Most Privately Owned Lots In Wilkes-Barre Violate City Law
WILKES-BARRE — The city has not been strictly enforcing an ordinance regulating the operation of privately owned parking lots and garages where owners charge parking fees, and most appear to be in violation, a review has found.
The ordinance requires operators to pay the city an 8 percent fee on revenues generated from such lots every quarter, in addition to an annual license fee of a flat $100 plus $1 per parking space. City officials provided records listing the revenue received from each lot operator in 2017 in response to a Right-to-Know request from The Citizens’ Voice earlier this year.
The city collected a little more than $133,000 from private lot and garage owners or operators in 2017.
However, the ordinance also requires the operators of such lots to post and maintain a sign in a conspicuous place at each entrance to each lot that shows the operator’s name, the address of the lot, the operator’s parking license number and a schedule of rates.
The rate schedule must indicate the total hourly, daily or monthly charges, and it should specify whether the 8 percent city fee is included in the cost to park or if it’s an additional charge to the customer.
Operators must also obtain a performance bond in the amount of $1,000 for every 10 parking spaces and must file the bond with the city’s permit office or designee.
Any operator in violation of any part of the ordinance can be fined up to $300, or imprisoned up to 90 days, or both.
Tom Torbik, executive director of the Wilkes-Barre Parking Authority, has said it’s important that operators post proper signs so members of the public who pay to park at a facility know the operator is paying fees to the cash-strapped city as required.
The private parking lot issue came to the forefront Wednesday at a city zoning hearing at which representatives of H&N Investments LLC, the owner of the former Hotel Sterling lot on West Market Street between North River and North Franklin streets, sought a variance to waive all requirements of the city zoning ordinance related to parking lots and to continue operating a parking lot at the site for up to 24 months.
An attorney for the parking authority, whose board members oppose the operation of the lot, asked H&N representatives if the owner was paying the 8 percent fee and had obtained a license. George Albert, an engineer for a development project planned at the site, said he didn’t know.
Albert later questioned Torbik, asking if other private parking lot owners paid the parking fee, and Torbik said he didn’t know, although the authority pays the city the 8 percent fee and the licensing fees for all of the approximately 2,300 spaces in authority-owned lots and garages.
What we found
The Citizens’ Voice visited most of the 17 parking lots and garages on a list provided by the city to check signs at lot entrances. Not all lots were checked because the list provided no specific location for a few of them, and the owners’ names offered little clue to the location of the lots.
The city obtained the list and revenue information from the Berkheimer tax collection agency, which handles the city’s parking licenses and revenue collection from private lot and garage owners.
Most of the lots and some of the garages have a sign listing the name of the owner or operator, but some did not. Few of the signs display the address of the lot. None of the signs list the operator’s parking license number, and none of them except the parking authority’s indicate whether the city parking fee is included in the parking rates or is in addition to them.
The former Hotel Sterling lot had no signs at all, even though it’s been operating since mid-June or July. The city had been operating a parking lot at the site for about four years in conditions that violated its own zoning ordinance before selling the land to H&N.
Informed of the findings, Mayor Tony George consulted with Planning and Zoning Director Bill Harris and said the city would send letters to all of the operators informing them of the requirements of the ordinance. He indicated the operators would be given some time to come into compliance.
Asked if the city had performance bonds on file for each operator, George said he didn’t know, and the employee in charge of the permit office was not in.
While Torbik remained displeased that the city would not oppose H&N’s attempt to continue temporary operation of “an illegal parking lot,” Torbik was pleased with the mayor’s intent to send letters to the operators.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction for the mayor to make sure these signs are in compliance,” Torbik said.
Asked why the authority’s signs didn’t list a parking license number, Torbik said the company the authority and city employ to manage the lots and garages is addressing the issue.
Matt Price, a facilities manager for LAZ, said Berkheimer had issued only one account number for all of the authority’s facilities, but a separate account is required for each lot and garage. He said LAZ’s tax department is working with Berkheimer to issue separate licenses for each facility and, when the license numbers are available, they will be added to the signs outside each facility.
“It was a clerical error on somebody’s part,” Price said.
Torbik had noted at an authority board meeting on Tuesday that he had previously directed Price to ensure all of the authority’s signs were in compliance with the city ordinance.
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2017 PARKING FEE REVENUE
The City of Wilkes-Barre received the following fees in 2017 from operators of privately owned parking lots and garages in the city.
• 27-29 S. Franklin Corp., c/o LAZ Parking Ltd., paid $2,326.82 on an unspecified number of spaces at a lot at 27-29 S. Franklin St.
• Best Western Hotel, 77 E. Market St., Wilkes-Barre, paid $641.74 on 72 spaces in the hotel lot.
• Boscov’s Department Store LLC, Reading, paid $1,720 for what appears to be 280 spaces in the garage at the rear of the South Main Street store on South Franklin Street.
• Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber Partnership, 2 Public Square, Wilkes-Barre, paid $3,438.16 on 109 spaces in an unspecified location.
• Honesdale National Bank, 38 N. Franklin St., paid $493 on 22 spaces in the bank lot.
• JA-VA Inc. paid $706.72 on 40 spaces at an unspecified location. JA-VA does not appear on a separate list of active accounts, so no address was available.
• LAZ Parking, on behalf of the city parking authority, paid $89,134.30 on either 2,263 spaces or 2,310 spaces at a lot on East Northampton Street, Park & Lock Central and Park & Lock North. Two sets of data provide conflicting numbers on the number of spaces.
• Marquis Art & Frame, 122 S. Main St., paid $494 on what appears to be 10 spaces in a lot near the store.
• Masonic Temple, 25 N. Franklin St., paid $1,047.48 on 24 spaces in a lot by the temple.
• Penn Ave. Realty, 77 E. Market St., Wilkes-Barre, paid $4,501.02 on 300 spaces in a lot apparently at Pennsylvania Avenue and East Market Street.
• Phoenix Estates, Graco Holdings, Panacea Inc., P.O. Box 2, Wilkes-Barre, paid $292 on what appears to be 30 spaces in a lot at the corner of East Union and North Washington streets. Signs outside two lots at that location identify the owner as Greco Holdings.
• St. Nicholas Church, 251-267 S. Washington St., Wilkes-Barre, paid $1,208.13 on 115 spaces at an unspecified location.
• Sterling Ventures, c/o Gary G. Pan, 744 Leigh Mill Road, Great Falls, Va., paid $447.60 on 10 spaces in a facility at Northampton Street and Fairbairn Lane. Fairbairn Lane could not be found on a city map.
• Thomas C. Thomas Co., 90 E. Union St., paid $5,792.04 on what appears to be either 141 or 157 spaces in one or two nearby lots.
• Wilkes-Barre Hospital LLC, 534 N. Wyoming Ave., Kingston, paid $20,846.28 on 608 spaces in the Wilkes-Barre General Hospital parkade.
• Wilkes-Barre Hospital LLC is listed as having a second active account with Berkheimer, this one for 211 spaces at a medical office building at 575 N. River St., but that account is not listed in the revenue data.
• SSC Parking LLC, Mid-Town Parking, 1600 Arch St., Philadelphia, is listed as an active account, but no parking facility location is listed and the company is not listed in the revenue data.
• Cityvest, 425 New Commerce Blvd., Hanover Twp., is listed as an active account for 125 spaces in an unspecified location, but the company is not listed in the revenue data.