Former North Bergen mayor and freeholder Peter Mocco has been collecting $500-a-week fines for paving a 1,000-spot parking lot off Marin Blvd. in Liberty Harbor North.
"What we did was maintenance of an existing paved area," said Mocco last week.
The city disagrees, and has been hitting Mocco up with fines and has forbidden parking on the lot.
But now it looks like Mocco has turned his attention to the Hamilton Park area. Over the weekend, residents noticed a section on 10th Street near Brunswick had been paved and striped for angle parking. Cars have been filling the approximately 20 spaces there.
Those spaces are near the Monmouth Street Hamilton Park Health Care Center, a Mocco-owned facility.
"We've been parking there for 12 years," said Mocco. "It serves family members and doctors."
Resident and Hamilton Park Neighborhood Association President Geoff Elkind said the area had served as a de facto parking lot for years, even though signs indicate "No Parking." Some of these signs, however, appear to be defaced to indicate that parking is not illegal on the north side of the street.
I had this leftover asphalt
When a contractor was working on a separate project on Monmouth and Ninth streets over the weekend, he had some leftover material. This asphalt was used to pave 10th Street, he said.
But officials note that Mocco never received the proper permits to pave 10th Street, and parking is illegal on the north side of the road, anyway, said Tom Gallagher, Mayor Bret Schundler's chief of staff.
In a city where motorists consistently suffer roller coaster rides down pock-marked streets, the illegal surfacing of a road leaves questions of what to do with it.
"When you look at what he did, it is kind of nice," said Parking Authority director Carmine Venezia. But if it is unlawful, he said, "I will have to summons those vehicles [parked there], and we'll have to tow."
Mocco intends to develop on the 75-acre Liberty Harbor North site, below Grand Street and bordered on the south by Morris Canal basin. He envisions a "city neighborhood environment that's alive with housing shopping, eateries and office space."
How the Planning Board reacts to this plan in light of his recent activity is a major question.
But they may get some insight on Mocco's permit philosophy.
"By and large when we do maintenance and repair, we do not get permits unless it's a major activity," he said. "It's a flip of the coin as to whether to get the permits."
That doesn't go down well with officials.
"It's unfortunate and short-sighted for a developer to undertake these improvements without going through the proper procedures," said Gallagher.
Officials are still looking into the matter, and it's not clear what will be done with the new paving, or what fines Mocco might need to pay.