SUMMIT, NJ - Again meeting virtually, the Summit Common Council had a fairly lengthy agenda on July 8 -- nine ordinances, introduced at the June 23 meeting, to be heard and voted on as well as a half-dozen resolutions -- however the Hilltop City governing body surely couldn’t have anticipated a marathon meeting lasting nearly three hours.
Nearly half of the time was focused on a Health & Safety ordinance moved by Ward 1 Council Member Susan Hairston that proposed the creation of four-way stop intersections at Tulip Street and Ashland Road, Tulip Street and Prospect Street, and Maple Street and Ashland Road,
Intended to reduce the possibility and number of motor vehicle accidents while enhancing pedestrian safety, four-way stop intersections, Hairston noted, were installed in Summit beginning in 2016 and four additional four-way stops have been added since then.
City Engineer Aaron Schrager presented an overview of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, a document issued by the Federal Highway Administration specifying the national standards by which traffic signs and other signals are designed and used. Stop signs are considered “traffic control devices” and “regulatory signs.”
In 2018, the City’s engineering division created a process to assess four-way stop sign requests from the community. Such signs aren’t intended for traffic 'calming', but rather for safety enhancement. The division then put together a stop sign installation guide which was revised this year. Summit bases its installation decisions on a list of criteria or “warrants” including crash histories, vehicle volume, sight lines, and the proximity to schools, among others.
Schrager said all these proposed four-ways were requested by residents. Two of the intersections currently have blinking traffic signals, indicating they were deemed problematic in the past. These intersections also serve many student and commuter pedestrians. In the judgment of the engineering department, based on the study done by Maser Consulting, the City’s engineering consultant, the intersections meet the warrants for a four-way stop (one warrant is considered sufficient). The traffic study was performed on December 5, 2019, a school day.
Stephen Bowman, Ward 2 Council Member, asked whether increased engine idling and potential traffic backups had been taken into consideration. Schrager said those impacts would most likely be more evenly distributed among all the affected streets, resulting in overall improvements.
Ward 1 Council Member David Naidu asked if notification had been sent to nearby residents. Schrager said that since the project doesn’t directly impact private property, none had been sent. Greg Vartan, Ward 2 Council Member, later pointed out that while the City might consider notifications, word seemed to have gotten out, as far more people commented on this matter than on the City’s $50 million budget.
Vartan asked whether the existing four-way intersections have achieved their desired effect. Schrager agreed they had, reducing the number of accidents. He also said it was unlikely drivers would detour onto other streets to avoid these intersections.
A number of residents weighed in for and against the installations. Brian Mullan, Tulip Street, after reading both the stop sign guidelines and the Maser study, opposed the project, pointing out that the Ashland intersection in particular has seen very few accidents, and questioning the volume and delay metrics in the Maser study. He also suggested there could be unintended consequences impacting school pick-ups.
Michelle Briehof, manager of Maser’s traffic planning group, described the data collection process, acknowledging that while the volume and crash warrants were not met, service levels would be improved by allowing better gaps for both streams of traffic. Further, the opportunity to reduce vehicle / pedestrian conflicts and the proximity to the Brayton School justify the decision.
Christopher Harrison, Ashland Road, shared that he’s seen many accidents, some serious, in the 20 years he’s lived in the area. “Even one accident is too many accidents.” He felt the four-way stops would enhance safety for pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists, adding that he’s never been in a large traffic jam in the City’s other four-way intersections.
Patrick Marotta, Maple Street, particularly objected to the Ashland / Maple intersection, feeling the data doesn’t support the change. He worries his family will be subjected to the noise of cars idling and stopping and accelerating throughout the day. He also noted the presence of crossing guards at the intersection during peak times, who “effectively stop all four directions of traffic.”
Ashland Road resident Lorraine Boyer called Ashland “a difficult corner,” saying that during the first ten years she lived there, she’d called 911 perhaps 30 times, but that the rumble strips installed on Tulip made a significant improvement. She opposed the stop signs, anticipating a backup on Ashland from Tulip to Maple during much of the day. She also asked which takes precedence, the stop sign or a crossing guard, predicting drivers being confused as to who goes next. Boyer suggested the City could change the intersections one at a time to assess the impact.
Kim Buscaino, Maple Street, noted that the Oakland / Maple four-way causes traffic to back up on Maple Street and asked what the anticipated effect on traffic would be. Breihof said that wasn’t quantified in the engineering report. Mayor Nora Radest pointed out that the four-way stop at Oakland and Maple has been effective.
Cornell Chulay, Prospect Street, described cars formerly racing up and down the hill, but that in today’s pandemic-imposed calm, children are biking freely in the middle of the street at the Prospect and Tulip intersection, heedless of possible danger. She’s believes this is in “the best interest of the community and the neighborhood.”
