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Committee of the Whole Summary 05/17/21



May 17, 2021
5:00 P.M.
Virtual Meeting


J. Cepeda-Freytiz, M. Goodman-Hinnershitz, D. Reed, L. Sihelnik, J. Waltman (all electronically), M. Ventura, S. Marmarou (via dial-in)

L. Kelleher, W. Stoudt, F. Lachat, S. Smith, F. Denbowski, S. Rugis, J. Abodalo, J. Kelly, J. Long, A. Amoros, N. Matz, N. Judge, A. Acevedo, C. Crespo. D. Dixon, P. Vernon (Stantec representatives)

The meeting was called to order at approximately 5:15 pm by Mr. Waltman. He noted that prior to the start of this meeting Council met in an executive session about a personnel matter. Due to the COVID-19 Emergency Declaration, the public is prohibited from physically attending the meeting. The meeting is convened via virtual app.

  1. Parking Authority – Parking Stall Ordinance Amendments

    Mr. Matz explained the rationale behind the proposed amendment to reinstate the use of parking stalls in City neighborhoods. He stated that some park their vehicles in a way that reserves parking spaces for members of the household when they return home.

    Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz expressed the belief that the use of parking stalls will not be beneficial in all neighborhoods, especially in congested neighborhoods as the installation of stalls will decrease the amount of parking spaces per block. Mr. Matz offered to perform an assessment of the various neighborhoods prior to having parking stalls installed

    Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned if the use of parking stall lines will be city-wide or just in certain areas. Mr. Matz stated that currently stalls are only in the metered areas. He agreed with the need to review the parking demand in neighborhoods prior to the installation of parking stalls.

    Ms. Reed inquired about the use of parking stalls in other 3rd class-sized cities. She also noted the need to consider the geographical terrain and density in neighborhoods.

    Mr. Matz expressed the belief that the stalls will be more helpful in the downtown area and in dense areas than in areas without parking stress.

    Mr. Waltman expressed the belief that the installation of stalls will eliminate parking spaces in areas that are already experiencing parking stress. For example, you could probably fit three (3) compact cars within two (2) parking stalls. He noted that neighborhoods without parking stalls know how to park more efficiently and he expressed the belief that now is not the right time to add parking stalls in neighborhoods.

    Mr. Matz agreed to study the situation prior to installing parking stalls.

    Mr. Waltman suggested providing a mechanism to ease parking stress, not create additional parking stress. Mr. Matz stated that parking stalls are standardly 18-24 feet in length, which is much larger than the amount of space required by the average compact car.

    Mr. Waltman noted the need to make deliberate decisions that improve parking. Mr. Matz stated that currently this parking stall fine will only apply in the downtown metered areas.

    Ms. Sihelnik stated that the ordinance, as written, will apply only to the downtown areas. Mr. Waltman disagreed noting that the ordinance would apply city-wide unless the ordinance is revised to be area specific.

    Mr. Matz expressed that the ordinance applies only to the downtown as the RPA (reading Parking Authority) does not have the authority to paint lines on the City’s streets without the approval of the City.

    Mr. Waltman stated that the ordinance requires revision to redefine the area(s) that the ordinance will apply to.

    Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz agreed, noting that the RPA’s neighborhood surface parking lot initiative may solve some of the parking stress. She added that if one person in a neighborhood parks over the lines a domino effect will be created forcing all to park over the lines.

    Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz reported that there are currently parking stall lines in the 900 block of Washington Street, a block that does not have parking meters, and she inquired which other blocks have parking stall lines.

    Mr. Matz stated that the RPA will only enforce in the metered areas if the proposed ordinance is approved.

    Ms. Reed agreed that the growth of surface parking lots in neighborhoods will ease the current parking stress. She noted the need for stronger enforcement of existing parking ordinances to stop parking within intersections, fire hydrants, etc. She stressed the need to put teeth behind enforcement to regain control.

    Ms. Ventura agreed that the City currently experiences a high volume of parking stress and she noted that parking in tight spaces can cause damage to cars. She suggested testing the stalls on wider streets rather than half streets like Birch St.

    Mr. Matz was asked to revise and resubmit the proposed ordinance.

  2. Sustainability Coordinator Introduction

    Mr. Amoros introduced Nicole Judge, the City’s Sustainability Coordinator, who brings a tremendous amount of experience and education to the position.

    Ms. Judge highlighted her experience in the sustainability field at businesses such as Carpenter and Bridgestone. She displayed a slide showing her plans to move the City’s sustainability plan forward. She stated that the internal ESG committee will be restarted and utilize six (6) subcommittees to develop various policies around energy, zero waste, etc. and to realign the City’s objectives.

  3. Downtown Plus

    Mr. Abodalo introduced Mr. Vernon and Mr. Dixon from Stantec, the consulting firm that is preparing the City’s Downtown Plus Study. He stated that while the study was originally due in July, an additional 30 days may be required.

