By NANETTE LoBIONDO GALLOWAY
VENTNOR – The status of parking permits in the North Beach section will maintain the status quo, at least until later this year and after the Board of Commissioners can further study the issue. But according to at least one non-resident, the city should refrain from making any changes.
“If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” Marven Gardens resident John Sewell said.
The city held a public forum about the parking permits during its worksession Thursday, Feb. 13. It was the second time the city met with North Beach residents about the issue. The city first discussed the parking permit policy at a North Beach Residents Association meeting held Oct. 12, 2019.
The city issues 4,000 parking permits annually for the 600 on-street parking spaces available in the North Beach area between Jackson and Frankfort avenues. The permits exempt holders from the 2-hour parking limit in the neighborhood closest to Atlantic City. Except for commercial districts, North Beach is the only neighborhood that has a parking time limit. The fee was raised from $1 to $2 in October for property owners or tenants who live in the area and have a car, including high-rises, and employees who work in the area. It also allows two guest permits per household.
“It’s a very complicated game of musical chairs,” Commissioner of Public Safety and Community Affairs Tim Kriebel said.
The parking restrictions were put in place with the advent of casino gaming more than 40 years ago, when casino employees were parking in the North Beach neighborhood and taking the jitney at Jackson Avenue to their jobs in the city.
Although the trend in new home construction is providing off-street parking beneath the home, construction increases the width of curb cuts and reduces the number of on-street parking spaces. The recent re-striping of Atlantic Avenue also reduced the number of parking spaces available to accommodate the state’s required 20-foot rule that preserves site triangles at intersections.
Exacerbating residents’ concerns is the soon-to-open Ventnor Square Theater, which will maintain an 18-space parking lot at the rear of the historic structure.
In his PowerPoint presentation, Kriebel showed the history of the theater, which he said he attended every week as a child. The theater originally had 968 seats when it first opened and 585 seats when it was turned into a twin theater. The theater was vacant for more than a decade until new theater operators bought the site and sunk more than $1 million into its renovation. The new theater, which will have three screens, will have 320 seats and a 190-seat restaurant.
“Much less than I was a kid,” Kriebel said.
Residents fear when the theater opens, they will not be able to find a parking space, not only during the 100 Days of Summer, but year-round.
Kriebel said it is easy to understand that residents want to park outside their own homes, but he dispelled the notion that the parking permit fees are a “money grab” by the city. The permit program raises only $6,000 a year, he said.
“It’s not a profit center for the city,” he said.
Kriebel laid out some options, which include increasing parking fees, limiting the number of permits available in the zone, expanding the zone several blocks, and expanding the parking time limit to 3 hours from the current 2-hour parking limit.
Kriebel noted that some Jersey Shore communities charge as much as $300 for parking permits, and some have weekly and daily rates. Nevertheless, having a parking permit does not guarantee a spot.
Police Chief Douglas Biagi said the Police Department would continue to enforce parking restrictions, especially when motorists block driveways or park beyond curb cut lines.
“There’s no one solution,” Biagi said. “What will help some people will hurt others.”
Biagi suggested it would take a unified effort to come up with a solution, which could be as simple as limiting the number of permits allowed per household.
“Back in the 1980s, people only had one car. Today, every 18-year-old gets a car,” he said.
Traffic engineer Dave Shropshire, of Shropshire Associates, LLC, said the concerns in Ventnor are typical of other beach communities.
Commissioner of Public Works Lance Landgraf said he recommends Shropshire work with the city to solve its problem.
Several residents provided commentary on the issue, suggesting that the problem is exacerbated by day-trippers coming to Ventnor to go to the beach. Other residents suggested hiring teenagers to monitor parking hours, establishing shared-parking opportunities with currently vacant commercial properties, and establishing more public parking lots.
Sewell suggested keeping “Pinky Kravitz’s noble idea alive,” noting the parking permit idea was forwarded by the late talk radio host Seymour “Pinky” Kravitz, known to many as Mr. Atlantic City, who lived on Jackson Avenue, the city’s border with Atlantic City.
Changing the policy would be “micromanaging” the city, he said.
“Keep in mind, there are very few complaints registered, less than 1%,” he said. “Take a step back. This is a problem you just have to live with. Keep it the way it is and people will be much more satisfied.”
Resident Mitchell Corson said it is likely that the concern over theater parking is unwarranted because theaters are not as heavily frequented as they were in the past.
North Beach Chairman Richard Gober said the Planning Board should have required the theater owners to put in a two-story garage, however, Landgraf, who is a professional planner, said state regulations for existing uses do not require an increase in on-site parking spaces. A parking garage would not be an appropriate use in a residential neighborhood, Landgraf said.
One resident questioned if the town would ever get those bicycle racks the city promised more than three years ago. According to Atlantic County officials, the bicycle racks, which are being funded with federal grant funds, will be installed in fall, after the summer season.
“We would ride our bikes to the theater knowing we will never find a parking space,” one resident said.
Kriebel said it is unlikely residents will see any changes in the parking permit system this year.
The meeting was an effort to obtain input from the community before any decisions are made, he said.
“We will take several months to see what develops with the movie theater before doing anything,” he said.