MILLBURN, NJ - Not in my backyard.
That was the theme Wednesday night when approximately 50 residents turned out for a public forum on commuter parking held at the Millburn Free Public Library. Many of the attendees live near the Millburn train station, and not surprisingly, they raised strong objections to the idea of building a parking deck in front of the station.
The public forum was part of a feasibility study being conducted by an architectural and engineering firm hired by the township, Desman Associates. The firm, which has offices in New York City, has developed six schemes of parking structures that could be built on Lot 7 or Lot 2.
Lot 7 sits along Glen Avenue in front of the train station, and Lot 2 sits southeast of the station at the corner of Lackawanna Place and Essex Street.
At the beginning of the meeting, Township Committee member Robert Tillotson said the township has had a parking deficit since the late 1990s when New Jersey Transit introduced Midtown Direct trains on its Morris & Essex line. Although the municipality has stopped selling non-resident parking permits and added parking in Lot 7 and along Chatham Road, the number of spaces is not enough to meet demand, he said.
Tillotson also said six or seven years ago, the township began offering valet parking in Lot 7, and that parking has been extended to Lot 9 by the library. When those lots are filled, cars are valet parked in Lot 2.
On a daily basis, the valet service parks 150 cars, according to Tillotson, and the service costs $225,000 a year, which comes from fees collected for commuter parking permits. Tim Tracy of Desman Associates said his firm has contacted New Jersey Transit for their projections of ridership, and they project that within 10 years, the Summit and Millburn segment of the line will see the parking need increase by 350 spaces. He said his firm is looking preliminarily at providing 250 spaces with a deck on Lot 7 or Lot 2, and he showed six possible plans. The tallest of the proposed structures would have three stories.
Resident Frank Meyer, who introduced himself as the president of the Glen Avenue Association, lead off the comments by saying he was distressed that the township had spent $17,500 on a study of parking structures "without spending a nickel to examine the surface parking options."
"Before we go any further with this, let's do it the right way," he urged. "Let's not put the cart before the horse. Let's hire an expert to look at all of the surface options to see what is possible and what isn't possible."
Meyer also complained that township officials have spent a great deal of money on recent projects such as the purchase of the Paper Mill Playhouse property and are now talking about spending more money to build and maintain a parking deck. "Enough is enough," he said. "We're taxpayers, too. Costs have gone sky high."
The Glen Avenue resident, who has served on several parking committees over the years, also said a parking deck by the train station would make an intolerable traffic situation even worse and would harm the quality of life in the Glen Avenue area by destroying trees and greenery.
Tillotson responded that the parking commission has a report done by the township engineer. Committee member James Suell said that report shows that 65 to 70 additional cars could be accommodated near the Short Hills train station, but even that number will not be sufficient to meet the demand for the future.
Tillotson pointed out that no tax dollars would be spent on building a garage, as the township has a parking utility which collects permit fees and it pays for itself.
Among other residents of Glen Avenue and Cape Court who spoke out was a young mother who had moved to Glen Avenue three months ago because she was impressed with the beauty of the township. She expressed concern about traffic for her toddler. Another woman said building a parking structure by the Millburn train station would block her view of the sunset. "I'd be heartbroken," she said.
Several speakers endorsed the idea of building a parking deck on Lot 2, which would be away from a residential neighborhood and perhaps provide additional parking for local businesses. Architect and Marion Avenue resident John Buchholz noted there are environmental issues regarding the nearby East Branch of the Rahway River that would have to be dealt with, but Tracy said he believed those could be addressed.
Peter Humphreys, a resident of Kenilworth Drive and a candidate for Township Committee, asked how much building such a deck would cost, and Tracy gave a ballpark figure of $5 or $6 million. That amount would not include maintenance.
Humphreys then asked if township officials are confident commuters would be willing to pay an additional charge for their permits that would cover the cost of building a deck. At the close of the two-hour-plus session, Suell promised that another public forum will be held in about six weeks.