No Easy Solutions for Summer Parking Crunch on LBI

By GINA G. SCALA | Jun 27, 2018

Every summer, locals, seasonal homeowners and summer visitors flock to Long Beach Island in search of sun, surf and one very elusive thing: parking. From street parking in commercial and residential districts to off-street parking, driving around looking for a spot can be a lesson in futility, or patience.

“Parking is definitely at a premium,” Ship Bottom Mayor William Huelsenbeck said, noting the solution all boils down to money. “Real estate (costs) are pretty high.”

At one time, Ship Bottom officials looked into purchasing the former CVS on Eighth Street and Long Beach Boulevard for a new police department, but the cost was prohibitive, he said. Imagine, Huelsenbeck said, spending that kind of money for a parking lot.

Parking is such an issue in the seaside community that Ship Bottom officials agreed several years ago to change the parking setback for stop signs from 25 feet to 15 feet in order to gain an additional parking spot at each intersection throughout the borough. Although it eased frustrations from driving around looking for a parking spot, it also created, at least for some, concern for pedestrians forced to move further into crosswalks so they can see around large vehicles parking at the corner of intersections without traffic signals.

In November, Ship Bottom police finalized their line-of-sight recommendations to improve safety while traveling on foot east toward ocean beaches. The area runs along the west side of Central Avenue, encompassing 15th, 16th and 17th streets. A Bank of America branch, the municipal complex and the U.S. Post Office are located on the opposite side of Central Avenue. There is one traffic signal at 17th Street.

It is one of the most highly used areas in the borough for summer parking, mainly because the town offers free parking behind town hall. Many beachgoers take advantage of using the lot – so many, in fact, that last summer beachgoers shut police out by nabbing their spots while the officers were on the road. The borough remedied that by earmarking parking spots for police and the department’s emergency vehicles. Officials also agreed to increase the size of the spots from 9 to 10 feet to accommodate the size of the doors of a police cruiser.

As the gateway community to LBI, Ship Bottom funnels all traffic on and off the Island. And because of its proximity to the Causeway, many day trippers from the LBI region choose to use borough beaches for their slice of summer fun, making it even more challenging to find the elusive parking place.

Parking can be found in what is known locally as the cutout, between 18th and 22nd streets. The east side of the cutout is intended for beachgoers. There is no time limit. On the west side of the cutout, or the parking spots closest to Long Beach Boulevard, the parking spots are earmarked for consumers. The time limit is 60 minutes, according to the mayor.

“That dates back to the 1950s,” Huelsenbeck said of the parking setup, adding the only way to truly address the lack of parking would be to build a parking garage to get cars off the streets, and “no one wants that in their backyard. Parking and public bathrooms are very touchy subjects.”

The Business of Parking. In Surf City, Mayor Francis Hodgson addressed the parking issue at his annual meet-the mayor-session with the Surf City Taxpayer Association after a member of the public suggested the borough implement a two-hour parking window at the cutout, located across the Boulevard from the municipal complex, to help local businesses since so many spots are used all day by beachgoers.

“We’re in business, too … of selling beach badges,” Hodgson said. “Someone suggested to me once we install parking meters across the borough. This isn’t New York City. I won’t consider it.”

The parking crunch was highlighted over the winter in both Ship Bottom and Surf City with applications before land use boards in those communities for the expansion of existing businesses. In Ship Bottom, the land use board unanimously approved an application by the owners of Bageleddi’s for an outdoor dining area and parking variance at the shop’s new location between 18th and 19th streets in the borough. It fronts Long Beach Boulevard.

“The summer is hectic and crowded. Quite often my driveway is blocked,” Daniel Gentile, who owns a home on Pennsylvania Avenue, a short road that runs parallel to the Boulevard, testified before the board in April. “Bageleddi’s is a mainstay on Long Beach Island; everyone loves it. My kids love it. I love it. I’m never going to stop going there, but it’s always crowded. The foot and bike traffic might increase, but the auto traffic isn’t going away, and the people aren’t going to park across the street. There is going to be a logjam.”

