MONTCLAIR, NJ - The Montclair Township Council had a largely drama-free meeting on October 27, as most of the items it passed were housekeeping duties. The only controversy of any consequence involved a first-reading ordinance authorizing the township to purchase a property with vacant drive-in bank at 57 Park Street, which is adjacent to the Montclair Municipal Building. The purpose of the purchase, according to the body or the ordinance, is “principally but not limited to the provision of necessary additional parking, public facilities and improvements” to the municipal building. The cost of the property, where the structure will be demolished, is set at $1.35 million, with an additional $50,000 for incidental acquisition expenses.
Resident June Raegner called in public comment to state that the property was assessed at $755,800, making the purchase price almost twice its value. Raegner thought that this was a lot for the township to pay for a building that would be demolished for parking, and she thought the purchase price was fiscally imprudent. Without explaining why the price of the property is higher than the assessment value, Mayor Spiller sought to reassure Raegner that the town is still in good financial shape, citing the township’s solid fiscal management of the past eight years and its AAA credit rating. The ordinance was passed unanimously on first reading. Mayor Spiller said that negotiations for the purchase are confidential and that he cannot provide details.
Public comment brought up a couple of other issues, one of them inevitably being the effort by the Montclair Property Owners Association (MPOA) to push for a referendum on the rent-control ordinance. The ordinance is still in limbo after having been passed on April 7 but blocked in court. Ahava Felicidad of the Tenants Organization of Montclair rhetorically asked if the MPOA recently filed for an extension in order to “cure” unverifiable signatures on petitions for a referendum while they were being checked, and if so, why did they have to do that if they already had confirmed signatures. She said that there were more supporters of rent control than the property owners believe, and she suspected that many of the petitions from the MPOA had inauthentic and unverifiable signatures meant to contradict the broad support that rent control enjoys in the township.
Another resident from the group Quiet Montclair spoke out about his group’s efforts to ban leaf blowers in town, saying that they created noise pollution and did environmental damage with their gasoline emissions, generating toxic emissions that linger in the air for days. Two other callers, both Central Avenue residents, called in to express displeasure with the township’s plan to re-instate parking restrictions on November 1 that had been suspended during the worst days of the COVID-19 pandemic’s first wave. Parking on Central Avenue is time-limited, as it is on many Montclair streets, but unlimited parking has been allowed on such streets since March up to now. Both residents said they needed the rules to remain suspended, both citing their lack of driveways and the economic hardship that the return of parking restrictions would involve while they work from home.
Township Manager Tim Stafford said that parking limits on Montclair streets, varying from one to four hours, are being reinstated at the request of homeowners along the affected streets in order to curb parking. Manager Stafford also announced that meters were being re-instated out of the need to generate revenue, and he noted that parking permit fees, which were set at 25 percent of the regular fee in June, went up to 50 percent in July and to 75 percent in August before returning to the full pre-pandemic fee in September.
Councilor-at-Large Robert Russo expressed solidarity with Felicidad on the rent-control issue, finding the ongoing efforts by the MPOA to block rent control unconscionable. He also said that the council should look further into parking and leaf blowers, deeming the resolution of these concerns issues of importance.
Two other ordinances, one on first reading and the other on second reading, were unanimously passed. The council passed on first reading an ordinance amending the 2019 measure that establishes criteria for demolishing an historic structure and requires a review from the Historic Preservation Commission. This amendment establishes a $200 fee for the application, along with a $350 escrow deposit against which fees for township professional services required to review such an application would be drawn. The second-reading ordinance was a final vote approving a residential assistance program for low-income renters.
In council comments, Deputy Mayor / First Ward Councilor William Hurlock reported that he has been having biweekly discussions with the business owners that have included Mayor Spiller and Councilor-at-Large Peter Yacobellis and that they continue to be in contact with the business owners in trying to keep things going during the COVID pandemic. Deputy Mayor Hurlock urged Montclair residents to keep observing Centers for Disease Control guidelines in combating the pandemic and told them to stay safe.