Broadway business owners are concerned gas meters like the newly installed ones picture above outside a multi-unit apartment building will mar the town’s appearance.
By Jamie Wiggan
Plans to relocate gas meters onto building exteriors have angered several Broadway Avenue business owners, who say it will spoil the town’s aesthetic and could pose safety and liability issues.
In an undated letter circulated recently, Columbia Gas informed affected property owners that gas meters will soon be placed on the front of their buildings as part of ongoing efforts statewide to comply with the latest regulatory standards.
“I think it's an absolutely ridiculous state of affairs,” said Frank Cupelli, who owns the building housing the 1905 Eatery and several adjoining units.
The meter relocations are going hand in hand with a months-long project underway to replace aging pipelines along sections of Broadway and Russellwood avenues; Dohrman, Seventh and Ninth streets; and Federal, Derby and Pen alleys.
In Cupelli’s case, the separate restaurant and bakery units on the ground floor of his building both use two-inch gas lines to fuel their commercial kitchens, which may require larger meters than those fitted to regular household gas supplies.
He’s concerned these, in conjunction with separate meters needed for each of the residential units he’s preparing to lease on the second and third floors, will create an eyesore on the face of his 115-year-old brick building.
“It will destroy the aesthetics,” he said. “...Think of what that’s gonna look like.”
Across the road, Frank Jones, owner of Kennedy Notary Services, said he’s worried about safety and liability, in addition to visual concerns.
Jones’ business is flanked on each side by a bar and a barber shop, and he’s unsure how meters could be fitted to all the conjoined units while maintaining ADA compliance rules for building access.
“Why create a problem?” Jones said of the changes.
Immediately beside Jones, Ace’s Tavern owner Chris Bowler has concerns of his own.
He worries about customers leaving the bar and tripping over the meters, or others trying to lean or sit on them.
“I think it’s a total mistake,” he said. “I don’t want to be held responsible” for any accidents.
Like Cupelli, he’s also angered by the aesthetic cost.
“We’re trying to make the place look nice out there -- this is gonna make it look like junk,” he said.
Responding to these concerns, Columbia Gas spokesman Lee Gierczynski maintains the plans will improve the safety and service quality for all affected customers.
“Consistent with the core value of safety and federal and state laws, we must have ready access to meters and other lines and equipment to ensure that the equipment is operating safely,” Gierczynski said in a response to questions by email.
“An outdoor meter eliminates the risk of shut-off due to access issues and provides first responders with easy access to our customers’ meters in the event of an emergency.”
Ultimately, the matter rests on a state law passed in 2014 requiring Pennsylvania utilities to fit gas meters externally, wherever they currently do not.
Jones said he’s hopeful business owners will join forces in protesting the changes. He thinks fitting the meters at the rear of buildings could be achieved as a reasonable compromise.
Gierczynski said Columbia Gas is willing to consider case-by-case requests for “solutions for meter placement that do not compromise safety and allow us to comply with state and federal regulations.”
Should those efforts fail, though, Jones has already had a contractor price out the costs of switching over his building -- which includes an apartment above his office -- to electrical heat.
Since the law passed, Columbia Gas and other utility companies have been slowly applying the changes in communities throughout the state. Protests in 2019 by local residents and officials temporarily halted work to refit meters externally throughout York, Pa.; however, it resumed shortly after.
The only exceptions to the law exist for buildings or communities that are designated as having historic significance. While many of the buildings on and around Broadway are more than 100 years old, the area hasn’t been officially designated as a place of historical importance by any state or federal commissions.
Darrell Chestnutt, Stowe commissioners vice president, said the township doesn’t have any legal standing to oppose the utility company’s plans, but said he’s hopeful the exterior gas meters will prove less problematic than the business owners fear.
He said modern meters are more compact than they used to be, and he believes the ability to shut off gas supplies without entering a building during an emergency would improve the safety of the whole community.
putting strain on
Traffic disruptions are an ongoing feature of months-long gas line replacement work, to the concern of Stowe business owners.
Local business owners say they’re feeling the pinch as months-long work to replace aging pipelines around Stowe’s Broadway Avenue business district is causing parking and access problems for customers.
“It’s affecting both of my businesses really badly right now,” said Mo Khan, owner of Anytime Market and the West Park Diner. “No one wants to come to the 700 block [of Broadway]. Anytime Market has taken a 30% hit [and] the diner’s just been getting killed.”
Adding to his frustration, Khan said he’s been unable to obtain a definite time frame from company officials so he can plan accordingly. Every time he’s called, the answer is “up to six months,” Khan said.
“It’s frustrating because they’re not giving any clarity,” he said.
Like Khan, Frank Jones of Kennedy Notary Services said he’s seen a dramatic drop in business.
“We’re definitely a walk-in business,” he said, adding that his sales had been roughly “cut in half.”
Without specifying a precise end point, Columbia Gas spokesperson Lee Gierczynski said the work is expected to continue through late fall and emphasized that the community will ultimately benefit from the project.
“Our goal is to accomplish this work as quickly and safely as possible,” Gierczynski said. “We are committed to minimizing the inconvenience to customers and the neighborhood.”
Darrell Chestnutt, Stowe commissioners vice president, said in addition to needed gas upgrades, the finished work will also bring improved sidewalks and roadways in several areas.
“I think it’s a good thing that our gas lines are being updated,” he said. “In some of the areas they are having to replace sidewalks that in some places are quite frankly dilapidated.”