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Zoners on the offense Riverwalck parking leads to hearing

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    Gail Maholick/TIMES NEWS Construction at Riverwalck Restaurant continues as owner Mark Stemler prepares to seek a variance from the Parryville Zoning Hearing Board for parking issues at 7 p.m. Monday.
Published October 05. 2009 02:55PM

A "stop work order" and an impending zoning hearing before the Parryville Zoning Hearing Board at 7 p.m. Monday has not caused a halt in construction of a large addition to Riverwalck Restauraut at 8 Centre St., Parryville.

Workers continued to work on the addition throughout the week.

Last week, Parryville Zoning officer Richard Fedor informed council that he had begun enforcement proceedings against restaurant owner Mark Stemler because of numerous parking complaints.

On busy weekend nights, cars are parked all along Route 248 adjacent to the restaurant.

Fedor said when that he reviewed a zoning permit issued last year to Riverwalck, it noted enough parking for 91 seats.

During a recent evaluation, Fedor counted 78 parking spaces or enough parking for 117 seats, but when he counted the seats in the restaurant, there were 217, which would require 145 off-street parking spaces or nearly twice as much parking.

Fedor said his evaluation did not take into consideration the downstairs banquet hall that was under renovation.

Fedor said he advised Stemler on Aug. 31 that he was in violation of the Parryville Borough Zoning Ordinance and explained that he had the right to appeal to the Zoning Hearing Board for a variance or to challenge Fedor's decision.

During this appeal period, Stemler applied for a building permit to erect the addition that will more than double Riverwalck's floor space. But until the parking issue is settled satisfactorily, Fedor said that he would not process any more permits.

"It is apparent that adding on to a restaurant for which a zoning hearing is scheduled to address off-street parking issues is interrelated," said Fedor.

He said that he issued the "stop work order" on Sept. 9, when Stemler failed to comply with previous discussions to secure permits for the addition he is in the process of erecting on the property.

"It is apparent that Stemler has chosen to ignore my conservations and conversations with the Duane Dellecker, building code officer," said Fedor. "Stemler failed to secure permits and therefore he is in violation of the Zoning Ordinance of the Borough of Parryville."

Fedor said he notified Stemler that he must cease all construction activity immediately until the proper permits are secured or further action will be taken by his office.

Stemler does have the right to appeal.

Fedor said that Stemler's failure to comply with his notice, unless extended by the Zoning Hearing Board, constitutes a violation which may result in fines of up to $100 a day for each day of violation, plus court costs and reasonable attorney fees. Each day may constitute a separate violation.

Attorney Joseph Sebelin of Jim Thorpe said that Fedor's remarks at the last week's council meeting were inappropriate.

"My client, Mark Stemler, has spent a great deal of money to build a quality restaurant," said attorney Sebelin. "The restaurant is not a seedy, back room barroom. It's a quality restaurant."

Sebelin said that Parryville's Zoning Ordinance on parking spaces - one parking space for each 1.5 people - is not an adequate ratio.

Sebelin said that in past year's Walck's Restaurant had served up to180 people at a time and there was no complaint about parking. Stemler took over the Walck's Restaurant over a year ago and changed the menu to a primarily more casual dining featuring a Tex-Mex style menu.

"For example, in Palmerton, the has a ratio is one parking space to four seats, which is more realistic," he said. "Most cars have at least two people and they are not even counting the motorcycle parking spaces at all. It doesn't matter to them that two people are usually on each motorcycle at any given point."

Attorney Sebelin said that Riverwalck is an existing business, with unusual circumstances of being surrounded by the river on two sides and bordered by Route 248 and a bridge on the other two sides. He said that the board should be able to see that Riverwalck has unusual circumstances and that the ratio needs to be changed.

"We are trying to do everything right," said attorney Sebelin. "We have lease rights to additional parking on a road across the street."

Attorney Sebelin said that Riverwalck's new construction has nothing to do with the parking issue and that his client has applied for a variance.

"The issue with the parking is independent of the other permits," said attorney Sebelin. "For the zoning officer to tie them together is not fair to my client."

Attorney Sebelin said that someone could put in a an adult book store and not have any problems with parking.

"This property was an established restaurant since the 1950s before zoning," said attorney Sebelin. "All my client wants to do, is serve the community by offering good food to the area."

Attorney Sebelin said that after the bridge is completed, he is hoping that the residents of Parryville become customers at Riverwalck.

"Mark wants to provide a service to the community," he said. "He has hired local people, who will pay earned income taxes and pay other taxes to the local community."

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