Millburn Township Committee Told About Possible Improvements to Downtown Millburn; Hears from Resurging Paper Mill Playhouse

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Committee member Daniel Baer, left, receives a plaque from John Buchholz, president of the Downtown Millburn Development Alliance, for his work with the organization charged with improving the downtown.
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MILLBURN, NJ - Municipal officials considering improving Millburn’s downtown should look into creating a more pedestrian friendly environment, relocating the recycling center, changing the traffic flow on Millburn Avenue to a two-way pattern and extending retail street front on the present Town Hall site.

Those were among the recommendations in a report presented by Committee member Daniel Baer at Tuesday’s Township Committee meeting. Baer said the Community-Based Downtown Improvement Plan had been prepared by 70 residents who had worked on the project for two years.

He characterized the plan as “a set of action items” that had been organized into near and mid- to long-term projects.

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The Committee viewed Baer’s PowerPoint presentation, but discussion will not take place until next year.

The plan was developed in the wake of the governing body’s rejection of a more comprehensive redevelopment plan several years ago. The current plan was developed by four subcommittees that met individually and submitted their ideas to two members of the Township Committee appointed to oversee the process.

The subcommittees included land use/zoning, design and historic; environmental/sustainability; traffic, pedestrian and parking; and economic, financial and implementation.

Among the near-term projects would be altering the streetscape by replacing lighting with pedestrian-scaled fixtures, creating more community space, introducing standard signage and adding kiosks, maps and bike racks.

Taylor Park could also be made more inviting, by reworking the entry at the Rose Garden, relocating the bus stop and relocating the ball fields so concerts could be held closer to Millburn Avenue. The report also suggests constructing restrooms in the park, making better use of the Bauer Center for civic activities and repairing the dam, which is under design.

For the recycling center, officials could consider consolidating operations and equipment, identifying the possible use or expansion of the Kennedy Parkway site and locating a site for salt dome construction. Within the next four to eight years, officials should prepare a cost/benefit analysis for relocating the center.

Another long-term project would be constructing a new parking garage, which the Committee is currently exploring.

Committee member Robert Tillotson, who has also been involved with developing the plan, noted, “What I like particularly about this is the baby-step approach that we’re taking.”

In other business, the Committee heard a report from leaders of the Paper Mill Playhouse. The township now owns the property and leases it to the local theater, so municipal officials have a vested interest in its operations.

Managing Director Todd Schmidt sought to assure the Committee that the theater has shored up its financial position. He reported that attendance already stands at 87 percent of last year’s, with three shows still to go in the season, and subscription sales are up over last year, in contrast to a nationwide trend.

Sales per show have increased over last year and are expected to increase again next year, the Paper Mill representative said. Expenses and income are roughly equal this year, and income is expected to exceed expenses next year.

Artistic Director Mark Hoebee said some costs have been reduced with the selling off of a scene shop and concessions in labor contracts. The theater has also hired a new director of development, which should boost the contributions it takes in, according to the representatives.

Also during the session, the Committee passed a special resolution affirming the township’s request for approval of its application to remove Green Acres restrictions from a driveway in Short Hills Park and offering to subject several other parcels of land in the South Mountain area to Green Acres restrictions.

In essence, the resolution offers to “swap” Green Acres restrictions so owners of a home next to the park can use a driveway through the park. Township officials had been sued by the homeowners, Gary and Lisa Hayum.

Sandy Inwood, a resident of Haran Circle, addressed the Committee on the matter, expressing concern that the land behind her home would be affected. That land serves as a buffer from illegal activities by youngsters on vacant land behind the homes, and she has erected a fence and planted trees there.

Her brother-in-law, Alan Inwood, who also lives in the neighborhood, asked the Committee to consider what could be done to protect residents from students’ intrusions.

Township Administrator Timothy Gordon promised to meet with the affected residents to discuss their concerns.

Committee member Sandra Haimoff promised to speak with the police department to step up enforcement in the area. 

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