Residents Stand Ground at City Hall. Suggest Alternative Plan for David Park Variance
MARGATE - Though options exist to turning David Park green space into asphalt, the city’s Board of Adjustment (BOA) and Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) have yet to fully consider the negative impact parking plans may have on area residents. The addition of proposed parking spaces would change neighborhood aesthetics and attract unsavory elements in the wee hours, say neighbors. “You’re building a parking lot, which I see no need for right across from our home,” resident Michelle Haynes told BOA officials. “We do plan to continue to appeal as much and as long as we can,” she said to elected officials sitting as the board of the Margate Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) a week later. __________________ Michelle Haynes, along with husband Boyd and neighbor, Colleen Neubauer, live directly across from a new parking facility proposed for David Park on NW 62nd Avenue. BOA officials approved plans January 2nd for a new parking facility that proposes 10 pull-in parking spaces angular to NW 62nd Avenue and accessed traveling northbound. The one-way parking strip requires motorists to back out of spaces and appears in plans buffered from the playground and separated by a narrow strip of median from the street. Presently, the patch of greenspace is an easement. (Click to view site plans and BOA agenda backup) “How can anyone approve this as safe?” Neubauer asked elected officials at the CRA meeting. “I think this would be an accident waiting to happen." Residents announced their plans at the CRA meeting to appeal the BOA decision. Unless questioned by stakeholders, the BOA decision stands and elected officials never hear the land use matter again. “I understand this is within the time limit for appeal and I implore any and all members to please revisit this parking project,” Neubauer announced. What David Park neighbors were up against was a clear conflict of interest in the City’s variance process. Margate city staff members who recommended approval of BOA parking plans were the same city staff who petitioned the BOA for the variance. This, evidenced by customer receipts acknowledging payment by the City of Margate for both the variance request and sign posted on the property, along with the signature of City Manager, Sam May, on the application as “Petitioner on record on behalf of the property owner.” (Click to view variance application). The off-street parking plan was moved forward by city staff at a September Development Review Commit
(Outlines in red above indicate hundreds of municipal parking possibilities for David Park visitors)
tee (DRC) meeting pending approval by the BOA at a later date. The hardship claimed by the city for the variance was that Section 23-6(A)(6) of City Code prohibits back out parking (approval of variance is contingent on hardship) and that there is "a shortage of existing parking spaces to begin with where when it is busy cars end up parked parallel to the road on the grass or street making the need for these proposed parking spaces more necessary,” as stated on the city’s variance application. According to Neubauer - who has lived across the street from the Park since 1990; nothing could be further from the truth. The longtime resident counted a potential 114 parking spaces within a block of the park. “From 62nd Avenue to 10th Street - from the library to the senior center - there are approximately 83 parking spaces. At the community center there are approximately 31 parking spaces. That is adequate parking,” she told elected officials at the January CRA meeting. “I will make myself available to any distinguished council member who would like me to walk you through the park.”
Neighbor, Michelle Haynes, suggested partnering with the Catherine Young library adjacent to the park to accommodate vehicle overflow. A sidewalk connecting both was convenient for playground access (seen at right). Operated by Broward County, the library sits on Margate-owned land and is leased to the county for $1 a year. The contract was initiated in 2002 for 15 years (Click to view agreement) and was recently renewed in June. “They’re [library] not open on Sunday. Saturdays? There are barely any cars there,” Haynes said. “During the week, there are hardly any cars there. Most people who go to the library access public transportation.”
But library parking wasn’t the only parking available within minutes of David Park. An aerial view of the neighborhood (see map at top) reveals multiple municipal-owned properties within safe, convenient walking distance of the park and which can accommodate hundreds of vehicles. Problematic is pedestrian connectively, as the area is short on crosswalks. Also, a sign (left) on one lot restricts use to the Senior Center only, which according to park officials is also used when events are booked at community centers. This lot is a two-minute walk from the park and can accommodate dozens of vehicles.
