Bucks County Herald

Frenchtown mayor welcomes theater project, new housing

RICK EPSTEIN



The old Kerr Hatchery on Lott Street will be replaced by a small theater if an ArtYard plan gets municipal approval.

Tve some struggles,” said Frenchtown, N.J., Mayor Brad Myhre, but two redevelopment projects – a housing development at the old ceramics factory and a theater at the old Kerr hatchery – will brighten the future.

That’s how he summed up his report at a Town Hall meeting” on the afternoon of Sunday, Feb. 4.

The struggles include trying to control sewage-treatment costs while bringing in new customers to share the expense, and generally running the borough without the benefit of recession-stalled ratables.

Despite the snow and the impending Super Bowl, about 30 residents showed up for the mayoral update and a sharing of concerns.

ArtYard will be seeking approval to replace the old cinder-block building on Lott Street with a 135- to 165-seat theater “that will be transformational for the borough,” Myhre said. It will make the borough even more desirable for people who are choosing to live in towns instead of “out on cul-de-sacs.”

That project is on the Planning Board agenda for Wednesday, Feb. 28. ArtYard has acquired the property and is already operating an art gallery and a temporary theater on Trenton Avenue. ArtYard is a manifestation of the Applegate Meats foundation.

Demolition of the old ceramics factory on Lower Eighth Street is expected to begin as soon as the nearby school closes for the summer. Although the number of units has yet to be determined, when pressed, the mayor guessed it could be approximately 100, about 20 percent of which will help the borough meet its state-imposed “affordable-housing” quota while providing new customers to share the cost of the borough’s new sewer plant.

The 2015 plant was mandated to accommodate an entirely built-out Frenchtown, but the borough lost some units in 2017 with the closing of Homestead House group home, the ending of sewer service to the old ceramics plant, and the stalling of the River Mills project, the mayor said.

But a federal loan and grant are being sought that would pave the streets in the Hilltop neighborhood and connect its 27 homes to the sewer system, according to the mayor, and if the nearby Valley View nursing home in Alexandria Township reopens, it might be connected to the borough sewer system. Also three duplexes have preliminary approval to be built on Upper Eighth Street.

Councilwoman Liz Johnson, who is sewer commissioner, said septic-tank pumpers are being sought as temporary customers, and savings might be realized by rearranging staffing. Meanwhile, the annual sewer fee is $1,050 per household.

When the public was invited to raise concerns, a desire was expressed for reviving the ice rink in Borough Park and for better Internet access.

Colleen Tomko, co-owner of the Frenchtown Inn, stressed the need for regulating parking and for public toilets. Although the inn has a large parking lot, she suggested that other businesses suffer when tubers and cyclists park all day in the riverside municipal lot to go tubing or biking. Meanwhile the lot uptown on Old Frenchtown Field is underutilized.

Myhre said parking meters are being considered for the borough’s two big downtown lots, with tags being issued to borough residents, exempting them. He did not suggest that meters are needed for the two-hour parking on Race and Bridge streets. They had meters, but they were removed in 1977.

“It’s going to be a conversation, I think, with the business owners and the community,” he said.
Johnson said, “We’re looking for people to serve on that committee.”

Tomko also said the only public restrooms near the downtown area are in Borough Park, but they are often locked up. She wondered if facilities could be installed in the little park near the river bridge.

Myhre said the restrooms in Borough Park are often locked to prevent vandalism, but an outdoor security camera, along with remote locking and unlocking capabilities, might help. However, a bathroom in the riverside park would be problematic because of flooding.

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