Allentown explores parking issues, hears from District Judge King
The August quarterly public meeting of the Allentown CDC had public safety and neighborhood parking as main focuses last week. Guest speakers included Liz Style from the Pittsburgh Dept. of Public Safety and District Magisterial J udge Richard King.
Anthony Stewart, president of DECO Resources, LLC in Allentown, discussed results of a parking survey of the neighborhood and near the business corridor he had undertaken earlier in the year. In the survey, 756 parking spaces of all types were identified in the neighborhood from Beltzhoover Avenue to Amanda Avenue, from (but not including) Carnival Way up to Climax Street.
The initial survey identified the available spaces, Mr. Stewart said. The next step will be to survey the neighborhood again at different times throughout the day to learn where people are parking and for how long.
He noted there’s not a lot of signage in the neighborhood telling people where and where not they are permitted to park and what signage there is open to interpretation.
“Our count for what could be parking is probably high because if there wasn’t signage that said ‘no parking’ we couldn’t say there was no parking because realistically you might be able to fit six cars in that slot, but people wouldn’t do that and there wasn’t a sign to say that you couldn’t do that,” he added.
Tom Smith, president of the Allentown CDC, added one of the things prompting Work Hard Pittsburgh to ask for the survey was the increase in new businesses and visitors to Warrington Avenue over the last 18 months. At times, parking is difficult on the main and ancillary streets in the business district.
Mr. Stewart added during the survey, it was noted there was a lot of illegal parking going on in the neighborhood: people parking on sidewalks, curbs and near corners.
A member of the audience asked if the city had a program to line residential streets for individual parking spaces. He stated in his part of the neighborhood it wasn’t uncommon for people to take up multiple spaces for one car.
He said the capacity for the neighborhood to accommodate more parking drops when someone takes up two spots for one car.
Ms. Style said they city doesn’t line residential streets for individual parking spaces. If parking is a problem in part of neighborhood, the residents can work with the city to determine the extent of the problem and if the residential permit parking program would benefit the area.
Permit parking doesn’t guarantee a spot in front of anyone’s house, but it does make it more likely parking will be available. A grace period allows non-residents to park in the area for a limited about of time.
She added the program can have unintended consequences such as in South Side where businesses are complaining about limited parking for their employees and customers contributing to a decline in business.
Siena Kane, Warrington Avenue business district manager for the Hilltop Alliance, said the city is interested in returning pay parking using kiosks along Warrington Avenue. Although there isn’t currently a timeline for when the pay parking would be instituted, she hopes there will be enough time to work with businesses to get loading zones and alternates for employee parking.
She said it should be a holistic planning process for parking in the neighborhood. A series of meetings is being planned for businesses and residents to explain the change.
Since pay parking has been missing from Warrington Avenue for so long, Ms. Kane hoped a grace period could be negotiated with the Parking Authority so people wouldn’t be hit immediately with parking tickets after the kiosks are installed. A certain number of lease spaces will also be available in the Parking Authority lots along Warrington.
The Allentown CDC will also be working with city officials to see if better signage along with line and curb painting can be done in the neighborhood to make it clearer where parking is permitted.
Judge King touched on a variety of subjects and answered questions at the meeting.
He said the district justice’s courts were first called “the court of initial jurisdiction” because everything that starts as a criminal level starts at the district judge level. In Pittsburgh, it’s centrally located at the Pittsburgh Municipal Court, Downtown.
Summary citations for various violations of the law such as public drunkenness, underage drinking, truancy, building inspection violations are taken care of by the district judges.
He said civil cases, along with residential and commercial landlord/tenant cases can be tried at the district judge level for amounts up to $12,000.
Judge King said district justices can issue initial emergency Protection From Abuse (PFA) orders either in their offices or in Pittsburgh Municipal Court at Arraignment Court. In Pittsburgh Municipal Court the order can be issued 24-hours.
In either case, because the initial order is “one-sided event,” a full hearing the following day in Family Division is needed to schedule a date for both sides to come together in court. Only someone in an “intimate relationship,” such as a spouse, partner, or child may file for a PFA, neighbors are not permitted to ask for the order.
Judge King said Family Division will try to schedule a hearing as soon as possible, usually within 10 days.
The way he touches the Allentown neighborhood most is through building inspection violation cases.
“Allentown is a little ahead of the curve due to the (Hilltop) Alliance trying take some things into their own hands and be proactive. They’re doing things, quite frankly, it would be nice to see PL&I (Bureau of Permits, Licenses and Inspection, former Bureau of Building Inspection) do,” Judge King said. “There’s a huge problem with properties where the owner can’t be found, the owner is very elderly, can’t be found or is in another state.”
He noted vacant properties are a big problem not only in Allentown, but everywhere.
Judge King explained his building inspection hearings were originally on Thursdays, got moved to Tuesdays and he had them moved back to Thursdays. One reason he gave was the printing of the hearings in The South Pittsburgh Reporter prior to the hearing.
Often a relative or neighbor would show up at the hearing after seeing in the paper and explain the owner was deceased or moved out of state. In the case of a death of an owner, in many cases there wasn’t a will designating an heir.
In many of those cases, even if a child can be found, they’re not interested in inheriting the property.
He said the information is valuable to the building inspectors in whether to pursue the case.
Judge King said he hasn’t seen a lot of landlord/tenant case coming from the neighborhood and attributed it to its being a relatively stable neighborhood.
Asked if the number of repeated violations influences the amount of fines issued to a property owner, the judge said often the property owner hasn’t been cited because of not wanting to fix the property, but because they have age or health related issues. In many cases the owner has been able to find a reliable contractor to make what is often a small repair in a timely manner.
Ms. Style spoke briefly about the different types of block watches, residential and business, traditional and virtual. A block watch can be started with as few as two people.
One example of she gave of a virtual business block watch is the one recently begun in Carrick. Business owners in several blocks of Brownsville Road got together with the assistance of Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak and set up cameras covering the entire blocks.
Although the cameras aren’t monitored, the police are still able to access the video files through the businesses in the event they need to see what happened.
In the more traditional block watch, such as the Carrick-Overbrook group, neighbors get together monthly with police to talk over neighborhood issues. Often a telephone-tree can be used to alert neighbors if something suspicious is happening on the street.
A third option being used in her neighborhood is a virtual block watch utilizing the Next Door website and email for contacting and updating neighbors.
Ms. Style said they are in the process of updating the “starting a block watch” kit to include the virtual block watch information.
She said if there is interest in starting block watches in Allentown, she would return to meet with the group and explain the steps.