A controversial plan to require people to feed Allentown parking meters until 9 p.m. six days a week has been tabled until at least late May by City Council.
During a meeting lasting more than four hours Wednesday night, council approved a hotly debated liquor license transfer to a former nuisance bar in east Allentown.
It also approved new admission fees for its four swimming pools and a $5 million capital improvements plan.
Only the new pool fees unanimously were approved by the six council members at the meeting.
They also agreed to eliminate proposed new fees on adults over age 59, who will continue to enjoy the pools for free.
Council member Jeanette Eichenwald recommended tabling action on the parking meter change until council learns more about how it will impact both residents and businesses.
Tamara Dolan, executive director of the Allentown Parking Authority, said it has not asked center city businesses how it will affect them.
City managing director Francis Dougherty said, “We heard testimony from those who have experienced this transition in Bethlehem” during a council public works committee meeting last week.
“It’s not like we’re doing this in a vacuum,” said Dougherty. “It’s not like we’re the first to do it. Easton has already done it, Bethlehem has already done it.”
“But we haven’t heard from the businesses in Allentown,” countered Eichenwald. “Shouldn’t I know what the businesses in Allentown think about this? I need to know how it will impact Allentown.”
“Neither City Council or the mayor’s office received one phone call on this issue,” said Dougherty.
Eichenwald disagreed, saying she received emails about it.
Currently parking meters must be fed between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The administration wants council to extend those hours until 9 p.m. daily.
Enforcement of residential parking permits also will be extended until 9 p.m.
If the meter changes are approved, they will take effect on Sept. 1, based on a vote by the six council members. (Council member Peter Schweyer was absent.)
Both council president Julio Guridy and Ray O’Connell initially wanted to vote on the proposed parking regulations immediately.
But Guridy changed his mind after learning more about the issue.
The vote to table the proposed changes was 4-2. O’Connell and Council member Joe Davis voted against tabling.
Dougherty argued against delaying action, because the administration needs time to educate residents about the changes. He also said those changes are just one part of a master plan for traffic that is underway to prepare for the opening of the city’s new hockey arena.
Not all parking meters are around hockey arena
Some council members were surprised to learn that not all of Allentown’s 1,500 parking meters are located in center city. One resident told them meters are along 2nd Street and Ridge Avenue.
But Dolan said most meters are in the central business district – from 4th to 10th or 11th streets and from Walnut to Linden streets.
Guridy was concerned that the administration wants to extend the hours on all meters in the city. He was under the impression they were going to be extended only in the blocks surrounding the hockey arena.
Resident Ken Heffentrager called the increased meter enforcement hours “ridiculous.”
Heffentrager told council: “You’re all elected by us. Not one person walked up here and supported this.”
“What is the purpose?” asked another resident. “Why are you doing this?”
“This is to protect the resident,” maintained Dougherty.
Explained Dolan: “If we are not enforcing the residential parking zones in the evening, the part-time employees of the arena and the arena event-goers are going to be parking in those spaces and the residents won’t have a space to park in. We’re trying to protect the integrity of the neighborhoods.”
“Why would somebody going to the arena be parking on 2nd Street?” asked Guridy. “It doesn’t make sense.”
Another resident suggested the arena should be providing enough parking for its employees and patrons, so they don’t have to use parking meters.
Residents argued the change in hours will cost residents $18 more each week to feed parking meters between 6 and 9 p.m., in a city where 27 percent of residents are at poverty level.
“If somebody has to pay $20 a week, I’m not voting for that,” said Guridy.
Dolan said residents in many areas with meters can get parking permits that only cost $20 a year and they don’t have to feed the meters. “We think $20 a year for permit parking is extremely reasonable,” said Dougherty.
Guridy suggested those parking permits should be available in all residential areas.
Dolan said almost all residential areas with parking meters already have permit zones. Said Guridy: “What’s the harm of doing all of them?”
Dolan said making that change would involve surveying neighborhoods to determine where owners of cars parked there live. She estimated that survey could be completed within about a month.
“Why can’t we wait another month if it’s only going to take a month to do it?” said Guridy.
Davis said the city should do something about the problem of people attending meetings in City Hall who would have to leave those meetings to feed parking meters after 6 p.m.
Dougherty said the administration is working on a plan so people attending meetings do not have to pay meter parking.
Resident Ernie Atiyeh suggested free parking be offered on the City Hall parking deck for those attending meetings.