    Mr. Dixon introduced the entire Stantec team that is assigned to the Downtown Plus project. He noted that prior to the pandemic the study may have turned out much differently. He stated that going through the pandemic taught people many new things, as they now see the benefit to living in an urban environment that is close to shopping, restaurants and the riverfront.

    Mr. Dixon noted that in the 1970s the household norm was two (2) parents with kids and strong owner occupied housing. However now the norm is singles without kids and couples with single parents with kids and a larger amount of rentals. He noted that the pandemic has created a new working environment that relies less on formal office space and more on a mix of interoffice and work from home. He stated that 90% of the new jobs coming to market require some degree of college education and each of those jobs create an additional 5-6 new jobs.

    Mr. Dixon stated that the average fleet regenerates every 15 years and employs new advancements in technology which allows for the reduction in traffic lane width and requires less parking skills. He added that those relocating to urban life are more likely to use car services rather than carry the expense of owning a vehicle.

    Mr. Vernon explained that the study area was broken into three (3) areas – Central, Waterfront and Franklin Station. The study focuses on streets and circulation, parks and open space and buildings and land use and considers public engagement, planning and urban design and financial analysis and implementation to develop recommendations.

    Mr. Vernon explained that Stantec is just finishing the stakeholder interviews and entering into Month 2 activities. He stated that they expect to make a draft presentation to Council and the public in August, followed by the presentation on the final plan to Council and the public.

    Mr. Vernon displayed the digital whiteboard which will be used to create and launch the website that contains a community survey that will be shared broadly throughout the community on many platforms. He noted that this plan is being coordinated with the Desman parking study that is currently being prepared. He explained that the study recommendations will consider existing building conditions, vacancies and new development along with reimagining open space, the waterfront and the connectivity for vehicles, pedestrians and bikes.

    In response to a question from Ms. Reed, Mr. Dixon described the authenticity of the downtown area combined with Reading’s diverse community and developable riverfront. He also noted the challenges of recreating the downtown with a balance that is a draw for all communities.

    In response to a question from Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz, Mr. Dixon stated that due to the COVID created change in the workplace environment, they do not see the need for additional office space and the potential need to retrofit some office spaces into residential spaces. He noted the need to reconsider downtown uses and to educate developers on the proper use of the historic tax credit programs.

    Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz agreed with the need for less office space as many businesses and organizations have shifted to using smaller office spaces with employees alternating between working from home and from the office.

    Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz inquired about publicizing the survey. Mr. Vernon and Mr. Abodalo stated that the website will be widely broadcast throughout the community over many platforms, including social media.

    Mr. Abodalo questioned if the increase in downtown residential space will increase the population of the Reading School District. Mr. Vernon expressed the belief that over the next 10 years, the district will experience a decrease in population as the younger generation is choosing not to have children or delaying that decision. He stated that the new downtown residential spaces will be occupied mainly by empty nesters – single and couples.

  4. Other

    Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz reminded everyone about the recent interaction downtown business owners had with Property Maintenance Inspectors about the meeting planned for tomorrow at 9 am in front of the DoubleTree. She inquired about when Council will return to using the committee format.

    Mr. Waltman stated that that shift will most likely occur as Council considers issues associated with recommendations for the use of the ARP (American Rescue Plan) funding.

    Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz agreed, noting that she has been in the Finance Chair position for some time and she offered to help a different Council member transition to the position.

    Mr. Waltman stated that he has been working with Mr. Amoros on a priorities planning summit for June.

    Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz inquired about returning to in person public meetings due to the new CDC guidance.

    Mr. Waltman asked Ms. Kelleher to speak with the Fire Marshal about this issue.

    Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz stated that she is working with the administration to reconsider some public spaces.

    Ms. Reed noted that the partying at the Pagoda has resumed – afternoons through the early morning hours. Once again the noise is disturbing those who live in the Hessian Camp and North 14th Street areas. She stated that food vending trucks now park there which has attracted additional people.

    Mr. Waltman stated that if this is still a problem, a stiffer solution is required that will end this cat and mouse game. He asked Ms. Kelleher to add this issue to the May 24th COW.

    Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz stated that the problem has moved to other Skyline areas, including the Pagoda. She noted the good cooperation between Reading and Central Berks Police in responding to the complaints.

    Ms. Ventura agreed that this problem needs to be resolved for those who wish to enjoy the peace that the mountain side feature provides.

    Mr. Amoros stated that he has had a meeting with Ms. Kelleher and Sgt. Fegely about the quality of various quality of life ordinances, including the noise ordinance. He stated that the terms of the noise ordinance are sound but the penalty may need to be increased.

    Mr. Waltman asked Council to send solution ideas to Ms. Kelleher and Mr. Amoros.

    The meeting adjourned at approximately 7:08 pm.

Respectfully Submitted by
Linda A. Kelleher, CMC, City Clerk