Chatham Township Committee to Discuss Safe Routes to School Grant; Residents in Opposition to Lafayette Sidewalk

John Ruschke, Chatham Township engineer Credits: TAP Chatham
Carole Ethridge, who petitioned for the Lafayette sidewalk addition in 2009 Credits: TAP Chatham

CHATHAM, NJ - Now that Chatham Township has received a $578,000 Grant to build sidewalks as part of the "Safe Routes to School" program, the final details of how it will be implemented are being discussed.

The Chatham Township Committee will receive a full report from John Ruschke, township engineer, for discussion at its May 28 meeting. Part of that report will include objections to the installation of a sidewalk on the east side of Lafayette Avenue from Watchung Avenue to Fairview.

The SRTS grant calls for a plan to install sidewalks on the east side of Lafayette Avenue and for sidewalks to be installed on Spring Street, connecting the back path from Southern Boulevard School to Lafayette Avenue. 

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But, despite the fact that the township committee and board of education approved the plan before it was submitted for the grant, there now seems to be public opposition to part of the plan.

Ruschke noted that there was opposition to sidewalks being installed on the east side of Lafayette in his preliminary report. There is also a debate on which side of Spring Street the sidewalks should be installed.

"Like we do with every project, before we commit to doing any design work, we send notices out to the residents who will be impacted and we get their input on how we can minimize how it impacts their properties and just to get an overall preference on the general scope of the project," Ruschke said.

In his preliminary report on the Lafayette sidewalk, there are 14 properties that are impacted and Ruschke received eight responses.

"In general, the responses were negative," Ruschke said. "They're concerned about changing the character on the road. Many questioned the justification for it."

Roseanne Maraziti, who lives on the corner of Lafayette and Inwood Road, came to the meeting to express her opposition to the sidewalk installation on the east side of Lafayette. Maraziti said she and other neighbors monitored students walking to and from Lafayette School and the high school at the intersections of Fairview, Oak, Chandler and Inwood.

According to her observation, one person crossed her children to the other side of Lafayette to the sidewalk and a group of boys crossed from the sidewalk to the other side in order to pick up friends on the way to school. In her opinion, there was no need to install another sidewalk. She also expressed concerns about the trees that might be removed and the possible water overrun that sidewalks could cause.

"So far we've gotten negative responses on Lafayette," Ruschke said. "On Spring Street, the original targeted area was to install a sidewalk on the south side of Spring Street, but we were discussing the possibility of either/or of both sides.

"So far we have received responses from five of the seven residences impacted on the south side of the road. All five spoke negatively about the project. The general consensus is that the township should focus more on the northern side rather than the southern side, which would have less impact on the residents."

That point was backed up by five residents on the southern side of Spring Street, who came before the township committee to express their opinion that the sidewalks should be installed on the northern side. Two residents on the northern side were contacted by Ruschke, but have yet to respond.

"The project calls for extending the sidewalk onto Dale and connecting with the path at Southern Boulevard School," Ruschke said of the SRTS plan.  "All four residents on Dale objected to a sidewalk. Their general objection is justification for extending it.

"This is just a preliminary report. I'm working with the administrator to decide whether we should continue on this path or modify the scope for less impact. I represented to residents who call to complain and I believe is correct, that this plan is not set in stone. We're still scoping the project out."

Thomas Ciccarone, township administrator, had the original petition submitted by Chatham Borough resident Carole Ethridge, asking for the sidewalk installation on the east side of Lafayette Avenue. Ciccarone noted that some people who had signed the petition in 2009 had changed their minds or moved. 

Ethridge spoke of the positive impact that was created when sidewalks were installed on Watchung Avenue from Lafayette to Washington Avenue.

"This is being proposed in my neighborhood and we have to be careful of stepping on the toes of residents," Committee member Karen Swartz said. "It is a point of contention already."

According to Ruschke, the township would need to follow the basic plan that was submitted for the SRTS grant in order to spend the money allocated. It was submitted on the basis of surveys and the best "Safe Route to School."

Ciccarone spoke of the campaign put forth by the schools to discourage more foot traffic on Lafayette Avenue, noting that students were encouraged to use the path on Dellwood Avenue and the back gate on Longwood.

"I never saw much value in putting sidewalks on the east side of Lafayette Avenue," Ciccarone said.

Thomas Ciccarone talks about other ways to get to school other than Lafayette

Carole Ethridge, who petitioned for sidewalks in 2009, speaks about SRTS grant

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