ALLENTOWN, Pa. - RVs and KOZs were tackled by Allentown City Council Wednesday night.
By a unanimous vote of council, Allentown became the first of three local taxing bodies to approve Keystone Opportunity Zone – KOZ—status for two old factories: Adelaide Mills at 333 Court St. and the former Allentown Metal Works at 606 S. 10th St.
Properties that receive a state KOZ designation do not have to pay any local or state taxes for 10 years, giving their owners a major financial incentive to redevelop them for new uses, rather than having them remain vacant and deteriorating indefinitely.
Allentown School Board already approved the S. 10th Street property for KOZ and is expected to consider approving the Court Street factory on July 25, according to city officials.
A first reading on an ordinance approving both KOZ sites should be on the agenda of the July 24 Lehigh County commissioners meeting, with final action anticipated Aug. 14.
Approval of all three taxing bodies is required for the two properties to be included in the KOZ program.
The KOZ issue went smoothly at City Council's meeting; the RV issue did not. It was debated for an hour.
Allentown residents who own recreational vehicles and truck campers still are required to get city "permits" to park on city streets to load and unload their vehicles. And they still are limited to 24 hours. But council did vote to allow them to request extensions for an additional 24 hours.
An attempt to do away with the permit requirement and allow RVs and campers to be parked on streets for 48 hours was defeated by 5-2. Only council members Ray O'Connell and Jeanette Eichenwald voted for that change.
The issue involves what more accurately could be described as a notification process than a permitting process.
There are no actual physical permits, explained Tamara Dolan, executive director of the Allentown Parking Authority. She said when owners want to load or unload, they call the authority and simply provide the license plate, location, and date the vehicle will be parked there.
Dolan explained the authority does not ask people when they are going away or coming back. She said when people returning home want to unload their vehicles, they should immediately call the parking authority for a second 24 hours' of parking approval.
Council member Joe Davis said if the city would get rid of that process, there would be no way to know how long such vehicles are parked on the streets.
Council president Julio Guridy agreed, saying not having permits would make it difficult to enforce anything. "I think the permit is needed."
Few get "permits
O'Connell said only three or four people in the entire city have been getting load/unload permits. Eichenwald said that shows city residents don't want to get the permits and that the current law is unenforceable.
Dolan said the authority issued about 25 permits in the last year, but "many of them to the same residents."
Dolan acknowledged the program "doesn't generate a lot of interest. We get very few calls on it."
While there are no charges for permits, and no penalties for not getting them, fines begin at $50 for remaining parked for more than 24 hours.
She said there were nine citations in the last 12 months, for over-sized RVs, and none of those people had gotten permits.
Without the permitting process, Dolan said the authority could take action against RVs and campers parked too long on a street only if it gets complaints from neighbors or if its own enforcement personnel witness them parked beyond the allotted time.
Rather than allowing such vehicles to remain parked on streets for 48 hours, Guridy recommended an amendment allowing one 24-hour extension on the 24-hour limit and keeping the permits.
That amendment was approved 4-3, with council member Jeff Glazier joining Eichenwald and O'Connell in opposing it.
Guridy said people could simply call the parking authority to get those extensions. Not clear was how RV and camper owners could get a permit extension on a weekend, when most city offices are closed.
"If I get a permit for Saturday and I want to extend it to Sunday as well, can I just call in and leave a message?" asked Glazier. Dolan said the authority does not have Sunday enforcement.
Liquor license transfer approved
Also during its meeting, council unanimously approved the transfer of a state liquor license for a new restaurant being planned at 732 Hamilton St., the former House of Chen.
The exterior of the building will be renovated to give it a more attractive brick-and-stone appearance. Inside, the street-level restaurant will have 100-135 seats.
The property —which is called City Center Hospitality Three LLC -- is owned by developers Joe Topper and J.B. Reilly, who also own three other restaurants sites that already have liquor licenses in the city. They were identified only as City Center Hospitality One, Two and Four.
All of the buildings will have restaurants on the first floor and business and/or residential suites on the upper floors.
The House of Chen had a liquor license, but it already was purchased for City Center's 536 W. Hamilton St. location, explained Atty. Theodore Zeller, who represented City Center.
A public hearing and council's approval were required because the license for 732 Hamilton is being transferred from outside the city. That license previously was held by Makensa Restaurant, better known as the former New Smithville Inn, along Old Route 22 in Weisenberg Township.
Despite having liquor licenses, all the new restaurants will be family friendly with Class A operators, said Jim Harbaugh, chief operating officer for City Center.
"We have not chosen operators yet," said Harbaugh. "We're looking for quality operators who have done this before and can be successful." He said they do not want restaurant operators who don't have a track record of success.
Harbaugh said the developers also are looking at the various food offerings operators will bring to center-city. "We don't want to wind up with a bunch of similar restaurants. Diversity is very important part of building a restaurant stock in Allentown."
Harbaugh said liquor licenses are needed to be ready to attract the right restaurant operators.
Only one person spoke at the short public hearing on that license transfer before the 7 p.m. council meeting, where that transfer was approved.
Josh Tucker, who imports wicker and rattan furniture in the building he owns at 730 Hamilton St., expressed concern about loud music coming from the future adjoining restaurant, but said he has no problem with the restaurant getting a liquor license.
Allentown, PA 18102
- Berks Patrick Manwiller / 69 News