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Guest Opinion

New Hope Borough’s lost parking garage

Santarsiero tried to head off a bad decision, but council wouldn’t be deterred


In New Hope’s council meeting on Aug. 15, characterized by intentionally generated hysteria, the borough did what quite possibly no other borough has done — returned $1.75 million to the commonwealth after getting a grant for which it had applied.

At the meeting, homeowners were told that the garage plans would fail, the borough could go bankrupt, and that they personally could have to pay $23,000. They rebelled.

That threat was false on several grounds, primarily the claim that if New Hope or any municipality went bankrupt, residents would be sent a bill. That’s not what happens in a bankruptcy. But the number itself also was false, based on assumptions that the garage costs would be sky high, that businesses don’t pay property tax, and that no car would ever park in the structure.

A brief history: After the borough was promised $1.75 million for the parking facility, the project was delayed three years by legal action needed to correct a mistake made by a prior council. That action gave Union Square a license-in-perpetuity (not a lease) that provided them 152 parking spaces in the proposed garage for under $30,000 total a year, making the project economically impossible.

That delay, the cause of which could not be publicly discussed because it was a legal matter, caused confusion and permitted the opposition to the garage to organize. In the end, the opposition gained support from members of council, who became the members of the New Garage Committee.

Here we pause to make an important point. Council, as a whole, supported every decision taken on the garage from 2020 through July 2023. As is legally required, all actions were approved by the majority of council. Most all of the time, the votes were unanimous.

These decisions included issuing requests for garage estimates, contracting services, filing the lawsuit against Union Square and spending money on these actions. All votes were taken at public meetings with the exception of legal matters, such as the terms of settlement. In compliance with the Sunshine Law, these were decided in executive sessions — which all council members attend.

New committee members claim there never was a business plan for the garage. If this was the case, why did they vote to proceed? In fact, there was always a business plan in progress. While all council members knew of it, it was never made public because it would have affected the lawsuit.

The business plan could not be finalized, as some demanded it should have been, because the garage design itself would affect its cost and a promised and scheduled public meeting to make design decisions had not yet been held.

Based on 2018 survey research that showed over 80% of New Hope residents and businesses were concerned about parking, the borough spent $5,000 on a parking design consultant to learn what it could cost to build a garage. The original Parking Garage Committee used those numbers to determine what the borough would have to charge per space for the garage to pay for itself. That committee then offered parking at that price to three businesses in need of parking and the businesses said they were willing to lease at that rate.

At the council meeting, the New Garage Committee assailed the old committee for spending $600,000 on the garage supposedly without oversight and accounting. Their own figures actually totaled $585,903 for attorney fees, a design consultant and engineering work. Notably, they failed to mention that the total cost was offset by $96,000 paid to the borough by Union Square as part of the legal settlement.

That omission is typical of the new committee’s reporting. This is evident in the cost figures they presented.

• THA, the borough design consultant, quoted direct construction costs as of July 10, 2023, of $11,211,083 including construction, equipment, and site preparation. The new committee assumed equipment and site preparation costs were omitted and added them in again.

• THA also added contingency allowances of $1,681,663 to their direct construction cost figure to come up with a total cost of $12,892,745. The new committee added additional contingency allowances, inflating their cost estimate to $16,113,153.

The new committee’s report is rife with other flaws. They are, in fact, what prompted state Sen. Steve Santarsiero to attend and speak out at the council meeting.

We would like to apologize to him for the incredibly rude treatment he received from the audience. We thank him for attempting to keep New Hope from making a bad decision.

Unfortunately, the council made one anyway and it will negatively affect our borough for years to come as it will weaken the businesses and tourist attractions that are the basis of the borough’s economic well-being.

Peter Meyer is a New Hope Borough Councilman. Connie Gering is president of New Hope Borough Council.

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