Tensions Flair at Millburn Township Committee Special Meeting on Complete Streets

Millburn Township Committee meets for Special Meeting on Thursday. Credits: Karen E. Hughes
Millburn residents and merchants sit in the gallery at the Township Committee Special Meeting. Credits: Karen E. Hughes

MILLBURN, NJ - The Millburn Township Committee met for a special meeting to discuss authorizing a revised construction plan for the final part of Complete Streets Phase 1. The changes impact the intersection of Douglas and Millburn Avenue continuing to Spring Street widening the sidewalks by two feet, referred to as Plan B. The Complete Streets project continues to garner strong opinions from advocates, detractors, merchants and residents. This special Township Committee meeting was no different. 

The meeting started at 8:00 am with the Township Committee going into a closed session to discuss contract negotiations for the proposed changes, leaving members of the public dismayed at the unclear timetable for the committees return for the public session. Individuals voiced their frustrations from the gallery area. Committeewoman Dianne Eglow voted against going into closed session with the rest of the committee voting in favor.

Upon returning, Millburn Township attorney Christopher "Kit" Falcon read the resolution in full detailing the actions under consideration.

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"The negotiations between Bowman Consulting Group and Flanagan Contracting Group did not result in a change order for the work detailed in implementing Plan B for the work area; Whereas, in the absence of a negotiated change order, the Township Committee authorize the issuance of a work change directive ordering Flanagan Contracting Group to construct option B."

Before the vote proceeded, Committeewoman Eglow indicated she had a prepared motion and after a discussion of procedure since a motion was already pending, Eglow shared her thoughts on the resolution on the table.

"I do not believe there should be any sidewalk addition on the north side of Millburn Avenue from Douglas Street to Spring Street." Eglow said. "Even though it is 2 feet, I believe it is an impediment to what the ultimate goal is to safely and effectively return two lanes of traffic into Millburn Avenue."

Mayor Cheryl Burstein, having listened to the recordings of the last two Complete Streets Ad Hoc Committee Meetings, said "It was made abundantly clear that with option B, that there would be no issue with widening. If there is a determination down the road to widen the streets to two lanes, that with Option B as planned that would easily be done." 

Eglow countered " I was never given clear and final clarification on the specs." regarding the impact of the 2 feet sidewalk widening. 

Committeeman Tillotson, also a member of the Ad Hoc committee, stated, "I knew prior to the vote of the Township Committee, I very specifically remember that we discussed Plan B at the Ad Hoc Committee; and it did in fact include, and I was well aware, that they included enough lane for two lanes of traffic which was the primary objective of Plan B. I was at the same meeting, and I was very clear on that."

Deputy Mayor Jodi Rosenberg stated "At the meeting that we voted on Committeewoman Eglow's resolution for Plan B, we were given these schematics, not just on the Ipad and that was the main reason I voted for Plan B over Plan A. Because we do work for the residents and the residents do seem to want to explore two lanes. Plan A did not give us the option for two lanes." Rosenberg continued, "Today what we are doing is just effectuating the motion that Committeewoman Eglow has put forth two weeks ago."

The vote began with a no from Committeewoman Eglow, but was interrupted from a resident. "Is there an opportunity for public comment?" After clarification that public discussion would follow, the vote continued passing 4-1. 

The public comments opened with resident Sarit Catz voicing her frustration. "It's outrageous the way this process happened in front of our eyes before we had an opportunity to even say anything. Maybe those are the parliamentarians rules, but it's absolutely antithetical to representative government." Katz said. "The way this township committee disrespects that tax payers of this town is absurd."

"In the most respectful way, you must all live in an opposing reality to the rest of us." Cassie Fishkin, owner of Tinga Taqueria, said. "As merchants, we came to you six months ago, and we warned you of how this downtown would look. It's dried up. It's the desert we promised you it would become. Stop this madness please, return this to a functional downtown. Invite people back."

Rosenberg pointed to a downfall in retail nationwide, "I work and live in the town as well. Retail, unfortunately on Madison Avenue in New York is down, you can't blame that on Complete Streets." and was met with vocal opposition from the gallery one resident commenting from their seat, "That is inappropriate, you can not compare the two. We are talking about Complete Streets and what you guys have done down here." 

David Emma, a member of the South Mountain Civic Association, pointed to the political implications of the Complete Streets project in his comments to the committee, "The originators of Complete Streets were voted out of office last November because of widespread dissatisfaction with Complete Streets Phase 1 as it currently exists. It is obvious that some of our very loud and dissenting voices have not been heard, even though they have been expressed." Emma continued, "If our voices are not heard now, or in the coming weeks, I can assure you they will be heard this November in the voting booth."

Following a comment by Layni Rothbort, that she felt the residents were given the impression that there would be no further narrowing of Millburn Avenue and therefore no sidewalk widening at the last Township Committee meeting, she said "There was either a mistake or a misunderstanding that full information was not given to everyone on all the committees to mislead them into misleading the rest of us."

Mayor Burstein replied to Rothbort saying, "I do not believe there was any misleading, certainly no intentional misleading, of the citizenry and the plans clearly showed that were voted on, that did show the widening of the sidewalks." 

Cary Heller, resident and business owner, questioned the timing of the start of the construction as the new school year looms on the near horizon. "I think this is a travesty," and cautioned against beginning work that could bring more traffic problems to downtown.

After public discussion had closed, Committeewoman Eglow presented her motion to the committee. "I move that Arterial be directed to prepare a revised plan for the portion of Phase 1 Complete Streets project at the corner of Douglas to Spring Street along Millburn Avenue to depict the curb lines to show a reduced two feet back to keep the existing curb line as is."

Mayor Burstein called for a second, hearing none, the motion failed amid further vocal objections from some residents in the gallery. The meeting adjourned, and the next regular Township Committee meeting is scheduled for August 15 at 7:30 pm. 

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