Parking Requirement Could Deter Business Growth

Bloomsburg Town Council is considering an ordinance that would require that any new development in the downtown commercial district provide off-street parking. This requirement could also apply to existing buildings with a change of use, such as if an office space became a retail store.

The intent of this change is to keep public parking available for customers. The Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Bloomsburg Inc. support this goal and feel off-street parking should be required for new housing in the district. However, developers should have the flexibility to provide that parking in other areas, so that existing buildings are not turned into parking lots.

We also feel that commercial developments in the downtown should not have to provide off-street parking, as such a requirement would deter business development and growth.

A hearing is scheduled for Monday, August 29th at 6 p.m. at Town Hall, followed by a special meeting of Council to vote on the proposal. We are asking that the proposed ordinance be revised in order to encourage long-term, balanced growth in Downtown Bloomsburg.

Click here for the proposed ordinance.

Click here for our complete statement.

Chamber Supports Local Enforcement of Licensed Establishments

On Tuesday, the Chamber issued a statement supporting Berwick Borough’s request to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) to monitor noise from establishments with liquor licenses. State statute prohibits any amplified music or entertainment from being heard beyond the property line of a licensed establishment. The Borough’s request is an attempt to support local establishments that wish to provide live entertainment to customers.   The state statute allows municipalities to request an exemption and have a local ordinance apply in its place. A public hearing was held by the PCLB on Tuesday morning in Berwick to gather input on the request.

The Chamber Board approved a statement in support of the Borough’s request which was provided at the hearing.   “The Borough has an established Noise Control Ordinance (99-3) to protect the safety and wellbeing of its citizens. It has demonstrated responsible application of this Ordinance in balancing the interests of citizens and businesses. It is therefore reasonable that the Borough take responsibility for enforcing noise violations at liquor license establishments as it does for all other entities, rather than subjecting these establishments to a separate, more restrictive set of guidelines.”

The PLCB can take up to 30 days to issue a decision on the request following the hearing.

Autoneum and Former Windsor Foods Protected from Flooding

From SEDA-Council of Governments

A major industry and employer in Bloomsburg is now protected from flooding, thanks to the Columbia County Flood Risk Management project.   An Aug. 5 inspection of the U-shaped flood wall that surrounds Autoneum North America Inc. and the former Windsor Foods site showed that both places would be protected if there was a flood. With over 700 employees, Autoneum is the largest private employer in Columbia County. While the former Windsor Foods site is vacant, the building is now protected to maintain its potential for reuse, industrial development, and local employment.   The $30 million project is on-budget and is 95 percent complete with full completion expected by November, said Glenda Ruch, who oversees the project for SEDA-Council of Governments (SEDA-COG) on behalf of Columbia County.

“It’s hard to believe that construction of the project started in March 2015 with the official groundbreaking in April, and we are now so close to completion,” Ruch said. “Achieving this project milestone is a tremendous accomplishment.”   While work will continue on the project over the next few months, most of the major construction components have been completed or are almost done. Some of the remaining work includes the installation of lighting on the H-pile wall behind the fairgrounds grandstand, finalizing the storm water and sanitary sewer pump stations, installation of fencing, seeding, and paving.   The completed flood wall is about 1 mile long and up to 16 feet high. The height is based on the highest flood on record ─ Tropical Storm Lee in 2011. The wall is 1.5 feet above that storm’s level.

The system consists of three types of flood protection. H-piles with pre-cast concrete panels inserted are used near Autoneum with openings in the wall and closures for high water situations. Mechanically stabilized earthen levees have been constructed along Schley and West 11th streets, along with conventional earthen levees. There will be eight closure structures in the system.   To remove water away from the flood wall, a pump station for storm water was built along Snyder’s Run near Autoneum. Three pump stations for sanitary sewage also were built on Scott and West 11th streets.

Chamber Asks for Additional Study on Downtown Parking

Bloomsburg Town Council has advanced a recommendation from its Parking Sub-Committee to extend enforcement of metered parking spaces in the downtown to include Saturdays. The thinking behind the expansion is to deter people from “warehousing” vehicles in public parking spaces, keeping parking available for customers. With limited data, the Chamber is requesting additional study to determine the extent of the perceived problem.

The Parking Sub-Committee has recommended to Council that parking meter enforcement be changed from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, to 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday. In late 2015, Council was considering changing the times to 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday. Area businesses joined The Chamber in expressing concerns about that plan and the Parking Sub-Committee was formed to develop more comprehensive strategies for managing parking inventory in the downtown commercial district.

The Sub-Committee recently recommended the change in beginning enforcement time to 10 a.m. based upon when the majority of retail businesses open. Committee members felt consistency of hours for all six days was important to reduce consumer confusion. While the recommended changes were supported by a majority of Sub-Committee members, Chamber President Fred Gaffney suggested further study on the weekend parking trends before implementing any changes. A study conducted by Bloomsburg University students and faculty in 2014 shows a slight increase in parking utilization on Saturdays (56% compared to 46.2% Sunday through Thursday). However, the study did not examine the nature of the increased utilization, which could include customers. The concern is that Saturday enforcement could deter customers from coming to the downtown on Saturdays, harming the businesses the change is intended to help.

The final report of the Downtown Revitalization Plan will also be delivered to Downtown Bloomsburg Inc. this month and will contain recommendations on parking management and encouraging business development. A majority of the members of the Governmental Affairs Committee of the Chamber and Visitors Bureau agreed that no changes to parking enforcement should be made pending review of the Plan and further study of weekend parking utilization.

On Monday, August 8th, the majority of Council members voted to advertise the proposed enforcement time change. A final vote is expected within the next month. The Chamber is seeking input from businesses on this proposal through a brief poll. The results will be provided to Town Council prior to that vote.

Businesses Share Views on Block Party

The annual Block Party held in mid-April each year in Bloomsburg has a significant impact on the Town, particularly the downtown. In a recent poll of businesses in the Bloomsburg area, the majority of respondents indicated that the event is a negative both for businesses and the Town. The results of the poll are being shared with Town Council and the Town/Gown Relations Committee in discussing how to manage the event going forward.

Representatives of fifty-one businesses in the Bloomsburg area participated in the poll, with 47 of those being located in the downtown. Of those 51 respondents, only five restaurants reported an increase in business because of the event. Thirty-three percent of the total respondents reported some decrease in business. Nine businesses, representing 18 percent of respondents, did not open because of the event, while another 8 percent closed early.   Only 10 percent, or five respondents, felt Block Party is a positive for local businesses, 63 percent felt it’s a negative. Only 4%, or two of 51 businesses, felt Block Party is a positive for Bloomsburg, 75 percent felt it’s a negative, 22 percent were neutral.

A summary of the poll results is available here.