MILLBURN, NJ — An item of new business at Tuesday night's Millburn Township Committee meeting on how to proceed with recommendations from an ad hoc committee led to a lengthy and at times impassioned discussion from committee members, residents and business owners.
To watch last night's discussion on the PACTS recommendations, click here.
The Pedestrian and Circulation Traffic Safety Ad Hoc Committee (PACTS) was formed in February of last year to look at solving some issues residents reported from complete streets, including increased congestion at morning and evening rush hour on Millburn Avenue and Main Street.
In addition, drivers have also reported sideswipes from passing cars increasing in frequency and trucks have had trouble turning in the main downtown intersection, according to Mayor Jackie Lieberberg.
The PACTS committee transferred five recommendations over to the township committee, and they are as follows;
- Revise and reduce the size of the bump outs of the southeast and southwest corners of the intersection of Millburn Avenue and Main Street.
- Reinstate a dedicated right turn lane on Millburn Avenue approaching Main Street.
- Revise the flexible parking on Millburn back to traditional curb parking.
- Presenting an alternate location to the mid-block crosswalk by the Dunkin Donuts.
- And presenting a new design that should improve traffic flow and add 16 additional spaces.
Lieberberg said that the township committee has formulated ways to minimize the impact of this suggested work, including an overnight option. Tuesday's new business was meant to form consensus on the issue and how to move forward.
The discussion at Tuesday's meeting between committee members was not whether to immediately move forward on the proposed projects, but whether the committee would come to a consensus to begin the preliminary stages of the plan.
At the Meeting, committeewoman Diane Thall-Eglow, who headed up the PACTS committee in its first year, read an open letter from two anonymous town residents. They wrote in support of the status quo and said in part, "everything works in a satisfactory manner, and we find many characteristics of the current state of affairs which are far superior from what we had years ago."
The letter then went on to state that if there were varying opinions on changes to the complete streets design, that a referendum should be put up allowing residents to choose their path, rather than leaving the decision in the hands of a small group of people.
Thall-Eglow used the letter as a jumping off point to suggest to the committee and the mayor that a referendum on the PACTS recommendations
"It is a very big decision, that involves a lot of dollars and will put the town through some havoc," Thall-Eglow said, as she looked to merchants in attendance to offer their thoughts. "Things have changed, people have gotten used to it."
Thall-Eglow continued, saying, "It's a very huge decision that we're embarking on, and it's a really big responsibility to put this out on our 21,000 residents. So it's something that we maybe want to consider."
New committeeman Richard Wasserman said that while the intentions of complete streets had been good, the results were not satisfactory, and that listening to and implementing PACTS suggestions should be an easy decision for the committee.
"I think that it was done with a good heart," Wasserman said. "But in fact, what was accomplished, I don't know if you could dispute that there's tremendous traffic. And I would say that a lot of the fixes that are in the PACTS proposal are very common sense."
For committeewoman Cheryl Burstein, while she understands the PACTS committee is there to make changes, the lack of support on a referendum from members of the committee struck her as an interesting decision.
"I find it rather ironic...that the concept of a referendum hasn't come from you mayor, since when we ran, that's all I heard, when the two of us ran in 2017," Burstein said. "We were finishing up an already approved piece of the streets project, and all I heard was 'referendum, referendum, how can we do it without a referendum?'"
"And here," Burstein continued, "you want to start a whole new construction project, and I didn't hear the concept of you going out to the public for referendum. So I find it ironic, but not surprising."
She also said that she would want to hear from an engineer as well before proceeding in the suggestions from PACTS.
A small discussion ensued between Thall-Eglow and Deputy Mayor Tara Prupis regarding the crosswalk next to Dunkin Donuts. Thall-Eglow again advocated for a pause and referendum, or a smaller fix to the crosswalk with a blinking pedestrian sign. Prupis asked why Thall-Eglow had not looked to do this during the past year, and after some crosstalk, the floor was the opened to public comment.
Residents and business owners then stepped to the mic and offered their input as well on the topic. In general, there was support for a reasoned and thought-out implementation of the PACTS recommendations.
For Mayor Lieberberg, the proposed solutions put forward by PACTS will, in her eyes, help to move the downtown back to a state of vitality.
"The one thing I hear again and again, sadly, is that no one comes to Millburn anymore," Lieberberg said. "They can't stand the parking. They don't come, they're not here, and I find that a little tragic, quite frankly. And I think that this plan is the first step in addressing some of those issues."
Following the new business portion of the meeting, the township committee voted to adjourn.