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Riverwalck parking issue decision delayed

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    Gail Maholick/TIMES NEWS Attorney Joseph Sebelin and Mark Stemler, owner of Riverwalck Restaurant, Parryville, explain blueprints to the Parryville Zoning Hearing Board. Stemler requested a variance on parking issues at the restaurant. The board requested the borough and the applicants submit findings of fact to Att. Steve Serfass by Oct. 13. A finding will be rendered at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 21.
Published October 05. 2009 02:55PM

After hearing hours of testimony on a parking issue at Riverwalck Restaurant on Monday, the Parryville Zoning Hearing Board voted to wait until Oct. 21 to announce their decision.

The board was sitting on an appeal by Mark Stemler of Riverwalck Restaurant.

After listening to the testimony, the board met in executive session for a lengthy period with Att. Michael Greek, representing Parryville Zoning Officer Richard Fedor and Att. Joseph Sebelin, Stemler's legal representative, before Att. Steve Serfass made an announcement that both the applicant and the borough may choose to submit Finding of Fact documents to the his office by Oct. 13. Serfass said that the hearing will then reconvene at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 21 at the Parryville Fire Co. when a decision will be announced.

The hearing had started about a half-hour late on Monday, because the many visitors could not fit into the borough hall where the meeting was originally scheduled, so it had to be moved to the fire company hall to provide enough seating for the approximately 50 people in the audience.

Stemler was before the board to request a variance that would allow his restaurant to comply with the Parryville's Zoning Ordinance in regard to parking issues at his restaurant.

Currently, the Parryville Zoning Ordinance limits the ratio of parking for one parking space for each 1.5 seats. Sebelin, who has offices in Jim Thorpe, Northampton and Palmerton, said that the ratio would be more fair if it required one parking space for each four seats, which is the same ratio that is required in restaurants in neighboring Lehighton and Palmerton.

Stemler has been under a "stop work order" to halt in construction of a large addition to Riverwalck Restauraut, which is located at 8 Centre St., Parryville until the hearing was scheduled.

Last week, Fedor informed council that he had begun enforcement proceedings against Stemler because of numerous parking complaints. Fedor said that on busy weekend nights, cars are parked all along Route 248 adjacent to the restaurant.

Fedor testified that when he reviewed a zoning permit issued last year to Riverwalck, it noted enough parking for 91 seats, but 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 testified that he advised Stemler on Aug. 31 that he was in violation of the Parryville Borough Zoning Ordinance and that he would not process any more permits.

After Fedor laid down his case, Att. Joseph Sebelin laid out Stemler's case, which centered on the issue that the property had been a restaurant since the 1950s and should be grandfathered. He said that he can produce people who will testify that the restaurant in the past served in excess of 180 people at a time, and there were never complaints about parking, despite people being parked all over the place.

Att. Sebelin said that Stemler spent a great deal of money to build a quality restaurant.

He said that the zoning officer did not take into consideration that the seating outdoors is seasonal and that many of the patrons drive motorcycles who want to sit on the outdoor decks. He said the decks will not be used during rainy and cold weather.

"I have a problem most restaurants would love to have," said Stemler. Stemler said that before he added the outdoor decks, he was bleeding green and the restaurant was in deep financial trouble. He said he had to lay people off until he added the decks.

"They approved the decks," he said. "I had permits for the decks. What did they think I was going to do with them?"

Stemler said that Riverwalck has turned into a destination restaurant that is utilized by families.

Attorney Sebelin said that Riverwalck is an existing business, with unusual circumstances of being surrounded by the river, the bridge and a busy highway. He said that the board should be able to see that Riverwalck has unusual circumstances and that the ratio needs to be changed because it is unfair.

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."

Testifying in Stemler's behalf was Frank Neff, a resident of Parryville, who noted that he had been a bartender in the former Walck's Restaurant. He said that Walck's had been a busy restaurant in the past, and no one had ever complained about the parking issues.

Several employees and former employees also testified that parking had never been an issue in the past.

Only one woman made a complaint. She said that the restaurant shouldn't need to have music every night because her husband goes to bed at 6 p.m. and gets up for work at 1 a.m. She said the music keeps him awake.

Board members Scott Snyder, Christine Applegate and Malcolm Campbell did not make any comments or ask questions during the proceeding.

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