A proposal that Allentown’s parking meters must be fed from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays is raising concerns that it will have a detrimental financial impact on low-income residents in center city.

Other concerns are that, if approved, it will inconvenience people dining in downtown restaurants and even those attending City Council meetings, because they may have to briefly step outside to put more money in meters.

Proponents of the change maintain it will help both residents and businesses and that it isn’t being done to generate more money.

Council member Jeanette Eichenwald said the extension will cost residents $3 more every day to park at meters near their homes from 6-9 p.m.

“Often we expect the most from those who are struggling the most economically,” said Eichenwald. “I can park my car in front of my house any time I want. I have to pay nothing.”

City Council is expected to act on the proposed ordinance when it meets at 7 p.m. April 16.

After learning about the proposed changes Wednesday night, council’s public works committee voted 2-1 to favorably recommend the changes to the full council.

Council members Ray O’Connell and Joe Davis voted yes, but Eichenwald voted no.

Eichenwald wanted to separate the extension in parking meter hours from less controversial changes proposed in the parking regulation ordinance, but was told that could not be done at a committee meeting.

She suggested City Council delay any decision until after it hears from more center city residents and businesses.

“We could wait for four years; we’re never going to gain consensus from anybody about increasing parking enforcement,” responded Tamara Dolan, executive director of the Allentown Parking Authority.

“Whenever you talk about parking enforcement changes, they’re not going to be embraced. You’re never going to get folks to say ‘yes, let’s do this’.”

Eichenwald didn’t back down.

“We’re being told that we’re doing this to help residents and businesses,” she said. “Why don’t we assure ourselves that residents and businesses feel in agreement with this? Parking is a vital issue. It’s the lifeblood of a business.”

Why extend the hours?

Now parking meters in the city only have to be fed until 6 p.m.

Dolan said her staff at the parking authority has been planning for a couple of years for changes coming with all the redevelopment in center city. She said their focus is to make sure the existing parking supply will match the demand.

“These revisions come as a result of that planning process,” explained Dolan.

She stressed the parking authority has two primary considerations: protecting residents and protecting small business owners.

Dolan said the meter hours are being extended so those spaces don’t become free parking for workers at the new arena at 7th and Hamilton streets or for people attending events in it.

Resident Julian Kern said the hours should only be extended at parking meters near the arena, rather than at meters all over center city.

Kern also suggested free parking would do much more to benefit center city businesses.

Said Eichenwald: “We now on the cusp of enormous redevelopment, of a renaissance. So why put an impediment to businesses? A great deal of the renaissance in the downtown, aside from office buildings, will be in the hands of restaurant owners.”

Eichenwald maintained the city is making a decision based on 70 arena events a year, when there are 365 days in a year. “So there are still 295 nights when people will have to pay to park their cars.”

But Davis said the number of events in the arena could increase beyond 70 or 75 a year. He predicted the city will be very busy – “it’s going to be a boom town” –once the arena opens and it should have a parking plan in place before that happens. “It’s a good idea,” he said. “Is everybody going to be happy? No.”