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New Hope zoning group rules against River Cat Cafe

The New Hope Zoning Hearing Board on April 11 rejected an appeal and variance request by the River Cat Cafe at 142 S. Main St.

The good news for fans of the popular restaurant, which specializes in breakfast and lunch offerings, is that the cafe will remain open for business during what is expected to be a continuing legal appeal process.

Run by New Hope Borough Council member President Alison Kingsley, River Cat has been under scrutiny since last summer, when local businessman George Fernandez complained about the location of dumpsters used for food disposal near an apartment building he owns.

But the bigger issue has been zoning officials’ contention that the property was never approved for food preparation based on a 2015 decision, merely service of coffee, tea and ready-made snacks. A small retail shop operating on the premises has also drawn fire.

Kingsley and the owners of the property appealed the violations issued by the zoning officer last November, which also included an allegedly unlawful encroachment into a side yard and inadequate parking. They also sought a variance that would allow them to continue preparing food and selling non-food items.

The Zoning Hearing Board denied both the appeal and variance, although a formal written decision does not yet appear to have been issued. Kingsley is expected to appeal the decision in the Bucks County Court of Common pleas. She did not wish to comment for this article.

“We agreed on a low-key coffee shop in 2015, not another restaurant,” said Fernandez. “New Hope is becoming a food court. We need stores, too.”



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Charlie Sahner

“Once you can accept the universe as matter expanding into nothing that is something, wearing stripes with plaid comes easy." - Einstein


  • David drops the mic!
    When I first heard this I figured it had to be political. The River Cat serves the best breakfast in town . The owners are wonderful , kind , welcoming and personify the town perfectly . This type of unwarranted petty interference is beyond intolerable .

  • I am surprised at the number of variances that New Hope already deals with. So many of the businesses in town are operating by variances. New Hope zoning needs to get to work and redraw the town and stop wasting time with all the variances. It is a waste of the taxpayer’s money and a waste of their time. It is time the residents of New Hope decide what kind of town they want. Do they want a town of mish mash uses for the downtown area or do they want a cohesive downtown area? This restaurant is lovely and serves the people well in a way that doesn’t conflict with other business. George is just upset he couldn’t buy the building and this is his plan to try to get control of it. His apartment building is ugly and residents are questionable. The whole nature of the backstabbing businesses in New Hope is really disgusting and will eventually bring this town down. So sad.

  • Makes you wonder – how much of this decision made by the zoning hearing board is PERSONAL in nature? Do these people have past gripes with Kingsley, and now that they’re in a position of power, they can let her “have it?” Typical small-town vendettas?

    Is Mr. Fernandez’s complaint really that Rivercat uses prepared food instead of pre-packaged food (can’t imagine the paper and plastic waste that would be created by pre-packaged food)? How is this “hurting” him and/or his tenants if Kingsley complied with all of his complaints? Power struggle by Fernandez?

    Let the restaurant stay open for all to enjoy. Let’s stop with the petty bickering and let Rivercat be a WELCOME sign to the town. AND a welcome sign to the locals who enjoy it for a friendly, delicious breakfast.

  • I always wondered what happened to the mules from the barge. Did anyone ever do the due diligence to ensure they’re safety and check on them? How unfortunate that this person has so much influence. I really hope the mules are okay.

  • I started going to New Hope 43 years ago as a young adult. Today, New Hope is being destroyed!!! It used to be a unique, quiet little river town. Shame on those who are exploiting it and all of Bucks County and it’s beauty.

  • This makes me sick the people complaining and getting rid of this restaurant are the reason new hope isn’t what it use to be. People like this with this attitude will tried it into any old dump town in PA. I don’t even go there and spend money like I use to. The town isn’t what it use to be. We need more businesses more restaurants!!!

  • At a time when more than fourteen storefronts are empty and the town has no other breakfast establishment for local residents to enjoy, it might be beneficial for the Board to reconsider their decision and find a common ground. It goes without saying that Kingsley and the owners of the building need to follow the rules and to be mindful of the dumpsters and parking. However, it’s interesting that the person leading the charge to focus the Board’s attention on the cafe is George Fernandez. The question about what happened to the barge mules and more than ten thousand dollars raised in the community for their care has never been answered. Mr. Fernandez supposedly put them on the farm of his friend but no one was allowed to visit the animals or check on their welfare. He also received all of the financial donations made for their care, buying their harness equipment and to help purchase the barge boats, but he never made an accounting of the monies. Two different issues? Yes. But the same ‘not on the up and up’ attitude that seems to be pervasive these days.

    • I like Jean’s comments! Can a zoning hearing board reconsider? Can they find common ground? That would be good.

      Also, Mr. Fernandez states that “we need stores” in town. Yet the zoning board is also denying Rivercat’s retail space (a.k.a. “shops”). That building has always had shops, from decades ago. Don’t understand this ruling, especially since none of it was put in writing….yet.

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