|New Hope Borough Council President Claire Shaw (file photo)|
New Hope’s Historic Architectural Review Board (HARB) considered a conceptual plan April 1 that would see the remains of the famed but flood-ravaged Odette’s cabaret club torn down and replaced with a four-level “boutique” hotel/banquet hall designed to look like a 19th century paper mill. Shaw lives in a home once occupied by the original “Odette” next door to the site.
During that previous meeting, HARB questioned the assertion of the applicant — investment group Gateway to New Hope, LLC — that restoring the original Odette’s wasn’t possible, and that “the only way to go” was to level the existing site dating back to 1794, and attempt to utilize some original fragments of wood and stone in a massive new construction.
HARB also decided to appoint a new structural engineer in conjunction with Gateway to New Hope to assess whether the original building could be salvaged prior to touring the site and reviewing the historical appropriateness of the proposed plan.
HARB Chairperson Iain Haight-Ashton punched a hole in that concept early in Tuesday night’s meeting, saying “Everything right now is in the hands of Borough Council” while introducing an agenda item requested by HARB member Jeff Frydman of South Main Street.
Frydman raised a concern that the informational tour of the Odette’s building by members of HARB would apparently be conducted prior to receipt of the report from the structural engineer.
“The decision has already been made and we have to stand behind it,” replied Haight-Ashton.
“I don’t understand why we don’t have a structural engineers report when we go into the building,” said Fydman.
Said Haight-Ashton, “It’s important to have this information in front of us…but, that being said, I respect what Council has done.”
“Why can we just advise Council to get the [structural] report and take a look?” asked Frydman.
“Because Council made that decision and, you know, when the air is all you’ve got to breathe, I’m sorry,” replied Haight-Ashton, shrugging his shoulders.
Shaw, who was present in the audience, said in response to questions by HARB members,”We are not really getting a study, we’re having an open house…Council will then decide if we want to request a formal structural report. Based on what we see and hear, the seven of us will decide what to do next.”
“So, what is our role now?” asked Frydman.
“Your role?” responded Shaw. “To be HARB. I think this was sort of taken out of your hands because they [the applicants] were not treated very fairly at the first go around with this board.”
“We were very fair, and we were honest, and we were going according to guidelines, Claire. We did not do anything unfair,” shot back HARB member Dee Dee Bowman. “We simply stated that we did not think their report was adequate.”
“I wasn’t there, I can only speak to what I heard,” retorted Shaw.
“Did you ask any of us?” queried Bowman.
“Because of what transpired, right or wrong, Council decided to handle this from this point forward,” said Shaw.
“So, we’ve been fired,” responded Frydman.
“No, bypassed,” asserted another HARB member.
“The president of council believes we bullied applicants, which is patently false,” asserted Bowman. “If you had interviewed any one of us prior to accepting that statement then you would have known what actually happened.”
In fact, in a document obtained by the Free Press entitled “Harb Update,” Haight-Ashton refers to a meeting that occurred around May 11 with Shaw and Council Vice-President Rey Velasco that was held “to discuss concerns regarding the current historical structures report from the Gateway Group on the Odette’s property.
“Claire and I are on the same page,” continued Haight-Ashton. “No matter what was said at the last HARB meeting regarding this report, the final outcome is that Claire announced at Tuesday’s council meeting that she will be giving the contract out to Cook & Brown Associates to do a new report.”
Haight-Ashton went on to state, “I would have liked to see the structures report completed and used as a guide during the open house, but the decision on the order was out of my jurisdiction. We are all passionate volunteers with a great respect for history. Regretfully, we sometimes have to put aside our passions for the sake of solutions.”
Addressing Shaw near the end of Tuesday’s meeting, Frydman said, “I just want to be clear that I think we all agree there has to be a [structural] report.”
“Well, we don’t know that there’s going to be one, Jeffrey, at this point” said Shaw. “And that’s where it sits.”