By NANETTE LoBIONDO GALLOWAY
MARGATE – After several years discussing it, the city is ready to move forward on its plan to install a “plaza” or bump-out in front of Historic City Hall at 1 S. Washington Ave.
The project will improve traffic safety in front of the Wawa parking lot across the street and at the intersection of Washington and Ventnor avenues.
The city received a $150,000 grant from the NJ Department of Transportation Safe Streets to Transit program to create a “center of place” in front of the building.
Previous versions of the plan called for the bump-out to be on the south side of Washington Avenue in front of the Wawa store, but officials said the convenience store operator declined participation.
Former city engineer Ed Walberg of Remington and Vernick, who retired last year, originally developed the plan. After several discussions with city officials, his successor, Engineer Ed Dennis revised the plan, moving it to the north side of Washington Avenue.
The new configuration was marked out for several hours on Aug. 21 and Margate Police and Fire and Public Works officials were on site to observe its effect on traffic patterns.
On Thursday, Oct. 3, the Board of Commissioners decided to move the project forward.
According to Dennis’ latest report, the revised plan has been forwarded to Wawa attorney Stephen Nehmad for informational purposes.
Commissioner John Amodeo said Remington and Vernick had considered four or five plans over the last four years since the idea was first proposed.
“We tried to partner with Wawa, but they weren’t interested,” he said.
Amodeo said improvements to the location are necessary because those attending proceedings on municipal court days “hang out on the steps” outside City Hall.
“It’s really busy there, especially in summer when the court is more active,” Amodeo said.
The eastbound lane traffic on Washington Avenue has been blocked by a concrete median for several years to keep motorists on Ventnor Avenue from making turns onto Washington Avenue where vehicles back-out of the Wawa parking lot. At one point, the city decorated the unsightly barrier with flowers and shrubs.
Dennis said the existing traffic pattern will not change from its current configuration, which is one way traveling west on Washington from Pacific to Ventnor Avenue, and two-ways from Pacific to Atlantic Avenue.
The city spent $2.1 million in grant funds to improve the stately brick building after Hurricane Sandy caused extensive flooding and mold damage. All mechanical systems were replaced the and interior rebuilt. The city was able to save the mural in the lobby outside the courtroom. The city previously spent $1.3 million to restore Firehouse No. 1 which is attached to the north side of the building.
“We want this building, which was built in 1904, to be a centerpiece for the city,” Amodeo said.
The DOT would have to sign-off on the modifications made to the original plan that was submitted with the grant application, Dennis said.
The plan will result in the loss of four parking spaces on Washington Avenue and reduce the width of the cartway to 24 feet. Configuration of the Wawa parking lot, which has a curb cut across the entire length of the property on the Washington Avenue side, and an existing utility pole, limits the options available, he said.
The improvements include new curbs and gutters around the bump out, which spans the area between the front steps of the building and the existing parking lot entrance. The plan calls for new pavers, benches, a sculpture and bollards. A new bus shelter will be installed on Ventnor Avenue in front of the Wawa store. A bump-out will also be installed at the corner in front of Wawa to shorten the distance for pedestrians crossing Washington Avenue.
Commissioner Maury Blumberg said that he likes the plan but would like to solicit input from the public before any work is done.
Commissioners said they would ask their newly appointed public relations firm, Suasion Communications Group of Somers Point, to include information about the project in the next newsletter, which will come out in November.
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