MARGATE – Margate officials facing objections from residents have revised their plans to create more public parking spaces by moving the city’s tow lot to a property it owns on Fremont Avenue.
Since last summer, the city has created 42 parking spaces by arranging a shared parking arrangement with a local restaurant owner and reconfiguring public properties.
“We just added 42 parking spaces,” Mayor Michael Becker said at a recent Board of Commissioners meeting. “That’s major.”
A plan to create additional public parking spaces by moving unclaimed vehicles from the city’s impound lot next to the Police Department to the city-owned lot where Firehouse No. 2 is located was squashed after residents said they didn’t want it in their neighborhood.
“We are working to prepare for more parking spaces this summer, but rather than create havoc for neighbors, we are seeking other options,” Commissioner John Amodeo said Wednesday morning.
Instead, some of the vehicles that have gone unclaimed by their owners could be relocated to the Public Works yard, he said.
Other efforts to create more spaces are continuing, officials said.
Administrator Richard Deaney has distributed a questionnaire asking commissioners and department heads to come up with some new ideas about where to find parking spaces.
Police Chief David Wolfson has been asked to review on-street parking to see if there are opportunities to condense parking to create additional spaces.
“We’re in the process of evaluating that now, but not sure how many spots we can come up with,” Wolfson said.
And, the city’s engineer recently came up with a parking plan that created 18 parking spots the impound lot provided the city can find a suitable spot for the 48 or more unclaimed vehicles stored there.
“It’s a bureaucratic nightmare trying to clear the titles for those vehicles so they can get rid of them,” Amodeo said.
Wolfson said some of the vehicles have been abandoned by their owners for as long as four years because the storage fees often exceed the value of the vehicle. To dispose of them, the owner could sign over the title, negotiate storage fees or the city can file with the Motor Vehicle Commission to obtain salvage titles, which could take six months to a year, Wolfson said. Once the city obtains title, the vehicles can be sold at an auction.
Wolfson defended operating a tow lot for the convenience of residents.
“If a resident gets their car towed, we don’t want them to have to go to Artic Avenue or Cape May Courthouse,” Wolfson said Wednesday morning. “It’s been like that 20 years before I started working here.”
Towing contractors must be licensed by the state and city and have liability insurance. Impound lots are allowed to charge $5 to $8 per day for storage. The city currently uses five tow companies on a rotating basis.
Amodeo said the city may have to revise its towing ordinance to allow vehicles to be towed to the mainland by just one or two operators.
Amodeo said the city recently removed concrete and construction debris from the lot surrounding the firehouse, which over the years has been used as a staging area for contractors working on city capital projects.
At the Feb. 21 workshop meeting, resident Steve Moore of Delavan Avenue said a DEP official told him the state was not aware that site work was being done there, and he asked for assurances that the lot would not be used for storing towed vehicles.
Amodeo said after hearing the objections of neighbors, the impound lot proposal for the firehouse lot was “off the table,” but that the property would be brought up to DEP standards so the city could store its own high-water vehicles there.
Erecting a 4-foot fence would allow the city to continue using the site as a staging area for future projects, and that 10 years ago, the DEP approved the fencing in a permit issued to remediate the property. That permit is still in force, he said, although the city is just getting around to remediating the property.
A 4-foot fence won’t keep people out, Amodeo said, but it will delineate where contractors can park their vehicles during construction projects.
“We did nothing to disturb the wetlands buffer,” Amodeo said.
Doug Pierce of Freemont Avenue asked the city not to install a fence, but Amodeo said the city’s Joint Insurance Fund recommends city vehicles be secured and that the fence could be landscaped to make it more aesthetically pleasing.
Another resident, Adam DiBartolo of Clermont Avenue said residents should receive ample notice when the city decides to conduct projects in their neighborhood.
Amodeo said the city has discussed the issue at previous public meetings over the last several months and that no decisions were made in secret.
“This commission talks in an open forum. All our meetings are posted on our website…and there was nothing said that we are creating a secret tow lot,” he said.
DiBartolo said the timing of public meetings is problematic for residents who work.
“It’s very hard for public participation at these meetings at 4 p.m.,” DiBartolo said. “It makes it a lot easier for residents if they can get here.”