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Altoona officials seek paved lot at longtime garage

Wednesday, November 14, 2018
Julian Emerson | Leader-Telegram

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Photo by Dan Reiland | Leader-Telegram

ALTOONA - For years vehicles have pulled into and out of the unpaved parking space at Arnie's Service Center, tracking dirt and other debris from the auto repair garage site onto Spooner Avenue and dirtying stormwater runoff, city officials say.

The lack of a parking lot and the numerous junked vehicles parked outside the garage along one of Altoona's main traffic routes have long prompted concerns in the city, but numerous past attempts to convince the business' owner, Paul Johnson, to clean up the site and pave the parking lot have failed.

That could be changing. On Monday the Altoona Plan Commission voted to require that Johnson have a signed contract with a company to pave the lot at the business by the commission's next meeting on Dec. 10.

The commission could have revoked Johnson's conditional use permit that allows him to operate a vehicle repair business at the site at 2351 Spooner Ave., or could have issued daily fines totaling $432.50 for his failure to pave half of the required lot space by this fall as required as part of a city order last November.

Instead, the commission decided to move up the deadline for completion of the second half of the project from November 2019 to Aug. 30 of next year as well as to require the signed agreement by next month.

"This has been an issue for a long time," city planner Joshua Clements said. "There was a deadline that was very clearly articulated and he didn't do anything about it."

Johnson has acknowledged receiving notices from the city this summer and fall regarding the pending deadline to pave part of his parking lot. The cost of paving the lot is an issue, he said, but he plans to have that work done. 

Plan Commission members could have imposed daily fines against Johnson and/or revoked his conditional use permit, Clements said. However, city officials try to work with businesses to reach compliance, he said, not put them out of business.

"Our approach is to have ordinances met, not to make this punitive," Clements said.

Paving the Arnie's parking lot would reduce material tracked from that lot that pollutes stormwater, Clements said. State Department of Natural Resources regulations require city stormwater collections must meet specified cleanliness standards, and doing so with especially dirty water requires added city expenditures.

"This is about protecting water quality," he said.

City officials also have long been concerned about impounded vehicles stored at Arnie's, creating an eyesore. Johnson has worked in recent times toward cleaning up the site, Clements said, although more remains to be done. 

'Cautiously optimistic'

Arnie's isn't alone among Altoona businesses that have historically failed to comply with a city ordinance that requires business parking lots be paved. When Clements was hired in 2016, one of his job priorities was to crack down on offenders with dirt or gravel lots.

He took an inventory of businesses and listed eight, including five along Spooner Avenue, as high-priority sites that needed to meet the requirement. Since then most of those companies have complied with the regulation or are in the process of doing so, Clements said.

"We really have made some progress in that area," he said.

However, Johnson has not worked to meet the parking lot requirement, Clements said. In the past city officials have threatened action against Arnie's but ultimately have not followed up on the matter. Now Plan Commission members appear ready to do that.

Plan Commission member Barb Oas-Holmes said the commission is adamant that Johnson pledge money toward a parking lot as part of the Dec. 10 agreement, given his past reluctance to complete that work.

"We have given (Johnson) extension upon extension," she said. "We have tried to work with him as best we can, but now this needs to happen."

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