New Hope has a serious parking problem. New Hope Borough Council members have tried desperately to solve this issue with little luck.
At the Tuesday evening council meeting, the governing body, by a count of 4-3, ended any further work on a proposed 333-spot parking garage project, according to Council Vice President Laurie McHugh.
The parking garage would have been located on a borough-owned lot near Union Square. It would have been four stories tall and about as big as a football field. This comes after the borough received a $1.75 million grant in December 2020 and spent approximately $600,000 in studies and initiatives surrounding the parking garage.
Besides this decisive vote to end the parking garage project for the foreseeable future, there was plenty of tension, political gridlock, calls from the audience for Council President Connie Gering to resign, and an unexpected visit from State Sen. Steve Santarsiero.
Councilmember Dan Doughterty delivered a presentation to residents in attendance about New Hope’s Ad Hoc Garage Committee’s research findings on the feasibility and cost of a parking garage.
The Ad Hoc Parking Garage Committee consists of Dougherty along with council members Louis Feder and Ken Maisel. This new committee was established after Gering, McHugh, and Councilmember Peter Meyer left it to focus on updating the Borough’s Comprehensive Plan, per previous reporting by NewHopeFreePress.com.
Doughtery delivered his presentation to a packed crowd using the borough meeting room’s television to display the presentation’s slides. He went over a thorough timeline of events leading up to tonight’s meeting. Additionally, he even provided attendees with a 16-page copy of the presentation’s slides.
From a 2018 Barth Consulting Group study that cited parking as the number 1 issue facing New Hope Borough; to an initial consultation in August 2020 with The Harmon Group, which estimated an initial cost of $8.8 to $9.5 million; to being awarded a $1.75 million grant toward building the parking garage; to the council voting unanimously to retain THA Consulting, a company with a history of parking project; to approving THA’s proposal at a council workshop for $422,000 with unanimous approval; to preliminary consultations with prospective lessees of the parking garage, which would give them long-term exclusive leases for spaces; to hiring John C. Fenningham as a solicitor and paying for his salary; to litigation with Union Square to address a “License in Perpetuity,” which caused a three-year delay and increased project costs due to changes in labor and materials. Doughtery covered many details on the parking garage project.
The council member went over several obstacles and risks surrounding parking in the borough, including its poor location distance during peak times (evenings, weekends, etc.), and the financial obligation relative to the borough’s small size.
Doughtery then stated the ad hoc parking garage committee recommended the council scrap the project.
The reports and research the borough has conducted will always be there if officials reopen the idea, Doughtery added.
He also recommended several cheaper and effective solutions, including reducing traffic by investing in signage to direct drivers to Hardy Bush Way to mitigate traffic on Main Street.
Doughtery then went over a counterargument that the parking garage should be built anyway as a method to expand. He stated the Ad Hoc Parking Garage Committee would never spend the money necessary on a hypothetical business opportunity. He also stated the decision to apply for a grant to build the garage and litigate without having a business plan was a “fraud decision.”
Maisel, a member of the new Ad Hoc Parking Garage Committee, called the research and work of the Ad Hoc Parking Garage Committee “bittersweet” and stated that he stands by the entire presentation.
The borough has already spent $600,000 on the parking garage project up to the meeting, including the $422,000 they still have to pay THA Consulting, a decision which was passed unanimously by the entire council.
The council opened the floor to public comments.
Resident Jay Friel asked why they can’t build a two-story parking garage.
Maisel told him there was no consideration of this.
Gale Kasrysky asked the audience to give a show of hands on who didn’t want the garage. Nearly half of the attending residents raised their hands.
Adolph Hearst briefly went over his business career and the deals he made. He then stated one should never spend nearly half a million dollars without a business plan. He called the parking garage project a “financial fiasco” and said Gering should consider resigning. This idea received a round of applause from the crowd.
