Bloomsburg Ordinance Change Seeks to Increase Parking Availability

Bloomsburg Town Council recently approved an amendment to its zoning ordinance with a goal of increasing the amount of public parking available for people who visit and work in the downtown. The changes, approved by Council at its December 10th meeting, require that any new residential development in the downtown commercial district provide private parking. The ordinance allows parking, including multi-level parking structures, to be developed within the district subject to certain criteria. Commercial uses and existing residential uses are not required to provide parking.

The changes had long been considered to reduce the strain on public parking without discouraging the development of housing.  Decades ago, the Town eliminated the need to provide parking for residential development to encourage a higher density of people living in the downtown. With the success of such development, the demand for permit parking increased and has impacted adjacent residential areas. While future demand should not be increased by new residential development, by providing greater flexibility for creating private parking, some of the current demand could also be reduced.

The Chamber and Downtown Bloomsburg Inc. worked with the Town on this ordinance over many months. These changes are an important step forward in Bloomsburg’s management of parking in the downtown. We look forward to discussing further improvements to parking management in 2019.

Revolving Car Loan Program Offers Low Interest Car Loans to Qualified Individuals and Families

Last year, the United Way of Columbia and Montour County, in partnership with Community Strategies Group and First Columbia Bank & Trust, initiated a revolving car loan program to assist individuals and families in need of transportation to help in gaining and/or keeping employment. Access (or lack thereof) to transportation in one of the top roadblocks to individuals and families gaining and keeping employment so that they can improve their lives and this program, which was started in 2017, is aiming to change that for qualified people in Columbia and Montour counties. 

There are currently openings for qualified individuals and families in both the Berwick and Danville areas, and because the program is a revolving loan, there will also soon be openings for people in Bloomsburg. In the one-and-a-half years since the program began, it has run with a 100% success rate. 

The program is for an individual or family that is currently unemployed or underemployed but could greatly increase their earnings if they had access to reliable transportation. Ideally, employment or an opportunity for greater employment will have been identified for the individual or family. Nonprofits, charities and other human services organizations are able to nominate a client who they believe is ready to make positive changes in their life and with transportation, will have the ability to pay back the auto loan and car insurance over time, along with other car maintenance expenses. Other eligibility requirement are outlined with the program application

Read more about how this program made a positive change for a local family in this Daily Item article from earlier this year. 

For more information or for questions about this program, please contact Adrienne Mael at the United Way of Columbia and Montour County by email or at 570-784-3134, or Beth Burke at Community Strategies Group by email or at 570-784-9373, ext. 113. 

Many Help to Make the Season Bright

By Tim Wagner, chair, Downtown Bloomsburg, Inc. board and Fred Gaffney, president, Columbia Montour Chamber; Downtown Bloomsburg, Inc. board member

This holiday season kicked off with a number of tremendous events to bring people to Bloomsburg. Holiday traditions continued while some new events were added. The board of Downtown Bloomsburg, Inc. (DBI) wishes to thank all of those who were involved in these events.

  • The first Coming Home for Christmas festival was held on North Market Street on Friday, which brought crafters, vendors, and visitors into the downtown. Proceeds from the event are to benefit worthy community causes.
  • Adjacent to the festival, Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble’s TreeFest got underway at the Caldwell Consistory thanks to the support of many volunteers and sponsoring organizations. TreeFest continues this weekend before the trees with be donated to area families.
  • BTE’s holiday production of “The Wizard of Oz” began with people lined up around the block to get in with donation items for local food pantries.
  • Another new event, WinterFest, was held Friday and Saturday at the Fairgrounds. The Fair Association lined up a wide variety of vendors and entertainment for families to enjoy.
  • On Friday evening, dozens of floats lit up the downtown in the WHLM Parade of Lights. Thanks to the Bloomsburg Rotary Club for supporting this year’s event.
  • Small Business Saturday highlighted the importance of supporting our local businesses. Thanks to The Exchange for organizing the American Express promotion.
  • DBI’s North Pole Express train rides were held once again Saturday and Sunday. Thanks to Service 1st Federal Credit Union for sponsoring this year’s event, as well as the other organizations that help make the rides possible, including Sherwin Williams, Community Strategies Group, North Shore Railroad, the SEDA-COG Joint Rail Authority, and Penn Valley Railroad.

