Tuesday night’s meeting of New Hope Borough Council saw a change at the helm, and forward movement, if not completely smooth sailing.
In its first move of the evening, council voted to accept the resignation of President and Member Bill Scandone, who apparently managed to stay resigned for the full week following his Feb. 13 announcement.
Any resident of the borough may apply for the vacant position, although council has the power to appoint anyone they please, and do.
Vice-President Alison Kingsley assumed the mantle of council leadership, and regardless of which side of the aisle one sits, she ran the meeting with aplomb born of political experience. She quickly swung into a presentation on a proposal to purchase parking kiosks to replace individual parking meters.
“We anticipate not only the meter revenue going up, but the parking fine numbers going up as well,” explained Kingsley of the $300,000 parking payment system.
Meter revenue accounts for approximately $400,000 of the borough’s budget, and the projected 20% increase in meter revenue would be fueled not only by more efficient turnover of parking spaces, but also the ability to raise the cost of parking on, say, Main Street during a peak weekend day.
The system will also help police electronically locate clusters of expired spaces, thus boosting income from parking citations, although visitors will be notified on their mobile devices when their parking time is running out. Kingsley said the system could generate operational savings of 34%.
Mayor Larry Keller seemed unimpressed.
“I hate to be ‘Debbie Downer’ here…but I have a lot of questions that aren’t answered yet,” he said. “So, we know the kiosks install for approximately $15,000 for at least $300,000. Still like to know if we can we insure these kiosks. What does it cost to insure these kiosks? As a business person, when someone tells me that something will last 10-15 years, and they’re so confident in that, they’re going to give you a one-year warranty?”
Keller also questioned whether visitors might falsely believe their purchased kiosk time would be redeemable at New Hope’s numerous private lots.
“You have the ability to pay for six hours, and I could be on South Main for two hours, and decide, ‘I’m going to get some suds — I’m going to Triumph Brewery to get a beer,'” said Keller. “So, I drive over to George Michael’s Union Square, because I’ve still got four hours left. Who pays George Michael?”
“It’s a totally different system, so once they go into to his private parking lot, they’re obligated to pay whatever he has there,” explained Council Member Connie Gering. “We’ll need to educate them.”
In the end, council decided to move forward with the project, and “find out what it actually costs,” in Kingsley’s words.
The group next reviewed a proposed amendment to the borough’s dog control code. Calls for stronger regulation of dog ownership began in earnest at a New Hope Borough Council meeting in August 2015, where Riverwoods residents Keith and Denice Horlacher recounted the horror of seeing their pet Maltese killed by a large off-leash dog some two weeks earlier.
An expansive new dog law governing canine ownership and control in the borough was shot down at a council meeting on April 19, 2016 because it sought to define and regulate “socialization” of dogs in the borough, a highly subjective and seemingly unenforceable requirement.
The latest set of tightened canine ownership guidelines does not include the controversial socialization section, but it does prohibit tethering of dogs outside a shop or restaurant while one runs inside to quickly purchase an item like a cup of coffee.
“The item referring to the tethering of a dog is the only thing that bothers me,” observed Kingsley. “We’re affecting people’s lifestyles.”
Council voted to move ahead and advertise the proposed ordinance change for the next 30 days before their March meeting, where it will be open to public commentary before consideration.
Next up at Tuesday night’s meeting was a review and discussion of Zoning Hearing Board Appeal No. 414, submitted by Pitcarin-Ferguson and Associates, Inc., for 12 W. Mechanic St. (the “Artworks Building”), requesting a variety of relief from zoning ordinance and a special exception to establish a restaurant and a tasting room for a craft brewery. Council voted to maintain a neutral stance on the project.
Also considered was a request to grant a waiver of the procedural requirements of the land development plan approval process to renovate the building at 46 N. Main St. (formerly Bucks County Trading Company), eliminating the building’s commercial use, and constructing four residential dwelling units.
“It is true that it’s a big structure, but it’s going up — we’re not changing the footprint,” explained project principal Scott Kelley. “This does not require the full land development process.” Kingsley disagreed.
“The borough engineer tells us that it is unclear as to what the storm water management issue will be,” she asserted.
Council voted to deny the waiver request and send the project on to the borough planning board.
In other action, council approved a proposal to hire the Barth Consulting Group to conduct the first part of a downtown “revitalization” plan at a cost of $30,000. The plan will seek to attract a more advantageous mix of businesses to downtown New Hope, and offer organizational assistance to existing struggling merchants. Barth has raised the visibility of notable tourist meccas like Hatboro and New Britain.
An amendment to the current union contract with the Police Benevolent Association was also approved Tuesday evening, with all terms and conditions remaining the same except for a contract extension through Dec. 31, and a member pay raise of 3.5% effective Jan. 1, 2018.