August 27, 2014 at 6:00 AM
BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ—The solution to problems with student parking in the streets surrounding Governor Livingston High School ultimately may land in the laps of the township school district, but residents of the area also endorse a more restrictive plan than that currently under study by township officials.
Two weeks ago, members of the township council heard from the township traffic consultant and the acting police department lieutenant in charge of traffic about a proposal that would restrict parking to one side of streets in the area of the school most affected by student parking.
However, at that time, and again at Tuesday’s council meeting, governing body members said that the proposal was more of a tix to deal with a large number of cars parking for special events, such as graduation and concerts at the school. To deal with daily problems of student parking they called upon the school district and the board of education to step up with a solution by turning a small athletic field in back of the school into an additional parking area for students.
Residents of the area, while agreeing with the expanded parking lot solution, said the one-side-of the-street solution did not solve the problem of student cars blocking resident driveways and also possibly causing more hardship for landscapers and other people servicing the residents who would face restricts when they needed to park near where they are working.
Instead, they advocated restricting parking on the streets to 8:30 to 9:30 am and 2:30 to 4pm daily.
Mayor Joseph Bruno said Tuesday that the council should heed the advice provided to it by a $10,000 traffic study by Harbor Consultants. He added, however, that the proposal currently only is in draft form and, after governing body members review it in detail they will release it to the public.
Councilman Thomas Pirone, while generally in favor of the conclusions of the report, said it did not quite match what was presented at the council’s August 12 meeting.
He placed the crux of the problem with school officials, noting the school district had widened the width of spaces in the school parking lot, thus allowing for fewer cars there and forcing more students to park on streets surrounding the high school.
Pirone also said that the school district restricted each spot to one student, thus making it impossible for someone else to use a parking space if a student was absent.
These changes, the councilman said, were made by the superintendent of schools and district officials without consulting the board of education and without input from residents and township officials.
He also noted that the township does not allow parking on streets surrounding the Berkeley Heights train station, thus forcing those who take the train to find other methods of getting to the station. This is the approach that the schools should take, he added.
Council president Jeanne Kingsley noted the township study recommendations were brought about due to police concern that emergency vehicles cannot get down streets near the high school with cars parked on both sides of the streets surrounding the school.
She added that residents should make school officials do their part by calling for the school board to expand student parking to the underutilized athletic field.
Councilman Edward Delia added that the township should make its parking restrictions as strong as possible in order to force school officials to take action.
Councilman Kevin Hall said, however, that township officials should carefully analyze the traffic study to determine what was best both from a safety standpoint and in terms of resident demands before just accepting the report at face value.
He added that the school board is an independently elected body and residents could replace board members if they felt they were not responding.
Hall said he would not be in favor of a parking solution that would create “spot zoning” in certain areas of the township.
Council vice president Craig Pastore, while emphasizing the major responsibility for a solution should lie with the school board, said it was not up to the township to legislate a solution either for the school board or specifically to please a group of residents. He too said the safety issue was a major concern.
Lieutenant John DiPasquale, officer in charge of the Berkeley Heights Police Department, noted that, while any plan that would improve the situation around the school was a step in the right direction, he favored the proposal now under study by the township as a solution to emergency vehicle access concerns and praised acting lieutenant Robert Deitch, the department’s traffic safety expert, and township planner Michael Mistretta for coming up with the proposal.
However, Sussex Road resident Mike Burke said residents of the area around the school favored “targeted restrictions” of four hours per day on the streets in order to allow access for residents and enable service people to park their vehicles on the streets.
He said residents had approached the school principal and the superintendent of schools in an effort to get the district to solve the problem and the superintendent had said it was a township, not a school, issue.
Burke added residents thought they would get speedier action going to the township first, but now realized they needed to approach the school board.
Resident Cindy Reese of 17 Crest Drive asked the governing body to hold off on approving a parking plan because, by not solving the school district’s problem for it, township officials would put more pressure on school officials to find a solution.
She added that, at times, it was nearly impossible to get out of her driveway because of cars parked on her street and the parked cars made it hard to see cars coming down Sussex Road toward Crest Drive.
Reese also said she did not want lines painted on the street in front of her home to delineate parking spaces—one of the proposals under study by the township to force students to park correctly. She said painting lines on the street would make her feel like she was living in a commercial instead of a residential area.
Kingsley also said that, since Governor Livingston students were now asked to pay $50 per year for their parking spaces, along with increases in other student fees, they should be getting something for their money like a larger parking area.
Resident Thomas Foregger of Dorsett Drive said the school board should better learn its oversight role and not act like its members worked for the superintendent of schools instead of the other way around.
Responding to a suggestion from Foregger that the school board get planning board approval before making parking changes, Hall said the board was not obligated to get such approval.
On another traffic safety matter, Bruno noted there had been 30 accidents and 22 injuries in the last 16 years on Locust Avenue near Snyder Avenue.
A “roundabout” proposed for the area would involve the township in eminent domain proceedings and a traffic light was too expensive and thought to be unwarranted, he said.
Instead, according to the mayor, the council would look into decreasing speeds from 40 to 35 miles per hour, installing a stop sign that would be illuminated 24 hours per day or installing “rumble strips” to slow traffic near the intersection.
The mayor and sewer department superintendent Tom McAndrew also outlined increased enforcement proceedings to get commercial establishments to install grease traps and residents to stop disposing to fat, oil and grease into the drains in their homes..
Although the township has been working on cleaning out sewer lines, McAndrew said, fat, oil and grease can clog lines and cause them to malfunction.
The council also adopted an ordinance strengthening educational requirements for new members of the police department.