harder to tell whether a property complies.
“It is not unreasonable to believe that different rules should apply to the portions of the district that are closer to the center of town and those that are further away,” Cohen said. “Rather, the issue is with the change in rules applicable to zoning in the new districts.”
The concerns following these new regulations are heavily focused on the future building in the community.
“The issue here is that the rules themselves are very confusing and difficult to apply,” said Cohen. “It will be very challenging, and likely expensive, for property owners to get accurate measurements of their neighbors’ building heights and footprints.”
The new rules include height limitations that could diminish the value of residents’ properties, critics argue.
Cohen explained the rules, if passed, could result in existing homeowners suddenly having nonconforming properties.
“The real issue is the unintended impact,” Cohen said. “Architects will have to come up with structures that fit the limited height allowance — likely incorporating more flat roofs, which will not be consistent with surrounding historic properties.”
Ralph Fey, of Ralph C. Fey AIA Architects in Doylestown, has been operating in the area for more than 20 years.
“Us builders know what it takes to keep the integrity of New Hope and don’t think it should be at the expense of others,” said Fey, who argued the changes would diminish homeowners’ rights.
Peter Edwardson, owner of Edwardson Construction, has been serving the community of New Hope-Solebury for more than 30 years. He said he believes the changes would be a “really bad thing for the town” and described the changes as “draconian” and “short-sighted.”
“Current zoning is more than adequate for development in the borough,” said Edwardson, who added New Hope is already doing a great job converting “eyesores” into “jewels.”
“New Hope is an attitude, it’s acceptance, it’s a loving community where nobody should be held back from what they wanna do with their property,” said Edwardson.
Gray indicated part of the process will involve public comment.
“Comments received by the public at prior Council meetings on the proposed ordinance will be reviewed and considered by Borough staff and committees, and presented to Council for consideration at a later date,” Gray said.