WESTFIELD, NJ – Among the local government’s initiatives underway are an update to the town’s guide for development, transportation improvements and a new cell phone application anticipated to provide streamlined pothole reporting, along with other benefits.
In updating the guide for development, called a master plan, Westfield is taking input via surveys online and in print, asking residents what they value most in their town and what they would like to see moving forward, Mayor Shelley Brindle said.
“We’re creating Westfield for the next generation,” Brindle said in an interview with TAPinto Westfield.
To ensure representation of all residents in the master plan update, surveys take demographic data and process it to identify any underrepresented groups. Outreach is being made to make sure everyone in the community has had their say, according to Brindle.
“Residents should be identifying and saying what their priorities and vision are,” Brindle said. “Ultimately, that's going to shape the priorities in what we enable in 10 to 12 months.”
Through April, Brindle expects to host meetings to put the ideas from the surveys into action. One invite-only meeting with key stakeholders from boards and committees as well as six town-wide meetings will be held to whittle down solutions and ideas, she said.
"The more input the better,” Brindle said.
The town awarded a $98,000 contract to the planning firm H2M to conduct the reexamination process in partnership with the town, she said.
To tackle the town's parking shortage, Brindle said she has looked into micro-transit options and partnerships.
She is in the process of working with Lime bike, which offers electric scooter and bicycle rentals. The company already provides bike services in Plainfield and Keyport.
Brindle said she has talked to adjacent mayors about micro-transportation to see if a common partner could be used.
“My goal would be in a year we're trying something,” she said.
Brindle also addressed the waiting list for a parking spot in town — around 900 people. To reduce it, partnerships with companies like Lyft, the on-demand transportation company, are in the works, Brindle said.
“If you can make it that the cost of taking Lyft is comparable to the cost of a parking pass, we want to encourage people to take Lyft,” she said.
Brindle said she is disappointed in NJ Transit’s suspension of peak direct line from Westfield to Manhattan. Restoration of the off-peak one-seat ride to Manhattan was supposed to happen in February, but has not yet happened, she said.
Brindle is drumming up public support to put pressure on NJ Transit and legislators so Westfield can get the peak one-seat ride to Manhattan.
To attract more business in the downtown area, Brindle said, she is trying to increase foot traffic.
To do that, Brindle wants to bring employers into town. Employers, Brindle said, will spend money at businesses, diversifying Westfield’s tax base and adding revenue without having to raise property taxes. She also hopes her transportation initiatives will bring more people downtown.
Keeping consistent foot traffic will sustain downtown business in the ups and downs of markets so the town does not need to rely on short-term fixes and business trends, she said.
Brindle also wants to make the process of opening a business in Westfield quicker, cutting down on bureaucratic procedures.
“If somebody is thinking about opening a business here, what’s the timeline from thinking about opening a business and actually opening and bring in revenue?” she said. “Can we shrink that process?”
Brindle sees automation as a large initiative for this year. It is something a cell phone application is anticipated to help.
The town will release Westfield Connect, an app where residents can report service issues, by March, she said.
“If you see a pothole, you'll be able to take a take a picture of it and submit it,” Brindle said, detailing the new app. “It's GPS located and residents can track the progress of that.”
The app is apart of an effort to automate more services and save human labor, she said. Permits to open businesses, paying and service reporting among other things are what Brindle hopes to put online so people can focus on service jobs.
Around Jersey: Montville Township? There's an App for That
The town also plans to overhaul its website, making it more interactive and including additional ways to reach residents via email, texts messages and social media, Brindle said. It will be customizable, alerting residents specifically what they want to know about, she said.
“It can be ‘I only want texts about weather emergencies or town-wide emergencies,’” Brindle said. “That’s a big thing. Being able to enhance and automate and individualize the communication with residents about things that matter to them.”
The writer, Daniel Han, is a Westfield High School senior participating in a journalism program with TAPinto Westfield.