WILKES-BARRE — The owner of the former Hotel Sterling property said he pays the city parking tax for the on-site lot, but it still won’t stop a lawsuit aimed to shut it down.
The Wilkes-Barre Parking Authority intends to file a complaint next week in Luzerne County Court over what its executive director Tom Torbik called an “illegal” lot on the Sterling site.
“It makes no difference to me,” Torbik said Thursday when informed of the tax payment. “We want it closed,” he said.
At Wednesday’s Zoning Hearing Board meeting, Torbik opposed granting a variance so the dirt lot could operate for two years while plans are solidified for the $35 million mixed-use project proposed for the site where the hotel stood at West Market and North River streets.
Torbik has objected to the existence of the 200-car lot, charging that it’s been taking customers and bringing in $13,000 of monthly revenue. He questioned whether the 8 percent tax was being collected.
Property owner Hysni “Sam” Syla provided a copy of the August financial report for the downtown lot that makes up most of the 2 acres of real estate his business, H&N Investments LLC, purchased in June from the city for $600,000.
The report, prepared by LAZ Parking Management of Hartford, Conn., included the payment of the tax assessed for each space. It listed a gross revenue of $13,695 for the month minus $1,014.44 for the parking tax and a net revenue of $12,680.56.
The report also contained entries for the two previous months:
• June, $3,402 gross, $252 tax, $3,150 net.
• July, $8,655 gross, $641.11 tax, $8,013.89 net.
City Administrator Ted Wampole disagreed with calling the lot “illegal.” The city allowed parking on the site when it owned the property. The new owner went before the zoning board because a parking lot is not a permitted use for the property, he noted.
“We have to discuss it,” Wampole said of the lot. “Because there was no action there was nothing deemed to be illegal,” he added. H&N Investments withdrew its request for the variance.
City council chairman Tony Brooks and councilwoman Beth Gilbert were the only two of the five council members who responded Thursday to calls for comment on the lot.
“There really is nothing we can do besides publicly voice our opinion on the matter,” Gilbert said. “In my opinion, since it is operating illegally, I do not see why the zoning office would not force them to cease operation.”
Brooks wants to focus on the big picture and ensure city officials stay on top of the project. “My concern is keeping their eye on the ball for the long-term development,” Brooks said.
Reach Jerry Lynott at 570-991-6120 or on Twitter @TLJerryLynott.