Parking poses problems for Honesdale businesses

By OWEN WALSH
Posted 8/18/20

HONESDALE, PA — Parking has been a problem in downtown Honesdale for as long as Todd Stephens can remember. He and his brother, Wayne, operate Stephens Pharmacy on the corner of Eleventh and …

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Parking poses problems for Honesdale businesses

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HONESDALE, PA — Parking has been a problem in downtown Honesdale for as long as Todd Stephens can remember. He and his brother, Wayne, operate Stephens Pharmacy on the corner of Eleventh and Main streets. Though they have made a conscious effort to remain in the borough rather than relocate to a larger location elsewhere, the lack of parking spots makes it hard to justify that decision.

“This is very much a walking town,” Todd said. “When these little towns were built, everybody walked everywhere, they didn’t have cars.”

Over the years, the Stephens have made several investments in an effort to open up some spaces. More than 10 years ago, they purchased a dilapidated building nearby and had it knocked down, giving them eight new spots for employee parking. Then they knocked down a neighboring apartment building which cost them some revenue from rent but opened up 15 new spaces for employees and customers. Most recently, the Stephens have decided to rent parking lots from two nearby churches, which require ample parking on the weekends but virtually none throughout the week.

And still, parking remains the “number one problem” for Todd and Wayne. And they’re not the only ones looking to address these issues.

Earlier this year, the Greater Honesdale Partnership (GHP) received a $90,000 grant to complete a downtown revitalization plan. When executive director Lisa Burns first began meeting with local business owners to find out what kinds of issues they wanted to see revitalized, parking was at the top of the list. “I hear a lot about parking,” Burns said in January.

An initial parking study during a Tuesday in June found that 80 percent of all the borough’s spaces were available. That figure, however, isn’t necessarily representative, Burns noted, given that Honesdale isn’t exactly bustling on a Tuesday, especially in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

One solution the GHP has been considering is building a parking garage in the borough. In addition to the obvious advantage of creating more parking spaces, Burns said that a garage could also allow building owners to renovate their second and third floors into high-end apartments.

“In Honesdale, no one is able to develop their second or third floors because they need a certain percentage of parking spots per tenant and/or a parking lot within 700 feet of the front door,” Burns said, adding that embarking on such a project would be contingent on approval from the borough.

Residents shouldn’t expect to see construction of a parking garage anytime soon, however. Burns called the garage a five or 10-year goal. One of the biggest obstacles is funding. Because 501(c)(6) organizations like GHP do not qualify for CARES Act relief funding, the COVID-19 pandemic has been draining. Burns said it will be a while before PA’s Department of Community and Economic Development will have the necessary funding for a large-scale project like a parking garage.

The Stephens say that there’s a different solution that’s more readily available: turning vacant lots into municipal parking lots. Multiple lots throughout the borough could help a wider range of businesses, Wayne said.

“A centralized solution is not a solution,” he said. “It needs to be straight across the whole town.”

 “Without even thinking about it,” Todd named three unused lots that he said could easily be utilized for parking: a small lot right next to the Shell gas station on North Main Street, the site of a former shoe factory on Thirteenth and East streets, and a large dirt and blacktop lot around Twelfth Street and Industrial Point where the old ambulance building used to be.

Todd said that parking doesn’t seem to be a priority of the Honesdale Borough Council. He thinks it should be, because not all businesses will be as committed to staying on Main Street as he and Wayne are. Instead, many shop owners have the attitude, “If I can’t expand my business in downtown Honesdale, then I’m leaving,” he said.

“The borough needs to really consider [parking] as a long-term strategy... it’s why some [business owners] don’t even come here.”

At a recent borough meeting, after receiving a request from Stephens Pharmacy to consider changing the limits on some parking meters, the council agreed that it was time to conduct “some sort of official study” in an attempt to find broader parking solutions. At this point, it’s unclear whether or not the council’s own study will be coordinated or independent from GHP’s ongoing revitalization efforts. Burns noted that two council members and borough secretary/manager Judy Poltanis are on the GHP’s design steering committee and are “heavily involved” in the revitalization study.

GHP will be holding a public meeting in September to inform and hear feedback from residents about its overall revitalization efforts. The date and location have not yet been announced.

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