CHATHAM, NJ - Residents gathered at the Library of the Chathams on Thursday night to brainstorm ways to improve the aesthetics of Chatham Borough.

"Every 10 years, the borough has to review the Master Plan by state law," Susan Blickstein, Chatham planner, said. "So I'm working with the subcommittee and the planning board on this."

The "Open House" on the 10-year review of Chatham Borough's Master Plan drew a crowd of 65-plus, who filled out surveys and talked with planners about their ideas and concerns.

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"It's very good to see this many people come out," James Collander, Chatham Borough Council member, said. "There's a lot of interest in traffic. Traffic is never going away, but I've gotten some pretty good input just from folks here. It's a whole list of problems. There is no one solution. So this is a good start. It's going to be a long process. I've been listening to a lot of good input."

The open house featured a short presentation and a short question-and-answer period before people broke up into groups for discussion. Attendees filled out a survey, asking if they were a resident, a business owner or a commercial property owner. It also asked people to list the three "best things" about living in Chatham. 

The survey also asked a number of questions about the downtown area in relation to vision and possible changes.

"The main problem in this town is traffic, Route 24 is killing the downtown," Resident Fran Drew said. "There is no diversity in the town because of the traffic, which doesn't encourage anyone who wants to open a nice little store to come in.

"Secondly, I think there should be an encouragement for more local people to become landlords to promote good tenants. Some landlords jack up the price and you wind up with an empty store, rather than more diversity of shops."

Depending on what is gleaned from the survey, there will be a meeting in June, where the subcommittee will be ready to make recommendations. The updated Master Plan could be ready for be put in place by the fall.

George Bauer, owner of Bauer Automotive Service and a 45-year resident of Chatham, attended the first meeting held, as well as the one Thursday.

"I came to the first meeting and that was a little more specialized, in my opinion,." Bauer said. "This was more general. It was a good meeting and I thought there was a lot of good comments from people. I'd like to see the town stay the same. I like the town the way it is, but I know it's not going to stay the same."

Susan Favate, a professional planner and Chatham resident, heads up the planning board subcommittee studying the Master Plan. She is joined by planning board members Wolfgang Robinson and Bill Heap, along with council liaison Victoria Fife.

"I'm so excited to see so many residents engaged in the process," Fife said. "This is really what the borough needs to move forward."

Favate, who earned her planning degree from New York University, works in New York City as a professional planner. She has lived in Chatham for eight years. She noted that alleviating the traffic problem on Main Street will not be easy.

"We have a challenge in that our Main Street is a state highway and that's not going to change," Favate said. "We also have a challenge in that there is essentially one interchange that serves Madison and Chatham."

Favate has not offered her opinion on ways to improve the Master Plan. Right now, the subcommittee is gathering input from residents before forming any policy document.

"We have looked at downtown over the years," Favate said. "We did a study five years ago. We have to see what issues come to the forefront and if there is consensus in some areas. That will help us determine where we'll focus."