SPARTA, NJ – The third or fourth time was not the charm for the Lake Mohawk Country Club in dealing with the Sparta Planning Board. The planning board, in a 4-4 vote, did not approve the petition made by the country club to charge a fee to park in the Lake Mohawk Country Club parking lot. They have been presenting a plan repair, reconfigure and then to charge for parking in the lot at 11 West Shore Trail, adjacent to the Lake Mohawk Country Club.
With an anticipated price tag of $390,000 the trustees developed a plan to charge for parking as a way to “defray costs and absorb operating costs,” according to LMCC engineer, Stan Puszcz of CP Engineering.
Puszcz said two thirds of the price tag is associated with hardscape, paving, striping, lighting, curbing and landscape, the other third is attributed to the gate system.
“When the club was looking to make improvements, it looked for a mechanism to recoup the cost of the improvement,” Puszcz said. “In addition to the principal and interest on the capital improvements there are maintenance costs to be covered.”
“The objective behind the process is to generate revenue, not surplus funds, to offset construction and maintenance costs. Lake Mohawk Country Club is a non-profit organization,” Megan Ward, Kelly & Ward LLC attorney for LMCC said.
Ward presented to the planning board with Puszcz. They began by going down a checklist of issues from previous meetings. Some of the items concerned set-backs and easements. Others had to do with proposed signage and the configuration of the parking lot spaces and sidewalks.
They explained the “11 areas of variance or design waivers have all been addressed. The one’s that remain were previously approved non-conforming conditions.”
The design includes two gates, one at each driveway. A patron would take a ticket upon entry and pay when leaving. A guard shack is included in the new design. The gates would only be in operation when “security or country club personnel were on site” proposed to be 6 a.m. to midnight.
The plan proposed by Ward and Puszcz preliminarily suggested the cost could be $2 for the first two hours, $1 for additional hours for a total of $4. Members would not be charged to park.
Club President Gregory Yuskaitis said the fee had yet to be determined. He and Puszcz said that it would take time to figure out the number and they did not want to take the time until the project was approved.
Township Councilwoman and Planning Board member Christine Quinn said, “Who protects businesses from you holding the parking lot hostage?”
Planning Board Vice-Chair George Zacsek, said, “What assurances do we have that the club won’t raise the parking fees … in two years. Businesses in the reservation will be hurt."
“If the board of trustees create a price point that hurts businesses, they will be voted out,” Puszcz said.
It was noted the business owners and tenants in White Deer Plaza are LMCC members.
They discussed possibilities of having a key-fob or possibly a sticker to bypass the charge. Puszcz said the trustees would be discussing key-codes and various other aspects of security related to the gate systems. The township would be given authorization codes as well, for access.
Another by-pass would be available for patrons of the Oak Tree Preschool for pick-up and drop-off times.
Zacsek said “It seems the only fair way is to charge everyone or no one.” He also said non-members could pay a user fee and members pay a flat fee.
Chairman Ernest Hofer disagreed. He said the property belongs to the members of the club and as such, they already pay for the lot in their dues. Hofer said, “Members pay dues to use all amenities. Non-members are being asked to pay for the amenities.”
Hofer previously served as the general manager of the Lake Mohawk Country Club, having retired in June 2014.
Ward said, “Dues are flat fee for members.”
The crux of Zacsek’s disagreement with the plan appears to be his disagreement on the venue in which this matter is being heard. Zacsek believes the addition of a fee for parking creates a new business, a change in the use of the property. As such, Zacsek believes the matter should be heard by the Zoning Board.
Zacsek said businesses must provide free parking for their patrons, under Sparta ordinances. As such, he believes the parking to be an "accessory of the business."
Puszcz said, “If every square inch of the property [country club, restaurant and facilities] was being used at the same time they would be required to have 300 parking spaces” for the patrons. “The application adds 15 spaces allowing 72 extra spaces.”
It is, in part, the extra inventory that Ward and Puszcz argue allow the country club to be able to charge for parking.
Another argument for the parking spots having retail value is an agreement between the LMCC and Sparta Township, dated November 6, 2008 in which 10 parking spaces were identified as being linked to one of the adjacent properties. According to Puszcz, the property was previously a fire house and is now owned by Gregory and Celia Leo. In exchange for the spots, “the township [property owner] would pay $170 per spot per year, for maintenance,” according to Puszcz.
Hofer said he had been a part of negotiating that agreement.
While Sparta Planning Board attorney Tom Collins did not appear to agree with Zacsek regarding the venue he did say the ordinance required patrons using the country club, “going to a wedding, the tiki bar or restaurant will park for free.”
Ward said, “I disagree. There is nothing in the ordinance that says we have to provide free parking.”
“It’s implicit in the use, the customer of that business is supposed to be provided free parking. If you want to charge you will have to go to the zoning board,” Collins said.
After a brief adjournment requested by Ward, they agreed they “will not charge user fees to people who are using the facilities of Lake Mohawk Country Club for things such as weddings or the restaurant.”
Hofer estimated that concession could be valued at “8,000 to 12,000 less cars.”
Hofer asked if the Finance Committee of the club had reviewed the plan saying “he would have more confidence if they had.”
Yuskaitis said the “Finance Committee had not approved it….When we know the full scope of the project, then we will have them review it.”
Quinn asked if provisions would be made for “large events such as Dragon Boat Races, Fireworks and the Christmas Market.” She was concerned that traffic would back up as people had to stop to get tickets. She was also worried about people parking on side streets and walking in areas where there are not sidewalks or lighting to keep pedestrians safe.
Yuskaitis said these types of events would not be an issue. The country club typically coordinates with police prior to those events as well as parades and races.
There was additional discussion between Ward and the owners of the gas station, regarding proposed changes to the curbs and sidewalks.
The vote was called. Member Edward Prol went first voting no.
Township Councilman and board member Jerry Murphy read what appeared to be a prepared statement in advance of his vote. “While elected officials are not required to explain their vote…I have discussed this plan with the Economic Development Council.” Saying they are afraid of the negative impact it will have on business Murphy voted no.
Quinn said her “concern all along has been protection for business owners and patrons” but was okay with the plan because of the stipulations added by Collins. Those stipulations included free parking for LMCC patrons and employees and a restriction from allowing the club to sell the parking fee collection business to a third party. Quinn voted yes.
Board member Ted Gall voted yes. Zacesk voted no, as did board member George Parker. Jim Henderson and Hofer both voted yes, bringing it to a tie.
“Tie does not go to the winner,” Muprhy said.
After the failed vote, Yuskaitis would only say he would take the matter up with the board of trustees.