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City Parking Authority Filescomplaint Over Hotel Sterling Lot

August 22, 2018 GMT

WILKES-BARRE — The city parking authority is filing a complaint with city council alleging that the new owner of the former Hotel Sterling lot is renting parking spaces there without proper zoning approval. Tom Torbik, authority executive director, told the board at a meeting on Tuesday that he sent a complaint to city council noting that a parking lot is a non-conforming use for the parcels, which extends from the northeast corner of Market and River streets to Franklin Street. Council will have 30 days to act on the complaint, which could mean referring it to the Office of Zoning and Planning for enforcement, Torbik said. After condemning the Hotel Sterling in 1998 and demolishing the historic structure in 2013 because it posed a safety hazard, the city acquired ownership of the property in 2015 and used it as a profit-producing parking lot while trying to find a buyer to develop the land. The city charged a flat rate of $45 per month to park there. Council in March approved selling the property to Gateway Center Associates, whose principal, Sam Syla, has plans for a $35 million mixed-use project at the site to include a hotel, condominiums and retail space. The $600,000 sale closed June 19. Project engineer George Albert said in March that the company’s goal was to break ground within 12 to 18 months of initiating the project. Since the new owner assumed control — H&N Investments LLC is the actual owner of the property, according to the deed — the permit parking rate increased to $60 per month, which still undercuts the parking authority’s rate of $70. Torbik said he was opposed to the city leasing spaces at the lower price, but the authority raised no objection because the revenue was going to benefit the city. But the city shouldn’t enable a private, for-profit company to undercut the parking authority’s rate, he said. H&N could rake in as much as $12,000 per month, or $144,000 annually, if 200 spaces are rented out. The city netted nearly $113,000 from permit fees for the lot in 2017. And it’s unclear whether H&N has yet applied for a private parking license from the city or is paying the 8 percent tax on parking revenues. That information wasn’t immediately available on Tuesday. Torbik said he offered — communicating via city officials — to overlook the company’s use of the parcels for permit parking if H&N agreed to stop within two months, but the owner would not agree to that. City Administrator Ted Wampole said he understands the authority board members’ perspective, but he thinks filing a compliant is unwarranted because he’s seen nothing to indicate that use of the parcel for permit parking is anything but short-term — until ground is broken for the project. Contact the writer: smocarsky@citizensvoice.com, 570-821-2110, @MocarskyCV