Tattoo parlor in Shamokin's crosshairs for eminent domain
SHAMOKIN - City council is pursuing eminent domain to acquire a tattoo parlor on North Market Street.
The plan is to knock it down to make way for an upgraded rail crossing near Market and Water streets. The Shamokin Valley line's operator, SEDA-COG Joint Rail Authority, has pledged $40,000 toward its acquisition and demolition, or toward any alternative the city would consider.
The structure at 515 N. Market St. was originally built as a comfort station. It's since been home to small businesses, including Sterling Tattoo Co. since 2001.
Dave Lauer and Amanda Miller purchased the property from Helen Yocum for $24,000, according to the deed. Lauer declined comment this week but had said earlier this year he opposed any plans for him to leave the property, by sale or by taking.
A majority of councilmen have chosen the later after overtures for a sale were reportedly rebuffed.
They voted 3-1 Aug. 12 to adopt the first reading of an ordinance initiating the process of eminent domain by "lease, purchase or condemnation proceedings."
A second vote must be held to finalize the ordinance. If it passes, the city would file a declaration of taking and pursue the eminent domain process in county court.
"The city has the right to do this for safety," said Councilman R. Craig Rhoades who, along with councilmen Michael Snyder and William Strausser, voted in support of eminent domain.
Asked about a potential legal challenge from the building's owners, Rhoades said, "The law's going to be on our side."
Snyder said he sympathizes with Sterling's owners, saying "I would feel the same way (they're) feeling."
But his decision to vote in favor of eminent domain came on consultation with "the experts" from the railroad and PennDOT. They say demolition is the safest option, he said.
"I don't like the option we got but it seems to be the best option for the city," Snyder said. "I don't think the city would have gone after that if the railroad didn't come in and say 'this is what we're doing.' ... We didn't go after the railroad and ask them to close that down and put up another signal."
There are no estimates yet of the cost of demolition, and details of an appraisal of the property haven't been released. Shamokin and SEDA-COG split the appraisal cost.
The city owns and operates a municipal parking lot along the Shamokin Valley line of the North Shore Railroad to the rear of Sterling Tattoo. Traffic enters from Eighth Street and exits between the building and the tracks onto Market Street.
According to the ordinance, the crossing is no longer considered safe both by the track's operator, SEDA-COG Joint Rail Authority (JRA), and the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission "due to the proximity to the railroad tracks."
Bill Milbrand, city councilman, doesn't see it that way. He doesn't believe the intersection to be a hazard and says the demolition of 515 N. Market St. is unnecessary.
"I will continue to vote against it," Milbrand said last week. "There's a business in that building. That's tax revenue. It's not huge, but it's a business.
"I don't feel it's a safety issue as we stand right now. There's maybe one train a month up through town, although the line is still active."
Milbrand said the line through Shamokin is restricted to 10 mph. The JRA has not presented any evidence, such as accident statistics, that the Market Street crossing is a hazard, he said.
The JRA's biggest customer is the Shamokin Filler Co., according to Jeff Stover, the authority's director. It's rail traffic moves north and south along Carbon Run, skirting Market Street and the downtown.
There is a potential for more rail traffic through the downtown as PA Rail Transloading - near Disposal Management Services - markets a rail siding across Route 901 from Ranshaw. It was installed as part of a $1 million project that also included the construction of a 1,500-foot runaround.
There aren't any contracts signed yet, Stover said, but negotiations are "active."
An alternative exists to the demolition of Sterling Tattoo: install a crossing in the parking lot, with vehicles crossing over the tracks inside the parking lot before exiting onto Market Street.
In this scenario, the city would be responsible for the costs to pave and reconnect the parking lot to Market Street via the new exit, Stover said.
Rhoades and Snyder both said they believed this alternative to be more costly to the city versus the plan to demolish Sterling Tattoo.
"Preparing for a roadway is expensive," Rhoades said.
"That will cost us money we don't have," Snyder said.
He said he fears SEDA-COG would install a large cantilever system like that on Walnut Street near Weis Markets. Stover said that won't be the case, and that the system would be smaller with thought given to the aesthetics of the Market Street area.
However it shakes out, Milbrand said, "I don't think there should be any city money spent whatsoever to improve this crossing. That responsibility is SEDA-COG's."
SEDA-COG is planning additional rail crossing upgrades throughout Shamokin on Independence and Shamokin streets over the next few years.
"I'm not sure this will be the last issue as they move across the city," Snyder said.