On an evening that had focused largely on the approval of such items as tax overpayment refunds and procedural issues related to expanding shared-services arrangements, the final moments of the Collingswood Borough Commissioners meeting heated up Monday when a trio of Gorman Avenue residents voiced their displeasure with conditions on the block.
Robert Carlson, 47, an IT director; Gerald Kulpa, 60, a disabled retiree; and William Hummel, 57, a professional tennis coach, all said their problems stem largely from the meteoric success of Bistro Di Marino and the convivial attitude of its patrons.
“The reason we’re here is a two-pronged complaint,” Carlson said. “The noise that emanates from Bistro Di Marino, and also the parking situation on the block [are] totally out of control.
“Something needs to be done about it,” he said.
According to the residents, Bistro Di Marino is a persistent nuisance on the block, owing to its recent popularity as a special events locale. The tumult from loud, private parties and catered events on its swanky backyard patio frequently cascades down the block, Hummel said.
“It starts at 4 in the afternoon and goes until midnight; bonfires until three in the morning,” he said. “I gotta work in the morning!”
Failure to communicate
Carlson’s chief complaint is that guests of Bistro Di Marino often ignore posted permit parking zones, taking street parking away from residents of the block illegally. The problem only worsens in the snowy months, he said.
“It affects our standard of life,” Carlson said. “We don’t have off-street parking,” he said. “People come up with kids and groceries and they can’t park.”
Collingswood Mayor James Maley said the borough was aware of ongoing issues with the property, and so revised its ordinances last year to address outdoor restaurant usage.
“I know there’s been calls in, but police have been responding to calls,” Maley said. “[Owner Jimmy Marino] was doing some weddings there, and receptions, and it changed."
Maley also urged strongly residents to call police to report these issues and complain directly at the time of the noise violation.
“When the police respond, the police can only file a complaint or charge them if he gets there and hears noise that’s too loud,” he said. “If people are willing to sign complaints, that’s a compromise.
"We’re working with them to address it. The best thing to do about the parking is to call the police.”
“We do,” Kulpa shot back.
“We’ll talk with [Marino],” Maley said.
“Good luck with that,” Kulpa retorted. “I was here when he requested the hearing for the outdoor dining [space], and he misrepresented it. I sympathize with him; he’s trying to run a business. But we’re tax-paying homeowners.”
“We moved here from Philadelphia,” Hummel said. “Call Lew Blum over with his tow trucks.”
“You start hooking some of these people up, they’ll get the message,” Kulpa said.
Kulpa also exchanged words with Commissioner Joan Leonard on the subject of “the disgusting ordeal of the maple tree on our block,” a diseased tree that is equal parts eyesore, fire hazard and culprit behind water intrusion in his home.
“The debris from this tree is clogging our drains,” Kulpa said, requesting that it be removed. “We can’t handle the upkeep.”
Leonard urged Kulpa to take his concerns to the borough shade tree advisory board, and promised an investigation into the issues. She said that borough ordinances designed to preserve the treeline in town preclude simply cutting down trees upon request.
“We can’t just take it down because you don’t like acorns,” Leonard said, adding, “I’m speaking figuratively.”
Kulpa, frustrated, told Leonard that the commission has investigated his tree previously, but not to his satisfaction. The trees on the block are all stricken with the same disease, he said; all are dying.
“It’s just a matter of time,” Kulpa said.
“For me too,” Leonard said. “I hope nobody chops me down today.”
“We’ll address it,” Maley said.
Shine a light
As long as they had the floor, the Gorman Avenue residents figured they’d best air all the laundry out, and cited a recent automobile theft as evidence that the darkened street could use more lamplight.
“We leave our porch light on all night long just to have some kind of light out there,” Kulpa said. “We need more light on that block.”
Maley said that some of the issue could be related to nonfunctioning streetlights on the block, and asked the residents to report any serial numbers on the existing lampposts.
He said it is easier for the borough to bring out PSE&G to reconnect power to them than to erect new ones, but he didn’t rule out the possibility of adding more.
“Talk to your neighbors; see what they say,” Maley said.
“We don’t want to get a light up and somebody will say, ‘Oh it’s shining in my bedroom,’” said Commissioner Mike Hall.
“That won’t happen on our street,” Kulpa said, adding that he’s surrounded by renters “and the people that are attached to me are The Addams Family.”
At the end of the meeting, the first person to speak to Carlson, Kulpa, and Hummel was Collingswood Police Chief Richard Sarlo. The four chatted for several minutes about ways in which to collaborate on enforcement of borough ordinances on the block.
**UPDATE: 11:15 a.m., Oct. 2, 2012**
In an e-mail to Collingswood Patch this morning, Robert Carlson asked us to clarify a few things regarding the nature of the complaints made last night.
1. Bill Hummel's comment about bonfires was made regarding the activities of his next-door neighbor, "who occasionally has (as late as the past saturday) had parties that go on until 4am," Carlson wrote. "They have a fire pit and from his window the smell and light are quite noticeable. He was not referring to Bistro Di Marino."
2. Carlson also pointed out that Kulka's complaint regarding the tree was a separate issue unrelated to the street-wide problems with noise and parking, for which the group was speaking on behalf of 14 signatories, which he deemed "well over a mjority of residences on the block.
3. Finally, Carlson said his issues aren't with Bistro Di Marino itself, at which he and his wife have eaten eaten"and patronized the take out many times and have promoted the restaurant to our friends and family."
"We have a problem with lack of courtesy to neighbors," he wrote.
Carlson also provided to Patch a copy of the text of the complaint presented on behalf of Gorman Ave. residents, which is visible in .PDF form (above right, with the photos of the story.)