SEPTA and Borough of Conshohocken working towards an understanding on possible change to plan for SEPTA parking garage (might be more apartments)

During a July 20th committee meeting of SEPTA’s board, the long-planned parking garage next to the new Conshohocken train station was once again discussed. The agenda item involved the awarding of three contracts for the construction of the garage. As this was a committee meeting, no vote was taken, but there was a detailed discussion on an alternative plan for the garage.

Over the past couple of months, and other media, have covered questions arising about the need for the garage (at the projected cost of $48 million) and whether this was actually a wise investment of SEPTA’s limited budget.

SEPTA’s board previously tabled awarding the contracts to begin construction and asked staff to explore the matter more. It continues to place the awarding of the contracts on the agenda to give it the opportunity to move forward with the garage as previously planned if needed.

During the July 20th committee meeting it was stated that the Conshohocken Station has an average of 450 riders per day. There are currently 101 parking spaces (this is slightly lower than what was previously reported by SEPTA but that could be due to the ongoing construction of the new station).

It was further stated that with the addition of a 528-space parking garage, and the existing surface spaces that would continue to be utilized, the station would have too much parking. It is important to note that 450 riders does not result in 450 cars. There are people who walk, ride their bikes, and share rides, plus there is a turnover of parking spaces throughout the day. All of the apartments and condos built near the station are marketed as having walkable access to the train.

Video from July committee meeting of SEPTA’s Board. We clipped the portion about the garage and public comment about the garage.

As reported, after SEPTA’s board first decided to take another look at the need for the parking garage, Conshohocken’s Borough Council President Colleen Leonard spoke during a subsequent meeting and asked that they move forward with it as planned. Leonard stated that “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.”

During the 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.

According to Fox, SEPTA contacted several residential developers with the Borough of Conshohocken’s blessing, to discuss the possibility of placing a residential building above the garage. The outreach received a positive response from multiple developers.

There is also the possibility of leasing spaces in the garage to one of the nearby existing apartment communities that according to Fox is “under-parked” and needs additional spaces.

Fox further stated that SEPTA and the Borough of Conshohocken are currently working on a memorandum of understanding that they hope to complete prior to the next SEPTA board meeting scheduled for July 27th. If the Borough of Conshohocken and SEPTA are able to complete this understanding, it is possible that SEPTA’s board will table the garage as currently planned and begin to start working towards a new plan.

SEPTA’s Assistant General Manager Jody Holton mentioned that once a new plan is finalized, SEPTA would need to work with PennDOT, which is funding a portion of the garage’s original plan, to determine how many spaces need to be dedicated to commuters to continue receiving the funding. One of the original purposes of the garage was to tie into a messaging system along the Schuylkill Expressway that would alert drivers on the highway about the availability of parking and the train schedule.

In April 2022, Conshohocken’s Borough Council voted 7-0 to remove residential uses from the zoning districts that comprise the riverfront where the station is located. During Leonard’s statement to SEPTA’s board, she shared that this removal of residential uses came after an “extensive emergency management review” that “determined that the borough cannot sustain additional multi-family development in that area.”

If the memorandum of understanding is completed by the July 27th meeting of SEPTA’s Board that is when we will know more about what it includes.

During the public comment period, transit activist Daniel Trubman stated that the garage should be tabled due to the “absurd” cost for a garage and that there are private developers who are interested in developing the property.