Published On: Fri, Jul 1st, 2016

Fisherman’s Mark Gets Nod from Lambertville Zoning Board to Relocate Food Pantry

Representation from Fisherman's Mark (front right) make their case in front of the Lambertville City Zoning Board

Representatives from Fisherman’s Mark (middle right) appear before Lambertville City Zoning Board Thursday.

Lambertville’s Zoning Board of Adjustment voted unanimously Thursday evening to approve a variance requested by Fisherman’s Mark, including permission to operate a food pantry at the former Hibernia Fire Company building at 37 S. Main St.

Fisherman’s Mark sold part of their property at 89 N. Main St. back in February, and moved their offices to the historic Hibernia location. The food pantry (distinct from the DVIC Food Pantry at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church) however, remained at a nearby property on North Main Street because the charity hadn’t received approval from the Lambertville Zoning Board to operate a food pantry at the new location.

Fisherman’s Mark attorney Richard Mongelli began his presentation Thursday by citing the Emergency Food Assistance Act of 1983, which asserts that food pantries under state and federal law are considered to be an emergency service and, as such, “don’t even need the use variance.” Mongelli maintained that Fisherman’s Mark would seek a variance anyway in deference to the Zoning Board.

Mongelli later interviewed expert witness Michael Burns, a local architect. Burns indicated that in urban areas, where additional building is difficult, shared parking arrangements have been reached. Since the pantry only operates for two hours on weekdays, plus a summer farmer’s market on Wednesdays, Burns asserted these hours were the “least peak parking demand for a residential neighborhood.”

Mongelli explained that there is a medium-sized cube truck that delivers food twice per month to the pantry, plus some other volunteer vans and SUVs, but Anton’s at the Swan has allowed the pantry to use its parking area during these drop-offs.

The old Hibernia Fire Company building.

The old Hibernia Fire Company building.

One board member asked what would happen if the Swan Hotel arrangement ceased. Fisherman’s Mark Executive Director Linda Meacham indicated there was enough room for trucks to back up onto curbside aprons, should that occur.

According to Meacham, 785 people rely on the food pantry. Mongelli and Burns stated that 35% of food pantry customers came from Lambertville, and the rest came from within a 10-mile radius.

Lambertville City Planner Emily Goldman asked Meacham about any other services Fisherman’s Mark provides aside from the food pantry that could potentially exacerbate parking challenges in the neighborhood.

Meacham replied that the other programs are low-impact, spread out over the 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekday window.

Goldman admitted that she had no knowledge of the Emergency Food Assistance Act, but noted to the board that there is a difference between a social organization, like a VFW, and a social service, contending, “There’s a clear difference between the two, so it’s really up to the board at this point.”

When it came time for public comment, three residents voiced their support for the variance, and one, David Wintermute, chief financial officer at the Hibernia Fire Company, surprised many by noting that the Hibernia Fire Company still exists, even though the fire department relocated its trucks.

Wintermute detailed how fire company volunteers still meet the first Tuesday of every month in an area of the Hibernia building designated for them, and lauded the mutual funding agreement between Fisherman’s Mark and themselves. Wintermute ended by describing a plaque in the Hibernia building that reads “To assist the suffering and protect the weak.”

“With Fisherman’s Mark in there, they’re fulfilling that spirit,” Wintermute said.

After the unanimous vote, Meacham wrote, “The show of support to Fisherman’s Mark by our volunteers and the community throughout this process has been inspirational. This is a community that really understands that we all succeed when we work together, and refuses to turn a blind eye to people in need.”

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About the Author

- Steve Chernoski is a writer, film director and teacher who lives in Lambertville. Here's his website: http://stevechernoski.com.

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