UNION COUNTY — Commuters who pay heavily for permit parking at the Green Lane NJ Transit station are fuming because Kean students are stealing their spaces and not paying a dime.
It is no secret there is nowhere near enough parking for the number of students on campus at Kean University. In fact, in late September LocalSource reported the situation had become so bad that students were parking on the soccer field and taking a campus trolley to class.
With an enrollment of close to 15,000 students and approximately 4,300 parking spaces available at the commuter-heavy institution, students have no other choice but to get to campus more than an hour or more before class with the hopes of finding a space.
In the meantime, students who want to solve the problem started an online petition to get the university president and board of trustees to listen to their concerns.
Local non-student commuters, however, are not willing to wait until the university comes up with additional parking. They are growing frustrated over the situation because they pay $180 for a three-month parking permit at the Green Lane station, while Kean students are allowed to park free after 10 a.m.
Daniele Sbordi, who has parked her car at this train station on weekdays for seven years, said she paid for a three-month parking permit because she was not able to find daily parking at the station.
What upsets her is after making this investment she noticed a number of Kean students parking in the lot prior to 10 a.m. She inquired if they had permits and was informed they did but these permits were handed out by Kean without charge.
Sbordi discussed this matter on the Union, NJ Residents Forum recently and it generated considerable response.
Jennifer Brady agreed, saying she also faced the same situation, competing with a dozen students combing the lot at the same early time of the morning.
“There were no spaces available at all,” she said, adding that there were 12 cars waiting for any spot to open up. The resident admitted she gave up and headed for the Elizabeth train station where she was more likely to get a parking spot.
Sharon Galitsky was equally upset over the parking situation, noting on the forum that there was previously plenty of daily parking “but now you can’t find a spot after 8 a.m.”
“Wonder what kind of a deal allows free parking at the expense of taxpayers?” the resident added.
Meghan Parsons Hyer was glad the topic surfaced because she said there were many buildings under construction at Kean and she wondered “Where is the parking?”
“I feel really bad for the students who have to drive around for so long looking for a spot. What is Kean’s parking plan?” she asked.
While some residents brought up that students could be paying for parking through tuition, others felt that if Kean constructs new buildings, they should provide student parking.
Marsha McCarthy, director of media relations at Kean University, provided LocalSource with a statement addressing the situation, saying the school is being “proactive” in dealing with the parking situation.
“NJ Transit has graciously given Kean students permission to park in the NJ Transit train station lot every day after 10 a.m.,” said McCarthy in the statement. “Kean University Police do not have jurisdiction in the NJ Transit parking lot. With an enrollment of close to 15,000, Kean University is New Jersey’s fourth largest public university. Like our public counterparts Rutgers, Montclair and Rowan, Kean University makes every effort to right-size our parking to accommodate our students. Our direct access to public transportation is a huge benefit for students, as is Kean’s shuttle services — so that when parking is not immediately available adjacent to academic buildings, it is available on the Liberty Hall or East Campuses allowing students and staff to navigate our urban campus quickly and easily. While Kean offers the balance of being an urban university with sprawling suburban-like campuses, we continue to be proactive in considering additional options to accommodate our students, faculty and employees.”
In October, LocalSource reported on a situation at Kean which involved the university making arrangements with Lamar Properties, a company that bought a portion of the Merck property and had a parking lot that was not in use. While this only provided an additional 200 parking spots, the township put the kibosh on that arrangement because local zoning law did not permit this use without a variance.
At that time Kean Executive Vice President of Operations, Philip Connelly, sent an email to university students, faculty and staff explaining the lot was no longer available for use as of Oct. 17, but he did mention the NJ Transit station lot could be used “after 10 a.m.”
Grad student Melissa Glenn was livid over the problem, explaining that she had to be dropped off at the university because it was difficult to find a spot and make it to class on time. She pointed out that instead of the university building so many new buildings, “they should have built a parking deck.”
“It infuriates me. They want to take in more students, but they don’t have anywhere for them to park,” she said.
Township sources confirmed that Kean did own the NJ Transit commuter lot property prior to the station being built.
However, when the township wanted a certain area near there redeveloped, Kean and the township made certain concessions, as did NJ Transit.
What resulted was that while NJ Transit maintained control of the train station parking lot, Kean was able to get free parking for students and faculty after 10 a.m. However, in the contract, NJ Transit ensured this could be changed at any time.
LocalSource obtained a copy of the ground lease between the township and NJ Transit, and Union does not have the authority to restrict Kean’s use of the lot during the hours stipulated in this legal agreement.
The lease does, though, explain clearly that Kean can use “a portion of the parking facility for faculty, student, and visitor parking after 10 a.m. to midnight weekdays and from 4 p.m. Friday to midnight Sunday without a fee.”
Nevertheless, township officials are looking into whether a sublease, if any, exists between NJ Transit and Kean. If there is no sublease then NJ Transit can limit how many spaces Kean students use.
Township Administrator Ron Manzella said residents who buy parking permits from the township at a reduced rate have indicated there is an ongoing problem with parking at the train station.
“I think it’s time for NJ Transit to end it relationship with Kean University by allowing them to park there freeafter 10 a.m,” he said, adding this would allow NJ Transit to expand commuter parking.
Union Police Director Dan Zieser explained his division is charged with parking enforcement at the NJ Transit lot.
“The problem is I only have two parking enforcement officers,” he explained, but did note they try to get over to the commuter lot on a daily basis.
“It’s a chronic condition,” Zieser said, adding that he is planning to have a meeting with NJ Transit to iron out the problem.
Since September, parking enforcement officers have issued a total of 195 overtime parking violations and 63 permit parking violations.