The Jersey City Council voted to table an ordinance at its Feb. 10 meeting that would give city inspectors the right to issue tickets to cars blocking sidewalks. But several council members said they intend to bring the issue up again.
“A woman with a baby carriage should not have to go into the street to get around cars illegally parked,” said Councilwoman Candace Osborne, one of the leading supporters of the ordinance.
Parking across sidewalks is already illegal in Jersey City. But Osborne said that most police are assigned to high crime areas. So often these parking violations are not ticketed. She said by allowing inspectors to issue summons, vehicle owners may be discouraged from continuing the practice.
Nick Taylor, of the city’s Zoning Office, said his department routinely receives complains about these cars, but his inspectors don’t have the authority to issue a summons.
The proposed ordinance would prohibit parked cars from blocking sidewalks or right-of-ways.
Fines under the proposed ordinance would be significantly higher than those faced if a police officer issued a ticket.
Currently, a ticket for blocking a sidewalk results in a fine of $53 plus $33 for court costs. A ticket issued by an inspector would be $250 for a first offense and $500 for subsequent offenses.
“These hokey-dokey driveways should never have been approved.” – Richard Boggiano
“That’s not safe,” she said.
“This would not affect motorists who are parked in a legal front yard parking spot within his or her property line,” the ordinance said, noting that those vehicles parked on sidewalks post a public safety hazard to pedestrians, especially children and people with mobility challenges who must make a difficult crossing behind the parked car and risk being hit by a passing car.
Councilman Richard Boggiano, however, said that lack of parking during the blizzard in January contributed to an increase in the problem.
But more significantly, much of the problem comes from inappropriate approvals for driveways in front of residences during the 1980s.
“These hokey-dokey driveways should never have been approved,” Boggiano said.
The city allowed for numerous parking spots in front of houses that allowed cars to block sidewalks. Most new developments have similar front of the house parking, but require that the space have enough room to allow pedestrians to pass. In some areas of the city, even residences with ample parking and garages often violate the law.
Taylor said his office gets a number of complaints, particularly from an area just south of Journal Square.
Councilman Khemraj Ramchal, who proposed an ordinance last year that would allow even more parking in front of resident houses, opposed the ordinance and asked for it to be tabled for further discussion.
In 2011, the City Council also considered allowing residents to parallel park in front of their own driveways to help make up the shortage of parking in the city. But the 2011 ordinance would not have allowed cars to block sidewalks.
Resident Yvonne Balcer said the city is partly to blame for the lack of parking, noting comments by Mayor Steven Fulop during several community meetings against the city building additional parking decks.
Fulop said that if the city provided more parking facilities, it would increase traffic in the city. The Fulop Administration is seeking to reduce car use and expand the use of public transportation.
Fulop said the city would be expanding its bikeshare program this year.
“I know not everybody can ride a bicycle, but we’re trying to provide alternative options,” he said.
One concern about the proposed ordinance giving inspectors the right to issue tickets is the possibility that a resident could get two tickets for the same offense, one from the inspector and another from the police.
John Hallon, assistant prosecutor, said in that instance one of the tickets would be dismissed.
“The judge would decide,” Hallon said.
Some council members also questioned the ability of the inspectors to actually handle the additional work. The department is understaffed.
“We wouldn’t try to handle all of the cases,” Taylor said. “But this would allow us to respond to some of the complaints.”
Councilwoman Diane Coleman also noted that a part-time inspector might be hired and paid out of the additional revenues the fines generated.
A 30-year abatement ordinance introduced
Even though the City Council voted in January not to support a 30-year abatement for a project near Journal Square, council members voted at the Feb. 10 meeting to approve a similar ordinance for a site just off McGinley Square.
The project would construct a 58-unit residential building at 280 Fairmount Ave. on the property that is currently a parking lot. The project would also provide 32 parking spaces.
While Colemen would like the developer to provide a give-back, such as a park or some other community improvement, she voted to introduce the abatement ordinance.
“This is needed in this part of the city,” she said.
The nearly $14 million project would give the city about $6.6 million over the 30 years, as opposed to the $8,000 in annual taxes the property currently pays.
About 60 construction jobs and eight permanent jobs would also be generated.
New sound restrictions for outdoor events
The council also introduced an ordinance that would allow the city to impose restrictions on noise and music generated as a result of public events such as street festivals.
The ordinance was requested by Boggiano, and is based on a similar ordinance adopted in Hoboken.
The purpose of the ordinance is to provide “objective standards” for noise control.
Current law requires sound to be measured by a device detecting decibel levels. This requires a trained expert to take the tests – partly because testing outdoor sound can be tricky. The ordinance, however, would allow the city in some cases to not require noise testing, and would allow the city to limit sound producing devices that are “plainly audible” from specified distances.
The city already limits festivals and outdoor events by time, forcing events to shut down music an hour prior to the end of the event.
The problem with noise has been worsened by increased residential development in areas such as Exchange Place where festivals are staged. When many of the festivals started, some of these areas were sparsely populated.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.