A Delaware County judge on Wednesday ordered the City of Chester to temporarily halt its plan to install more than 400 parking meters on the sidewalks at Widener University, citing concern that the meters would pose immediate and irreparable harm to students.
Judge Barry C. Dozor’s order grants Widener a temporary injunction requested after the school filing sued Chester, its mayor, and the private vendors hired for the project. Still, the judge expressed some bewilderment over the entire case, saying it was “striking that it has come to this level.”
Rocco Imperatrice III, who represented Widener, argued during the three-hour hearing in Media that installing the parking meters would dissuade students from enrolling at the school, thereby reducing Widener’s revenues.
Parking meters, he added, would prompt some students to search for free parking in nearby residential neighborhoods, undermining the city’s goal to keep students’ cars on campus property.
City authorities said residents had long complained that Widener students would crowd parking spots in their residential neighborhoods, leaving few open spaces.
Last year, the city contracted with two vendors, PFS VII and Pango, to install parking meters on campus that would charge $2 per hour. The plan sharply reduced free or permitted parking.
Chester officials said the meters would be a way to control the traffic “chaos” that has spilled from the school into the city’s residential neighborhoods, namely Sun Hill.
As part of the city’s deal with the vendors, Chester would pay nothing for the meters, lawyers said. Instead, PFS would foot the multimillion-dollar bill for installing the meters and PFS and Pango would regularly take their cuts of the revenues collected.
Eventually, over three installments, PFS would pay Chester $1 million for its involvement in the project. The money would be deposited into the city’s general fund and be used for such matters as fixing potholes and damaged parking lots.
Chester Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland, in testimony Wednesday, called the contracts a “good deal.”
“We thought about the residents more than anything,” he said.
Lawyers representing Chester said the city intended to install 480 meters, not the 1,200, as the university had alleged.
The attorneys also denied accusations that Chester had trespassed onto Widener’s property, saying the meters would be installed on sidewalks, a public space.
In 2017, Widener had more than 3,400 undergraduates enrolled and nearly 3,100 graduate students, many of them commuters.
University officials said a prospective graduate student recently opted to instead enroll at Rowan University in New Jersey once he heard about the prospective parking meters that could be installed at Widener.
William Lanzilotti, a junior majoring in criminal justice, drives to Widener from South Philadelphia five days a week during the semester and parks his car on campus for five to eight hours a day.
In court Wednesday, he said he partly picked Widener because of its non-metered parking.
If the city begins charging to park, “I won’t be able to afford it,” Lanzilotti said.
School officials said Widener would suffer a $30 million loss in enrollment decrease spurred by installation of the parking meters.
Anthony Campisi, spokesperson for Chester, called the projected loss “ridiculous.”
Also, the city is going to be receiving a share of parking revenue going forward, which it will use for street maintenance and public safety, Campisi added.