The Bronx’s Community Board 11 is used to taking complaints at Community Board meetings. In the digital age, social media sites make it easier to discuss issues without ever leaving your computer. With an official Community Board Facebook page, residents chose to air their grievances on a parking issue digitally.
The Community Board is reacting to one such complaint after finding comments on the Facebook page regarding concerns about valet parking at two restaurants and a catering hall on Bronxdale Avenue in the Morris Park and Van Nest neighborhoods.
The first mention of the issue appeared on the Facebook page on April 19. The comment thread has since grown to over 80 responses, though some of those are the result of repeat posters. The comments call out two restaurants, 900 Park and F&J Pine, and Maestro’s, a caterer and banquet hall, for taking up all of the parking along Bronxdale Avenue, double parking and blocking residents’ driveways.
Robert Giuffre, a teacher from Morris Park who posted comments on the Facebook thread and lives a few blocks away from Bronxdale Avenue, said that even driving along the street is difficult and dangerous. He claimed that the four-lane road often becomes a one-way street and that drivers have to be careful to avoid valets.
Not all of the business owners and managers, however, know about the complaints.
Mike DeFalco, general manager at F&J Pine, which specializes in family style Italian cuisine, said that he hasn’t heard any complaints personally. He explained that the restaurant has two parking lots exclusively for valet parking – one adjacent to the building and one about a block away – which lets them keep some cars off of the street. Otherwise, he said, the valet parkers only use space in front of the building. DeFalco estimated that on a busy evening, 150 cars might be valeted.
“Some folks still tend to self park,” he said. “That’s where the headaches come from. They’re not utilizing our parking lots.”
View Bronxdale Avenue Valet Traffic in a larger map
At 900 Park, restaurant managers have heard complaints. Zitta Ferriello, the wife of owner John Ferriello, helps manage the restaurant and has seen the issue brought up on District 11’s Facebook page.
“I feel like I’m being attacked,” she said. “We’re the little people.”
John Ferriello said he hadn’t seen or heard any complaints, but he isn’t on Facebook. The Ferriellos said that on a busy night, they tend to valet four or five cars, generally(but not always) elderly patrons, and sometimes park blocks away. They said that when the Rite Aid store across the street closes, 900 Park uses it, as the gates are left open. John Ferriello said that if he could find an affordable parking lot in the area, it would be better for their business and the community.
“I would love to have a parking lot,” he said. “More people would come.”
Following multiple visits and phone calls to Maestro’s Caterers and talking with employees – including the banquet manager, who said he would pass on questions, The Bronx Ink managed to get a hold of the owner. He refused to comment for this story. Maestros’ Caterers is considered by members of the Community Board, various Facebook users and other businesses to be the biggest problem.
In New York City, parking in a traffic lane or having a vehicle sticking out eight feet into a traffic lane can lead to a fine of $115 per incident. Double parking (parking on the side of a car parked at the curb) can also lead to a fine of $115 per incident.
The Community Board is taking the complaints seriously. According to district manager Jeremy Warneke and Joseph A. Thompson, the community board chair of the economic development committee, valet parking issues have come up in prior years.
They don’t refute the validity of people’s complaints, but do want the conversation to leave the virtual world and enter the real one.
“There’s less of a need to show up at actual meetings,” Warneke said. “Email has, technology has done a lot to take care of that. But face-to-face interaction is crucial.”
Thompson will be investigating the issue. He was forwarded the messages by community board chair of parks and recreation and Facebook page founder Joanne Rubino.
“The first thing we’re gonna do is we’ll call in the people who had the complaints,” Thompson said. “Facebook is something that is used by a lot of people… I like to speak to people in person.” He said the ability to ask questions and see how serious they are about the issue is important.
After that, the owners of the businesses will be called in to discuss the matter. If it is found that violations are being committed, then police action will be taken. Thompson said that he will be researching any violations or accidents in the previous year.
“The most important part of this is… safety,” he said. The second most important part, he said, is parking in people’s driveways, blocking them out of their homes.
The mediation process is in its infancy, but it has begun. Warneke visited 900 Park on Sept. 20 and discussed the issue. Both claimed that it was a composed meeting.
“She’s aware of the Facebook page, most importantly,” Warneke said. ”They’re aware of the problems themselves, and that was good.”