South Orange Trustees: Expand Focus to Irvington Avenue

Village President Alex Torpey, right, talks during a planning session on Tuesday night. Clockwise, from left: Trustees Deborah Davis Ford, Mark Rosner and Howard Levison; Administrator Barry Lewis Jr., Deputy Administrator Adam Loehner, and village counsel Stephen Rother. Credits: Amy Kiste Nyberg

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ – The Baird Center. Irvington Avenue. The master plan.  Infrastructure.

The village Board of Trustees identified these areas of concern as priorities for the board in the coming months after the second in a series of informal planning sessions on Tuesday night at Seton Hall University.

“We really don’t have a good set of priorities,” village President Alex Torpey said. “We’ve got a giant to-do list. You get 1,000 things that are 50 percent done, but nothing that is completely done.”

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The trustees turned their attention to the village’s own property, running through a list of village buildings. Trustee Mark Rosner said the Baird Center should be the next major project. “The building needs major repairs,” he said. “Parts of the building are beyond being able to use anymore. The day we start the Village Hall renovation we should be on this because it’s not going to last another five years.”

Torpey said that in planning what should be done with the Baird Center, village officials also need to talk more generally about recreation facilities and about shared services with Maplewood. Trustee Howard Levison commented, “The shared services part, it’s been written up twice; it’s opportune right now.”

With a Special Improvement District in place downtown and a major construction project underway on South Orange Avenue, trustees agreed it was time to expand the focus to Irvington Avenue.

Trustee Sheena Collum said that while she was campaigning, she talked to a lot of people who were excited about the possibilities of Irvington Avenue. “We have a lot of moving pieces that want to be involved,” she said.

Torpey added, “There is an interest in really exploring the possibility of being the way Seton Hall becomes more of the town physically.” He encouraged trustees to reach out to Seton Hall for discussions about Irvington Avenue. “They’re interested in commercial spaces for their students, and they’re looking for housing,” he said.

As the village moves ahead with its vision for Irvington Avenue, it’s essential that the master plan be rewritten, Administrator Barry Lewis Jr. told trustees.  Legal counsel Stephen Rother agreed. The master plan’s elements lay out “the vision, if you will, for the municipality,” Rother said.

Trustees noted that parts of the village have become “a mish-mash” of zoning. “What has happened,” Rosner said, “is whenever there was a problem, the problem was addressed with a zoning ordinance.”  Rother added that when the master plan and the actual zoning regulations are no longer in sync, it creates extra work for the Planning Board in terms of hearing requests for variances and it could lead to legal problems.

Development is also contingent on having the infrastructure to support it, Levison said. “This is something that I’ve talked about for a long time,” he said. “We don’t have an understanding of the components of the infrastructure and what it can tolerate.”

Trustees noted that any inventory of infrastructure capacity will have to involve discussions with utilities such as the East Orange Water Commission, Public Service Electric & Gas and Verizon.

The next planning session is scheduled for Aug. 12. Tentative agenda items include village services, village debt, capital improvements, information technology, and a discussion of issues with the village’s current water provider.

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