City Council will settle east Allentown business parking war
Allentown City Council will resolve a parking battle raging among companies in an isolated business park on the city’s east side.
It’s happening in a section of Allentown Business Park, northwest of American Parkway near Coca-Cola Park.
In the center of the battle is J&J Affordable Luxury Transportation, which provides taxi, bus and limousine service from three properties on Business Park Lane.
J&J does not provide its employees with off-street parking, according to city officials, but requires them to park in the street.
In fact, they say it is the only one of 17 businesses in the business park that does not provide off-street parking.
In November, nine of the 10 business owners along that section of Business Park Lane petitioned the city to prohibit all parking on both sides of the street, primarily because it is difficult for tractor-trailers to get through.
“To reconcile the needs of all businesses” located there, the city responded in December by erecting no parking signs on one side of Business Park Lane between the points where it intersects Allentown Drive. That was done to still allow some on-street parking, to reduce the risk of accidents and to improve access for tractor-trailers.
J&J responded by presenting City Council with its own petition, signed by about 75 of its 120 employees, asking that the no-parking signs be removed.
Those signs, installed Dec. 18, are only valid for 90 days. City Council will have to act soon if it wants to permanently prohibit parking on one side of Business Park Lane.
Council listened to appeals from J&J owners and employees last week, then referred the matter to its public works committee, which heard more from folks on both sides of the issue Wednesday night.
That three-member committee agreed to send it back to full council with no recommendation. It should be on the agenda for council’s next meeting at 7 p.m. Feb. 20.
“We will make a decision next week once we get some answers,” said council Vice President Ray O’Connell, who chairs the committee.
O’Connell wants the administration to explain Allentown zoning requirements for off-street parking at businesses. He also wants the police department to provide information about the number of accidents on the section of Business Park Lane.
Some J&J employees told the committee they never have seen an accident on that street.
The city has corrected the problem by limiting parking to one side of the lane, said Robert Kratzer of Valley Inspection Services, Inc., who initiated the petition to ban parking on both sides.
But J&J, which operates around the clock every day of the week, considers the city’s reduction in street parking a hardship, because its employees have to find more distant street parking.
“We drive all the major corporations in the Lehigh Valley, from Nazareth to Quakertown – all the movers and shakers,” said Richard Wilkins, a driver for J&J. “I drive CEOs from at least eight or 10 companies every day. They are proud of J&J. They think we’re a good company. I think we’re being singled out here.”
J&J owner Denise Cali, who lives near Northampton, accused Allentown officials of targeting and harassing her business. She said one city worker deliberately misled her and “played me for a fool.”
“They’re ticketing our people,” complained Cali to council last week. “They are getting $100 to $200 tickets.” A couple of her employees also complained about overly-aggressive city employees issuing $100 tickets.
Cali said her employees come to work at all hours of the day and night and in all weather conditions. “The farther they walk, the more they are exposed to being hit by a car.”
“If they’re so concerned about the safety of their drivers, why do they not provide ample parking on their own facility for their own employees?” asked Kratzer. “They provide zero parking for their employees on all three of their properties.” He said other business owners must provide parking for employees and visitors.
Ron Penrose, recently retired Allentown traffic control superintendent, said J&J’s parking spaces are being used by their commercial vehicles, not their employees.
“There are no spaces to park in because they are all taken up,” he told O’Connell.
“Not true,” said several J&J people in the audience.
We’re not going to debate,” said O’Connell.
Committee member Jeanette Eichenwald wondered if the city has any recourse if a business uses parking spaces that are supposed to be designated for its employees.
Committee member Joe Davis suggested the issue should be resolved by issuing tickets to those parking illegally rather than restricting parking. He said employers can’t always provide off-street parking.
Cali told the committee J&J expanded its operation to keep all its commercial vehicles off the public street.
“They’re using all the parking spots for their own inventory,” said Kratzer. He said J&J drivers told him they’re not allowed to park their cars on J&J’s property. Kratzer said there are no sidewalks, so when parking was on both sides of the street, J&J employees had to walk up the middle of the street to get to work. “It’s an unsafe situation.”
Kratzer also said J&J employees double-park company vehicles on the street to transfer personal belongings from their own vehicles.
“Now you’ve got three vehicles in the road, with the doors open. Nobody can get past. And this goes on all day long, day in and day out.”
Business Park Lane is only 34 feet wide, two feet narrower than most city streets. Parking on both sides took up 16 of those 34 feet, making it “very tight, if not impassable” for a car and a truck going in opposite directions to pass each other, said Richard Young, the city’s public works director.
With cars parked on both sides of the street, tractor-trailers making regular deliveries could not turn into their driveways and had to be unloaded in the street, said representatives of some of the businesses.
But Cali said J&J employees drive 55-passenger buses, which have “less maneuverability than any tractor-trailer on the road,” and they never had a problem when parking was on both sides of the street. She also said tractor-trailers have been making deliveries to businesses on that street for 20 years.
J&J’s employees argue they have been parking along both sides of the street for years.
Charles Ellwood of Lehigh Valley Pre-Cast, which is next to J&J, disputed Cali’s assertion that J&J as been at that location since 1992. He said his building was built in 1995 and J&J came in after that.
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