SUMMIT, NJ—The Summit First Aid Squad is planning to replace its Summit Avenue headquarters, now almost 50 years old, with a modern building more suited to the city's needs, and the city's common council on Tuesday approved a resolution which brings that project closer to reality.
Since the current building is located on city-owned land across the street from the Lawton C. Johnson Middle School, the consent of the governing body was needed before the squad can demolish that existing structure.
In a presentation to the council, squad president John K. Christmann noted that bays in the current building, constructed when the first aid organization's “fleet” consisted of four “converted Cadillacs,” now don't have the height to house standard-sized ambulances. The squad, therefore, must use smaller vehicles and store vehicles which don't fit in the building outside the structure.
In addition, Christmann said, the current headquarters has no sleeping facilities. Therefore, in severe emergencies, such as last year's Hurricane Sandy, it had to call in separate crews at different times of the day and those who did sleep in the headquarters had to doze on couches or on the floor. He also said that the 50-year-old building is not equipped to treat members exposed to hazardous substances.
The proposed new facility, on the other hand, will have two stories, a peaked roof that will resist flooding the building unlike the current roof, four bays and room for expansion, according to the squad president.
He said the new facility also will shield neighboring residents from noise of vehicles, which will exit directly onto the street, and the building's mechanical equipment will emit less noise because it will be shielded inside the peaked roof. In addition, the new building will incorporate many design features of the city's most architecturally noteworthy facilities such as the middle school, city hall and the Summit train station.
Mayor Ellen Dickson, noting that the squad saves the city about $1 million per year because it is supported by private funds rather than taxpayer dollars, presented Christmann with a check from she and her husband for the fund drive for the new building.
The goal of the campaign is to raise $5 million, and, according to council president Richard Madden, about 25 percent of that already had been raised.
Christmann noted that, because the squad will remain in operation during demolition of the old building and reconstruction of the new facility, the Salerno Duane automobile dealership has offered space on its property to house the squad temporarily.
More information on the capital campaign is available at www.summitems.org.
In another matter related to the squad, Dickson proclaimed September as Summit Volunteer First Aid Squad Month.
On another construction matter, Mark Yeager, president of MRY Associates, outlined his firm's plans for demolition of the former Bagel Chateau property at 466-467 Springfield Avenue to make way for a 35,000-square=foot facility with retail space on the ground floor and three floors of office on the upper floors.
Yeager went over traffic rerouting plans his firm devised in conjunction with city fire, police and engineering officials to allow for a smoothe construction project spanning about a year.
He said demolition would take place from October 1 through November 18 of this year, during which time construction fencing would be erected and vehicles using the tiered parking garage would enter that facility only from Maple Street and exit via Springfield Avenue.
The fencing will be moved during this year's Christmas holiday season to allow for the increase in shoppers during that time of year. It then will be put back in place so construction can be completed, hopefully by the end of 2014.
Yeager sought on Tuesday, and received council approval for, the “bagging” of up to seven parking meters to make room for equipment connected with the project. He also will pay the city $10 per day when the meters will be out of service rather than the normal $25 daily fee charged for those who keep meters out of service.
In addition, the firm will be able to do construction from 6 a.m to 6 p.m. daily and at other times, including on weekends or later in the evening if needed. Because the project backs up on NJ Transit property, Yeager said, the transit agency has the right to regulate some of the working hours and to place its supervisors on railroad property near the site of the project.
Also, he added, the proposed construction of the new Morris Avenue bridge over the NJ Transit tracks could alter traffic and construction patterns associated with the project.
When it came time for public comment on the proposal, Second Ward Republican council candidate Sandra Lizza said she was concerned about pedestrian access to the garage going to and from Maple Street and the less-than-adequate lighting in the area.
Yeager said his firm would make the temporary entrance as safe as possible. However, he noted that the lighting problem was a continuing concern that the city would have to deal with in the future.
Although Robert Steelman, a commercial real estate broker in the city, said he was very much in favor of the project, he suggested that traffic patterns needed to be changed to provide for a clockwise rather than a counter-clockwise vehicle flow to cut down on cross-movement of traffic near the garage entrance.
Madden replied the city would take his comments under advisement.
Yeager also announced his firm would hold a public presentation on this project on Wednesday, September 25 at 7:30 in the council chambers of City Hall.
In another presentation, the council head presented Summit auxiliary police officer and U.S. Marine Jhanniny Marin with a mayoral proclamation honoring Marin's service in Afghanistan and with the city auxiliary unit and naming Tuesday as Auxiliary Police Officer Appreciation Day in the city.
In another official action, the governing body decided to table the expenditure of $400,000 from the city's affordable housing trust fund to enable Our House to purchase and renovate a four-bedroom ranch home at 43 Glendale Road for use as a four-bedroom group home for those with disabilities.
Councilman Gregory Drummond called for tabling the motion after Our House officials noted that federal Fair Housing Act regulations prohibit them from discussing specifics of their plans or the proposed residents with neighboring homeowners.
Drummond said he wanted city solicitor Thomas Scrivo to render an opinion on the federal housing law provisions before voting on the allocation.
Scrivo and the Our House officials did, however, state that the council could not block the project. Their only decision will be whether the city affordable housing funds should be spent for it.
Our House officials said the total cost of purchasing and renovating the property is $650,000, with the group seeking state housing finance agency funding for the difference between the amount sought from the city and the total cost of the project. They said, without the Summit funds, the group would face a challenge in completing the project.
When converted to a group home, they said, there could be a maximum of four cars in the driveway, including two for staff members. The home would be staffed 24 hours a day, with three shifts.
Summit Community Services Director Beth Kinney pointed out that, if the city does not spend funds currently in its trust fund, it is possible the state could take those funds from Summit.
On another matter, Kinney said concerns about erosion and other health hazards around the area of the Salt Brook would be addressed at the council's October 1 session.
A resident of the area said the matter had to be addressed by December in order to receive federal remediation funding.
Kinney also promised to look into two matters raised by Michael Vernotico, Democratic Second Ward council candidate.
Vernotico wanted to know what the city intended to do about four homes in East Summit that had been posted as uninhabitable, and what could be done about overgrown weeds on the former NJ Transit right-of-way in the vicinity of Henry Street and Ashwood Road.
He said among the weeds was poison ivy that could pose a health hazard to some residents.