Hollidaysburg parking issue driving debate

Attorney says on-street spots reserved by permit for residents are ‘unconstitutional’

HOLLIDAYSBURG — On-street parking spots reserved by permit for Hollidaysburg Borough residents are “unconstitutional,” according to attorney Nathan Karn.

The warning, issued at a Thursday borough council meeting, prompted Councilman Patrick Plummer to suggest abolishing the practice of issuing permits.

But despite the warning, Councilman Brady Leahey asked if a higher number of permits could be issued.

“I think there should be more permit parking for people who live there,” he said. “I’m in favor of permit parking. I don’t see how it hurts.”

Discussions about permit parking followed a presentation by Planning Commission member Ethan Imhoff, who suggested changes to current rules, which he claims will improve local economic development.

Imhoff called Hollidays­burg’s current parking ordinance “imbalanced.”

“It’s a suburban model,” he said. “It’s not really appropriate for a dense, urban, historic borough.

Imhoff offered three suggestions to improve area parking, explaining planners studied national best practices and rules within similar municipalities when creating the proposal.

The first suggestion asked council members to consider converting parking minimums to parking maximums.

Now, if a developer wants to build a structure, a minimum number of parking spaces is required based on the building’s square footage, Imhoff said.

Sometimes, those minimums greatly exceed what is actually needed, he said, pointing to Thompson Pharmacy on Blair Street.

The pharmacy has two lots — divided by an alley — to meet its 40-plus spot requirement.

Those lots are rarely full, if ever, Imhoff said, noting the unused space could have been converted into another taxable business or residence.

“We wouldn’t have the land being wasted right now,” he said.

Imhoff asked that now-required minimum parking space limits be converted into maximum parking space limits — so if a business would now have to construct at least 30 spaces, in the future that business would be unable to exceed 30 spaces.

Fewer spaces could even be requested.

A second recommendation suggested that all businesses smaller than 7,000 square feet should be exempt from parking standards due to the lack of available space for parking at businesses that size. A similar policy is in place in the Gettysburg area.

And lastly, Imhoff said parking rules should be moved from the borough’s zoning ordinance to its subdivision and land development ordinance.

The move, he said, would make it less expensive and easier for developers to secure parking exemptions.

Mayor Joseph Dodson supported the changes, especially if they allow development at an old, big, green, vacant church at the corner of Allegheny and Wayne streets. He called the church “a landing strip for the pigeons on the way to the courthouse.”

“I would advise council to do whatever you can do to get something into the old Methodist church and get it productive,” Dodson said.

At the urging of Plummer, council members voted unanimously to accept the three recommendations and move forward with changing rules.

Then Plummer brought up permitted parking.

In some Hollidaysburg neighborhoods, on-street parking permits are given to residents who are landlocked with no off-street parking.

“The whole system is unconstitutional,” Karn said of current parking rules. “Streets are public property.”

Plummer referenced that claim, asking his fellow council members to abolish permitted parking within the borough. Permits would remain for handicapped drivers.

“Our solicitor just said it’s illegal and unconstitutional,” Plummer said.

Leahey, who received support from Councilman Jeff Ketner, disagreed with Plummer, advocating for the expansion of permit parking, especially near the courthouse, where county employees often occupy on-street spots.

“I think we are catering to out-of-towners who are employees of the courthouse and making it tough on our residents,” he said.

Council President Joseph Pompa warned Leahey about letting his compassion for residents affect his judgment, telling him “you can’t legislate with your heart.”

Pompa also referenced Karn’s warning when addressing the issue.

“When you do something and find out it’s illegal, do you continue to do it?” he asked.

Ultimately, council members chose to postpone a decision on the permit-parking issue. They agreed to further discuss the issue at their next meeting, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. March 8 at the borough office.

Mirror Staff Writer Sean Sauro is at 946-7535.