Additionally, Haynes said parking is legal on one side of NW 62nd Avenue, but not on the other. Signage is a problem, she said, as “No Parking” signs do not face motorists (seen at right). When community centers are having parties, motorists will park on both sides of the street, creating problems for emergency vehicles. With Phase II of David Park plans including not only 10 additional parking spaces, but restrooms and an outdoor rental pavilion as well, more parking will be needed, said city officials. “We put a lot of money into that park, and the reason is for the whole community to go there and visit it. If you go there during the summer or our [City of Margate] camp season, the parking lot is full. People don’t have anywhere to park. I’ve been there. I know,” CRA Chair, Commissioner Tommy Ruzzano told residents. The parking plan had been vetted through city channels and met criteria, Ruzzano said. A new playground, restrooms, rental pavilion and proposed parking for David Park nears the $1 million mark for Margate taxpayers. Although the park likely met parking requirements in effect at the time of construction, the Leonard Weisinger and Charlie Katz community centers adjacent to the park are now legally non-conforming. “As years go by and codes are updated or changed, older properties become legally non-conforming to the newer codes that are adopted. This is commonly referred to as being “grandfathered in,” Margate Senior Planner, Andrew Pinney, told MargateNews.net. "If the existing parking doesn’t meet the current standard, then staff would consider the community centers to be legally non-conforming. They are therefore considered compliant until such a time as the use is changed or the buildings are expanded.” Parks and Recreation Director, Mike Jones, said the number one complaint from community center renters is that there isn't enough parking. “It [parking] is a problem during very specified times of the day, times of the year, and we believe with improvements to the playground and rentable infrastructure, there will be another group of people coming there on Saturdays and Sundays,” Jones said. Margate City Commissioner, Lesa Peerman agreed. “The idea of the parking was to accommodate people for the shelters, for the park, for the community center," she said. Neither comment sat well with neighbors, who bought their homes to live across a small, quiet neighborhood park. “Basically what you’re saying is it’s all about money because you’re getting ready to put a pavilion in and bathrooms so that the city can generate income,” Neubauer said to elected officials. “So you want parking so it would be easier access to park for the pavilion and the city can make money. That’s exactly what this is all about, and I am going to oppose it every step of the way,” Lead environmental engineer for Margate, Reddy Chitepu, said all city departments reviewed the site plan and signed off on it at the September DRC meeting. The meeting transpcript indicates five city staff absent from the meeting. Three of nine staff at the meeting had no comments while others showed apprehension in approving the off-street parking plan.
“The code doesn’t allow it, but this board has the ability to approve it,” Chitepu told residents. “So they have the authority not to approve it is what you’re saying,” responded Michelle Haynes.
At DRC, Jones said the plan before the committee showed the best location for parking, so Parks and Recreation would gladly go before the Board of Adjustment for a variance. At BOA, Margate resident and city commission candidate, Tony Arserio, suggested the BOA deny the parking variance and if Parks and Recreation wanted to appeal the decision they could with elected officials. Arserio said the city was already short on park acreage, so replacing a piece of playground with asphalt made no sense. “We should gain park space not lose it,” he said. Boyd Haynes, a disabled military veteran, told BOA members that he is the third generation of his family living in his home across from the park. “My grandparents owned that house; my parents owned that house; now I own that house. I played football on that space [David Park easement] when I was young. Kids were playing football on it yesterday. You’re going to take away their football space,” he said. Having worked in commercial construction for over two decades, Haynes expressed disappointed with BOA member qualifications. “Are you an engineer? Are you an architect? Are you a landscaper? Have you ever been in construction?” he asked officials. The response from the BOA Chair was “No.” Unclear as to whether members of the BOA were appropriate in telling residents that their problems with street parking; suggestions for parking alternatives; and how parking would negatively impact residents was within the purview of the board, BOA Vice Chair, Karl Arnter, announced: “Sorry we can’t do anything about your speeding concerns or your parking concerns on the street. We’re just like a body of guidance. That would be an issue you would bring up to the commission,” he told residents. More than a body of guidance, the BOA in Margate makes quasi-judicial land use decisions some of which are not double-checked or approved by elected officials. Adding fuel to his fire, Boyd Haynes said illegal parking on the street has lacked attention from law enforcement. Since residents made statements at the January 2, 2018 BOA meeting, police have been more active in the area, but Haynes told elected officials that police in the past wouldn’t