Two parking spaces are at the center of a standoff between downtown Bellefonte business owners and Borough Council.
The debate is about whether the FaithCentre Food Bank should be allowed to reserve parking for their customers. Council voted 8-1 on March 2 to allow it to do just that for several days of the week — 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesdays, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Thursdays and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the third Friday of each month. Gay Dunne cast the dissenting vote.
Bellefonte business owners, led by Verizon Wireless Made Simple owner Eric Bruckner, argue that allowing the food bank to have the two spaces hurts commerce. He asked council in an email last month to phase out the ability of anyone to reserve parking for only their customers.
Council rejected Bruckner’s request at its June 15 meeting, which prompted Bruckner to drum up support from other business owners to make the same proposal. Twenty-four business owners signed a petition that no business be allowed to reserve public parking downtown.
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“Every single business in the downtown (area) that we spoke with feels very strongly that no other business should be able to reserve public on-street parking for their own customers,” Bruckner said in a letter to council. “It takes customers and revenue away from every other business when it is allowed.”
The uproar has council confused.
“We’re helping out people that need that space to come in there and get the food that’s available to them, and they depend upon that,” Councilman Joseph Beigle said. “... You have to understand they can’t move out of the Bellefonte area to tend to the needs of the people they serve, and they’re also a nonprofit organization.”
“One of the things I took issue with in their letter that bothered me was the constant reference to other businesses,” Councilwoman Karen Harvey added. “The food bank is not a business. It’s a social service that serves over 800 Bellefonte residents every month, many of whom are elderly and handicapped and who have a very difficult time getting in there.”
Bruckner, however, said in the letter that the food bank does not follow the council’s rules.
“We have observed the meters being bagged for extended periods, so we inquired with the borough and received the times that were approved for the meters to be bagged,” he said. “The meters are in fact being bagged well before and well after the allowed times. ... The perception among most of the businesses we spoke to is that not only can this particular business get the parking rules changed just for their benefit, but that they also don’t have to follow those new rules either.”
Mayor Tom Wilson volunteered to try to find a solution between the food bank and local businesses during the meeting.
In other business, council discussed police staffing in an executive session.
Council also had a work session to discuss the Centre Area Transportation Authority’s decision to hold an open house for public input on upcoming route cuts from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Bellefonte YMCA at 125 W. High St.
The cuts stem from council’s decision to reject CATA’s budget, which put a $21,505 price on the borough for 2015-16 services, about $3,600 more than what the borough budgeted for 2015. Council voted 8-0 June 15 to pay about $17,900.
The cuts will be made to CATA’s XB and XG routes and could result in the elimination of four weekday trips or three weekday and all Saturday trips. The cuts will be implemented in October.