Published On: Thu, Sep 12th, 2019

River Cat Cafe in New Hope to close Sept. 30

The River Cat Cafe at 142 S. Main St. in New Hope will close its doors on Sept. 30.

Despite being one of the borough’s most popular breakfast destinations, the restaurant ran afoul of local zoning ordinances, and owner Alison Kingsley, a former president and current member of New Hope’s borough council, has grown weary of the ongoing legal battle.

“Our doors will close on September 30th because of an adverse decision by the Zoning Hearing Board and the cost and uncertainty of pursuing the appeal,” she said in a statement Wednesday. “We would like to acknowledge the incredible support shown by the local community for an enterprise that was intended to be for the local community.”

River Cat has been under fire since the summer of 2018, 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 had also drawn scrutiny.

Kingsley and the owners of the property appealed the violations issued by the zoning officer in November 2018, 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.

But on April 11 of this year, the New Hope Zoning Hearing Board rejected the appeal and variance request.

Not surprisingly, the restaurant’s impending demise has elicited disappointment, anger and frustration among many of its loyal patrons. Kingsley hints, however, that a copycat cafe may be in the works.

“Because cats have nine lives, we urge you to keep your eyes open for the next incarnation of the River Cat,” she said.



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  1.' Pat McKearn says:

    I will not address the continuing conflicts about the Rivercat Cafe and New Hope’s zoning regulations. Clearly there is deep division in what was wanted and/or expected as an outcome for this business.
    I have known Alison Kingsley for decades; We met while volunteering to plant daffodils at the park soccer fields near Rte. 202. We got to know each other quite well, we had interests that meshed and mostly dealt with the community support and school district commitments. Alison Kingsley is a fine human being, whose focus has been on the prosperity of her NewHope/Solebury community. Alison is a strong, motivated person blessed with intelligence. Alison has an inherent moral compass and is certainly a woman of integrity. I have never witnessed a deviation from proper behavior in any interactions I have had with her, or observed while in her presence. She loves her community and has a familial history with New Hope, growing up here.
    I admire Alison and those people who set out to bring a wonderful venue to New Hope, a venue that attracted many repeat visitors from other towns. May the River Cat Cafe morph into a new successful venture that any community will welcome. .

    • Except you can’t really comment on Kingsley’s character and moral compass without talking about this whole River Cat mess. That’s like saying “Bill Clinton was a faithful husband, but I won’t comment on the whole Monica Lewinsky thing.” Listen, I don’t think Kingsley is a horrible person who deserves to be run out of town or anything. In fact she’s always been nice to me personally. But the way she behaved in respect to the River Cat was beyond wrong. And I’m tired I listening to all of her friends blame everyone and everything else for what happened. And I’m so f-ing tired of hearing about how many people “really liked” the Rivercat, or how many other empty store fronts there are in town in relation to this mess. Those two things are 100 percent irrelevant to what happened. The site was zoned for a coffee shop. Kingsley knew this and went ahead and opened a full service restaurant thinking she could get away with it, and got caught. I don’t even blame her all that much for that part of it (although doing so while the President of Borough Council makes trying to push the limits worse). What’s despicable is the way she behaved after, costing the town tens of thousands in legal fees when she was clearly wrong, and then starting a PR campaign trying to blame and besmirch everyone and everything other than her hubris for the problems.

      •' Jane Adele says:

        People whom I know were calling for a settlement with Borough officials. I truly believe that something could have been worked out, without having to go through such painful and expensive attorney battles. A business person or resident has an absolute right to appeal a zoning decision. It’s up to the Borough officials to proceed or not. To use the word “despicable” is unfortunate – but it’s over. Move on.

        • But Jane I thought you wanted to “just stop this nonsense”. Why are you back on here spreading more lies. And I stand by my use of the word “despicable”. Unfortunate maybe. But absolutely on point.

      •' Lester Green says:

        You don’t see the f-ing relevance? In a bunch of miserable politicians and their mindless regulations forcing another successful business to close its doors, fire its workers, and stop paying taxes? What don’t you understand?

