State College

State College divided on overnight parking changes

A view of a no parking between 2-6 a.m. sign in the Highlands neighborhood in downtown State College Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018.
A view of a no parking between 2-6 a.m. sign in the Highlands neighborhood in downtown State College Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018.

UPDATE: At its special meeting, State College Borough Council did not have enough votes to override Mayor Don Hahn’s veto. The ordinance will next go to Transportation Commission for comment, and on Sept. 17, there will be a public hearing, council comments and another vote.

With a week until Penn State home football games start, where and how people can park overnight in State College is up in the air.

State College Borough Council on Monday voted, 4-3, to go ahead with a pilot overnight parking permit program in the Highlands neighborhood. The vote also codified the longstanding tradition of waiving the overnight parking restrictions in the rest of the borough for special event weekends, like Penn State football home games and Arts Fest.

But it remains to be seen whether those changes will go into effect. Mayor Don Hahn vetoed the ordinance. It’s the first time he’s exercised that authority since taking office in January.

A special meeting is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Monday at the municipal building, 243 S. Allen St., for borough council to vote on whether to override the mayor’s veto. For an override to be successful, five council members must vote in favor of it.

The public will have the opportunity to comment at the meeting.

What the ordinance says and what’s involved in the pilot program

What council passed on Monday was an amendment to the vehicle and traffic ordinance. While it’s long been the tradition to allow overnight parking for special occasions where it’s posted “no parking 2-6 a.m.,” the amendment would make that waiver official.

The 2-6 a.m. parking restriction, which only applies to streets where there are signs indicating it, will be lifted during Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, Penn State’s fall and spring commencements, Memorial Day weekend, July 4, Arts Fest, the full week prior to Penn State’s fall semester, Labor Day weekend, Penn State home football game weekends, Thanksgiving weekend and the winter holiday.

Additionally, residents can request authorization to park vehicles overnight, which will be approved on a “case-by-case basis.”

At Monday’s meeting, council President Evan Myers said he found the specifics of the ordinance to be “extremely chaotic and confusing.”

“It’s way too complicated, and I have no idea what it stands for,” said Myers, who voted against the ordinance amendment (along with councilmen Jesse Barlow and Dan Murphy).

The pilot program in the Highlands neighborhood is also folded in to the ordinance. Residents in the Highlands had pushed for the borough to enforce its overnight parking restrictions, even on special event weekends. As a compromise, borough council approved the pilot program in only their neighborhood.

“It’s primarily responding to the football scourge that dumps and warehouses these cars on every weekend of every game,” Councilman David Brown said.

The pilot program would run Oct. 1 to August 2020.

“It’s supposed to be an experiment,” Brown said.

Highlands residents will be able to register and receive permits for on-street overnight parking. A single registration is permitted for each Highlands address. There will be two types of permits, residential parking permits — $24 for 24 a year — and special event residential parking permits, at $10 for a 24-hour period.

Murphy said he has an equity concern about the one registration per address approach.

There are a lot of properties in the area that are rental properties, he said, with individuals who sign individual leases.

“Something that gets lost in here ... this is also their home and their neighborhood,” Murphy said.

For example, a fraternity house that has a single address would only receive a single registration, though there may be dozens of residents living in the house.

Susan Venegoni, vice president of the Highlands Civic Association, said she was “really concerned” that the codification of the waiver in the rest of the borough was being done at the same time as the pilot program.

“Why make such a solid, permanent change now?” she said. “Why not look at that again after some type of pilot is done and maybe we’ll know more about the other parking options that are available.”

Members of council and the public acknowledged at the meeting that State College’s parking troubles are only going to get worse. Myers said the borough is about to face a “parking crisis,” while Brown said an “ominous” parking problem is heading toward State College like a “tsunami.”

More high-rises are being built in the downtown, but the public parking options are not keeping up with the growth at this point. Penn State is planning to build a parking garage on Red A surface lot on West Campus, and the borough is discussing the need for additional parking downtown.

The veto

Hahn wrote a letter to borough council expressing some concerns about the ordinance amendment and the way things have been done procedurally.

Among his points were that “I suspect that overnight event parking will become Holmes-Foster’s and College Heights’ problem in the near future, under the current proposal.”

He wrote that the Transportation Commission hasn’t had an adequate opportunity to review and comment on the proposed revisions to the overnight event parking system. Also, he wrote that the public hasn’t had enough of an opportunity to be heard.

At Monday’s meeting, Hahn made it clear he intended to veto the ordinance. He made that official on Wednesday.

Several council members sounded off about Hahn’s letter, which they said he wrote as a citizen but signed as the mayor, and his veto.

Brown acknowledged Hahn’s right to veto, but called it a “terrible precedent.” Councilwoman Theresa Lafer called the mayor’s behavior “petty,” adding that he “slapped” an entire neighborhood in the face.

Myers defended the mayor’s right to veto, saying that authority is granted in the borough’s home-rule charter.

He said if council doesn’t like that, then “we damn well ought to change it.”

But to “accuse” the mayor of some of the things people have accused him of, Myers said he finds “untoward.”