CHATHAM, NJ - Chatham Township has two years to use the $578,000 it received in its "Safe Routes to School" grant and the township committee made it clear at its meeting on Thursday that it is in no hurry to make a decision on how it will be spent.
"The grant is good for two years, so we can take our time and get this right," Thomas Ciccarone, township administrator, said. "It's a complicated issue. Everything is on the table. The bottom line is that we want to get it right. "
The "Safe Routes to School" (SRTS) grant was based on a plan put forth by Chatham Township and approved by the board of education that would construct sidewalks on the east side of Lafayette Avenue from Shunpike/Watchung to Fairview. Currently, there is a sidewalk only on the west side of Lafayette in that same stretch.
The SRTS grant also calls for sidewalks to be installed on the south side of Spring Street, from Dale to Lafayette, for use by Southern Boulevard School students.
"It's going to get some very serious consideration," Mike Kelly, committee member, said. "It's a complex issue that needs a lot of attention."
John Ruschke, township engineer, had said at the last meeting that he would be giving a more complete report on how it would impact residents, but is not ready to give that report at this time.
"We're getting more and more comments from different people and agencies," Ruschke said. "So we're not ready to do a final report on that. We're considering all our options and other considerations. We're weighing all the comments that are being made. We're hearing from every single person who is impacted."
A number of residents came forward during the public portion of the meeting to express their opinions about the proposed SRTS sidewalks. Residents from Lafayette Avenue and nearby streets were mostly against installing sidewalks on the east side.
"For perspective, it's helpful to know that I have two young guys," Amanda Robertson, who lives at 177 Lafayette. "We are walkers. We're the ones dodging traffic on Lafayette every morning to cross over to the sidewalk (west side). I see it from the big perspective. On a personal level, my reason for opposition is the drainage on our stretch of block."
Watchung Avenue resident Tara Burke and her son, Quinn, came before the committee to urge the construction of the sidewalk. Burke pointed out that residents had the same concerns before the Watchung Avenue sidewalk was constructed on the north side between Washington Avenue and Lafayette Avenue.
"We're talking about a very, very busy road that supports two schools across six grades" Burke said.
Quinn Burke, Washington Ave School 2nd Grader Addresses Township Committee
Agatha Robbins of 143 Lafayette Avenue, lives on the corner of Lafayette and Watchung Avenue.
"Half my house is in the borough and a small piece belongs to the township," Robbins said. "You would cut down one OF my biggest trees for the sidewalk. We calculated that tree is 152-years-old. Our position is against the project. The children are pretty well indoctrinated to walk on the (west) sidewalk. It's a dangerous corner and we would need an additional crossing guard."
Robertson and Robbins were among the eight residents who signed a petition that was given to the township, citing all the reasons it is against a sidewalk on the east side, including the preservation of trees, safety and water drainage.
"I'm very conscious of the speed of the cars on Lafayette Avenue," Karen Swartz, committee member, said. "Introducing children to both sides of the street, where the traffic is very fast, is obviously an issue. We're not talking about the fastest route to school, we're talking about the safest route to school. It's a very sensitive issue to me, too, because I live right there."
Residents of Spring Street reiterated their preference that a sidewalk be built on the north side rather than the original plan for the south side of the street.