        • There is no relevance Lester. Let’s say I opened a strip club right next door to your house (which I’ll presume is in a residential area). And lets say I did it without getting the permits or any kind of permission. So you call and complain to the town and say “hey there’s a strip club next door and I don’t think that’s allowed here, is it?” Now, I’m SURE I would be able to get a whole bunch of lecherous old men to go online and say “But we really really like that strip club, and there’s parking there and there are lots of empty store fronts in New Hope.” And people like you might say, “this isn’t fair, this is a SUCCESSFUL strip club, why is town making it close its doors, fire all the strippers and stop collecting taxes on all those grimy one dollar bills they get stuffed into their g-strings (I run a classy strip joint BTW they wear g-strings).” But NONE of those arguments would have ANYTHING to do with the fact that I opened in an area that isn’t zoned for such uses and without the correct permitting or variances. So when all you Kinglsey supporters go online and talk about empty store fronts and how much you like the french toast there, and how there’s lots of parking and people really like the place–no, no I don’t see the relevance at all.

          • Specious argument. Any reasonable person agrees with laws preventing strip bars in neighborhoods. But forcing a successful restaurant to close in a downtown full of other restaurants…for some nonsensical regulation? Who would ever support that? 1. People like New Hope Native who have an axe to grind with Kingsley. 2. Local politicians who like enforcing anti-business regulations that contribute to the number of empty storefronts in New Hope (how many whitewashed windows have you seen in Lambertville lately?). 3. People who believe bureaucrats and a planned economy are better qualified than the free market to decide which businesses succeed and which do not

      •' Dave Cooper says:

        Hi Native, as a fellow native I feel it’s a good idea to use my name when speaking about others in my community. Your talking a lot of trash and hiding behind a screen name. Say what you want but you should put your name on it. Either that or go by New Hope Coward.

        • Dominic Barbara, I assure you I have no axe to grind with Kingsley, aside from the facts of this specific issue. I actually never gave her a single thought until this. I’m just so damned tired of all of Kingsley’s friends defending her indefensible actions here and on other forums. And how is my argument “specious”. You say you want a fully free market economy here in New Hope with zero oversight? Great, strip clubs and coal fired power plants on every corner. That going too far for you? Me too. Thats why we have laws. And even though they might sometimes seem a bit arbitrary, lines have to be drawn someplace on this kind of thing. And Kingsley was on the wrong side. Dave Cooper, your name calling is exactly why I’m posting as New Hope Native, or at least one of the reasons (I guess I should be pleased you’ve resorted to name calling–that means I’m getting to all you Kingsley automatons and that you’ve got nowhere real to go with your rebuttals to my arguments). More importantly, Kingsley is a member of Borough Council. Why should I put my name out there criticizing her while she’s in power? Look at the disgraceful way Fernandez has been (and still is being) treated. The mere fact that she didn’t publicly ask her “supporters” to stand down and leave him alone is enough for me to want to protect my identity. And my anonymity doesn’t make me wrong. I’m just saying what most reasonable people in town have been thinking all along–that what she did was dishonest. Plain and simple. And we’re all glad that the system worked and she’s closing.

          •' David Cooper says:

            Native, what is with all this pedantic virtue signaling? You use pseudo-polite language to attract hostility, then complain about people being mean, it is the most common tactic of internet trolls and that is why I believe you should use your name. I never mentioned Mr. Fernandez but maybe I’m talking to him right now IDK… and that is my point.

  2.' Melvin Band says:

    It is said that what goes around comes around especially for those who have skeletons in their closets. At least one member of the New Hope Zoning Commission, while being employed by the New Hope Solebury School District was in charge of properly removing empty chemical containers which he didn’t. As a result, the District was cited by the Department of Environmental Protection who paid a surprise visit to the district with no apparent disciplinary action taken against the worker by the school board.

    • Hey Melvin, I absolutely LOVE that you accused Joseph Prescott of slander (well libel, but again, I’ll make allowances) and then you defame unnamed school board/zoning commission members yourself above. Even worse, your defamation is vague and uncheckable. A move right out of the Kingsley playbook–“the rules apply to everyone else, but not me.”

      •' JaneAdele says:

        Can we just stop this nonsense right now? The Zoning Board and the Borough got their way, in whatever expensive, drawn-out way they chose to do it. Rivercat is moving on, hopefully to better opportunities.

        Too bad only part of the story ever gets out to the public, as Kingsley WAS working WITH the zoning officer to move ahead with the restaurant when it started. And some of the Borough officials who were fighting Kingsley in public were enthusiastic regulars at the restaurant when it first opened.

        Oh well. Welcome to another boarded up building at the south end of town.

