CALDWELL, NJ - Affordable Housing, Small Business and Shared Intelligence were the focus of discussion at the Meet the Mayors’ Breakfast Saturday, April 1, at Greenbrook Country Club. The 22 Mayors of Essex County were invited by Inter Chamber Coordinating Council of Essex County to the event.
Panelists at the seventh annual Event were: Bloomfield Mayor Michael Venezia, Millburn Mayor Cheryl Burstein, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, and West Caldwell Mayor Joseph Tempesta.
Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. was introduced as “someone who worries every night about what he is going to change tomorrow.” DiVincenzo spoke briefly before leaving for a baby shower for his third grandchild. Before leaving, "Joe D" told the audience that "our financial house is in order" referring to the county. In 2002 the county was ranked as junk status, now it is AA rated."
‘How to support small businesses’ was one of the issues addressed by the panelists. In his opening overview of Bloomfield, Mayor Venezia said that Bloomfield has four distinct business districts: Downtown, Bloomfield Center, the North Center, and Brookdale. The goal is to work together with all of the districts.
“We are in the process of enacting a Business Advisory Board to support local businesses." Venezia said. Redevelopment is taking place in town, Bloomfield is 11 miles from New York City and we are finding ways to take advantage of that situation.
One of Venezia's achievements was moving the township's accounts from a big national bank to local Investors Bank. Investors invests heavily in the communities it serves and recently donated $100,000 to the Foley Field Foundation. Investors Bank Donates $100K to Foley Field Foundation
Sheena C. Collum, of South Orange said regarding downtown parking “County wide, we don’t have a parking problem, we have a walking problem. You need to realize, you are not always going to get the spot in front of Starbucks.” She encouraged towns to invest in jitneys and other forms of mass transit. Collum pointed out that if there are empty parking spaces in town that is another problem as it means no one is buying.
In addition, Collum said the South Orange downtown business report included a business inventory as a way to reduce redundancies in small businesses like nail and hair salons.
Maplewood Mayor Victor DeLuca stated: “We are all competing.” Instead, he encouraged discussion among all county Mayors. His idea for towns to collaborate, share intelligence and work together to improve all of Essex County was applauded. Maplewood recently ‘scored’ the first Wawa in Essex County.
Aisha Glover, Chief Executive Officer Newark Community Economic Development Corporation filled in for Mayor Ras Baraka until he arrived. Glover described storefront business incubators being opened in every ward of Newark, as a way to bring home-based businesses ‘out’ into the community.Glover stated "I know what growth feels like" - we have our fingers on the pulse of businesses need and we are listening to the concerns of the people." One of the glaring issues for her was connecting growth with small business, connecting anchor institutions with the community."
Another topic of discussion was Fair Share or Affordable Housing in Essex County.
Ras Baraka stated that 20,000 residents were on the waiting list for affordable housing in Newark. Tempesta, Mayor of W Caldwell said: “Unrealistic numbers have been assigned to each town. That’s why we are all in court.” According to Tempesta, W Caldwell encompasses five square miles and is 99.9% developed.
Mayor Venezia explained that Bloomfield is out of land. That is the case in most of Essex County. The addition of new senior housing in Bloomfield has placed the township in a better affordable housing position than most other communities.
In Newark, 40% of the formers Hahne's Building is affordable housing.
In January of this year, the New Jersey Supreme court voted 6-0 to reject several towns argument that they were not required to provide affordable housing for poor and middle-class families between 1999 to 2015. During this timeframe, Council on Affordable Housing was ‘paralyzed’ and did not issue any rulings.
Before the panel discussion, business owners, employees, and residents networked with state and local officials and Chamber members.
During the networking, DiVincenzo was asked about what was happening in the Essex Township of Nutley where he resided for 32 years. “We’re going to get housing on High Street where there was parking.” That housing is a part of the 'On Three' project that will
Mayor Venezia also stressed the importance of the Gateway Tunnel project as critical for jobs and the future. Bloomfield is uniquely situated whereby the northern end of the community has express bus service into Manhattan and the south end has rail servince to Manhattan from two train stations.