Deborah Oliver, Tulip Street, is Chulay’s next-door neighbor, but disagrees with the need for the four-way if it doesn’t affect speeding and if there’s been no uptick in accidents. She’d prefer a solution to reduce speeding. Schrager agreed to investigate the speeding issue, but noted the challenging sight lines at the intersection justify the four-way stop. He also noted the crossing guard is in favor of the stop signs.
John Buscaino, Maple Street, noted that removing trees along the street had reduced the accident rate. He asked if there would be four-ways going in at every intersection near a school. He considers the ordinance “overkill” and opposes it.
Council President Marjorie Fox asked if the intersections would cause an accumulation of backed-up traffic. Breihof responded the studies indicated that no queues would extend into adjacent intersections.
Naidu commented that the City had performed studies and modeling, but that even with the “best work product, there’s always the uncertainty of … reality.” But he added that the night’s decision isn’t “set in stone” and can be reversed if it doesn’t work out as well as expected. He pointed to the four-way stop signs installed near the middle school, which were “problematic” at first but ultimately did make that intersection safer.
The mayor’s most important job, said Radest, is making sure the citizens of Summit are safe, something that’s been more loomed larger over the past four months. She described the discussion about four-way stops as “safety versus inconvenience.” Revealing she drives on Prospect perhaps ten times a day, “If I have to stop for 10-15-20-30 seconds because it’s safer, that’s what I have to do.” She noted the crossing guard is on duty twice a day for 45 minutes, but there are large numbers of senior citizens walking and children biking all day, making this “a bigger issue than what’s happening in your corner.”
The ordinance passed 6-1, with Bowman voting against it.
Far less contentious were Hairston’s additional ordinances. Two of these authorized installing stop signs on Cleveland Road at the previously uncontrolled intersection of Cleveland and Windsor Road -- in response to a See-Click-Fix request -- and installing stop signs and crosswalk striping on Rose Lane where it intersects Wallace Road following the installation of ADA-compliant ramps there.
Hairston also moved an ordinance to limit parking on the west side of Waldron Avenue to two hours from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day (a change from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.) and to prohibit parking on the east side. This is in response to a petition from Waldron Avenue residents concerned with the use of their street for parking by commuters and shoppers, thus further narrowing the street and making it difficult to safely exit driveways. There was also concern for emergency vehicle access. Beacon Unitarian Universalist Congregation also supports the changes. Rita McNany, parking services manager, said enforcement will be shared by Parking Services and the police.
Kimberly McCormack, Waldron Avenue, expressed that she was glad to be able to collaborate as a community and with the church to develop this ordinance. She hoped it would permanently make the street as peaceful as it has been during the quarantine period.
Ann Marvin, also from Waldron Avenue, said she’s often called the police because of blocked driveways and other problems, and so supports the change. She did ask the Council to consider changing the permitted parking to the east side, referencing the many drivers who make a dangerous K-turn to park. Police Chief Andrew Bartolotti explained that while that was considered, the studies done supported the final recommendation. He anticipates that signage and traffic enforcement will impact motorists’ behavior.
All these ordinances passed unanimously.
A number of other ordinances passed with considerably less debate. Four were Finance ordinances moved by Ward 2 Council Member Greg Vartan. The first appropriated $4,225,000 and authorized issuing $4,023,000 in bonds or notes to finance projects and purchases included in the 2020 budget’s capital plan. An ordinance like this is an annual occurrence. Vartan stressed this isn’t an authorization for spending; actual expenditures will be individually voted on by council, and city department heads will continue to work with the grant-writing team to obtain outside funding when available. Fox reminded listeners that this is the leanest capital budget in over a decade.
A similar ordinance appropriated $710,000 and authorized the same amount in bonds or notes for sewer utility improvements.
Vartan also moved an ordinance appropriating $380,000 from the Parking Utility Capital Improvement Fund for essential repairs to the Broad Street East garage. He provided a bit of history. In the late 2000s, New Jersey established a $0.25 tax on parking transactions, and the City raised its parking fees accordingly. When the state later repealed the tax, Summit kept its parking fees the same but banked the “extra” $0.25 in a fund for capital improvement. Consequently, a pool of money exists so nothing needs to be borrowed. As the garage is barely being used at present due to the pandemic, repair work can be done during the week, which is less costly than weekend or evening work. Bidding will open July 14, the contract will be awarded at the July 28 council meeting, and construction should start in mid-August.