        • You want to “just stop this nonsense right now”. Jane Adelle you’ve been very publicly throwing unsupported accusations around about personal vendettas against Kingsley, and trying to disparage Mr. Fernandez since March on this site and of facebook. And now, now that people are fed up of listening to the loud minority that sides with Kingsley you want to call it quits? Yeah, that’s not how it works.

          And then even in your plea to “just stop” you still couldn’t help yourself from taking a few more pop shots. So to respond to those:

          1. Borough Council didn’t “get their way”. The rule of law prevailed. And it wasn’t Borough Council that made the final decision. It was an unbiased commonwealth court judge. That’s what happens when people break the rules. They get taken to court and lose.

          2. You keep referring to all the money that was spent on this. I agree, its obscene that the town had to spend money on this. But ALL of the blame lands squarely on Kingsley. 100 percent. A prior potential tenant tried to get zoned at that very location for a restaurant, and was told no, because the space is in a mixed use area, all that could be there is a coffee shop with foods prepared off premises. Kingsley knew this and opened a full service restaurant anyway.

          3. You keep talking about how the “real story isn’t out there”. I’m not sure what else there is to know. You’ve posted about this a dozen or so times (and have supported all of your claims and rants with very few facts, how did you not cover all the information that needs to be out there in the 100 or so paragraphs you’ve composed). Trust me, the story is out there. Its just not the narrative you like–in fact it casts Kingsley and her supporters in a very bad light. But the truth is the truth no matter how much disinformation you put out there.

          4. And finally, lets assume that Kingsley was, as you say, “working with zoning” in the beginning and then, somehow, things went wrong. As an elected official, she had an obligation to comply. That’s what you do when you run for and get into office. You hold yourself to higher standards in order to avoid the implication of impropriety. There was ONE appropriate response to zoning ruling against her. “I don’t agree with the content of the decision, but as an elected official in this town I, of course, respect the decision and will comply.” To drag everyone through lengthy and expensive court battle was plain wrong. To stir up a “woe is me I was treated unfairly” PR campaign was disgusting.

          Honestly, I don’t know why I’m still “arguing” with you. Of course this isn’t actually an argument, because you keep putting falsehoods out there to support your side. So its me arguing and you harping on about what you think is true. You’re either not smart enough, or not willing, to see the truth. Not sure which one it is, but either way, I’m done.

  3.' JoeSchmoe says:

    The closing of the River Cat is just another blow to the once great town of New Hope. The zoning board and council should be ashamed of themselves. So many empty storefronts in town already.
    When will the this town become more business friendly and stop driving the successful ones away.

  4.' Melvin Band says:

    I would like to know if anyone living in New Hope will file a Right to Know Request as to how much money the township has spent in legal fees over the last several years in fighting individuals who wanted to start a business in New Hope? If the township denies the Requester the information being sort, the Requester must file an appeal with the Right To Know Office in Harrisburg.This will cost just a few bucks.
    Now if the appeal is upheld and the township wishes to appeal this decision, basically saying that Harrisburg is wrong, the case will go into the Court of Common Pleas where under Discovery, all relevant township documents will be revealed. Does the township want that kind of light shined on itself?

  5.' Kimberlyann says:

    Translation…..”Selling coffee and muffins is not paying the bills and winter is coming”. Lots of local business owners put up with high rent and over regulation and still stay in business this is just a “woe is me” piece.

    •' JoeSchmoe says:

      Sorry, you have your facts wrong. If they stayed open beyond a certain date, they would be fined heavily for not being in compliance with the zoning. Not a “woe is me” thing at all.

    •' JaneAdele says:

      Sorry, Kimberlyann. You have oversimplified a very unfortunate situation. This is not a “muffins and coffee issue.” This is about a well-loved restaurant whose owner went into the Borough Hall and met with the Zoning Officer on several occasions to work out and correct the violations presented. Nothing nefarious. No boo-hoo or pity party.

      The sad part is that the Borough apparently refused to cooperate in hopes of not looking weak. By so doing, they hired a litigator AT TAXPAYER EXPENSE to fight this. They could have settled this out of court but didn’t do so. And I heard about threats of excessive daily FINES if Kingsley doesn’t close by a certain date. Would you stay open with that kind of threat? All the muffins and coffee in the world couldn’t pay those fines.

      Kingsley said they are closing. Period. Too much to fight the stubborn and arbitrary bureaucrats. No more dealing with a Borough whose zoning board officials had their minds made up beforehand, even though hundreds of supporters sat through months of meetings and showed their overwhelming support for the Rivercat.

