More Borough Building Blunders?

Molly’s went belly-up in only a year.  The borough managed to get the $75K out of escrow and using the money to put in the parking lot that Molly’s was supposed to complete prior to opening.  Interesting that Molly’s got their certificate of occupancy and borough approvals to open for business when they didn’t have any parking.  This blog isn’t about Molly’s, though.  That was just the opening act.

For their next act, the borough is selling the 66-car public parking lot next to Molly’s so it can become an eight-story behemoth (seven stories above and one below ground level) complete with 6,540 sq ft of retail space, 72 “upscale apartment units”, and a parking garage that supposedly provides 83 public parking spaces.  The number of public parking spaces is artificial.  Read on to see why.

You can click on the following links to see the Tripoint Union Place proposal, the parking lot as it exists today, as well as the Daily Local News write-up.  Before going any further there are a couple of things to say up front.  Changing the municipal parking lot into a mixed use development isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  As a matter of fact, Georgio had a remarkably similar plan that he presented to the Planning Commission a few years back.  Georgio’s plan also offered mixed use and quite a few more public parking spots.  But, certain people in the Borough don’t like Georgio.  Perhaps they’re jealous of a man who immigrated from Greece as a teenager, didn’t know any English, wasn’t from a privileged background, and yet went on to become a very successful business and property owner.  Not surprisingly, the reception to Georgio’s idea was chilly.  A member of the Planning Commission responded by telling him to go build his “empire” somewhere else.  Ah, but now that someone they LIKE presented a similar plan, it’s a super idea and front page news!

Let’s look at what the Borough Code says about required parking:

1.  According to the Borough Code, apartments must provide TWO spaces PER UNIT.  So, 72 units equals 144 required parking spaces.  But, the proposed plan provides ONE parking space PER BEDROOM.  There are 14 two-bedroom apartments and 58 one-bedroom apartments.  How convenient.  Instead of providing 144 parking spaces as required by the Borough Code, the developer would only have to provide 86 spaces.  Are all 58 “upscale” one-bedroom apartments going to be occupied by only ONE person with only ONE car (and a really good salary in order to afford the upscale apartment)?  Unlikely!

2.  According to the Borough code, retail businesses must provide one parking space for every 250 sq. ft. of retail sales space.  To make the math easy, let’s assume 1,540 sq. ft. will not be used for retail sales, which leaves 5,000 sq. ft. of sales area.  That means 20 parking spaces are required to support 5,000 sq. ft. of retail space.  The proposal has ZERO spaces allocated for the retail locations.  In fact, the bottom of page 3 states, “Retail customers will be able to use the easily accessible public parking lot in the building’s parking garage.”   Council  has been (and still is) schizophrenic, particularly when it comes to parking.  Fee-in-lieu charges have varied from $250 to $2,500 per parking space.  Off-site parking is allowed for some but not others, etc.  It keeps things interesting.

3.  IF COMPLYING WITH THE BOROUGH CODE, the number of parking spaces required to support 72 apartments and 5,000 sq. ft. of retail space is 166 parking spaces.  If you add in the existing 66 public parking spaces, the total would be 232 parking spaces.  The proposed development would provide a total of 171 parking spaces, which is a LOSS of 61 public parking spaces.

Another point of interest with the parking is the money.  First of all, Council (except Feldman) recently voted to spend $115K on parking kiosks.  What will happen to the kiosk planned for this particular lot?  Can the Borough get their money back?  Second, the developer (Tripoint Properties owned by Andy Hicks) proposes that the profits from the public parking fees would be split with the borough 50/50.  50% of the profits, not 50% of the gross receipts.  The costs of the parking “arm” and maintenance would be deducted first.  The borough currently receives 100% of the parking fees (and violations) of 66 spots.  Unless parking fees are raised, the borough sill lose money on the parking.

Just for fun let’s walk through one possible scenario.

John and Jane Doe are young professionals ready to start their life together.  They decided to rent an “upscale” apartment instead of buying a home and building equity.  The one-bedroom apartment is a bit pricey, but they can swing it with two incomes.

Problem #1:  They have only one designated parking spot, which John insists is for Jane to use (chivalry is not dead).  There are no overflow spots, so John has to use one of the public parking spots, which creates an additional monthly expense for the young couple.

Problem #2:  The retail locations on ground level, the new restaurant next door (that also lacks adequate parking), the local businesses, and the new McDonald’s are fabulously popular now that the Borough has an “upscale” and “urban” feel.  That’s great, right?  Not for John.  It’s 5:30 on Friday, and John has been sitting in local traffic for 45 minutes along with the other tenants in their quest to get home before bedtime.  John finally gets to the garage only to find that it’s full.  Now what?  There are no options other than to park in another lot illegally (and risk getting towed) or park on a nearby street.  John’s glad it isn’t winter and icy…yet.  Jane doesn’t add to the traffic congestion, since she’s a nurse and works odd hours.  John and Jane are pretty smart and have figured out how to ensure they’ll always have a parking spot.  Whenever possible, they use Jane’s car from their reserved space and leave John’s car in the public lot.  Their neighbors do the same.  Hey, public parking is first come, first served, and John (and the other 71 tenants) were there first.

Problem #3:  John’s turning 30!  Happy birthday, John!  Jane wants to invite a few friends over to see their new place and to celebrate John’s birthday.  See Problem #2 and multiply it by the number of guests invited.

Problem #4:  John finds a spot in a far corner of the lower level that is often open, and happily parks there.  He takes the elevator up to his and Jane’s lovely new apartment and looks forward to a weekend of relaxation.  Then the rain starts.  The light rain quickly turns to a major storm, and Downingtown is flooded once again.  John and others who parked on the lower level file their insurance claims on Monday.  The good news is that John and Jane don’t need that second parking spot anymore.  The money they used to spend on public parking is now being saved to buy a new car for John.

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