Kearny officials mull changes to handicapped parking permit procedures

KEARNY –

The Town of Kearny is re-thinking its approach to the way it allocates spaces reserved for impaired drivers who live in town.

In an unusual move, the municipal governing body voted last Tuesday to hold over three applications for handicapped parking spaces for locations in the 100 block of Devon St., in the 300 block of Chestnut St. and near the southerly end of Highland Ave.

Similar applications generally are entertained at virtually every meeting of the Town Council and are typically approved without discussion by introduction and adoption, two weeks later, of an ordinance amending the town’s parking law to reflect the designation of a “restricted parking” space.

But last week, Councilman Richard Konopka flagged these particular requests in light of the fact that in each case, there is a private driveway adjoining the curbside spot sought for special parking by residents.

There is also concern that impaired drivers may be using private driveways to park and requesting reserved curbside spots for family members.

Given that regular parking spots are increasingly at a premium, the town wants to find a way to ensure that it does not further penalize residents in search of spaces while being fair to the needs of local motorists with physical impairments, explained Councilwoman Susan McCurrie, who chairs the council’s ordinance committee.

“We have a policy of not issuing handicapped parking permits to residents that have access to off-street parking spaces,” McCurrie said.

But there may be instances, she added, where a landlord may be unwilling to rent or provide the use of a space in his or her driveway to a disabled tenant who operates a vehicle.

“So we’re looking at our ordinance with an eye to reviewing the whole process of how we distribute handicapped parking spaces,” McCurrie said.

The current procedure calls for an individual to submit an application for a “restricted parking zone and permit” to the Police Department’s Traffic Division, which spot-checks the area in question to make sure that the proposed space “does not interfere with the flow of traffic,” as required by the town ordinance, and reports back to the clerk.

An applicant is required to produce a doctor’s note attesting to his/her disability, a disabled driver placard issued by the N.J. Motor Vehicle Commission and proof of residency, according to McCurrie.

If everything checks out, the clerk presents the application to the governing body for consideration, McCurrie said. And, if the council signs off on the request, then the Traffic Division and DPW combine to install the appropriate signage to reserve the space, she said.

According to Town Clerk Pat Carpenter, there are currently 225 spaces reserved for handicapped motorists throughout the town.

Some communities delegate the designation of handicapped parking spaces to an independent agency – such as the Hoboken Parking Utility – and that’s an option Kearny could explore, McCurrie said.

Also, some towns require an applicant to undergo a medical exam as part of the vetting procedure but Kearny has no “town doctor” who could perform such a screening, “so we’re looking at that,” she added.

Under the existing ordinance, a “disabled person” who drives is defined as “any person who has lost the use of one or more lower limbs as a consequence of paralysis, amputation, or other permanent disability or who is permanently disabled as to be unable to ambulate without the aid of an assistance device or whose ambulation is otherwise severely limited. In any case, the severity of the mobility disability shall be similar to or approximately disablement by reason of amputation.”

A disabled person who is relying on someone else to drive him/her must be “transported at least four times a week” from their home, has an impairment that “would preclude [him/her] from waiting on the sidewalk or other area near [his/her] residence” and lacks an off-street space to park [his/her] vehicle.

If an applicant is denied a permit, he/she can appeal with 20 days of the denial to request a reconsideration.

A successful applicant must pay an initial permit fee of $40 and then “$20 for each two-year renewal period.”

Ron Leir | Observer Correspondent

Ron Leir has been a newspaperman since the late ’60s, starting his career with The Jersey Journal, having served as a summer reporter during college. He became a full-time scribe in February 1972, working mostly as a general assignment reporter in all areas except sports, including a 3-year stint as an assistant editor for entertainment, features, religion, etc. He retired from the JJ in May 2009 and came to The Observer shortly thereafter. He is also a part-time actor, mostly on stage, having worked most recently with the Kearny-based W.H.A.T. Co. and plays Sunday softball in Central Park, N.Y.