A number of these activities would not have been possible without the support of the Town of Bloomsburg, including the Police Department. The Town also provided support for the decorations for the fountain, with thanks to Gary Vadakin for his 12th year of doing the decorating.

And the holiday activities are far from over. TreeFest continues for another weekend and “The Wizard of Oz” at BTE runs through Dec. 29. Santa is at TreeFest again this weekend before moving to Exclusively You. Check the schedule at visitbloomsburg.com and thanks to the support of First Columbia Bank & Trust and the Bloomsburg Volunteer Ambulance Association. Downtown businesses welcome you for shopping throughout the holiday season with free, two-hour parking on Main Street with free parking to be extended to the municipal lots as of Dec. 15. Members of the DBI Board coordinate the bagging of meters each year.

Finally, you may have noticed that the holiday decorations on the light posts along Main Street are brighter this year. Thanks to Mayor Bill Kreisher for coordinating the additional lights, Public Works for stringing them, and First Columbia Bank & Trust for covering the cost. With the efforts of so many, the season is truly bright in Bloomsburg!

Shopping for the Holidays

Attention senior holiday shoppers! rabbittransit’s paratransit service can help you visit your favorite shops this season. Senior Citizens who are 65 years of age or older are eligible for paratransit, often referred to as “shared ride,” which is bus service providing trips that are grouped together between multiple customers. Paratransit offers door-to-door service. Most shared ride destinations are within your county of residence, although rabbittransit also provides regular trips to adjacent counties based on demand. There may be a co-pay for each trip you take, but that depends on several different factors. There is a required application and reservation process. Contact the mobility planning department for more information at 1-800-632-9063. The rabbittransit staff will be happy to answer any questions and help any interested and eligible individuals begin using rabbittransit for all of their transportation needs.

LCP stands for Leadership, Community and Poverty for October’s Class

LCP class members help winterize the butterfly garden at the Bloomsburg Children’s Museum.

October provided a unique opportunity for Leadership Central Penn (LCP) participants. They were joined by five pediatric and pediatric resident physicians from Geisinger, as well as 38 Geisinger Health Plan employees for a day of collaboration and learning. The morning started with a brief introduction and explanation of the day from Adrienne Mael, CEO of United Way of Columbia and Montour County. Adrienne explained that the large group would be split into community project groups. The LCP class was joined by the Geisinger residents and went to assist with one of three projects: strategic planning brainstorming at the Bloomsburg Area YMCA, multipurpose room cleaning and organizing, or butterfly garden winterization at the Bloomsburg Children’s Museum.

When the projects were completed, it was off to the Caldwell Consistory for a poverty panel discussion.  The panel included Tom Dougher of the Gate House, Becky Stender of Central Susquehanna Opportunities-Community Action and Eileen Chapman from AGAPE. The group learned about rural homelessness and how organizations like the Gate House in Danville are trying to help. They heard about many community needs from food assistance to flood assistance and the many efforts of AGAPE and CSO. In the end, everyone learned that while they may be aware of poverty in our area, they don’t fully understand the depth and breadth. The only way to fully understand it is to experience it.

The poverty simulation held at the Caldwell Consistory.

After a great lunch from Lucy’s Kitchen & Catering, everyone got to learn first-hand what it is like to walk in the shoes of poverty for one month. The participants started by randomly selecting a card that then assigned them a real-life role in a family living in poverty. Some were a parent, a child, a grandparent, but each had unique issues to deal with due to their family’s situation. There were many struggles that plagued the families as the weeks went by. What bills could you afford to pay, what bills were the most important to pay, how do you get to work, how do you care for children, what do you do when school is closed, how do you find help, where do you look for help? The biggest challenge faced was figuring out where to start. The reality is poverty isn’t something people plan for and it also isn’t something that can be fixed by one nonprofit, charity or government agency.

When the day was done everyone shared how well they did, or didn’t do, and what they took away from the day. Some participants actually turned to crime and became Robin Hoods during the end of the month. Others lost their homes and children, and were defeated. Some managed, but barely. Only one group shared that they thought they did well with the hand they were dealt. All of the groups realized in the end that this is not a game, and that there is much work to be done to combat the issues of poverty in our area. We all can and need to be part of the solution.

The 2018-19 LCP program is sponsored by Geisinger Bloomsburg Hospital, Kawneer, PPL Electric Utilities, SEKISUI SPI, USG and Williams