Liquor license transfer approved
After an hour of discussion, council voted 4-2 to approve the liquor license transfer.
Council members Eichenwald and Daryl Hendricks voted no.
The property at 1139 Union Blvd., formerly Tony's Pizza, has a bad reputation as a nuisance bar, which is one big reason why residents oppose it getting a new liquor license.
It will become the new private club for the American Citizens Slavonic Society of Allentown, Inc.
Council had to weigh the desire of a private city social club that wants to revive itself in a new home against concerns by East Side residents and city officials that it will lead to a resumption of criminal activity.
The property also had fire and health code violations in the past – including rodent infestations and un-refrigerated food. And the man who owned it then still owns it now.
Before making its decision, council continued a public hearing on the license transfer that began on March 19.
The Allentown Slavonic Society was represented by Atty. Matthew Croslis.
Approval of the liquor license transfer is contingent on the club conforming with zoning, health, fire and other applicable city codes.
Croslis repeatedly stressed to council that the club will not open if it does not meet all those code requirements. That included parking.
“We will either comply with any zoning requirements for parking or we will not open,” said the lawyer.
Croslis said the non-profit Slavonic club was in existence since 1919 and had a liquor license for 70 years, with no citations for liquor law violations.
He said since losing its previous quarters in 2004, which meant giving up its liquor license, the club is down to only four active members.
But he added 20 to 30 people want to become active members again.
He said it’s a private, members-only social club where people will go for inexpensive food and drink and to socialize with family and friends. He said there be will no live music or DJs – only a juke box and some TVs – and that place will not be rented out to third parties.
He indicated Tony El-Chaar, who owns the property and will lease it to the club, will not be a member of the club and will not serve as its cook, as he was going to be.
El-Chaar owned the place when it had problems with crime and city code violations.
“There are over eight bars within a one-mile radius of this property,” said Tom Miller, who owns Boulevard Mobile Home Park behind the property. “People are definitely afraid. It’s very detrimental to our neighborhood there.”
“This is a new group,” said Davis. “We have to keep it separate from what was there in the past.”
The license is being transferred from Lower Milford Township Fire Company No. 1.
City Council rejected the administration’s proposal that adults 60 and older be charged $25 for season passes to the city’s pools.
“I would like to see the senior rate stay at zero,” said O’Connell.
After the meeting, city parks and recreation director John Mikowychok said not charging seniors to use the four pools will cost an estimated $8,250 in additional revenue.
Not counting that $8,250, the change in pool fees will generate an estimated $175,750 in admission fee revenue this summer, according to figures provided by the parks director. He said last summer admission fees totaled $147,790.
That amounts to an estimated revenue increase of $27,960.
The parks director said that additional revenue “is not going to pay for well over $10 million in capital improvements necessary to bring our pools into the 21st century.
“What we have right now is a pool system that ranges in age from 1939 to 1962. We are spending more money for maintaining the systems we have now.”
Mikowychok hopes a capital bond will be issued to enable the city to begin making major improvements to those pools, starting with Mack pool’s filtration system and the bathhouse roof at that pool.
Earlier Wednesday evening, Mikowychok told council’s park and recreation committee that pool fees have not increased since 2005.
Daily admission at the Cedar, Jordan and Mack pools will increase by 50 cents for residents and admission at Irving Pool will increase by $1.
Four- and five-year-old children now will have to pay daily admissions.
Free passes no longer will be issued to disabled people and their families, because the city found it too difficult to define disabled and decided other family members should not get free admission.
Season pass rates for adults are dropping from $75 to $50.
Mikowychok said the best pool value will be the new $150 family season pass. It will include admission for four people: a maximum of two adults plus children. Up to four additional children can be added for $25 each.
Non-resident rates are increasing significantly, said Mikowychok, For example, he said non-resident family passes will cost $300.
The $5 million in capital improvements approved by council also includes money for the city’s four pools: $50,000 for pipes and fitting and $150,000 for construction costs.
Dougherty said that money also will cover very little of what is needed. “This barely keeps our pools going,” he said. “This is hardly enough.”
He confirmed “the real money for pools” will come when a bond is issued in the future.
Only Eichenwald voted no on the capital improvements plan.
Also during the meeting, council approved hiring a new police officer, James M. Nuskey, Jr., of Newark, Del. His base annual salary will be $50,192.
And it appointed Richard A. Malozi to the recreation board.