MILLBURN, NJ – The much-discussed proposal to build a parking deck in downtown Millburn, aimed to alleviate congested commuter parking, received its final hearing Thursday just days before a township committee vote.

A representative from Tim Haahs & Associates and another from Dewberry, the firms chosen to study the feasibility of the proposed locations, presented their findings to residents, commuters, and a township sub-committee. The study looked at two sites for the structure -- Lot 2, on the corner of Essex and Lackawanna, and Lot 7, on Glen Avenue.  Both would mainly serve commuters for the New Jersey Transit station, but Lot 2 would also serve many visitors for the downtown area.

If Lot 2 were chosen, there would be 393 spots available for short term and commuter parking, up from the current 323 spaces.  Lot 7, which currently fits 334 cars, would grow to 548 spaces if the site were chosen.  The deck for Lot 2 would cost $8.11 million while the Lot 7 structure would cost $8.44 million.

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“I think its important to understand the this facility, this infrastructure, should it be developed, is something that is going to be serving Millburn for decades to come,” said Jim Zullo, vice-president of Tim Haahs.  “You have to think not only about what is satisfying today, but whether it is going to be good for the future.”

The study looked at the benefits and constraints for both locations.  Lot 2 is closer to the downtown area, but is in a flood area near the Rahway River.  Lot 7 would be a larger lot, but is sitting on a former rail site that would require a $50,000 soil testing if chosen.  Though there is no way to know the health of the soil at this point, residents voiced concerns over the potential of contaminated soil.

“I assume the township would be legally obliged to clean all of Lot 7 of any illegal contaminants. … If something is found, do we really want to start digging and not keep it safely contained underneath the asphalt,” said Millburn resident Pasi Mantyla.

Bill Deane, of Dewberry, said there is no way of knowing if the soil is contaminated, and even if it were, it could be capped by laying concrete or more asphalt.

Vocal commuters, residents, and local merchants took turns both asking questions and advocating for sites they preferred.  Business owners in the downtown area are concerned construction on Lot 2 would disrupt their businesses.  Residents along Glen Avenue, though, say building in Lot 7 would negatively affect their quality of life.  Others were concerned with building in either location, and questioned if the deck should be built at all.

John Livingstone, a resident of Millburn, asked if building “70 spaces for $8 million” on Lot 2 was a good investment for Millburn.

“Is this a cost-effective solution? And is it also the type of direction we want to send our town in, as far as its profile and impact,” Livingstone said.

The project, if selected to go forward, would be paid for by funds collected by increasing the cost of yearly parking permits and money from paid short-term parking, said Deputy Mayor Robert Tillotson.  Commuter permits, which are currently $360 per year, would cost up to $585 per year.  Business parking permits would also be increased, from $230 per year to at most, $355 per year.

Solving the parking situation in the downtown area near the New Jersey Transit station has been discussed for nearly 10 years.  Though some commuters had concerns, they voiced their support for a solution.

“As a commuter, I’m not looking forward to spending the extra money, but the benefits are that I don’t have to shovel my way out of a parking spot and I don’t have to scrape my glass off,” commuter Grace Barnett said.

The township committee will vote whether to approve the parking deck and its location on Tuesday.  Tillotson said construction would most likely begin in Spring 2012 and be completed by early 2013.