Pagoda at night

READING., Pa. - The Reading City Council is once again revisiting the ongoing problem of loud music and noise originating at the Pagoda and along Skyline Drive atop Mount Penn.

The topic was brought up Monday night at the council's committee-of-the-whole meeting when police Chief Richard Tornielli announced that he has been meeting with the city's public works department to come up with a solution.

Complaints about the loud music have increased during the summer months.

"Public works will be doing engineering studies to determine what we can do to reroute traffic and limit parking at the Pagoda," Tornielli said.

Earlier this year, the council hired Security Guards Inc., Wyomissing, at a cost of $125,000 for a two-year contract to patrol the Pagoda area and all city-owned parks.

Although the guards patrol seven days a week, they have no enforcement powers. They can, however, contact the police after observing illegal activity.

Tornielli said that reports from the guards have been lacking and he wants to improve daily communication between the guards and the police.

"We are taking steps to look at long-term solutions so that we aren't having these conversations on a repetitive basis," Tornielli said.

But Tornielli admitted that the police department is currently lacking personnel and said the response time for complaints at the Pagoda is about one hour.

Managing Director Pedro Cortes said a number of meetings are taking place to discuss the issue, including with the redevelopment authority, the parking authority, the police and public works.

"We are addressing the issue; it's not just a free-for-all," Cortes said.

Councilwoman Marcia Goodman-Hinnershitz, whose district includes the Hessian Camp area, said she has been on the phone twice a day for the past two weeks.

"It's so traumatic for residents in that area," Goodman-Hinnershitz said. "I am going to be on this every day to be able to see the progress. We can't let those folks, who want to have a good home in the city, have their quality of life undermined by people who have no consideration."

Goodman-Hinnershitz also said that if the police have to take action to address illegal activity at the Pagoda, she doesn't want to see pushback from the community.

"We have to acknowledge when people break the law there have to be consequences," she added.

Councilwoman Donna Reed said she also receives many calls regarding the noise at the Pagoda.

"The reality is I don't know how much longer people will be patient," Reed said. "If I lived up there, my house would be on the seller's block.

We have to examine how effective security guards have been. If they are not living up to contract, then let's deal with it."

Councilman Stratton P. Marmarou said that speaking as a former law enforcement officer, the council is missing the point.

"How do you stop something from going on,?" Marmarou asked. "Saturate [the area] with uniform policemen and police vehicles. That uniform and that car means a lot.

"We had same problems years ago, and the way we did it, was to have a car assigned up there. Sending people to go up and make a report on what they saw isn't going to solve any issue."

Council President Jeffrey Waltman said the council will look forward to discussing the results from the public works study next Monday.

"We need to bring peace back to the mountain," Waltman said.

In other matters, the council approved resolutions to:

  • Extend the existing collective bargaining agreement with the Fraternal Order of Police for an additional year, ending Dec. 31, 2020. The extension allows each member of the FOP employed by the city to receive a 4.5% increase to his or her base salary, retroactive to Jan. 1, 2020.
  • Appoint Charles M. Jones as interim public works director for a period of six months. Jones will be paid prorated payments on a scale based on a $65,000 annual salary. Jones previously served as the city's public works director.
  • Promote police Officers Matthew Niebel, Charles Menges, Lance Lonsinger, Francisco Contreras and Criminal Investigator Scott Errington to the rank of sergeant.
  • Approve a conditional-use application for Samuel Delacruz to permit the addition of one rental unit to the first floor of 905 North Ninth Street, which was a single-family home converted into a barbershop and two apartment units on the second and third floors.
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