Berkeley Heights Considering Parking Regulations During Snow Emergencies

Berkeley Heights Police Chief Michael Mathis explains the intent of an ordinance that would allow police to tow cars in a snow emergency during the Township Council’s Tuesday, Feb. 7 meeting. Credits: Deb Dawson

BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – An ordinance establishing parking regulations during snow emergencies will be reintroduced on Tuesday, Feb. 21 after the public objected to the possibility of towing and numerous council members made suggestions for revision during the Township Council’s meeting on Feb. 7. The intent of the ordinance is to help the Department of Public Works (DPW) get the township’s roads cleaned as expeditiously as possible.

As it currently reads the proposed ordinance defines snow as “any precipitation depositing any accumulation on streets, including snow, sleet, hail, ice or freezing rain.” A “snow emergency” would exist whenever snow has fallen and “the accumulation is such that it covers the streets or highways, or a state of street conditions that are hazardous and/or dangerous to vehicular and pedestrian traffic and so declared by the Township of Berkeley Heights, County of Union or State of New Jersey.”

It stipulates that no vehicles can be parked on the streets of the township until after the snow has ceased and until the streets have been plowed sufficiently so that parking will not interfere with the normal flow of traffic. And, it provides for police to have any car in violation towed with the owner responsible for towing and storage charges.

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Objections were raised because it does not specify a number of inches, makes no provision for advance notice to residents, allows police to use their discretion and authorizes towing as the corrective action.

“The streets are designed for traveling and parking safely,” said Councilman Thomas Pirone. He compared Berkeley Heights to New York City, noting the city allows street parking during snow emergencies.

“I believe it is unnecessary to grant police the ability to tow cars when it snows.” He suggested written warnings and tickets be used instead, adding someone could be parked on the street when they go to work and then return home to a towed car. “I see this ordinance as the illegal taking of property.”

Councilman Edward Delia said he thought the ordinance lacks specificity regarding what streets are covered and suggested it be amended to say “all streets and highways… I think every street in town is important for no parking. Define the amount of snow so people will know whether they’ll get towed or not.”

“I think if we start putting defined amounts we’re heading down a slippery slope,” said Councilman Robert Woodruff. Regarding notice, he said “You’re counting on individuals – police and townspeople – exercising good judgment… I think it’s a regulation which many towns have and we have to use common sense. If we hear this is being abused we’ll have to take it up with the police chief.”

Councilwoman Jeanne Kingsley was concerned the ordinance does not indicate who can declare a snow emergency.

“A snow emergency is declared by me in conjunction with police and the OEM (Office of Emergency Management),” said Mayor Joseph Bruno. “You don’t wake up in the morning and say, ‘Oh, it’s snowing today!’ You have a TV. All we’re asking you is to let us get the streets clear.  All we’re trying to do is what most residents expect. It’s a reasonable ordinance that a lot of towns in our area have.”

Kingsley brought up the October storm that came on much more quickly than was forecast. “I do think a fair (amount) of notice is appropriate. They’re wrong, the weathermen. It does come unexpected. Notice is important.”

Police Chief  Michael Mathis responded to the council, “We talked with Chatham, New Providence and Springfield and we pretty much copied their ordinances because they work. If there’s snow cover, a snow emergency exists. No one needs to declare it…. We’re not going to go out there and start looking for people to write tickets. The idea is to assist our DPW so they can clear the roads and make them passable. You have to have to have the ordinance in effect and the penalties to allow us to remove the car if we have to.”

Council President Kevin Hall moved to have Township Attorney Joseph Sordillo redraft the ordinance and reintroduce it at the next meeting. All agreed.

Woodruff said, “One of my concerns is the towing. I’d really rather not see towing occur unless a vehicle is flagrantly in abuse of the rule. It would be appropriate to address that issue in the document. There’s potential for abuse there.”

Bruno agreed, “Towing should be a last resort.”

“We would treat this the same as we do parking violators in the municipal lot. We could tow, but (usually) we ticket,” said Mathis.

Residents Carol Matula and Dr. Tom Foregger both objected to the ordinance as it was proposed.

In other business:

The Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League is coming to Snyder Avenue Park this summer. Resident Ben Smookler of the league told the council the Jersey Pilots team will play at the park almost every Thursday and every Sunday this summer, beginning on Sunday, June 3. There will be 20 home games including a couple of double headers. The township Police Athletic League will run the concessions and take care of the field.

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