The Case For Coverage
AT THE city council meeting last Tuesday, former Deputy Mayor Niels Favre took the podium. He hadn’t intented to speak, he told the board, but he just couldn’t help himself. An ordinance dealing with a potential lot coverage increase — from 30 to 40 percent — for the properties along Cape Avenue had been introduced earlier in the evening. “As many of you know,” he said, “I spent many years on a committee revamping our zoning laws. We did look at R1, particularly Cape May Avenue, and we felt that thirty percent was adequate. Once you approve the increase, you have no control over how people use it. Zoning is all about maintaining the character of the town. I think there are financial forces that would love to develop a town full of forty-story condominiums, but that’s not the Cape May we know and love.”
That’s the argument of the naysayers… that a lot coverage increase would lead to a slew of Avalan-esque McMansions in our charmed city. If you want an addition to your home, you can apply for a variance, they say. And isn’t this really all just about swimming pools, anyway?
Those who’ve been reading Exit Zero faithfully will remember that city council labeled “pool” a four-letter word in 2009, when they passed a not-in-the-Master-Plan ordinance that counted pools against your lot coverage. (This was the year Mayor Ed Mahaney barged into the backyard of a rented home on Maryland Avenue , calling the renters’ pool — the honeymooners’ pool, no less — a “violation” and prompting us to call him a dictator.) The lot size requirement in R1, according to City Engineer Craig Hurless is 9,375 square feet, but if you’re only allowed to cover thirty percent of this, that doesn’t leave much room for a pool… at least not if you’d like, you know, a driveway.
Some residents admit that swimming pools are a part of the incentive. “This is a vacation spot,” one Cape May Avenue homeowner told us. “Of course you’re going to want a pool here.” But other residents deny that’s the incentive. “I have a pool already,” resident Ron Tupper told us. “There are other reasons. I have neighbors who are elderly, and they would like to add to their first floor, because it’s gotten increasingly difficult for them going up and down stairs.”
Tupper is the gentleman who hired Louis C. Dwyer, Jr. Esquire (“Mr Fix-it” when it comes to zoning, we’ve been told), after the planning board voted down the idea of increased coverage for all of R1 last year. In the interim, a compromise orchestrated largely by Mahaney, we’re hearing — increasing coverage for just the properties along Cape May Avenue — has been proposed. “I think the planning board had incorrect information initially,” Tupper told us. “This has nothing to do with floor area ratios, which is what dictates the size of your home. The FAR requirements and the setback requirements will remain the same.”
We called Dwyer as well, who explained that this boils down to a fairness issue. “The 30% lot coverage is substantially less than any other zone in the municipality.” Which seems especially strange, considering that the lots here are actually larger than in most of Cape May. “You can actually have more coverage on a 7,500 square foot lot in an R2 zone than a 93,075 square foot lot in R1,” Dwyer said.
Still, there must have been a reason it was zoned this way in the first place… right? Dwyer didn’t know it. Tupper didn’t know it. Even the city engineer didn’t have an answer for us. “It’s historically just been that way,” he said. Which isn’t exactly a stellar endorsement for keeping things at 30%. Perhaps it was because of the trees, we considered, as Jay Schatz of the Shade Tree Commission had told us there will be 50 or 60 trees that are 80 inches or more in diameter adversely affected by the addition of patios and, of course, pools. He’s hoping to have more research done on in time for the August 14 meeting before the planning board, where the public will have an opportunity to comment. Following this, there will be a meeting before Council no August 21 in which, once again, the public will have an opportunity to comment.
We’ve heard it suggested that Mayor Mahaney has orchestrated this compromise because it’s an election year, and he doesn’t want to lose the votes of prominent folks on Cape May Avenue. We’ve also heard it suggested that he’s advocated for a compromise out of the goodness of his heart. No matter what side of the fence you’re on, we recommend attending the upcoming meetings, because otherwise, you forfeit your right to complain when things don’t go your way.
“I JUST couldn’t decide what to wear today,” said the girl who walked on to the beach next to us last Saturday. She’d decided on jeans and a sweater, and we wished we’d dressed that warmly, too. Overcast and breezy, this wasn’t the best beach weather, but the sand was still crowded. It was the day of the third annual Great American Volleyball Tournament, cosponsored by Cabanas and the city of Cape May, and the sounds of balls thumping against forearms filled the air.
“I know he took it low,” we heard one refferee say, “but I don’t think the ball was lifted.” And then from another: “Either bring the blocker with you, or run a backset.” (Whatever that means.) These were players, we began to see, who, in between their own matches, took turns policing fourteen courts and sixty four teams — some professional, some ameteur, and some beginner. “Last year, there were only 52 teams,” said Payton Bowman, manager of Cabanas and a worthy competitor in the amateur division. “There are twelve more this year, and that’s after six teams cancelled because of weather.”
Bowman tried to pop an Advil (“because us old guys need Advil”) and get back to his court, but we peppered him a few more questions. Like, just where did all of these sexy, bathing suit-clad atheltes come from? “As far as Washington DC, New York, and Virginia,” he told us. “Some play in college; there are representatives here from Penn State, Rutgers, all over.” And all for a chance to play on the sands of Cool Cape May. Well, that, and a chance at a chunk of the prize money… $3,000 in total. So it must get pretty competitive, we wanted to know? “Oh, there can be some trash talking,” Bowman laughed. Then he recommended we speak with Jim Walls, because “this guy can answer all of your questions… He’s like the ambassador of volleyball in Cape May.”
