Decision delayed on Sterling lot parking; concerns aired by parking authority

By Jerry Lynott - [email protected]
The Wilkes-Barre Zoning Hearing Board continued a hearing until next month on a request by the owner of the former Hotel Sterling property to temporarily use the site for parking until a proposed $35 million mixed-use project gets underway. The Wilkes-Barre Parking Authority has concerns about using the empty lot for parking. - Times Leader file photo

WILKES-BARRE — A decision to continue to allow parking on the former Hotel Sterling property until the site is developed was delayed for at least a month to figure out the precise wording of an application for a zoning variance.

George Albert, the consulting engineer for H&N Investments LLC, the owner of the site, agreed to modify the application presented Wednesday to the Wilkes-Barre Zoning Hearing Board.

Board solicitor Charles McCormick suggested the change to avoid litigation that could delay the proposed $35 million project to construct condominiums, retail and office space, and a hotel on the property at North River and West Market streets.

“I don’t think anybody wants to tie this parcel up … in legal battles,” McCormick said.

A battle is brewing with the Wilkes-Barre Parking Authority against the competing Sterling lot and a decision at the board’s next meeting Sept. 19 could resolve the dispute.

Tom Torbik, executive director of the parking authority, said he sent a certified letter to Wilkes-Barre city council Tuesday asking it to refer his concerns about the lot to the zoning board.

“We’re still pursuing the idea that there’s no license, no city (parking) tax being paid and it’s a non-conforming use,” Torbik said.

City Administrator Ted Wampole said he disagreed with the authority’s approach. He echoed Albert’s argument that parking on the lot will be temporary until the project gets underway.

“This is not the future of this property,” Albert told the zoning board.

H&N is asking for approval for temporary parking, Albert said. “We anticipate this parking lasting no longer than 18 months while we work to develop the site,” he said.

By then, Albert noted, the major tenant of the lot, Berkshire Hathaway GUARD Insurance, will have transitioned to its new headquarters on Public Square and worked out a parking agreement at the city-owned James F. Conahan Intermodal Transportation Facility’s garage.

But McCormick pointed out the application has to be reworded to comply with zoning rules.

The paperwork submitted by H&N sought a variance for an “unimproved on-grade limited parking area.” But the zoning ordinance defines limited parking area as “a parking area used exclusively for the parking of vehicles by residents of the neighborhood in which it is located” and not commuters like those that park in the Sterling lot.

Taking the language of the application and Albert’s testimony into consideration, McCormick said, “You’re not going to fit that definition of our statute.”

McCormick acknowledged he was uncertain what the precise definition was for the use sought by H&N.

“We’ll figure it out,” Albert said. He agreed to work with William Harris, the city’s director of planning and zoning, to determine the proper language.

In other business, the board:

• Approved a special exception to permit the Quick Food Mart at 544 N. Main St. to sell beer.

• Approved a special exception to permit Louis Weibrecht to operate a gas station, deli and used car sales lot at 680 Hazle St.

• Denied an application by Ana Perdomo to open a unisex barbershop at 3 Regent St.

The Wilkes-Barre Zoning Hearing Board continued a hearing until next month on a request by the owner of the former Hotel Sterling property to temporarily use the site for parking until a proposed $35 million mixed-use project gets underway. The Wilkes-Barre Parking Authority has concerns about using the empty lot for parking.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/web1_parkinglot-1.jpgThe Wilkes-Barre Zoning Hearing Board continued a hearing until next month on a request by the owner of the former Hotel Sterling property to temporarily use the site for parking until a proposed $35 million mixed-use project gets underway. The Wilkes-Barre Parking Authority has concerns about using the empty lot for parking. Times Leader file photo

By Jerry Lynott

[email protected]

Reach Jerry Lynott at 570-991-6120 or on Twitter @TLJerryLynott.

Reach Jerry Lynott at 570-991-6120 or on Twitter @TLJerryLynott.