Borough Council approved a text amendment that will allow The State Theatre to install an ATM in its front facade after extensive debate on the merits of such an amendment.
The issue was first raised in 2014, said zoning officer John Wilson, when the borough was originally approached by the theater and First National Bank who proposed putting an ATM on the front of the building. After some work was done, it was determined that installing the machine into the stone facade would permanently damage the structure of the building
Focus then shifted to reducing the window space along the front of the theater to accommodate the ATM, he said. However, a borough ordinance states that no reduction in glazing is permitted in the pedestrian area.
The proposed text amendment sought to permit the reduction in glazing in the pedestrian area — which spans most of College Avenue downtown — by 7 percent or a total of 12 square feet, he said.
During a public hearing prior to the decision, residents voiced their concern for the amendment, saying it was a bad idea to change the zoning ordinance to accommodate this one request. The amendment would open all businesses in the pedestrian area to having ATMs as well, and residents voiced their fear of seeing ATMs take over the downtown area.
Jay Bartlett, who serves on the State Theatre board of directors, said the changes were carefully considered, saying a smaller ATM wouldn’t allow the full range of services a larger one could provide, but that’s not what the bank is looking for.
The theater could go smaller, he said, but that risks losing its partnership with First National Bank, who will be paying the theater $7,000 for the space.
Council President Jim Rosenberger said he liked the amendment. Installation into window space allows for easier placement and removal of an ATM without destroying the structure of a downtown building.
Councilman Evan Myers agreed with Rosenberger, saying the ordinance now allowed for buildings to “poke holes in their walls,” potentially scarring buildings. Reducing window space allows for less expensive and less intrusive installation.
“No matter what we do,” Myers said, “the theater needs strong support. It’s an anchor of downtown. We need to keep that as a viable institution.”
Councilwoman Theresa Lafer was not in support of the amendment, saying while she understands the needs of the theater, their requests for ordinance changes doesn’t make them exceptional.
“The State Theatre serves the community, but they shouldn’t be asking us to change ordinances for them,” she said. “I think the downtown has a good ordinance. It shouldn’t change.”
The motion to pass the amendment was met with a 4-3 vote in favor. Voting against the amendment were Cathy Dauler, Tom Daubert and Theresa Lafer.
After the vote, Barrett said theater representatives were hopeful coming into the meeting.
“We thought we had a pretty good chance (of getting a yes vote),” he said. “Obviously we’re pleased it went though. We will probably get that ATM in before Christmas.”