No response from Conshohocken’s Borough Council when asked questions about SEPTA’s initial step toward apartments on riverfront

As reported, SEPTA is in the initial stages of seeking a developer to work with on an apartment community on property it owns near the new train station on Conshohocken’s riverfront.

The only public comment from the Borough of Conshohocken on this possibility has been from Borough Council President during a meeting of SEPTA’s board in June. Below is the text of what she stated during the meeting:

Colleen, you’re on. Yep. I can give my comment now we’re ready. Okay. Dear Chairman, Dan and members of the SEPTA Board, the Borough of Conshohocken had conference call with SEPTA staff and representatives from PennDOT and the DVRPC to discuss SEPTA’s contract and parking garage on Wednesday, June 14th, 2023.

During the call, the borough was informed for the first time that SEPTA’s board was evaluating alternative options to the previously approved parking garage. Additionally, the borrow [borough] was provided with a summary of comments received that resulted in SEPTA’s Hearing Examiner recommending that the board have additional discussions regarding the project.

It is important to note that at no point was the borough consulted on the development of these alternative options. Additionally, the borough was never formally included in any conversation to discuss negative comments received regarding the parking garage project.

Having been a partner receptive now for over five years on both the train station and the parking garage projects, the borough would’ve expected to be included in these discussions. With that being said, the borough offers the following response to the summary of comments that resulted its decision to table the awarding of construction contracts for the parking garage at its April board meeting.

We hope that the following reasons and rationale in support of the Garage Project will position the board so that a decision to approve the construction bids and begin the construction of the SEPTA parking garage is not only the right decision, but the only decision reasons to approve the parking garage construction contracts and begin constructed project funding.

SEPTA received comments that the capital fund should be earmarked and utilized for urban investment in public transportation infrastructure such as trolley, subway, and bus service improvements. However, as SEPTA is aware, the majority of the funding for the project is coming from sources other than SEPTA, such as PennDOT and the DVRPC (Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission).

These comments therefore lack practical relevance to the question of whether to proceed with the parking garage. SEPTA’s 180 degree course reversal on the basis of the receipt of negative comments regarding SEPTA’s use of capital funds rather than seeking input from the true stakeholders in this project (The Borough of Conshohocken and PennDOT and the DVRPC) and it is concerning and seems reactionary as opposed to strategic, innovative and forward thinking.

For fiscal responsibility, SEPTA has already spent roughly $13.1 million on a parking garage project that is already 30% of the total project budget. More importantly, roughly $9.9 million of that $13.1 million already spent are PennDOT funds as disclosed on the June 14 conference call, it’s highly probable that SEPTA will need to pay back those funds if the project is canceled or carried out in an alternative fashion. In that scenario, SEPTA will have spent roughly 23 million in public monies on a project with no tangible result. Abandonment of the garage project resulting in a waste of $23 million is fiscally irresponsible and a complete waste of public resources, time and money.

The proposed alternative first option is a surface parking lot. While SEPTA’s alternative option is better than nothing for the Borough of Conshohocken, SEPTA almost certainly will lose a funding source from its current partner.

Since the scope of the project is changing as a practical matter, then a surface parking lot will cost SEPTA roughly the same price per parking spot as the parking garage. Additionally, the scope of the project in this way will push the project timeline out for at least another few years.

Given the safety issues of the current SEPTA station in Conshohocken. Delay is a major issue and should not be ignored by SEPTA.

The zoning in Conshohocken Borough does not permit multifamily development on this site.

The borough has gone under extensive emergency management review of multi development [omit development] family development already and approved along the lines of borough’s riverfront, and is determined that the borough cannot sustain additional multi-family development in that area.

The borough will not engage in any discussion regarding zoning amendments or variances that SEPTA would need to develop the property for multi-family residential in the future.

As you can see, that is a very strong statement against apartments on the riverfront (citing an emergency management review), which Leonard and the other six members of the borough council voted unanimously to no longer permit in 2022. During a July 20th meeting, SEPTA Board Member Robert Fox shared that since Leonard’s statement to the board, representatives of SEPTA have been meeting with Conshohocken and that Conshohocken is now more amenable to a different plan. There was never another mention during a SEPTA meeting about such an understanding.

On Thursday, we emailed the members of Conshohocken’s Borough Council and asked the following questions. We did not receive a response back. The question were:

Question 1

When SEPTA first discussed the possibility of apartments on the property, Borough Council President Colleen Leonard strongly stated that the borough would never allow apartments on the riverfront as the council had recently removed such uses. 

Has this position changed? 

Question 2

Has a text amendment adding back residential uses been discussed and/or drafted? 

Question 3

Has the borough taken the position or been advised that SEPTA, as a state authority, is not bound to follow the borough’s zoning code? 

Question 4

If apartments are developed on the site, how will this impact public safety, which was one of the reasons given when amending the zoning code to remove residential uses?

As we stated above, we did not receive any responses.