NUTLEY, NJ - Residents raised questions on the potential mixed-use and density ordinance, which was tabled at the Wednesday, Nov. 7 Board of Commissioners public meeting. Concerns were voiced about overcrowding in Nutley public schools considering the Board of Education’s $70 million referendum was rejected for the second time during the Nov. 6 General Election. Public Safety Commissioner Steve. L. Rogers was absent excused.
Mike Odria of Nutley said density is a very important issue in town. “Homeowners of the town shot down two very expensive referendums. We don’t want any more referendums. The people … sent a message, no more...it has to stop,” he said.
Mayor and Public Works Commissioner Joseph P. Scarpelli said he supported the referendum because it was the only option given and the overcrowding issue has to be addressed. However the Mayor said, “The people spoken twice now and we need a different approach.”
Amy Celento of Nutley added, “There is a question about whether overcrowding comes from apartments or from homes being sold from empty nesters and people moving in who have children.” Celento said a study has not been conducted on the issue.
Emily Donahue of Nutley asked if the commissioners have considered sitting down with the Board of Education to collaborate to solve the overcrowding issue.
Scarpelli said the Board of Commissioners communicates with the Board of Education on an ongoing basis. Parks and Recreation Commissioner Mauro G. Tucci said, “[We] are doing so now in regards to the track and field at DeMuro Park, which is co-owned by the Board of Education and Board of Commissioners. It is need of an upgrade and will cost around $0.5 million and the Oval is in need of improvement.”
Tucci also said he will be corresponding in the near future with the Board of Education about the old bike shop property on Franklin Avenue. He said the township purchased it with hopes the Board of Education would buy it from the township to expand the middle school and alleviate their space problem. He believes the funds are available.
Donahue also voiced concerns of mixed-use buildings with residential properties. “Seventy percent of the dwellings would have two bedrooms or more according to the density mixed use ordinance that was tabled. Spring Garden School is already scheduled to get a double wide stacked trailer in the fall, as well as Washington School,” she said.
According to Scarpelli there are no mixed-use buildings in the Spring Garden area and there is an overcrowding issue there. “Other issues are causing overcrowding, which were mentioned in past meetings such as all-day kindergarten, special education and the turnover of one-family homes,” he said.
Revenue and Finance Commissioner Thomas J. Evans also reiterated that all day kindergarten, as well as the mandatory smaller occupancy size of classrooms for special needs children and the complex curricula also demands a smaller classroom size, all contribute to overcrowding.
Public Safety Commissioner Alphonse Petracco said, “We need to figure things out rather than just put trailers at these schools and have a long term plan. To say if these referendums don’t pass there [is] no other option. There are always options. We owe it to the public and the taxpayers here to research every possibility that we could to fix these problems,” he said.
Rory Moore of Nutley questioned the tabled ordinance on mixed-use and density on the definition of a dwelling. Amy Celento of Nutley also questioned the length of time it is taking to put the ordinance together.
Scarpelli said, “We are trying to get that ordinance right, it’s very complicated, it’s been complicated and yes it’s been going on for a long time. …We are moving it forward and we are going to have something that makes sense and something that we think will not have any conflict with the rest of our zoning ordinance.” He added, “No one on the board is in favor of the 70 percent two bedroom [apartments] and is one of the issues that needs to be resolved.”
Petracco said, “It seems that every time you do one thing it affects another thing. It’s not that anyone here is trying to delay it. …It won’t stop the development in the future.”
Tucci added, “…there are many items in that ordinance I do not agree with. The number of two and three bedroom apartments that are called for I don’t agree with, the density at 28, I do not agree with; I’m not a proponent of more multifamily housing. So, I want to make sure that we protect the town moving forward, and that we don’t over develop; that we don’t have folks moving in who have shallow roots and move out. We are known for years and years as a community that has deep roots.”
Evans said, “There are questions that needed to be resolved at the planning board level. …With moving it from the planning board with several open ended questions we are finally getting it to the final designation where a determination can be made.
According to Evans there are some technical issues in the ordinance that need to be addressed. “One issue of the ordinance says you have to have side yard setbacks on Franklin Avenue….four feet on one size and 10 feet on the other or 14 feet [total]. How do you on Franklin Avenue put 14 feet between buildings they’re all connected? …If we were to adopt the ordinance with that provision still in there, that would make every business on Franklin Avenue a non-conforming use,” he said.
Evans pointed out other unresolved details including apartment size, the mix between one and two bedrooms apartments and the number of units allowed per an acre.
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