Council Asks County To Scrap Park Parking Lot

By on October 12, 2017

Verona Park

The new parking lot was planned for the lawn just below the tennis courts. Manor Road is market by the dot to the right.

The Verona Town Council has passed a resolution asking Essex County to abandon its plans to build a 52-space parking lot next to the tennis courts inside Verona Park.

The County had unveiled its plans for the lot last Wednesday as part of $2 million in improvements to Verona Park. The parking lot plans drew concerns from several residents of Manor Road, a small street on the west side of the park that includes the historic home built by the man who assembled the property that became Verona Park. A group of residents met with Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. on Monday and he issued a tweet on Tuesday morning saying that, as a result of the meeting, the County was “holding off” on building the lot.

When the Council met on Tuesday evening (the meeting date was shifted because of the Columbus Day holiday), Council members initially seemed mostly sympathetic to the new parking lot. There is little parking in Verona Park now, so many visitors park on Lakeside or Park avenues, particularly when there are big events. Mayor Kevin Ryan informed those present that DiVincenzo was looking for the Council to give him a recommendation or resolution on the project.

But the tide began to turn when Verona residents stepped up in the public comment portion of the meeting. Many were residents of Manor Road, who spoke about how the lot would change their view of the park and their property values. “I’m a little bit bewildered,” said Richard Aloia, who lives across Bloomfield Avenue on Malvern Place. “What were they thinking,” he asked rhetorically of the county. “That they would drop a plan, accept bids and then come to you and say what do you think about this? It’s all ridiculous. They should have asked you first.” The park is part of the Essex County Parks system, so changes to it do not have to go through the Council or Verona zoning authorities.

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When the Council resumed its discussion, it was clear that some minds had been changed. “The residents have a point,” said Councilman Alex Roman. “When this lot fills up, which it will, people are still going to use the nearest overflow parking, which is the side streets in the residential neighborhood”. Councilman Jack McEvoy said he was “shocked” that no one spoke to the Council in favor of the lot, and he expressed concern that a larger lot would bring more traffic into the park entrance off Bloomfield. Councilman Ted Giblin was still in favor of the parking plan as proposed by the County but said he would seek input from the Manor Road residents on the vegetation that would be put in as a screen.

“Having sat on a planning board for three years, the procedures that are followed at the county level are totally not in compliance with what we are used to doing in Verona in terms of holding hearings, in terms of having public input at an earlier point in the process,” Mayor Ryan said, adding that he had not gotten even one email in support of the lot. “I don’t know where this great desire for extra parking came from,” Ryan said, noting that the Council does get complaints about parking elsewhere in town.” Roman praised the county executive for all he has done for the park and for listening to the community on the parking lot matter.

The resolution that was formulated specified that since that there was no strong support from Verona for the elimination of open space and the creation of parking, the Council could not in good conscience support the plan as currently proposed. Mayor Ryan and Councilmen Roman and McEvoy voted for the resolution, and Councilman Giblin voted No. Councilman Michael Nochimson was away on business.

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Though Verona passed a resolution, it’s not clear what weight it will have or what will happen to the tennis court renovation that had been bundled with the parking lot. The County Board of Chosen Freeholders removed the parking lot from its meeting on Wednesday night, but Freeholder Leonard Luciano, who represents the district that includes Verona, said at the meeting that he had not known about the parking lot plans in advance.

Verona’s action didn’t sit well with DiVincenzo, who issued this statement on Wednesday:

“We are always looking for ways to enhance our residents’ experience when they visit our open spaces, and we believed that creating more parking in Verona Park was necessary. It is one of the most heavily used in our historic Parks System and the new spaces would have alleviated some of the congestion in the nearby neighborhoods. Our plans were shared publicly and input was welcome at every stage, so it should not have come as a surprise what was being developed. I’m disappointed that the Mayor and Council passed a resolution against the parking spaces and that we will not be making this much-needed addition.”

You can watch the Town Council’s discussion about the parking lot starting at the 1 hour, six-minute mark in the video below.

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4 Comments

  1. Jess McGrath

    October 12, 2017 at 5:54 pm

    So let me get this straight. Council is asserting that no one wants extra parking at Verona Park based on (1) a lack of emails and (2) a handful of angry residents showing up at a council meeting? Was a supplemental survey conducted by the town soliciting feedback? If a parking lot is in the plans, why would people reach out to Council to say great idea? It’s already in the plans! If a decision on whether the Council would recommend a parking lot or not was going to be made on Tuesday night, how about a little more advance notice and publicity? How about something that would stand up to some scientific scrutiny and a basic smell test? Instead it seems some people got riled up over the weekend on Facebook, showed up, and now everything is off.

    Not saying this is the wrong answer, and personally I would be more than open to altering the proposed plans. But seems to me Council acted without an appropriate consideration of facts and all views here.

  2. Virginia Citrano

    October 12, 2017 at 9:07 pm

    Jess, neither the Essex County Parks Department nor any other arm of Essex County government has to consult with Verona on much of anything they do. They don’t have to tell us in advance about their plans and they generally don’t. The County never asked for the Verona Town Council’s opinion on any of the other work they have done to the park. And even though the County asked for this resolution, the Council’s No votes may not mean anything: The County could turn around and put the parking lot in anyway. Even though Verona Park is within our borders, it is the County’s park, not ours.

    The point that Mayor Ryan was making–and he and Councilman Roman make it at length in the meeting video–is that the Verona Town Council regularly gets complaints about parking issues all over town, from not enough parking where people want there to be parking to motorists who hog unmetered spaces. Both gentlemen said that they have not gotten complaints about street parking around the park, nor have they gotten requests for more parking to be added to the park.

    As far as altering the plans, Councilman Roman correctly noted that the parking lot and the tennis court had already been put out to bid and the contract had been awarded. The County is under no obligation to go before the Verona Planning Board or Board of Adjustment and engage in a debate over its plans. Understanding all that, the Verona Environmental Commission had asked for permeable paving to be used in certain areas of the lot in place of asphalt and even that was turned down.

  3. Jess McGrath

    October 12, 2017 at 10:44 pm

    Why would residents send emails to the town council about parking in the Park if we all know it’s a county park? Sorry, that argument makes no sense. Anyone who has spent even a small amount of time in the Park and surrounding area knows that the limited parking, particularly on weekends, is a problem.

  4. TOBY

    October 13, 2017 at 5:48 am

    AND YOU WONDER WHY TAX”S ARE THROUGH THE ROOF…..WHAT A WASTE OF MONEY!…..

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