      Once again – New Hope’s loss. Rivercat has 8 lives left. Hope the next one comes with great success! But I doubt whether it will ever set “paw” in New Hope again.

      • Jane, if Alison went to Borough Hall and met with the zoning officer to try to “correct the violations” why did she continue operating a full kitchen. That conversation would have been pretty, easy–“this location is zoned for prepared foods only, you’re operating a full kitchen, so stop.” Instead Alison continued and then cost the Borough tons of money in fighting what she knew BEFORE she even opened, that this location was NOT eligible for a full restaurant operation. And the Borough didn’t fight back because they “didn’t want to look weak” they did it because they had to. Alison should be ashamed of he way she’s behaved in regards to the legalities of all this. And she should be even more ashamed that she’s started this whole “save the River Cat because this is unfair” PR campaign. She duped a bunch of (very vocal and very uninformed) locals into thinking that the Borough was treating her unfairly. The vast majority of locals understand the issues and are glad that everything worked out as it should.

        •' Melvin Band says:

          LOL Out of the 40 posts so far, we see people with different points of view and yet they have the courage to speak their conscience AND identify themselves,except for Joe Schmoe AND FOR the New Hope Native who has a lot to say in his/her 14 statements, but no name. What a shame. My opinion, unsigned posts aren’t even worth reading.

  6.' Brent Hatley says:

    Sure, there some amusing irony in the fact that Kingsley’s been done in by the same self-important officious cabal of local politicians that she used to lead. But the real story here is the economic damage that can be done to entrepreneurs and the town in which they operate when the local government asserts its Orwellian power to kill a business that dared to sell omelets. Perfect microcosm of what will happen when the Trump-inspired pendulum swings to the left (Liz Warren?) in 2 years.

  7.' Melvin Band says:

    I would like to respond to some of the comments made by Joseph Prescott. When he says that, “She [Alison] …who has at times bullied, threatened and lied to make money PRIMARILY THROUGH REAL ESTATE OVER MANY YEARS”[ my emphasis]is he slandering Alison if he can not back up his claims? One element of proving slander is to show that the victim incurs damages. What Mr. Prescott says about Alison, in my opinion, constitutes damages against Alison.

  8.' Peter says:

    We are aware of standing regulations. But how easily they were bypassed for the installation of Dunkin Donuts. There is nothing sordid about river cats product that required the town to get heavily involved. There are clearly other issues the town could focus on with their regulations. i. e., garbage abuses and slumlords among other things.

    • Yep, Dunkin Donuts and this situation are EXACTLY the same. Well except for the fact that Dunkin Donuts is located within the commercial district and the location of the River Cat is mixed use. But other than that, yes, exactly the same. And, Dunkin Donuts applied for all the applicable permits before opening. But other than those two things, exactly the same.

  9.' Asch says:

    Maybe we should tar and feather the owner and run him out of town for all he has done!
    This is ridiculous. What has he done that was so bad. Sometimes these boards go way beyond logic a d common sense.
    I have never eaten there but I will get there now before the end.

  10.' James M says:

    I liked the River Cat and I like Allison Kingsly. However, she broke the law as an elected official and she is lucky she doesn’t have the State District Attorney’s Office investigating her criminal behavior. Allison should consider herself lucky that her slap on the wrist is simply to having to move her breakfast restaurant to a new location and attempt obtain the proper permits PRIOR to opening-just like everyone else.
    Allison knew 100% that the property was not zoned for cooking and she attempted to use her influence to disregard the rules and previous township decisions that every other business owner in town has has to abide by. Then she played like a dumb Borough Council President, claiming ignorance, which only added insult to injury.
    The entire council was pushing for her complete resignation and she refused.
    It’s too bad the restaurant is closing but it’s her own arrogance and criminal behavior that has brought us here.
    I applaud the zoning board, the council and the inspectors for not going along with her scam to allow her preferential treatment.

  11. Wilpotter7@gmail.con' Caryn Newman says:

    Terrible news. I have know Alison and worked with her professionally for years and I have the highest regard for her. Her commitment to the town is unimpeachable over decades. New Hope officials must align themselves with the tourist and hospitality industry and get real about who fills their coffers. Businesses need more support than ever in a tough economy. This is an outrage and a disgrace.

