Forgivable loans and grants could be in the future for Carlisle businesses as the borough council works through ways to bring the downtown back from the pandemic-induced closure.
“We will have at least $150,000 from the CARES Act funds to support local businesses and other entities,” said Deputy Mayor Sean Shultz during a Zoom meeting Friday with business owners.
A draft plan of the program is expected to be ready by Wednesday and will be followed by a limited five-day comment period. The plan then goes to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development for approval. HUD has a 45-day window in which to approve the plan, but borough officials said the window on approval has been shortened because the funds are considered a high priority.
“The program is intended to be in the form of grants or forgivable loans to local businesses to help you all get through the recovery to the extent we can assist that and further supplement any federal and state programs that you’ve been able to take part in,” Shultz said.
Friday’s meeting also included a discussion on how the borough can further support businesses by rolling back regulations or making adjustments to borough operations.
Assistant borough manager Owen Snyder said the staff has already started looking at ways to support outdoor seating for restaurants and what that could mean for parking in the borough.
One idea is to close the East Louther Street parking lot, located behind the first block of North Hanover Street, to parking to allow it to be used as an outdoor space for businesses, Borough Manager Susan Armstrong said.
Restaurant owners also floated the idea of blocking off parking spaces for outdoor dining and, in a slight variation, councilwoman Deb Fulham-Winston suggested the parking area could be used as a walkway to extend the space available for dining on the sidewalk.
Mark Malarich, the borough’s public works director, said PennDOT told borough officials that the borough controls the use of the street in regards to parking. The borough would have to put up barriers to protect those in the parking space whether it is used as a dining area or as a walkway. The borough would also have to provide appropriate Americans with Disabilities Act access.
Another possibility that has been discussed is closing some streets and alleys to give businesses more room to operate within social distancing guidelines. Mayor Tim Scott said “very preliminary discussions” have focused on the first blocks of North and South Pitt streets as well as some alleys in the area.
The talk of blocking off parking spaces or closing streets, however, brought questions from Stephanie Patterson Gilbert, owner of Georgie Lou’s Retro Candy and Gifts, about the borough’s strategy for making up those spaces and how it would ensure that the new uses wouldn’t exacerbate parking issues that downtown businesses already deal with.
Mayor Tim Scott said it was up to the businesses. If they value the parking more, they will take that into consideration and come up with a balance.
“As far as specifics on a lot of things, we’re not quite there yet, but we will be,” he said.
Some solutions under discussion include stricter enforcement of the two-hour parking limit at silver meters downtown and a proposal to keep gold meters and the parking garage free to entice county employees to park in those areas rather than at short-term meters in front of businesses, Parking Manager Stacy Hamilton said.
“We’ll be in a position to provide additional information and recommendations for the next public meeting that you want to have on that particular issue,” Armstrong said.
The borough is also preparing an application process that would allow exercise or yoga classes to be held in borough parks.
Karen Griffith, owner of Create-A-Palooza, suggested the borough make adjustments to its zoning to streamline its process for requesting signs and allow for more prominent signs temporarily.
Councilwoman Brenda Landis agreed with the idea of allowing more or larger signs, but said the borough has to achieve a balance between signage or outdoor dining and the right of way for pedestrians on the sidewalk.
The borough did not set a date for another public meeting, but Shultz suggested that they hold a special meeting within a week with the goal of putting together a framework in which more decisions could be made quickly under the emergency disaster recommendation.
“Under the emergency declaration, we have a lot more flexibility and we can do things a little bit more on the fly,” he said. “These businesses need quicker action on some of these things.”
Photos: Motorcade honors Carlisle Police Cpl. Tim Groller Friday
As downtown restaurants get ready for limited reopenings Friday, Carlisle Borough Council took measures to give them more flexibility for outdoor seating. Parking will remain free downtown and borough parks will be open for business.