There is 200 feet of parking spaces along the Boulevard, a county road. That accounts for 11 untapped, albeit unofficial, spaces. Cedar Garden, a retail florist shop that operated in the same location for more than four decades, had no parking associated with its business. Customers parked in front of the business on Long Beach Boulevard, along the side streets, or in one of the four spots located along Pennsylvania Avenue. Tony and Donna Edwards, who purchased the bagel shop in 2011 and moved it to its new location in the past offseason, were granted a change of use status for their food-related business.

Cedar Garden was considered a retail business. Under the change of use, they were not required to seek a variance for parking. That only came into play because they decided to develop the vacant lot, formerly the outdoor garden center for Cedar Garden, as a courtyard for customers to enjoy their breakfast or lunch.

In Surf City, the land use board denied an application by the owners of the Surf City Hotel for outdoor dining. Saying the owners didn’t satisfy the requirements for a use variance, the board rejected that request and by extension variance for other items, including parking. The hotel is required to have more than 150 parking spaces on site to accommodate guests, diners, employees and liquor store customers. It has 18. Its location in a cutout that runs parallel to Long Beach Boulevard has long been considered in the parking equation for the hotel despite other businesses in the area and the municipal building across the street. Those parking spots are also used regularly by summer beachgoers.

“Parking is a problem here,” Hodgson acknowledged, noting the borough’s zoning ordinances are currently being reviewed, and one of the requirements it will look to ease up is parking.

Curb It. While attempting to find a parking spot in the business district can be exasperating, trying to find a spot on a side street can be just as vexing – especially as the homes continue to grow in size. With it comes an increase in the number of cars, as well as the size of the vehicles, prompting at least one Surf City taxpayer to ask whether the borough would reconsider allowing such large homes to be built.

“We can’t tell people where to park their cars,” Hodgson said in addressing concerns that the overflow of vehicles from larger homes are taking up spaces on side streets. In some areas those vehicles line roadways from the oceanside to the bayside.

In general, according to the mayor, a 50-foot lot should be able to accommodate at least four cars across the front of the property (but not the roadway).

“People think because they own the house, they own the street in front of it,” Police Chief Jack Casella said. “It doesn’t work that way.”

Without curbing, it makes it difficult to convince homeowners they don’t own the public roadway in front of their home. A two-car garage doesn’t guarantee a homeowner is entitled to municipal-owned paved road in front of the home, he said.

“There is a certain percentage of the property of a single-family home that they are allowed for parking,” Casella said, noting that percentage does change according to the size of the home.

When the police are called about a blocked driveway, which can be often in the summer, the first thing they do is explain the situation to the homeowner and then attempt to find the owner of the car so the vehicle can be moved – at least temporarily.

“It’s a lot of leg work,” the chief said about resolving parking disputes, noting in the case where the homeowner is correct they take the information from the resident and still attempt to locate the vehicle owner. A ticket can be issued, but 90 percent of the cases don’t go to court. “We’re very lucky in getting the cars moved.”

In Ship Bottom, one possible remedy could come from new construction, which requires sidewalks, according to Councilman Robert Butkus, who also serves on the borough land use board. “We have to provide parking for beachgoers,” he added.

“People went crazy” when sidewalks were discussed years ago,” Huelsenbeck has said. “It’s come back to haunt them.”

Driving Alternatives. There is always a parking spot if you’re willing – and able – to walk. That brings up another alternative for locals, seasonal homeowners and summer visitors to curb parking woes – walking or bicycling.

With the summer season in full swing, there are a few reminders for motorists, walkers and bicyclists. For the throngs of bicyclists on Long Beach Island this summer, state law is clear: “Bicyclists must obey all state and local automobile driving laws.”

State rules and regulations in Chapter 39, which also dictates motor vehicle and traffic laws, further lays out specific regulations on a long-debated issue in most of the LBI communities: whether bicyclists can ride two abreast. The answer is twofold – yes, when traffic is not obstructed, but otherwise bicyclists should ride single file, and travel in the same direction as vehicular traffic.

State statute does allow for a bicyclist to move left to make a left turn from a left turn lane; to avoid debris, drains or other hazardous conditions; to pass a slower moving vehicle; and to occupy an available lane when traveling at the same speed as other traffic. It does not permit bicyclists to use the roadways as a bicycle lane, making it difficult and even dangerous for motorists, walkers, skateboarders, etc.

ggscala@thesandpaper.net

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