Wednesday, 26 October 2011 12:00
CAPE MAY — In what the city believes to be a first-of-its-kind ordinance statewide, handicapped drivers will now be exempt from feeding the meters here.
“I thank council for supporting this. It seems like the right thing to do. Common sense has prevailed,” Councilman Jack Wichterman said at the regular council meeting earlier this month.
The ordinance, which was adopted by unanimous vote, requires that the vehicle display a valid handicapped license plate, placard or parking permit issued by the state. The city also will honor placards from other states, U.S. territories and districts, as well as Canada.
The ordinance also makes it clear tickets still could be issued after a 24-hour period.
City solicitor Anthony Monzo said he searched state databases and did not find any other municipalities that have waived meter fees for the handicapped.
New Jersey statues prohibit municipal authorities from issuing tickets to handicapped drivers after a meter has been activated and then expired. The state requires handicapped drivers only to activate a meter when they arrive at the parking space, saving them from return trips to the meter.
Wichterman said enforcement of the state law is “almost impossible” at Cape May’s coin-operated meters.
“It makes more sense to waive the meter fee in this circumstance,” said Wichterman.
The councilman, who also serves as deputy mayor, suggested that any revenue loss would be offset by the positive image projected by the ordinance.
The ordinance does require that the vehicle be in use by a handicapped driver or for the transportation of a handicapped passenger.
“You want to make sure it’s not just placard being displayed,” said Jay Schatz, a local innkeeper.
Mayor Ed Mahaney said that in the past six years, the city has invested $1.6 million, including federal and state grants, to make the beachfront more accessible.
“We find the more we do, the more people ask for – which is fine,” Mahaney said.
The city pulled in $1.2 million in grants over the last three years for beachfront modifications to permit greater access for people with disabilities.
Cape May was required to match the grants by contributing $321,000 of city funds, putting the project total at the $1.6 million mark.
“These were major compliance improvements,” said Mahaney. “We are receiving very positive responses to these changes.”
The beachfront modifications that have been completed over the last three years include American with Disabilities Act (ADA)-compliant ramps to access the promenade from Beach Avenue; improved lighting for the ramps and promenade; and installation of boardwalk materials out to the high water mark on several beaches. The project also included additional pavilions.
“We want everyone to be able to enjoy our beachfront,” said Mahaney.