It shouldn’t be too hard to find the ambassador, we figured, so we made our way over to a canvas tent belonging to Mike Wilson of Cape May Fitness and asked if any of the folks camped out there had seen this ambassador. “He’s my best friend,” Wilson told us, “and he should be back any minute.” Turns out, the alternator in Walls’ wife’s car had failed, and he needed to run home to give her and their three kids a lift. In the meantime, Wilsonfilled us in on Walls’ workout routine. “We do beach volleyball drills at 5:30 in the morning,” he said, before adding, “You know, Jim never played volleyball in high school. He’s just a freakishly atheltic person.”
There seemed to be a lot of freakish athletics happening around us at this point. On the court directly in front of us, the serves of a Cape May-stationed member of the Coast Guard named Zach Walden were sending his opponents diving, in vain, headfirst into the sand. Turns out, this guy had been invited to play in the World Military Olympics, and then on Team USA, which finished fifth in the world. “Put that in the article,” Walden joked after his game, “and it will drive Jim crazy.” (Obviously, Bowman had been right about the playful trash-talking thing.) “But seriously,” Walden said, “Jim’s one of the best volleyball players to come out of New Jersey.”
About this time, Walls made his way on to the beach, and we were able to corner him for a minute before he needed to be on the court. He told us that he’d had many opportunities to work on Wall Street after he graduated from Fordham University, but that he decided to pick up beach vollebyall and move to Fourt Lauderdale, where he played professionally for four years, until 2003. It was the late Andy Boyt who’d turned him on to the sport, and “it seemed like a pretty cool lifestyle.” Now, Walls works as a mortgage banker and part-time commodoties trader, but still finds time to compete in about three tournaments a year. “It can get pretty intense on the court,” he said, “but this is one of the friendlier tournaments. There’s great sportsmanship here.”
He and his teammate, Brian Soldano, ended up taking second place overall, after losing one game to two in the finals, in a competition that lasted until 7:30 that night. That’s ten-and-a-half hours of volleyball. We didn’t make it until the end, but we did call Walls afterward to find out how it went. “For me,” he said, “this tournament is great because that’s the beach I pretty much learned to play volleyball on, and I have a lot of good memories growing up. But even more than that, everyone who comes to this tournament ends up saying, ‘I can’t beleive how nice the beach is and how beautiful the town is.’ That’s what separates this spot from everywhere else. Cape May is just such a beautiful place.”
Until next year, don’t forget to bring your blocker with you, or to run a backset, Cape May.
Whatever that means.
Down On The Farm (Market)
So we’ve seen you at the West Cape May Farmers Market, haven’t we? Maybe that was you picking up your fresh-from-the-farm veggies, jamming to some live music, enjoying a piping hot empanada or some made-30-seconds-ago donuts while browsing the vendors’ booths, perhaps….? Buying a Flying Fish shirt, eating some pulled-pork barbecue, or cooling off with some Bliss Homemade Organic ice cream? All of the above? (Try the donuts and the ice cream together. Just a thought. But eat your veggies first.)
The what the heck should we do on Tuesday afternoon? quandary has been roundly solved, as any savvy Cape May lover knows, by the West Cape May Farmers Market, which has become a summer destination event in these parts, running for 10 weeks each year on Tuesdays from 3-7:30pm, rain or shine. Plus, as West Cape May mayor Pam Kaithern told us, “It’s the best reason ever not to cook on a Tuesday.” (Well, that wasn’t all she said about it, but for some reason, that sentiment really stuck with us.)
The Farmers Market actually began around 11 years ago, but it’s only been in its current incarnation for the last few. “It used to be in the front parking lot, but we kept looking at the recreation area behind the hall,” Mayor Kaithern says. “Together with the Public Works Department, we worked to create a backyard park. We put down sod, we made it handicapped-accessible, we paved it and put in a gazebo. And then you have the whole ‘Well, we built it, will they come?’ scenario,” she continues.
Came they did, and they continue to do so in droves. “The great thing about it is there’s a nice mix of locals and tourists,” Kaithern says. “It’s just a great community attraction, with emphasis on the ‘community.’ We have more farmers now than ever, including an organic one, our vendors return year after year, and the music has become a huge focal point.” (The music starts at 5pm, folks; it’s free, it’s consistently good, and if you were just stopping by to pick something up and decide to stay for some tunes, the Farmers Market will even provide you with a blanket to sit on.)
We spoke with Sue Lotozo, owner of Flying Fish Studio, who is one of those many returning vendors to the Famers Market. Between her shop on Park Boulevard and her satellite location at West End Garage, we had to wonder what the motivation was for yet another place to… work. “It’s a great way for me to sell retired designs at really attractive pricing,” Sue told us. (Reporter’s note: “really attractive” means “five bucks, three for $12.”) “I may have shirts of a particular design that I’m phasing out, or a bunch of shirts that I only have in small or double XL sizes, for instance, and I can just sell them at the Farmers Market rather than have a bunch of “sale” items in the store during the summer months. Customers also get a coupon they can use in the store.”
So, we asked, is it a drag to leave work to go to… more work? “No, I love the market,” Sue told us. “I get to see all the people, hear some great music, and it’s really like a family night out for us. Plus, I don’t really work there — I make my kids do it.”