Allentown City Council has taken a stand in a parking battle that has pitted company against company in an East Side business park – with both sides arguing it is a safety issue.
Overruling city administrators, including the safety recommendations of an Allentown police officer, on Wednesday night City Council unanimously agreed with a request by J&J Affordable Luxury Transportation to restore parking to both sides of narrow Business Park Lane in Allentown Business Park, northwest of American Parkway near Coca-Cola Park. Temporary “no parking signs” posted by the city on one side of the 400 block of Business Park Lane late last year will be removed after March 18.
However, J&J’s complaint to City Council about the parking ban still has the potential to backfire on the company. Council wants the city zoning department to determine whether J&J is required to provide its employees with off-street parking on its own property.
Council vice president Ray O’Connell asked the administration to find the answer to that question when his public works committee met last week. But he did not get an answer Wednesday night.
“Is J&J required to have off-street parking?” O’Connell asked Richard Young, the city’s public works director. Young said he doesn’t know, because it is a zoning issue.
J&J owners and employees complained to council that limiting parking to just one side of Business Park Lane has increased the hardship of parking for its 120 employees, including drivers who come and go at all hours of the day and night.
Neighboring companies in the business park do provide off-street parking for employees and visitors, according to city officials, and some of their owners repeatedly have asked council why J&J is not required to do the same.
On Wednesday, Assistant City Solicitor John Marchetto advised council a full zoning review would have to be done by the city’s zoning department. Marchetto also suggested the issue would have to be addressed by the city’s zoning hearing board, not council.
But council also wants an explanation, said O’Connell and Council President Julio Guridy after Wednesday’s meeting.
Guridy said owners of a business are responsible to provide parking to their employees, adding some businesses could not open in town because they were unable to provide such parking.
Council member Joseph Davis also expressed concern about not enough off-street parking, adding that is a major safety concern for J&J employees.
And council member Jeanette Eichenwald said the overriding issue is: “Does the business have a responsibility to provide off-street parking for its employees?”
Although Business Park Lane is only 34 feet wide, with an unposted 35 mph speed limit and no sidewalks, until recently parking was allowed on both sides of the street. That made it tough for tractor-trailers that serve many of the companies to get through and enter parking lots.
More than once during Wednesday’s meeting, O’Connell called it “a very contentious issue.”
In November, nine of the 10 business owners along that section of Business Park Lane petitioned the city to eliminate all parking on both sides of Business Park Lane between the two points where it intersects Allentown Drive.
As a compromise, the city responded on Dec. 18 by erecting temporary “no parking” signs on one side of the street. That was done to still allow some on-street parking, reduce the risk of accidents and improve access for tractor-trailers.
But, without City Council’s approval, that was just a temporary move. Those signs are only valid for 90 days.
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.
Denise Sam Cali, the company’s owner, also has been at three recent meetings, along with large contingents of J&J employees.
On Feb. 6, she and several employees addressed council. J&J’s request was referred to the public works committee, which heard more from both sides at its Feb.13 meeting.
Before Wednesday’s vote, Allentown managing director Francis Dougherty told council: “The administration believes what traffic engineering recommended represents the best compromise we can think of -- preserving most of the parking on Business Park Lane [and] providing other business owners with the right-of-way and space they need for their tractor-trailers. We still think this compromise represents the best solution before you tonight.”
Allentown Police Captain Daryl Hendricks told council he and a traffic officer visited the area of contention several times during the last week.
“The compromise that was made probably was the safest alternative,” said Hendricks. “By disallowing parking on one side, you have increased the safety of everybody that utilizes that roadway – walking as well as the motoring public. To allow parking on both sides, you will decrease the safety for drivers as they walk to their vehicles.” He added J&J employees will have to walk in the middle of the road, rather than walking along one side, as they can now.
With parking on both sides, Hendricks also said a tractor-trailer and a car will have difficulty maneuvering past each other as well as difficulty accessing driveways.
But keeping “no parking” signs on one side of Business Park Lane lost traction as a safety issue with council when Hendricks reported in the last three years only one minor accident was reported to police—a vehicle that was sideswiped and left the scene before police arrived. He said there were no reports of accidents with injuries.
Some J&J drivers complained it is dangerous for them to walk in the street, saying they now have to walk farther because parking is banned on one side.
Despite his vote to end the temporary parking restriction, Guridy also said he is concerned about people walking when others again are parking on both sides of the street.
Guridy said council has to clarify the zoning issue, “then make a fair and just decision.”
Council member Peter Schweyer made the motion to restore parking to both sides of the street, until council has the opportunity to review if there is a relevant zoning issue.
Council also wants a “speed study” done by the administration to determine if unposted 35 mph speed limits should be reduced on both Business Park Lane and Hamilton Drive in the business park. O’Connell said such a study is “very crucial.”
While J&J employees have complained to council about overly-aggressive city employees issuing $100 traffic tickets after the “no parking” signs went up, Tamara Dolan, executive director of the Allentown Parking Authority, unequivocally denied “targeted enforcement” was done on Business Park Lane. She said the last ticket was issued there more than two weeks ago.
She said parking authority personnel did respond to parking complaints that came to the city’s communications center.