A West New York woman who must travel with a portable oxygen machine says she has spent the past four years struggling to get a designated handicap parking space outside her home.
The problem has not been her qualifications, but rather, a parking meter that stops her from getting the spot.
“Half a block is nothing to most people. I can’t walk that far… I really can’t do it.” – Lee Hofstetter
“Half a block is nothing to most people,” she said. “I can’t walk that far, much less carry the oxygen and carry the groceries. I really can’t do it.”
Hofstetter said she never heard back about her first and second applications for a handicap parking space over the last four years. She said that the third time she applied, Parking Authority officials told her that they were not going to allow it because that would mean they would have to move the meter that presently sits in front of her residence.
“I went down there, and they said that they couldn’t give it to me because there was a parking meter outside my house,” she said.
A source close to the situation said that the Parking Authority does not want to set a precedent of removing meters for handicap parking because that would mean a loss of revenue for the department that pays for salaries and certain town projects.
“The meters pay for the upkeep and maintenance of all the parking areas,” the source said. “When it snows, they have to plow, they have to clean. It’s their people that do it.”
However, in West New York, handicap drivers do not have to feed the meters, so the town is losing money if Hofstetter is able to pull into that spot anyway, she said.
“They are not making money on the meter if I am not moving my car,” she said.
When the Parking Authority was contacted last week, Executive Director Harold Schroeder referred all questions to Doreen Clark, the office manager, who said Hofstetter’s request had been denied because she had not submitted all the necessary paperwork. What she lacked, said Clark, was a permission letter from her landlord stating it was okay to create the handicap parking space in front of the residential building.
“We have not received anything in writing that it has been okayed,” said Clark.
The Parking Authority usually does not get involved with handicap parking, officials said.
“The only reason they get involved now is because there is a parking meter in front of her house,” said Commissioner of Public Safety Lawrence Riccardi, who has been working with Hofstetter since she called him for help three months ago.
He said that in order to apply for a handicap parking space, residents must collect the required paperwork, which includes a note from their doctor and, if necessary, permission letter from their landlord, and submit it in one cohesive application to the Police Department Traffic Division.
The division assesses that the application has all the right information. The application is then sent to the Public Safety Department and the mayor’s office, and it receives final approval by a vote by the town commissioners. However, because there is a parking meter involved in this case, it must also be approved by the Parking Authority.
How long the entire process takes, said Riccardi, depends on the circumstances.
“If you were an amputee, you would get it right away,” he said. “It depends on physical condition.”
Riccardi said that Hofstetter’s application had been reviewed by the Traffic Division, which would be responsible for physically removing the meter and replacing it with a post designating the handicap space. He said that he was not sure why the Parking Authority had not yet approved the application and added that the town has no authority over that department.
One possible reason for the stall, he said, could be that Hofstetter did not have a handicap license plate – whose number would be needed in order to create the post – until recently, after he suggested she get one.
Riccardi was able to offer Hofstetter a handicap parking space where the meters on her street end, less than a block away, but Hofstetter said that that is just too far.
Hofstetter said she first applied for a handicap parking space in 2004, after her health problems – including chronic asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and advanced osteoporosis – forced her to retire from a job that kept her on her feet all day for 30 years.
“It was really hard for me,” she said. “I had open ulcers on my legs at that time – and just standing, it was horrendous.”
Hofstetter said that her restrictions due to her medical condition are compounded by the parking situation. Now in her retirement, with more time to pursue the parking space, she said she is not going to give up.
“It seems like every time I leave the house and I come back with groceries, there is no parking for me in front of my house,” she said. She said she has waited next to the fire hydrant for up to 90 minutes in anticipation of someone leaving a spot.
“I have already sat there for an hour, hour and a half, so I can’t really buy perishables,” she said. She said she never buys frozen food because by the time she could get the items into the refrigerator they would melt.
She added that her parking situation has kept her indoors, and the car she bought a year ago only has 90 miles on it.
“That’s the bottom line,” said Hofstetter. “I really can’t do anything. I would like to go out and visit with my family once and a while, but like I said, when I come back, the parking spot is not here.”
Parking Authority officials said that they will have a final discussion regarding Hofstetter’s request at the board meeting on May 19.
However, Hofstetter said she was very recently told that they plan to remove the meter.
“I won’t believe it until the pole is there,” she said.
Amanda Staab may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.