SUMMIT, NJ - Illuminated crosswalks, “complete streets” that encourage use by a number of types of vehicles, bicycle and vehicle sharing, charging stations for electric cars, “green roofs” on “green buildings,” combined uses of smaller spaces, “foldable” cars, and spaces shared by different modes of transportation, workstations and residences.
These were among the many ideas presented by Edward J. Snieckus of Burgis Associates, the Hilltop City's planning contractors, as he outlined Burgis' preliminary report on Summit's business areas at a townhall meeting on Wednesday in the Common Council chambers.
Snieckus emphasized, however, that the chief purpose of the session was to gather input and ideas from Summit residents and business people so that the planning firm can devise a roadmap toward the future of the central business district and areas surrounding it that may be included as an element of the city's master plan.
The session, he said, was aimed at gaining public input and review of the background data and the revision and updating of the study data while presenting the initial findings of the report.
The final report, which will encompass not only the central business district, but also Morris, DeForest and Summit Avenues and Broad Street and surrounding streets, will serve as a “guide for the future,” Snieckus said.
He added that because parking and access to it is such an important issue in Summit a separate meeting will be held dealing only with that topic.
The planner said among Summit's assets are its strong sense of a town center, a walkable streetscape, architecturally detailed and scaled buildings, workplace and business focus, a strong commitment to government service, mass transit access and connections, a traditional street grid and circulation, public gathering areas, health and wellness opportunities and a web presence and functionality in business areas.
Snieckus noted the city needs to create a regional marketplace identity, encourage a diversity of uses and activities, identify a business district image and develop an overall cohesive plan.
He added that, in order to meet these goals, pedestrian traffic safety must be improved, traffic calming techniques have to be expanded, there needs to be more pedestrian and bicycle linkage, sidewalks and parking areas need to be improved, outdoor dining areas need to be made more attractive, the area around the Summit Train Station needs to be improved, better use needs to be made of the park and ride transit area, office and business zones need improvement and building improvements need to be made, especially in facades and alleyways.
The chief uses in the city's business areas, he said, currently are health care and social services, professional, scientific and technical businesses, retail trade and financial.
Retail uses currently lead among first floor uses followed by mixed retail and commercial, offices, public parking and eating establishments.
Upper floor uses are led by mixed retail, commercial and residential, followed by strictly retail uses and residential uses—only about 9 percent of the total.
Snieckus suggested clearly delineated gateways into the business district such as at DeForest and Summit Avenues and Broad Street, gateway columns to indicate entrances to these areas, banner poles for seasonal events and improvement of alleyways to make them more attractive as pathways to various businesses.
Although members of the public commended Snieckus on his presentation, a number of them differed on his approach and offered a number of varying suggestions.
Robert Steelman, a commercial real estate broker in the city, said rather than focus so strongly on Summit's relationship to nearby commercial areas such as Berkeley Heights, New Providence, Springfield and Chatham, greater emphasis should be placed on the specific benefits and challenges within the city itself.
Steelman said the city should focus on its own commercial core businesses and what is needed to make them more successful. He also said a far greater effort needs to be made to make crosswalks and pedestrian walkways safer for those who use them because no matter how people get to the business districts more and more of them walk around the districts.
Councilman Dave Bomgaars urged the city to make its business areas more receptive to members of its large variety of religious organizations so they will use downtown businesses for weddings, funerals and other occasions and come to the area before and after these events.
Susan Haig also suggested many concert and arts activities could be staged in religious venues.
A few speakers also said that city officials need to be more helpful to those trying to establish new businesses in the city and less ready to hamper businesses through bureaucracy.
Mayor Ellen Dickson replied that the city has been making efforts to have its zoning regulations become more user friendly.
Claire Toth of the historic preservation commission said the central business district would greatly benefit from its status on the national historic register and the city should become part of the Main Street Initiative.
She also said there should be a consistent look to all buildings, especially public buildings, in and around the central business district.
A more positive attitude about the many attractions of the city such as the municipal golf course, the Summit Family Aquatic Center, the athletic fields, the schools and senior citizen and religious activities was urged by Miles MacMahon of 11 Euclid Ave.
MacMahon said there was a great deal of complaining about the city and not enough joy about what it means to be a Summit resident.
Nicholas Minoia, managing partner of Diversified Realty Advisors of 47 River Road said the city needed to offer tax abatements and other incentives to attract more residents, especially younger residents to the business areas.
He also said the study area should be expanded to include the historic Summit Hotel and disagreed with Steelman, saying the city's planning had to take into account what it was doing right and doing wrong in relation to surrounding business areas such as the Mall at Short Hills.
Dickson told a new resident who said she had a design background and wanted to give her input to attend the meetings of Summit Downtown, Inc. on the fourth Wednesday of every month.
Kevin Smallwood, chairman of SDI, said the group's board of trustees welcomed ideas from anyone in the city.
First Ward Republican council candidate Mike McTernan urged more public-private partnerships to increase technology and promote ideas such as WiFi in the business district.
City community services director Beth Kinney replied the city already was leveraging the fiber network of the school system and had WiFi access in two of its buildings. She said it may not be possible to expand much beyond that but her department was looking into the possibility.
Community programs director Judith Josephs suggested installation of business district bus stops that could be used by senior citizen minibuses and those operated by many of the city's corporations.
While city zoning officer Christa Anderson urged the city to promote more late night activities in restaurants and other venues, Denise Myles, a resident of the city's senior housing, urged the city to consider senior citizens as well as youth in expanding its activities. She also said word about meetings should be spread more widely and in person than it has in the past.