Hollidaysburg’s parking reform plans criticized

Resident points out changes could be ‘dangerous for the community’

HOLLIDAYSBURG — A recommendation from Hollidaysburg’s Planning Commission will be amended after a concerned resident pointed out that suggested parking reform could be “dangerous for the community.”

Richard Latker, president of the Hollidaysburg Com­munity Watchdog group, appeared at a Tuesday evening meeting to criticize one of several changes to parking rules recommended at a Borough Council meeting in February.

Latker noted that the planning commission’s recommendation package “includes some really good stuff.”

“Unfortunately, wrapped up into this package are reforms that are very, very dangerous for the community,” he said.

On Tuesday, Latker focused mostly on an earlier suggestion from planning commission members that parking rules should be moved from the borough’s zoning ordinance to its subdivision and land development ordinance.

According to commission member Ethan Imhoff, that move would make it less expensive and simpler for developers to secure parking-rule exceptions.

During Tuesday’s public comment session, Latker warned that streamlining the rule-exception process might not be a good idea.

Parking rules are in place to ensure that new construction fits into size and space requirements that will not disturb surrounding residential areas, Latker said.

Currently, the borough zoning hearing board is responsible for ruling on parking exceptions. Under the subdivision and land development ordinance, that decision-making power would shift to Borough Council.

Latker warned that residents who oppose exceptions granted by council would have a much more difficult time reversing those decisions.

Rulings by the zoning hearing board can be appealed to the courts, Latker said, adding that efforts to reverse a Borough Council decision would require a lawsuit, which could be costly and hard to win.

Latker asked planning commission members to reconsider their initial recommendation.

“We believe it’s motivated by interests that are alien to this community,” Latker said. “The only thing that could possibly be motivating that … is a desire to weaken due process for people, who are trying to protect their communities from unlawful … or otherwise inappropriate development.”

At the urging of the planning commission’s Jane Sheffield, members voted unanimously to alter their original recommendation package to now suggest that parking rules should remain in the zoning ordinance.

Latker rejoiced after the decision, shaking the hand of another member of the Watchdog group.

On Wednesday, borough Planning and Zoning Officer Patrick Rabits said he likely will present the amended recommendation to Borough Council members at a 7 p.m. meeting today in the borough building.

Other parking suggestions made last month will remain unchanged, though planning commission members insisted Tuesday that they should only apply to the borough’s commercial district.

Those recommendations do not include any information about parking permits, which are a separate issue, Imhoff said repeatedly Tuesday night.

Latker previously has accused borough solicitor Nathan Karn of masterminding proposed changes to meet some political goal. In an email sent in mid-February, Latker claimed the parking ordinance changes were suggested at “Karn’s insistence.”

“It is well past time to hold Karn accountable for his conduct as solicitor and the blatant conflicts of interest associated with his simultaneous representation of (Blair County, Hollidaysburg Borough) and at least six other municipalities,” Latker wrote in the email.

In a separate email, Karn responded.

“I have no position whatsoever regarding this change,” Karn wrote. “I had no input on the Hollidaysburg Planning Commission’s proposals as I did not attend any planning commission meetings nor was I asked to provide any proposals. … The recommendations are solely that of the Hollidaysburg Planning Commission, which, of course, is appointed by council.”

On Wednesday, Rabits said he was unaware of any suggestions from Karn that parking rules should be changed and attributed the idea to a number of Borough Council members.