ROBBINSVILLE – A group of residents, angry their cars were ticketed and towed during a recent snowstorm, are arguing that a 2010 ordinance banning street parking everywhere in Robbinsville when roads are snow covered needs to make an exception for Town Center.
Police ticketed 32 cars in Town Center the night of Feb. 8, and 10 of those were towed away so snowplows could clear the streets. When cars are parked on both sides of the narrow streets in Town Center snowplows cannot get down the roads, township officials said.
The tickets carry a $50 fine and anyone whose car was also towed paid $100 to $200 or more to get their car back, depending on how long the towing company held the vehicle in storage.
Park Street resident Anuj Bhatnagar, one of those ticketed, told the mayor and Township Council on Feb. 14 the law needs to be changed because many Town Center families with one-car garages and multiple cars have no place but public roads to park. He also criticized township officials for a lack of communication about the ordinance.
“When there’s a snowstorm we get emails and notifications about the garbage (collection) schedule change, but when it hurts us in the form of real money in parking tickets and tow trucks there’s no communication from the township,” Bhatnagar said.
Mayor Dave Fried agreed, saying, “We clearly didn’t communicate the way I would have liked us to.”
Fried said he’d work to change the ordinance to allow parking on only one side of the street in most areas of Town Center when roads are snow covered. Once the new signs are in place the policy will be clearly conveyed to residents via the township’s emailed Newsfeed service and the Nixle emergency alert system, he said.
“I understand we have to provide some parking … we’re going to put new signs out so that people can clearly understand which side of the street there will not be parking, and which side of the street there will be,” Fried said.
It will be impossible, however, to allow parking on every street in Town Center during snowstorms because some roads, such as McCabe Street, are still too narrow for plows to maneuver on even if parking is limited to one side of the street, Fried said.
As for the parking tickets issued during the Feb. 8 snowstorm, the mayor said he was working to see if he could get the fines reduced.
“I have talked to the chief of police and we are working through a process – I don’t want to call it amnesty – but essentially we have to work through the prosecutor’s office to try to have them create an administrative fee to process the tickets and hopefully the judge will agree to waive the rest of the ticket,” Fried said.
Bhatnagar also complained about the tow truck operators’ refusal to accept credit cards. He said he was only able to get his car unchained from the tow truck because he had $100 in cash, but neighbors who did not had their cars towed away and were hit with more fees when they went to the yard to retrieve their cars.
It is unfair for some residents to have had to pay almost twice as much to get their cars released just because they didn’t have $100 in cash in the middle of the night, Bhatnagar said. He asked if residents would get the money they spent on the towing fees refunded.
“I’m working with the chief now on the tows,” Fried replied. “That’s a little bit more complicated.”
After the meeting Police Chief Martin Masseroni said the township does not receive any of the money the private towing companies collect.
Asked what prompted the Feb. 8 crackdown, Masseroni said police were called to Town Center by someone worried the streets wouldn’t be properly plowed because neighbors had left their cars parked in the streets despite no-parking signs.
Some of those ticketed, however, claimed during the meeting that they had never noticed no-parking signs before.
The disputed signs are on everyone’s radar now. Shortly after the ticket blitz, five signs on Malsbury Street were torn out of the ground and dumped in nearby North Park.
Township Administrator Joy Tozzi said one was a “no parking when snow-covered” sign and the other four were regular “no parking” signs that had been installed close to intersections in order to maintain a clear line of sight for motorists, she said.
“We don’t know who did that,” Tozzi said Tuesday referring to the vandalism. “Someone later put them back, but they are not too steady so Public Works will have to go out and do some re-drilling.”