indiana borough bldg sign

Business district eateries and taverns appear to be on track for their best opportunities for personal service to diners and patrons by June 17, exactly three months after state-ordered closures shut them down on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day, arguably one of the most popular night-out events of the year on Philadelphia Street.

Council’s Community Development Committee, chaired by council member Ben Ford, advanced proposals for the reopening of drinking and dining spots in open air. Council members mulled over suggested expansion of sidewalk meals and liquor service — physically, permission to use more of the outdoor pavement for patrons — giving more exceptions to the open-container ordinance, extending the hours allowed for sidewalk service at night and waiving the permit fees that restaurateurs now must pay for the privilege.

“I have not heard (business owners’) concerns personally but Otto (Peterson, code enforcement officer) has gotten phone calls and Peter (Broad) has,” Ford said. “At least two have brought it up. And it came from our staff. They’re interested in fostering economic recovery by the borough waiving fees and providing vouchers for parking in the garage so the borough has skin in the game of recovering economic development.”

As temporary exceptions to the word of law in borough ordinances, Council President Peter Broad said that the provisions would be written as a resolution for the full council’s vote — and approval, he predicted — on June 16.

Council members Tuesday held divided opinions on what green light status should mean for the borough’s governing board. Committee meetings have been canceled since March and council has conducted business online using the Zoom app.

Poom Taylor strongly advocated a return to normal business by the members in the council chambers but didn’t get much support.

Unofficial support arose for putting the committees back to work and a hybrid form of council meetings, with willing council members sitting in chambers and others logged in on Zoom, earning some endorsement.

Council member Sara Steelman supported the resumption of committee meetings, even if online.

“It’s difficult to have a productive meeting when we don’t meet at all.”

Council’s early month sessions traditionally are held for deliberation of business and building an agenda of matters to face formal votes two weeks later.

Planning & Zoning official Nicholas Zimny-Shea and office staffer Stephanie Dunlap led an update on Indiana’s projects, not only construction work on roads and sewers but “non-structural projects” including reviews of the Local Government Climate Action Assistance Program, the Inhabit Indiana Program, the Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP) and Emergency Operations Plan (EOP).

The borough’s chicken ordinance is nearing readiness for a vote, one of the non-structural efforts of the planning office. Ford, chairman of the Community Development Committee, said the proposal would allow borough residents to keep chickens, as many as four, and require at least 3 feet of coop floor space for each.

“I can tell you the committees went back and forth on this and we tend to err on the conservative side,” Ford said of the panel’s review of concerns in a letter from Chestnut Street resident Barbara Barker. “The borough is not in the business of guaranteeing everyone a chicken, but the borough is in business of providing a nice place to live.”

Roundtable discussion of the proposal focused on chicken health issues and how the number to be allowed was determined.

Zimny-Shea and Dunlap spotlighted an ongoing Economic Recovery Project aimed at putting Indiana back on its feet following the crippling shutdowns during the coronavirus pandemic. Zimny-Shea said the planning office has surveyed 144 borough businesses and received 39 responses that would be relied upon for a formal COVID-19 recovery plan.

Dunlap encouraged citizen involvement in two planned public hearings to help map the way back to safe and healthy operations — one for residents at 6 p.m. June 18 and another for business owners at 2 p.m. June 23.

Brick-and-mortar-type projects to bolster Indiana infrastructure include this summer’s emergency sanitary sewer line repair work on Edgewood Avenue from Chestnut Street north to the borough line at an estimated cost of $60,000; a sanitary sewer line repair job on South Fifth Street in front of Horace Mann School, from School to Washington streets, at an estimated cost of $40,000; a sanitary sewer line repair project on South 13th from Church to School streets at a cost of $75,000; and a new battery of smoke tests to help diagnose sewer line inflow problems and plan improvements within constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Streets targeted for resurfacing (and parking and travel restrictions) this summer include the 900, 1100 and 1200 blocks of Church Street; the 1000, 1100 and 1200 blocks of School Street; Washington Street from the railroad crossing to Wine Avenue; and Papermill Avenue between School and Washington streets.

Design work is being done this summer on new maps and signs for the Hoodlebug Trail Extension, replacement of culverts along South 15th Street in 2021, replacement of sidewalks by Eisenhower School in 2021, and upgrades to the First Ward retention pond and South Seventh Street storm water drains.

Council member Kaycee Newell asked whether “Hoodlebug Trail” could be written on more of the signs.

“They all say HBT,” she said. “None say what that means.”

Council member Gerald Smith advocated for spending more money on pavement markings and crosswalks to improve safety for bike riders and pedestrians.

“Where can we up our pedestrian safety?” he asked, calling for use of funds made free by lower-than-expected bids on other local street projects.

Whether that money could be spent was in doubt due to state grant restrictions, said borough Manager Michael Foote.

“I want to see us respond to what’s happening in our community and to help the people do what they’re doing,” Smith said, citing his notice of more bike riding and walking in Indiana the past few months.

He cited as well a traffic accident Saturday at South Second and Washington streets, where an 11-year-old girl riding a bike was hit by a car.

“There’s plenty of room to have more safety,” Smith said.

NOTE: This article edited at 9:30 p.m June 4 to correct the time of a public for business people to discuss the recovery from pandemic shutdowns.