FREELAND, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) –A controversy is unfolding in a Luzerne County community. It all has to do with parking, or lack of it. Business owners in downtown Freeland say the closure of a parking lot will hurt their bottom line now and in the future.
The controversy pits those business owners against the Freeland Business Development Authority, which owns the parking lot and many in that small community say ’tis not the season to close a place where holiday shoppers can park and then shop in the downtown.
This snow-covered lot on Centre Street in Freeland might not look like much now, but up until a few days ago it was used as a parking lot. Tony Saullo comes to Woodies Luncheonette with his family quite a bit. On this day he found a parking spot but he says that is not always the case in Freeland.
“It’s incredibly important especially for a place like this. There is very little parking and it’s convenient for us to take my mother-in-law. Parking nearby we don’t have to walk three blocks,” Saullo said.
The lot was closed on Tuesday. The owner: The Freeland Business Development Authority, saying it was an insurance liability risk. They placed poles around the parking lot to keep vehicles out. Dave Purcell owns the Woodies Luncheonette.
“I was disappointed because it hurts the downtown businesses. We have eight businesses here in this block and everybody was utilizing that lot,” Purcell said.
Purcell said he doesn’t understand the reasoning for its closure.
“Part of revitalizing any downtown has to start with parking. I mean there are people who told me straight out they wouldn’t put a business in this town because of the lack of parking,” Purcell said.
Shayne Balliet won a seat on Freeland Council and will take office in January. Council appoints members to the Freeland Business Development Authority. He thinks the borough can help resolve the controversy.
“Their issue is lack of insurance or liability concerns with the lot. I believe that if it’s owned by council, the borough could take care of it. The borough can plow it,” Balliet said.
The president of the Business Authority tells Eyewitness News “the main issue is liability. We understand the concerns of business owners but we have to be cautious with the use of that lot. But we are not ruling out reopening it for parking,” according to President Jim Laputka.
John Kish actually parked in the lot Friday, unaware that it was closed. He hopes something can be worked out.
“There’s no parking down here. If they don’t leave this open to the public all these businesses, they are going to go under,” Kish said.
Laputka says he is confident that this controversy can be resolved sooner than later. Business owners say they hope that will be the case.