OCEAN CITY — Although it’s been years since she last skated, Dawn Vanderslice remembers how much fun it was when she was younger.
“I used to skateboard,” the mother of four said Tuesday afternoon, recalling when a skate park was located behind what is now Adventure Island Waterpark at Plymouth Place and the Boardwalk. “I loved to skate. I’m not a big athlete, but I used to have a good time skating there.”
Those memories, and an interest in seeing the city build a new skate park to replace the one at Sixth Street and the Boardwalk that closed in October 2011, spurred Vanderslice to attend last week’s City Council meeting. Although the park was not on the meeting’s agenda, about 20 people showed up to support those who spoke in favor of a new park proposed for Fifth Street and Asbury Avenue.
The strong public showing prompted 1st Ward Councilman Michael DeVlieger to request that today’s council workshop, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Ocean City Free Public Library at 1735 Simpson Ave., be dedicated to the topic of the skate park.
Proponents of the park have lauded the proposed location for its openness, pointing to a church to the east, a firehouse to the south, a school to the west and commercial buildings to the north. But others say the immediate area is not without residents and consequences to them.
“A lot of people in this neighborhood use that lot,” John Loeper said Wednesday morning, referring to residents of the city’s Historic District. “Most of the garages are Model T garages. You can’t even put a Honda Civic in them. Back in the day, when these houses were created, the garage was for a horse and wagon. And most of these houses have cottages in their backyards, so there’s nowhere to park behind them either.”
As a result, homeowners living in the area bounded by Third and Eighth streets and Central and Ocean avenues have come to rely on using the city lot at Fifth and Asbury for parking during high-traffic times.
DeVlieger, who last week met with Cape May County representatives to discuss funding for the park, said Wednesday afternoon he is aware some residents object to the proposed location of the skate park, and that he is committed to shepherding the project through with minimal inconvenience.
“I personally feel an obligation not to negatively impact the neighborhood,” he said. “But I can say without hesitation that this park will improve the quality of life, recreation and sport for citizens and tourists alike.”
As a resident whose property does not contain a driveway, DeVlieger said he sympathized with those who are concerned about parking and understood that people want to park near their homes. He said the lot would be reconfigured to get the maximum efficiency out of it for community, residential and parent/teacher parking for those using the primary school across West Avenue.
Loeper, owner of the Northwood Inn in the 400 block of Wesley Avenue and chairman of the city’s Planning Board, said the 8-mile-long island has “a fair amount of open space” and that he is interested in seeing the city explore additional locations for the skate park.
In December, Mayor Jay Gillian’s administration, in announcing a conceptual design had been developed for the new park, indicated it favored locating the park north of the Sports and Civic Center at Sixth and the Boardwalk, near the skate park that had been built in 2002 but has since been dismantled. As recently as last week’s council meeting, Business Administrator Mike Dattilo said the new park project was still in the “concept phase,” and that included the location.
“I went (to the council meeting) to see where they were going with placement of the park,” said Vanderslice, who called the city-owned lot next to the Sixth Street firehouse “a great spot” for the new park. “I think it’s a win-win for everybody. The kids will have someplace safe to skate, the parents can drop them off and walk downtown, and having the EMTs there (at the firehouse) is definitely a plus.”
While her children, ages 13 to 28, are more involved in other sports, Vanderslice said she thinks it is important that Ocean City, as a surf town, have an outlet for skaters.
Also, she added, “I am in favor of anything kids want to do to get them away from the TV, computers and phones.”
Safety was mentioned repeatedly as speakers at last week’s council meeting addressed the need for a new park. In making his case, John Bonino, a Fourth Street resident, said his skateboarding son had been hit two times by cars, once on a road and once in an alleyway. Vanderslice said that was the most vivid recollection she had from the meeting.
“He said his kid had been hit twice,” she said. “It’s because kids are skating wherever they can find a spot. They’re not looking to make trouble, they’re just looking to skate.”
A state-of-the-art skate park would give them what they want, she said, plus the safety all seek.
In addition to tonight’s workshop, another meeting on the topic has been scheduled. Antwan McClellan, in whose 2nd Ward the proposed park will be located, will host a meeting from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at the Eighth Street Recreation Center.
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