The final Finance ordinance established the 2020 salaries for all union and non-union City employees. This ordinance is introduced annually following the passage of the municipal budget; the salaries are in the budget as passed. Vartan noted that unlike private sector employees, information on the salaries of all public employees are available publicly. This transparency lets taxpayers “see how our dollars are being spent” and lets employees know what they’re being paid relative to others in the city as well as in other municipalities.
Council Member at Large Beth Little moved a single Capital Projects & Community Services ordinance to let the City engage in bidding for a leasing agent who will negotiate on behalf of the City to fill vacancies in the 7 Cedar Street building owned by the City.
All these ordinances were approved by unanimous roll call votes.
Little moved four Capital Projects & Community Services resolutions. The first authorized an access agreement between Summit and the redeveloper Broad Street West Managers I, LLC (BSWMI), named as conditional redeveloper last year. This gives BSWMI access to inspect publicly owned property to do their due diligence.
Eileen Kelly, Woodland Avenue, asked when the next redevelopment project workshop might take place. Rogers said he anticipates that will be in the fall. Radest added that the organization’s desire to work with the community was a factor in their being chosen as the developer.
Little’s second resolution authorized the Boy Scouts to hold a belated and socially distanced Earth Day cleanup at Martin’s Brook Park on September 12. Summit’s Earth Day cleanup was limited to individual efforts in April by the pandemic.
Also authorized was an agreement with Union County to modify the 2014 shared services agreement. This annual agreement allows the City’s Housing Authority to receive funding through community development block grants.
Summit High School student Ana Estupinan was appointed as the student member of the Recycling Advisory Committee. Vartan pointed out that while not all City volunteer committees have a specific student slot, young residents can apply for membership on any City committee.
Ward 1 Council Member Danny O’Sullivan moved a trio of Community Programs & Parking Services resolutions. Up first was adding GRACE (Giving and Receiving Assistance for our Community Essentials) to the City’s insurance, a move which would cost approximately $500 annually. He noted GRACE normally assists some 120 families a week with food and other necessities; under current conditions, it’s assisting more than 500 a week. This volunteer-run nonprofit has been receiving insurance coverage through the Junior League, but that is about to expire. GRACE is in the process of becoming a stand-alone nonprofit, with its own board of trustees and financially independence. O’Sullivan characterized this as a way to give back to an organization that gives so much to Summit. Fox pointed out that GRACE provides services at Cornog Field House and the Summit Community Center, and has worked collaboratively with the Summit Department of Community Programs staff; this move will further protect the City.
A resolution established the Silver Summit Senior Citizens Advisory Committee to more effectively address the needs of Summit’s senior citizens by coordinating the city’s nonprofit and volunteer organizations. Appointed to the committee were Tracy Keegan as chair and SHIELD representative; Laura O’Rourke and Linda Ross, senior citizen representatives; Radest and two Council members; Mark Ozoroski, Deparment of Coimmunity Programs director; and representatives of the Housing Authority, GRACE, SAGE, YMCA, The Connection, and Interfaith Council. Fox noted the group will be looking at ways to create a volunteer program to create social networks for seniors isolated by the pandemic.
O’Sullivan’s final resolution suspended the Broad Street East lot valet parking contract with Parking Services Plus for a second time, until October 31. These two three-month suspensions are saving the city $67,485.50 while parking lots are underutilized during the health crisis. The contract will be extended through June 30, 2021.
All resolutions passed.
Steven Spurr, Woodland Avenue, called in to express his gratitude to the poll workers who “rose to the occasion” as they manned the primary polling places on July 7 under “truly unusual circumstances.” He also thanked City Clerk Rosemary Licatese for her assistance with a number of questions.
Radest has resumed her public office hours in city hall between 10 and noon on Mondays and 10:30 and 12:30 on Wednesdays. Her next Meet the Mayor event will be held on July 25 from 9:30 to 11:30 at Lyric Park. Residents can also email her to schedule a time to talk.
Rogers reminded residents that estimated tax bills have been mailed to property-owners, and payments are due August 1 with a 10-day grace period.
Fox’s council president report opened with a warning about reports of groups of teens not observing social distancing rules, reminding people of the need to self-isolate for 14 days if they’re exposed to someone who’s tested positive for COVID-19.
Enrollment for the COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program ends July 10 at 5 p.m. Up to six months of temporary rental assistance is available to low- and moderate-income households impacted by the virus. Applicants must meet income/eligibility requirements. Information can be found at https://www.nj.gov/dca/divisions/dhcr/offices/cverap.html.
New Jersey has extended its emergency unemployment benefits for people who have exhausted both state and Federal benefits. The additional 20 weeks of benefits brings the total to 59 weeks. Claimants will be automatically enrolled as their federal extension ends.
Council resumes its regular schedule with a meeting on Tuesday, July 28, before breaking for its August recess.