Summit Council Sees Need for More Parking But Wants More Facts Before Deciding Where

Senior citizens representative Miles McMahon thanks retiring Senior Connections bus driver John Papa for more than 20 years of services. Credits: Bob Faszczewski

SUMMIT, NJ - The Board of Trustees of Summit Downtown, Inc. (SDI) has presented the Summit Common Council with a resolution calling for increasing parking in the central business district by construction of a new parking garage on the current Summit Post Office parking lot.

It is believed the post office eventually will move from its current location and the governing body last year officially proclaimed the lot as an area in need of redevelopment. This means the city will play a hand in determining the future use of the lot.

In its resolution, the SDI board noted Summit’s direct train line into New York City, serving about 16,000 commuters on average per day, the city’s designation as a Transit Village and the many projects under construction in the Hilltop City’s downtown all as increasing the demand for more parking in the city.

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However, at Tuesday’s Common Council meeting, many of the council members said the city should proceed cautiously before making a definite decision on the location of any new parking facility.

Council general services chairman Albert Dill Jr. noted that Burgis Associates, which is helping the city map the future of its business area, is scheduled to make its report this spring, and reports on parking and other items also are expected from a number of groups in the city.

Dill said when the reports from all these groups are in, expected this June, the governing body should weigh all the facts before deciding where any parking facility should be located. He added, however, that, despite a concern about employee parking, the emphasis should be on customer parking.

Although acknowledging that the city should do all it can to help its merchants, council Public Safety Chairman Patrick Hurley said he is concerned that the downtown is becoming saturated with people.

“We are reaching the tipping point,” Hurley said. “Pedestrians are endangered crossing from Summit Avenue to the train station and the police and public works departments are being stretched to the limit.”

The Second Ward representative noted the Transit Village designation aims to have more people walking to trains and other public transportation and adding more cars to the mix, he said, “is not pedestrian-friendly.”

Hurley said he looks forward to a vigorous discussion on the issue before making a decision.

Dill noted, however, that something has to be done to address the safety of crosswalks in the central business district and increase lighting.

Mayor Ellen Dickson pointed out, however, that, with the help of SDI, the city has addressed some of the crosswalk problems.

In addition to other efforts, Dill said, pedestrians need to be better educated about crossing at the proper places on streets and drivers need to learn not to open car doors into traffic.

Responding to a suggestion by Dill that the city install LED lights in the central business district, community services director Beth Kinney said increased lighting and crosswalk improvements will be addressed in the upcoming capital budget with a spending proposal of about $25,000 this coming year.

She added, however, that it would cost about $1 million to address all the issues and this would be a multi-year project.

Getting back to parking, SDI trustees chairman Kevin Smallwood said while increased parking does not necessarily have to be in a new garage on the post office lot, more parking definitely is needed.

He said SDI will look at the Burgis report and work with the city to find a solution. However, he added, with New Jersey Transit bringing more people into the downtown more spaces defintely will be needed.

SDI trustee and business owner Bob Weakley said that, for many years “there was much discussion on the council with little action.”

He added increased parking is a matter of urgency and said, “we don’t need more feasiblity studies we need more parking,” pointing out that Burgis has recommended the addition of 200 more spaces.

Council president Robert Rubino disputed the contention that no action was taken, noting the success of the parking meter and lot readjustments for shopper parking made last year by the governing body.

Second Ward Councilman Richard Madden said, however, that the SDI board had made an important recommendation on parking.

He added though, that increased parking had been looked at for 50 years by the council, and a new parking garage would cost about $10 million and should not be completely funded by taxpayers.

He urged Dill to explore grants and be open-minded to determine the location that was best for the city and its pedestrians.

In official action, the council approved $100,000 to address its share of a shortfall in the amount needed to complete the shared emergency dispatch service facility to be constructed in New Providence.

Hurley explained that Summit and New Providence each contributed $350,000 to the cost of constructing the center, but expenses relating to architectural, consulting and project management resulted in a projected construction expense shortfall of about $122,500.

New Providence agreed to contribute $100,000 to address the shortfall, with Summit to provide an equal amount.

However, Hurley said, when, as expected, Millburn joins the center its initial contribution of $350,000 would cover the shortfall amounts advanced by Summit and New Providence. Any amount above that reimbursement, he noted, would go into the facility’s capital expense fund.

Both Summit council finance chairman Mike McTernan and Rubino suggested that since Millburn was joining the original center partners later in the process and costs had gone up, the newest partner should pay a higher fee.

However, Hurley replied, the fact that Millburn has had long-standing emergency shared services agreements with Summit and the two original partners did not want to discourage the new partner from joining they should not increase the fee for the Essex County municipality.

On another matter, the council rejected an ordinance to relinquish Summit ownership of a portion of Middle Avenue on the Milllburn side of Route 24 because they felt giving up the parcel would make access to the area more difficult and leave the rear of the Summit Animal Hospital on the site landlocked and difficult for emergency vehicles to access.

The mayor also presented Senior Connections bus driver John Papa with a certificate honoring him on his retirement after more than 20 years of service.

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