More than 150 people attended a City Council workshop Thursday night dedicated to a proposed skateboard park in Ocean City.
In a show of hands, not a single one objected to the idea of building a park in the city.
But the crowd was more divided on a proposed site: on a portion of a parking lot adjacent to the Ocean City Fire Department on the 500 block of Asbury Avenue.
The scene had all the makings of a classic “Not in My Back Yard” (NIMBY) debate, but there were few objections to bringing skaters to the neighborhood. Instead, the proposal struck a much more tender nerve for Ocean City residents: “Not in My Parking Spot.”
The proposed site would eliminate 33 parking spaces from a lot the city created to alleviate parking problems in the area.
A committee of local skaters, elected officials and city employees had been working to develop a detailed plan, but an April 15 deadline to apply for a grant that could help pay for the park forced the group to announce the proposed site before it could solicit feedback from all neighbors.
That left residents who have become accustomed to using the parking lot in a position of being the “bad guys” lining up against the youth of Ocean City.
On a densely populated island where the summer population swells well beyond 100,000 people, parking close to home is never a given. But in Ocean City’s historical district, where off-street “garages” were designed for horse and buggy, the problem is even worse.
Residents of the 400 block of Central Avenue — the heart of the historical district — were among the people who questioned the elimination of parking.
The council workshop and a subsequent “Town Hall” that allowed for more interaction were dedicated largely to replacing the lost parking spots.
First Ward Councilman Mike DeVlieger opened Thursday’s workshop with a presentation on plans for the skate park.
The city dismantled a park near Sixth Street and the Ocean City Boardwalk in 2011, citing safety concerns over deteriorating equipment. That park had opened in 2002 at a cost of a little more than $130,000. Since then, the city administration has promised to rebuild the park, and City Council has approved a capital plan that calls for spending $250,000 on the project.
The vision for the park includes using the $250,000 dedicated by the city as a foundation for a park that could potentially cost three times as much. The group envisions a concrete park. And the group hopes a Green Acres Cape May County Recreation Grant will cover much of the remaining cost.
The group planning the park includes surf shop owners, business people, parents and students — all skaters and committed to skating.
The skateboard park, they say, is a perfect fit for the culture of Ocean City, a town proud of its successful high school surfing team and a draw for the surfers throughout the region.
The group considered 21 sites — places including the Ocean City Municipal Airport parking lot, open space at Second Street and Bay Avenue, Bayside Center (500 block of Bay Avenue), under the 34th Street Bridge, south of the 46th Street firehouse, the former site at Sixth and Boardwalk, and others.
The proposed site was prioritized because of its central location, accessibility and proximity to both the Ocean City Fire Department and Ocean City Police Department.
Unlike the dismantled park, which was made of portable material bolted together, the proposed park would be made of concrete. DeVlieger’s presentation showed a 6-year-old California skater on a park similarly designed: See Asher Bradshaw video.
DeVlieger said the parking spaces recovered after removing the old skateboard park from the lot at Fifth Street and the Boardwalk have generated $72,500 per year.
Among the 33 spots sacrificed to construct a park (the proposal leaves half of the existing parking lot untouched), DeVlieger says 10 spots will be recovered with the removal of temporary Comcast trailers, six spots by removing city vehicles and another five by restriping lines.
He said changing the 400 block of Central Avenue to a one-way street (it dead-ends into the Ocean City Tabernacle property) could create eight new spots if the city implemented angled parking.
The proposal would involve moving an existing Ocean City Ecumenical Council Clothes Closet building from one side of the firehouse to the other.
“This neighborhood is probably the oldest in Ocean City,” said Jeff Sutherland, a resident of the 400 block of Central Avenue. “There is very limited parking.”
“We’re not allowed to take anything down,” Sutherland later said about the notion of historical district property owners creating more off-street parking. “We can’t change it. There’s nothing we can do about it.”
Sutherland said the city used the lot as a boat yard but turned it into a parking lot to help the neighborhood.
Nancy Aiken, innkeeper at the Ocean City Mansion at 416 Central Avenue, said she has four children who would likely use the skate park. But she said her inn needs the 10 parking spots afforded by the existing lot.
“Please don’t take away my parking,” Aiken said.
The majority of speakers spoke in favor of the park as an important resource for youth and families.
Mark Raab said the park could be a benefit for businesses. He said his wife drives their child to Sea Isle to skate and stays there until he’s finished.
“She drives back with a lot of packages,” he said.
Ocean City Intermediate School student Ricky Hardin summed up support for the proposal: “Just let us have our fun.”
Mike Pinto, a Fifth Street resident who owns the residential property closest to the proposed park, is a member of planning committee, and he had a proposal to recover the full balance of lost parking spaces. He said 31 spaces could be created in a ring around the adjacent Ocean City Primary School by removing “Loading Zone” and other no-parking signs in the summer when the school doesn’t need them and residents do.
The remaining two spaces could be added in the parking lot entrances that would be eliminated with the construction of a skateboard park.