RANDOLPH, NJ- The ongoing Morris County Sussex Turnpike improvement project will make parking difficult at two local businesses, impact their ability to operate and likely shut them down, say the property owners.
Dimitra and George Pappas, who own the Wine Cellar and Ivory Cleaners property, contend the road widening and sidewalk construction is reducing the number of parking spaces directly in front of the establishments. The family is asking town and county officials to revise the construction plan and it has enlisted the support of its customers.
“I never expected how much people care,” said George Pappas. “Our customers have been so supportive of us. We are appreciative.” Jung and Sook Park rent the space and own Ivory Cleaners, according to Pappas.
Pappas said he doesn’t want to hurt the town, but added, “We are in pain and suffering. This is our livelihood.”
The long anticipated road improvement project is well under way. Sewers have been installed and curbs are going in. The project, being undertaken by the Morris County Road Department, has been in the works for a number of years.
Responding to Pappas’ complaints, township and county officials said Pappas’ request that the sidewalks be eliminated will not help the businesses’ parking situation.
“Even without the planned sidewalks it will not be safe with the space left after the widened road is complete,” said county engineer Christopher Vitz. “Seventeen feet is not enough space for cars to back out and get out of the property safely; it has nothing to do with the sidewalks.”
Pappas commented on the safety concern stating, “We have been here 10 years and never had an accident in front of our store. Our record is squeaky clean.”
Officials assert that the Pappas family is a little late in bringing up the concerns. “The Sussex Turnpike Project has been under consideration for over 25 years and the final plans for the project have been public for over a year,” said a statement signed by Morris County Freeholder Kathryn DeFillippo and Randolph Mayor Joanne Veech. “All businesses, including the Wine Cellar and Ivory Cleaners, were notified well in advance of the start of construction and were given ample opportunity to express concern and plan for impacts to their respective property.”
The statement also said the county “has already (at the business owner’s request) delayed construction activity in the area of the businesses.” It acknowledged that an “additional delay has been requested and is under consideration,” but said “there are limits to how far the county can go in authorizing added delay without impacting the overall project schedule. “
At a recent special meeting involving the county's Vitz and DeFillippo, and Freeholder Tom Mastrangelo, as well Randolph Township Council members and Township Manager Stephen Mountain,, the business owners were told work was being put on hold for the holidays. The Poppas family was asked to come up with safe parking alternatives and Mountain said the county and the township offered to “help the family and assist, in any way they are able, to expedite the review/approval process for the redesign of their parking.”
But Mountain and Vitz stressed the county “cannot be financially responsible for that.” Vitz continued, "it would be illegal."
The county agreed to investigate changing the designs for the inlet it is developing so cars can more easily access the parking lot. This would require restructuring and lowering the roadside sewer drains.
The property survey Pappas is using does not match the county survey. Based on his survey, Pappas believes he owns more of the parking space property than the county survey indicates.
Pappas contends a county attorney told him the county would alter its plan if he can prove that his survey is correct. In April, Poppas hired a lawyer to challenge the county, but the county was never given a reason to believe its survey was incorrect, said Vitz.
“The right of way of the county on that property has been in place for 120 years,” he asserted. The parking spaces Pappas has used for 10 years were always the property of the county, said the engineer.
As the situation stands now, the town and county are trying to support the Pappas family members as the family brainstorms possible solutions to the reduction of its parking spaces. Officials expressed empathy.
“We share your concern that the situation has reached this point and that the businesses feel they are not being supported,” said the township’s statement. “Please know that we will be working together in the coming weeks in attempt to change this perspective, and more importantly find a positive outcome.”
Veech stressed that town officials are very supportive of local businesses. “We stand behind our small businesses, we are pro-business and this is a very complex and unfortunate situation. The township has been offering ideas and will continue to offer support, but this is a county road, and a right of way disagreement that only the county and the property owner can resolve," she said.