  12. Many seem to view the closing of Rivercat as a tale of corrupt or self-interested politicians. They are right. Kingsley is one of them. She was serving as president of borough council when she leased a space that had been approved only as a coffee shop. She wanted to open a full restaurant and gift shop. So she tried to cut a side deal with the local zoning officer that fell through. End of story. She used her political position to try to bypass the rules every other business has to abide by. She is no innocent victim. She is a hardball political operator, who has at times, bullied, threatened and lied to make money, primarily through real estate over many years. She is no rebel outsider to the system. She IS the system. She has been part of New Hope’s ruling group for many years, continues to sit on borough council, so if you think the rules in town are screwed up, she probably had a role in creating most of them. Sorry you’ll miss your eggs benedict. But businesses in town who do abide by the rules and aren’t politically connected need to know they’re playing on a level playing field. Zoning people made the only logical decision. She is no babe in the woods. The time to compromise and negotiate was before opening an illegal restaurant, not after you’ve been caught cheating.

    •' JaneAdele says:

      I totally disagree with your characterization of Ms. Kingsley.

      Your accusations and implications are unfounded and downright cruel.

      Perhaps now, the town should finally address the ARBITRARY way they hand down zoning permits and variances. Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to walk through town and point out other zoning violations that have somehow managed to squeak through the Borough’s scrutiny.

      I have a feeling Kingsley was trying to work WITH the zoning officer, not skirt around the rules. But you obviously have another opinion. It’s just too bad that your opinion comes with such nasty remarks about her character.

  13.' JaneAdele says:

    VERY disappointing. This is one of New Hope’s best restaurants. and it was providing a real service to the community. Good food, good service, a fun local hangout, a fun visitor destination.

    My personal opinion is that the zoning hearing board got carried away, perhaps by the typical personal vendettas inherent in small towns. And the Council, in not wanting to appear soft on zoning rules, backed them up – at taxpayer expense. Anyone attending the zoning hearing meetings could have witnessed the tremendous support that Rivercat had from the community. Despite all of the support comments that were made, it appears that the Zoning hearing board already had their minds made up before even issuing a ruling. What a shame.

    This issue could have been mitigated or solved by an agreement between Rivercat and the Borough. Too late for that. The Borough’s legal eagles “won.”

    Now, New Hope is again without a sit-down breakfast restaurant – and I doubt whether a new “Copycat” restaurant would ever want to set foot (paw) in this town again. New Hope’s loss.

    Best to Nancy, Alison Kingsley, and the wonderful staff! And to the cute cat that made this restaurant so famous!

    • There is, and has been for a long time, a sit down breakfast place in New Hope. Freds. And the owner there jumped through more hoops than you can imagine to open that place. So why should he have to comply by all the rules and regulations if Alison doesn’t. I just don’t understand why there are so many people, so vocally supporting a business owner, who broke the rules and did so flagrantly and with a significant conflict of interest.

  14.' Jean Cervi says:

    Sad to say that it sounds like the powers that be in this town are flexing their muscles. Once again, as they cut off the nose to spite the face, it appears to be more of a political power fight than anything else. Do business people need to get the proper permits? Absolutely. Could things have been worked out to keep the River Cat Cafe? Absolutely. What on earth will go into that space if it empties out? A cheap clothing shop or perhaps still another CBD shop? Why make it impossible for the cafe to remain open, which is what most local residents are demanding, at a time when the town can use the money it generates. Sadly, it appears that site will join the dozen or more empty storefronts, many of which have been empty for the better part of a year.

    •' Dianna says:

      Wishing that there was a community voting option vs. a decision like this being limited to a hand full of folks. At the taxpayers expense.

    • “Why make it impossible for the cafe to remain open, which is what most local residents are demanding?” Well, because the rule of law applies regardless of what a couple of vociferous residents say they want. That’s why. Or was your question rhetorical?

  15. This was one of the nicest, locally owned places. Feels so unjust that others— seeming newcomers and investors — are given allowances while this wonderful restaurant is denied? Misperception? I don’t think so.

  16.' Mike says:

    The New Hope zoning board is a disgrace. Just what New Hope needs, another empty storefront. River Cat brought more people to that end of town than ever before and it was the most successful business to open in years. Maybe the zoning board should now concentrate on Fernandez’ building, the biggest eyesore in town. What a bunch of total losers.

    • I have to say I am SO disgusted by the continuing vilification of Mr. Fernandez in all this. He reported zoning violations that were affecting his property. That is what ANYONE else that situation would do. Alison brought all of this on herself by breaking the rules. To keep bringing up Mr. Fernandez is absolutely disgraceful.

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