OCEAN CITY — A guy never forgets his first set of wheels.
That was very apparent Thursday night at a City Council workshop meeting as an all-male subcommittee charged with aiding the city in determining a location for a new skate park, and many male members of the audience, spoke warmly of their skateboarding days as they voiced support for the project, a $750,000 state-of-the-art park planned for 2015.
Councilman Keith Hartzell, who guessed he was probably the oldest skater present, having received his first skateboard in 1962, said skateboards were used primarily for transportation where he grew up in Hawaii. Although females skate, too, not a one in the standing-room-only audience of nearly 200 at the Ocean City Free Public Library spoke publicly of her fondest skating memories. Instead, when the women spoke, it was to voice different sentiments.
The biggest objection to the park is its proposed location, a city-owned lot in the 500 block of Asbury Avenue that area residents use for parking since many of their century-old homes were built before the automobile became the main mode of transportation.
Faced with the loss of 33 parking spaces in the lot, which 1st Ward Councilman Michael DeVlieger said could easily be reduced to 10 with the promise to continue working on the issue until the number to zero, eight of the 19 public speakers still specifically objected the park’s location. Nancy Aiken, who owns Ocean City Mansion in the 400 block of Central Avenue, begged the city not to take away the 10 parking spots the lot provides and the city requires her to have for her bed-and-breakfast business.
“I’m asking for relief from that,” said the mother of four, adding she supported the idea of a skate park and that her children were likely to frequent the skate park.
A meeting on the topic will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Eighth Street Recreation Center. Hosted by 2nd Ward Councilman Antwan McClellan, the meeting will provide an opportunity for McClellan’s constituents – those most affected by the proposed park’s location – to discuss what one resident said appeared to be “a done deal.” Another said McClellan’s support of the proposed location would amount to “political suicide” on the councilman’s part.
Jeffrey Sutherland, a resident of the 400 block of Central Avenue, said the timing of the city’s meeting was unfair, coming before neighbors could hold their own meeting. DeVlieger and city Business Administrator Mike Dattilo both said the timeline for the presentation had been moved up in reaction to the April 15 deadline for applications for Green Acres funding through Cape May County’s Open Recreation program, funding that DeVlieger said could pay a “large chunk” of the park’s cost not covered by the $250,000 the city has budgeted. That money was put in the budget to make good on a promise by the administration to replace the skate park at Sixth and the Boardwalk that was closed in October 2011.
Tom Heist, president of Thomas H. Heist Insurance Agency, was president of Business and Neighborhood Development (BAND) when the city lot under consideration for the park’s location was converted from a boatyard to public parking. In a phone conversation Thursday morning, Heist said that the lot was created at least a decade ago to address the lack of parking downtown, and that he would attend McClellan’s meeting rather than council’s workshop to better educate himself on the situation.
The committee of skaters, elected officials and city employees considered 21 possible locations for the park, and rejected all but three, all on Fifth Street. Michael Walsh, a homeowner in the 400 block of Asbury Avenue who said his family of four drivers uses the city lot, was one of the speakers who suggested an alternate location: The tennis courts at 34th Street.
Walsh ticked off the names of at least eight businesses in the immediate area that would satisfy one of the park’s requirements – proximity to services. He said the tennis courts were out of place next to a children’s playground, and that none of the city’s other tennis courts were near any other recreational facilities. A city-owned lot at 46th Street and West Avenue could be used as the new tennis court location, Walsh said.
Council will take up the matter again at its next regular meeting April 10.
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