Monday, June 09, 2003

Apartment dwellers can use the Lodi store overnights

By Chris Neidenberg

The Borough Council has ratified an agreement with the owners of National Wholesale Liquidators in Lodi, allowing tenants living in Maywood's south-end apartment complexes free overnight use of the store's parking lot just across the street.

Republicans and Democrats joined together in ratifying the agreement at their May 28 meeting. This, after taking heat two months earlier from residents who demanded action on an initiative making it easier to park their vehicles overnight, given Maywood's 3 to 5 a.m. parking ban .

At an emotional March 26 meeting, tenants urged that elected officials do something to ease what they contended was a serious early morning parking crunch affecting their quality of life. At least 50 residents attended the council's first regular meeting at the new John A. Steuert Municipal Complex.

The decision comes following about two months of negotations involving, among others, Borough Administrator Jack Terhune, Lodi Administrator Stephen Lo Iacono and the owners of the Long Island-based company, which has stores throughout the metropolitan area.

Democratic Councilwoman Jeanne Matullo, who is resigining this summer to move out of the borough, also praised fellow Democratic Councilman Thomas Richards for playing a major role.

Richards' alliance on this issue with tenant groups comes at a rather opportune time in 2003, the same year he is seeking the mayoralty after two unsuccessful tries.

While the councilman inferred in March that Maywood's Republicans were historically the stumbling block to implementing some kind of tenant parking initiative, Richards' own party did nothing to help apartment dwellers during some years when it had control, as this historic controversy occasionally popped up.

About four years ago, one-time Borough Administrator John Perkins claimed that Lo Iacono helped produce an agreement with Liquidators, even though one of the company's owners, Joseph Rosenfeld, stated that no such agreement was in place.

Residents parking there were once annoyed when Lodi police were directed one night to issue summonses against users of the lot - located just across the street from the Essex Gardens and Maybrook Plaza units.

The council previously swayed Essex Gardens landlord Carol Ratner to convert some unused space into an area allowing additional parking (a local Maywood ordinance apparently historically only requires her and other landlords to provide one space per unit)

Yet, many tenants in Ratner's, and other units, assert that they still have inadequate parking.

The decision, however, does not address similar parking concerns of those tenants living in other sections of Maywood - such as Sherwood Village - even though at least one - also complained about a parking crunch on March 26.

Removing the overnight ban could certainly help their cause, though the issue is a rare example of a difference apparently dividing Maywood's current Democratic and Republican representatives.

Richards, speaking on March 26, seemed to suggest that a future Democratic majority would look to try and end the ban But he cited current council Republicans as being opposed. GOP Mayor Wayne Kuss and Republican Councilman Thomas Gaffney, Richards' mayoral opponent, have stated flatly that they oppose lifting a ban on overnight parking, which, Maywood police officials have historically claimed, helps provide better security against burglaries.

Resolution 89-03 allows local officials to "execute a license agreement between the Borough of Maywood and National Wholesale Liquidators, at no cost to the borough ..." The store is located at 370 Essex St.

The resolution further states that the "terms set forth in the agreement" are "on file with the borough clerk ..." The agreement is expected to require that the tenants move their vehicles out of the lot before the store opens.

When the issue surfaced again two months ago, emotions ran high as tenants asserted that they still suffer, as the result of years of alleged indifference on the part of elected representatives.

"It's now at a crisis. It's an emergency," pleaded Margaret Gill, a south-end tenant who has appeared in the past to complain. about the situation.

Gill alleged in March that she and her neighbors have been victimized by a political climate favoring homeowners who have opposed lifting the ban.

"You see, homeowners don't want to have parking on the street because they have parking in their lots and in their garages," the emotional resident complained loudly.
Gill was joined by another area tenant who has previously made her feelings known: Jean Rivera.

"We really do have a problem," Rivera said. "Fifteen years ago, 25 years ago you had one car per family. Now, it's two-and-a-half."

During that rather loud and contentious meeting in March, Richards, without mentioning names, insinuated that Maywood's four governing body Republicans were the major bar to any changes. At that time, the discussion centered on arguments for and against lifting the town-wide ban.

"A majority of the council (Republicans) has decided not to do anything," he told Rivera, adding later, "I'm in favor of change. The majority of the council isn't.

"The fact of the matter is, the status quo is not going to change," Richards said on overnight parking, before the Liquidators agreement was reached. "We don't have the votes to change it."

At a candidates' forum only five months earlier, the mayoral hopeful (then running for re-election to the council) asserted that he did not "view the issues as Republican or Democrat," and that both parties stood united on the major issues.

Though he will be running on a party line this fall, Richards has stated that he supports turning Maywood into a non-partisan form of government.

Gaffney, who also backs going to a non-partisan system, cited retaining the ban as a quality-of-life issue on March 26.

Even though the cars would be parked (between 3 and 5 a.m.) at a time when traffic would be quite sparse, the councilman maintained that the streets would be congested with tenant vehicles and unfairly squeeze out homeowners (living near the apartments) who might also need the overnight space.

"I just don't see where we're going to put all those cars, that are going to be put out on the street," said the council president.

He cited tenants who have as many as up to six cars, depending on family size

But in 1999, resident Thomas Kennedy, who based a failed independent council candidacy on the issue, argued that removing the overnight parking ban would aid many homeowners - and tenants living in homes - who are squeezed out.

Kuss said at the time (on March 26) that he did not believe the borough was obligated to guarantee tenants with more than one car on-street parking overnight - even as some must make other arrangements, including paying to lease private space some distance from their dwellings. .

"If I lived on Essex Street and I had a second car," the mayor told Gill, "I would try to figure out where are we going to put it?"

Tenant Tiffany Miles maintained that any solution to create overnight space on the Liquidators tract will not help residents living in other areas away from the store. This matter has been left unresolved.

"The solution for people on Essex Street is National Wholesale Liquidators," Miles said in March. "But everyone who lives on Maywood Avenue knows the distance that is."

One upset man living in the Essex Street area angered Richards, in using - what the councilman alleged - was a belligerent tone.

"If you don't support our rights, we' willl have no choice but to do something," the resident said, with a thick accent, in alleging that the council's "power"' was interferong with the tenants' "freedom and our way of life."

While the tenant did not specify the option, Richards' interpreted these statements as advocating drastic measures..

"I'm in favor of your opinion, but don't you dare say that you'll practice violence," he shot back.

Speaking May 28, Matullo asserted that Richards played a major role in procuring the license agreement permitting parking.

"I'd like to commend Councilman Richards for all the work he put into this National Wholesale Liquidators parking," Matullo said. "He put a lot of time into this. Thank you Councilman Richards.".

For more on Rich-ards' role in the tenant parking debate, his historic political alliance with Maywood tenant groups and past failed efforts at examining - and dropping - the issue, please read, "Bergen County Dems Nominate Pro-Polluer Ticket?"

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