After a few more public comments, State Sen. Santarsiero, a Democrat, delivered a speech to the people. His speech was centered around the information in the Ad Hoc Parking Garage Committee’s presentation and that their cost estimates were “a gross exaggeration that is not supported by the facts.”
A presentation of slides was displayed on the borough meeting room’s TV for the residents to see slides conveying Santarsiero’s argument, similar to how Dougherty delivered his presentation earlier in the meeting.
It’s common knowledge that public comments are supposed to be three minutes or less. He was trying to deliver his presentation during a time where the council was fielding public comments.
When Senator Santarsiero’s public comment exceeded the three-minute limit, the crowd got angry and shouted “three minutes!”
Some screamed for him to go away.
Then, Doughtery called the state senator’s speech an “ambush.”
Santarsiero’s public comment, which basically turned into a speech that wasn’t on the council meeting’s agenda, continued to draw ire from the crowd.
The crowd cheered as Doughtery continued to call this an “ambush.”
Then, Gering screamed, “Dan, that’s enough!”
The hostile crowd grew to such an extent that Santarsiero could no longer speak over them.
Besides Gering and Dougherty’s back and forth, the majority of the council members looked dejected by their body language and facial expressions, especially Mayor Larry Keller, who remained silent for the entire council meeting.
Feder stated that she was “a little surprised” and that this presentation wasn’t on the agenda.
Maisel said the presentation was “inappropriate” and that he had no preparation for the senator’s presentation.
Dougherty called the senator’s speech an “absolute disgrace.”
The state senator called Doughtery’s numbers a “complete fabrication.”
Doughtery went against this claim and again said the senator’s presentation was an “absolute disgrace.”
Santarsiero told the public and council that there are “alternate facts” about the parking garage budget and that he can try to get the borough more money if they choose to proceed. He also gave them an ultimatum: if the borough doesn’t build it now, they’ll probably build it in the future. This would make it difficult to receive funding after they denied it.
Amy Miller called this display “stunning,” “unprofessional” and that Gering “just spit in everyone’s face.” She also questioned why the state senator didn’t give this presentation three years ago, and also that protocol and rules were broken today. She also suggested that Gering should resign.
Lawrence Booth gave a public comment that suggested there will always be future grants.
There was some back-and-forth between council members about public comment and a five-minute recess was taken.
Once the break was over, Pete Flaeger, a former council member, gave a public comment. He stated that he never saw residents heckle a state senator before. He also said the numbers being used are higher than the numbers you can get in the market, but he also backtracked and said building a 350-spot parking garage is too ambitious.
Next up was McHugh’s presentation.
Before she could deliver it to the public, Dougherty stated that the information McHugh was about to present was in every councilmember’s binder last Thursday. He also stated the new Ad Hoc Parking Garage Committee had no knowledge of this until last week, and that it was “done in darkness” by the old parking garage committee. McHugh was a member of the old committee, along with Gering and Meyer.
Dougherty also stated that McHugh’s presentation reflects the opinions of the previous parking garage committee and that the new parking garage committee has no comment on it.
McHugh said that the calls for Gering to resign are “awful.” She also stated that nothing was “done in darkness,” like Doughtery said earlier in the meeting.
McHugh added that there is a parking problem in New Hope Borough, and that it needs to be fixed. She said she wants the public involved in future discussions, and that this issue shouldn’t divide the council, citing that it is just one issue.
After McHugh’s presentation, more time was dedicated to public comments.
At one point, Meyer, who wasn’t present for the meeting and was participating over the phone, gave a speech to the council and the people he serves while one of the council’s attorneys held the phone up to a microphone.
Feder mentioned that he didn’t even participate for the entire meeting until this moment. His speech did nothing to solve the tension surrounding the present issue: New Hope’s parking garage. However, he did mention that the idea should be tabled until they figure out what they need to do to fix parking in the riverfront town.
With the vote to not move forward with the project, the $1.75 million grant is null and void now. It also means that the council basically threw $600,000 into a project with no gain.
The council meeting concluded around 10:30 p.m.