Bucks County Herald

Canal Path townhouses progress in New Hope Council

STUART LEE FRIEDMAN

The New Hope Borough Council listened to a revised plan by architect Ralph Fey for townhouse construction along the east side of the canal at their May 22 meeting.

The redesign, which extends north along the canal towpath from Mechanic Street to Aquatong Creek, was a result of the council’s prior concerns over several elements of the project, mostly concerning the massive size of the structures relative to the existing buildings around it and congruency with the historic nature of the community.

Fey, who is no stranger to the community, designed the popular Ferry Market at 32 S. Main St., dramatically transforming the Four Seasons Mall last November into a fresh food market. His firm is now working to renovate the original structure at 18-20 Mechanic St. and replace the old Tuscany Restaurant and Bar adjacent to it with canalside townhouses.

Fey responded to Councilman Dan Dougherty’s concerns about structural girth relative to existing structures, maintaining that the view of the canal from Mechanic Street would not change.

After the presentation of the revised project, Dougherty stated his concern that the majority of photos show buildings that were “either non-historic or non-residential.” Fey’s attorney, Gavin Laboski, responded that mass was the subject they were asked to address, not historic fabric.

Dougherty objected that the mass of the historic buildings was less than the proposed structures and Laboski argued that there were no historic buildings in the immediate vicinity. Dougherty pointed out that at 80 feet wide, the buildings will be bigger and taller than the historic Parry Mansion and visible from its Main Street address.

“Those will certainly change the perception of what Parry Mansion is to this town,” Dougherty exclaimed in referring to the town’s iconic centerpiece.

“When you say to us this late in the game to change the mass of the buildings, our options to address are limited because the footprint is what it is,” Laboski said, referring to the “tens of thousands of dollars” invested already by the borough and the architect which, he maintained, adequately addressed the situation.

Builder Richard Calabrese addressed a resident’s concern about seepage and tree root growth damage, assuring her that protections to the structures were accommodated in the design.

Susan Taylor, executive director of Friends of the Delaware Canal, reminded the council of their promise to embrace the canal. She said that the walls of the structure were too close to the canal path.

“I beg you not to plant trees along the towpath,” Taylor stated, adding that the past has taught the community that trees planted before had to be cut down and that roots become a hazard to pedestrians.

Brett Webber, president of Friends of the Delaware Canal and himself an architect, gave his support for Taylor’s comments and encouraged the council to take safeguards to ensure the canal wall and structural integrity are not undermined.

Councilman Ken Maisel expressed his appreciation to Fey for his “serious effort” in addressing the council’s concerns just prior to an executive session.

A motion by borough Solicitor TJ Walsh affirmed a prior decision in March in which several items failed to meet criteria for a certificate of appropriateness by the Historic Architectural Review Board.

The council incrementally moved the project forward by declaring three of 11 items satisfied, including a downsized parking ramp and a design consistent with the historic character of New Hope Borough.

Items pertaining to façade design, and general design elements consistent with the historic flavor of the borough were partially satisfied. Several items pertaining to the perception of mass, which could visually overpower the district remain as challenges.

While the certificate of appropriateness was denied in a 5-0 vote based upon Walsh’s recommendation, Fey and his team seemed upbeat and have made some progress tackling a list of findings preventing them from meeting HARB guidelines.




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