Further Reading… How Mayor Mahaney Nearly Ruined One Woman’s Wedding
Here’s a curious story. It involves the mayor of Cape May, the police department, a judge and a swimming pool. But before I go into the details, I think the story is related to an ordinance that’s being introduced by Cape May City Council on Monday, November 16.
The ordinance calls for action that will effectively make it very difficult and, in many cases, impossible to build a swimming pool in your Cape May backyard.
The ordinance, if passed, would mean that swimming pools were included in lot coverage – right now they are not. This means that house owners or builders would almost certainly have to choose between a garage and a pool.
Here’s a little example: In the R1 zone, which includes streets such as Cape May Avenue, the standard lot is 75 x 125. This area has 30% lot coverage, which would provide little more than 2800 square feet for the house builder or homeowner. Given that a typical garage and driveway would eat up half of that, that leaves only 1400 square feet for the house and decks. No way you’re squeezing a swimming pool in there.
How this ordinance made it to the council table is, in itself, something of a puzzle.
It wasn’t on the Master Plan, which the city passed in the spring of this year.
But some time after that, the city asked the zoning and planning boards to form a sub-committee to look into the issue of swimming pools.
That sub-committee met once and was in the process of making recommendations (they were against the idea of including swimming pools in lot coverage) when the ordinance was announced by the city. This came as a surprise to the members of that sub-committee. I was told by someone close to the process (no one wanted to be identified in this story) that “someone higher up” in the city ignored, over-ruled (however you want to put it) the sub-committee’s deliberations and introduced the ordinance.
So that’s the background.
Now let me rewind to the middle of August, when Mayor Ed Mahaney, along with a member of the city’s construction office, entered the grounds of a rental property on Maryland Avenue.
The mayor and the official had words with the couple who were renting the property and told them there were code violations regarding the swimming pool, concerning the fence and an electrical permit. The constructon official took photographs of the pool area.
The couple got a little mad at the mayor, which isn’t surprising given that they were trying to relax ahead of their wedding, which was a few days away.
I’m told (albeit via second-hand information) that at one stage, Mayor Mahaney answered the couple’s protests by saying, “I’m the mayor and I can do what I want,” threatening to shut the pool down. The man got so mad that the mayor and the official retreated from the property and called the police.
Soon after, a group of police cars arrived. The mayor and the official tried to return to the property, but the mayor was restrained by a police officer, who advised him to stay put otherwise he’d be trespassing on private property.
The mayor wasn’t too happy about this.
Soon after, the mayor reportedly asked Cape May’s Chief of Police, Diane Sorantino, to take action against the officer who prevented him from returning to the property.
The Cape May Police Department interviewed the officer, along with other people at the scene, and no disciplinary action was taken.
You might be wondering why the mayor took this course of action, especially when the swimming pool at the property was built three years ago and the work undertaken was passed by the city’s officials at the time.
It may, or may not, have something to do with Cape May County Superior Court Judge, Carmen Alvarez, who lives across from the house that the mayor visited that day. The judge has reportedly made quite a few complaints about the swimming pool.
A day or two before the mayor visited the home on Maryland, Judge Alvarez asked a member of the swimming pool sub-committee to visit her home. She showed the visitor around her backyard, pointed out the swimming pool and expressed her distaste for its existence.
The judge is apparently a nature lover and never uses air-conditioning. Therefore, she usually has her windows open in the summer.
This means she hears the noises that regularly occur when families and friends rent a home with a swimming pool.
I’ve been told that she has Mayor Mahaney’s ear on this matter, although I didn’t have the opportunity to verify this when I interviewed the mayor late on Monday afternoon. He told me he was with City Manager Bruce MacLeod and put me on speakerphone.
I asked the mayor why he had visited the house that day. “I’m not going to get into something that’s old history. This matter is resolved,” he said, sounding agitated and defensive from the first word. “I acted well within my rights as the mayor of this town.”
I asked if it was within the rights of a mayor to trespass on private property.
“I was invited on to that property.”
“By who,” I asked.
“The renters,” said the mayor.
“How did that happen?” I asked. “Did they call you?”
“I’m not going to get into this,” he said. “I’ve done a good job as mayor of Cape May and I’m sure the people of this town respect that.”
I then asked the mayor to confirm that he had made a complaint against a police officer.
“I did not. The complaint was instituted by the police department itself,” he replied.
“Against their own officer?” I asked. I then told the mayor that I had it on very good authority that he had made the complaint.
“You go ahead and do what you do,” the mayor replied. “You write the news without any facts. And you can quote me on that,” said the mayor, who then hung up on me.
As soon as I got off the phone I called Chief Sorantino to ask for her version – but I guess I wasn’t quick enough. “She’s on the phone with the mayor,” I was told.
I am satisfied that the mayor did indeed ask the Chief of Police to take action against the officer who stood up to him that day.
And it’s pretty obvious that the couple who rented the property on Maryland did NOT knowingly invite the mayor on to their property (I’m making him sound like a vampire here). In fact, they were so angered by the incident that they were ready to sue the owners of the property if their wedding plans ended up being disrupted by this unexpected wrinkle in their plans. They were also planning to complain to the local press, but I guess they changed their minds. I did leave messages with them to contact me, but I never heard back before press time.
I don’t know why the mayor visited the home. I’m guessing it was in response to a complaint. But since he refused to answer that question, it’s no more than a guess.
I’m disappointed that his version of events doesn’t comply with the version that I’ve heard from a few other people who are very well-versed with the incident.
As for Judge Alvarez, it’s easy to have sympathy with her complaint. Like her, I love nature and dislike air-conditioning. And, like her, I wouldn’t be happy living next to a rental home where people splashed around and did the goofy things folks often do when they’re on vacation.
But I can’t imagine the judge would want the erection of swimming pools to be outlawed in Cape May, which is what this ordinance would effectively do. I can’t understand why the mayor would, either, and I wish I’d had the chance to ask him.
In case you’re wondering, a similar ordinance DOES exist in other seaside towns such as Stone Harbor, Sea Isle City and Wildwood Crest, but in those places the lot coverage is usually between 45% and 70%, making it feasible, in many cases, to incorporate a pool.
Let’s remember something: tourists and summer-long visitors account for more than half the property taxes in this city. You start discouraging them and you’re playing a very dangerous game.
If your neighbor is being a pain in the butt and making too much noise, here’s what you do: you call the police.
That’s what Mayor Mahaney should have done that day in August. Instead, he seems to have conducted himself in a manner that can best be described as arrogant, bizarre and generally unbecoming.
The demographic in this town is already alarmingly old and in desperate need of new blood. This ordinance would take us in entirely the wrong direction, unless we’re aiming for the status of a retirement community.
As a local realtor wrote in an email about the ordinance this week: “Will we have swing set ordinances, barbecue ordinances?”
I think it’s time to stop the madness. I trust that the city council, of which the mayor is but a single member (with no extra administrative power, despite what Mayor Mahaney may think), will act with wisdom and common sense on this matter.
As I mentioned earlier, the ordinance will be formally introduced at the council meeting this Monday, November 16. I’m told that the public will have input at a council meeting on December 15, and that a vote will happen at some stage after that.