get out of their cars to tell people they were illegally parked and/or issue tickets. “Nobody addresses the parking on the streets, we’ve called on that. Parks and rec [Recreation] says call the police; police say call parks and rec,” Haynes said. “Nobody addresses that.” Neighbors went on record as saying “At night the park is closed, but there are always people that go there to drink, do drugs, and have sex. We have found such things as liquor bottles, used condoms, and people still passed out,” Neubauer said. From a parks perspective, Jones suggested that concerned residents contact elected officials. “With the amount of the public that are here, [this] should be heard, announced, discussed at all levels – the CRA level and the City Commission level,” Jones said. “They [elected officials] are the ones who could pull funding or to direct construction and design of this project.” After voicing concerns at BOA and CRA meetings, Neubauer and the Haynes plan on addressing the city commission at the Wednesday, January 24th city meeting. Another neighbor on the street, Lis Gutierrez, is on board. “More parking spaces means to us that there will be a lot more people roaming around at night in front of my house or even staying overnight. I normally walk my dogs late at night and almost every night there is someone around the playground or in the existing parking lot. This is making me very uncomfortable and insecure to go out in my neighborhood to walk my dogs. Now, if more parking spaces are added, it means that this can happen closer to our house and may even get more attention for more people to come [after park closing]. This is not only about the parking lot being built, but about the security of the people that live in this neighborhood!” Margate Mayor, Arlene Schwartz, voiced her concerns on behalf of residents. “I would hate to think that [these residents] would [have to] call [police] after this, that we [or] they didn’t send a strong message…for all the things they say are going on there. Especially given the fact that the police department is a block away. That’s one thing I would hope would get done,” Schwartz told concerned neighbors. The same might be said for city officials, some of whom may have been uninformed as a result of poor attention to detail in the planning process; the city manager/city commission form of government; or an internal communication breakdown among staff and city commissioners. “Many of us attended the variance meeting and all spoke and implored them not to approve this for many reasons and concerns. Only to have all of our valid concerns shot down and ignored. We all felt that no one even heard us or cared. So now we call come before you to please hear us and reconsider this,” Neubauer said. The longtime Margate resident was offended by Commissioner Lesa Peerman’s response that “Squeaky wheel gets the oil [grease]” – a proverb that imparts the need for more than just two neighbors to critique a parking project aimed at the benefit of residents outside their community. Neubauer and Haynes explained that neighbors were at the BOA meeting, but were not able to make it to the CRA meeting. “You may want to tell them the squeaky wheel gets the oil. So right now; there’s two of you standing here. Two houses, okay, the squeaky wheel gets the…” Peerman said. Though some city commissioners spoke to ‘driving by’ the park or ‘knowing what is going on’ – elected officials knew little of how the local community felt about David Park Phase II (parking, restrooms, rental pavilion) prior to meetings of the BOA January 2nd and the CRA January 9th. “When Commissioner Peerman said the squeaky wheel gets the whatever; referring to only two homes there representing this issue…it really pissed me off," she told us. "She called her constituents a squeaky wheel. And I take offense to that. She is an elected official. And that was extremely disrespectful,” Neubauer said, adding that she’s spoken to at least 15 households on streets impacted by the parking project. "I cannot express to you the feelings that we have as residents, not being able to be respected at a meeting. Neubauer said neighbors showed for the BOA meeting, but had other commitments when it came to attending the CRA meeting a week later. "They were not able to attend. They were here for the variance meeting, some didn’t speak, but they were here,” she said. Since, Margate Vice Mayor Anthony Caggiano paid a visit to neighbors, along with city commission candidate, Antonio Arserio. Commissioner Ruzzano, an entrepreneur and CEO of Margate-based Ruzzano Construction, told residents at the CRA meeting that “We’re going to look into it and get back to you guys.” David Park neighbors plan on continuing their appeal of the parking project during public speak at the Wednesday January 24, 2018 City Commission Meeting. The Haynes, Neubauer and Gutierrez said they received no mailing from petitioners regarding the variance. This, in contrast to a recently enacted law by elected officials (Sec. 31-55) that requires an applicant for a variance to notify all real property owners within 1,500 feet of the property in question. "The first time I found out about it was when you [MargateNews.net] published an article," Gutierrez told us. City officials responded in the affirmative that meeting mailings were sent prior to the variance hearing. Notwithstanding, MargateNews.net awaits the fulfillment of a public records request to verify mailing addresses. Click for Google Maps tour of David Park area