Government

Montclair Town Council Approves Tax Exemption, Liquor License, Projects Nearly $1M in Revenue from Hotel Project

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MONTCLAIR, NJ - Five residents plopped down into the second-floor conference room table chair to address parking, fiscal responsibility, idling municipal vehicle, leaf blower, traffic flow and undervalued property concerns at the Township Council meeting on Tuesday. 

Margaret Whitsett implored the Council to look into the change to two-hour parking on Oxford Street, explaining two tenants of hers had no driveway. She asked for designated daytime parking, as the tenants are "unfairly impacted," citing no due process when the restricted daytime parking changed. 

"It's an unreasonable burden," said Whitsett, who has incurred expenses from tickets she received, landscapers, or anyone else providing services, parking in front of the complex.

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Councilor Rich McMahon informed Whitsett of the ongoing parking study. 

"I don't know what the short term answer is," he said. "There is underutilized parking in the area."

Councilor Renee Baskerville joined in, mentioning spots in nearby municipal lots, within walking distance, may be available.  

Resident Sandy Sorkin brought up fiscal responsibility to explain why, week after week, he brings up the bills list. 

Reiterating his comments from the previous conference meeting, he asked again for the Council to explain the telephone repairs, and wanted clarity on the budgetary paydowns. 

"It does not make any sense to me," Sorkin added. 

Mayor Robert Jackson responded that the town pays down $15 to 20 million in debt every year. 

Directing his comment to Sorkin, the mayor said, "Don't try to make yourself a martyr, Sandy."

Sorkin then continued to press the Council on the senior-friendly designation from AARP and the World Health Organization

He said the town enrolled in the program. "This means we're on a path towards senior-friendly. It doesn't mean we are senior-friendly."

Deputy Mayor Russo took personal offense to Sorkin's comments, calling him "childish" as Sorkin resumed his seat in the audience.

Pat Kenschaff prefaced her comments by mentioning the UN conference on climate change underway in Paris.

She reiterated concerns she addressed at the Nov. 11 conference meeting, including municipal vehicles idling and "wasting an enormous amount of tax money," installing rented solar panels to save on electrical bills, and abolishing the use of leaf blowers. 

Councilor Robin Schlager reminded Kenschaff that school zones and the immediate area surrounding the municipal building were no idle zones. 

Fred Chichester, the fourth resident to address the Council implored something be done to manage traffic at the Watchung and Grove intersection. 

He also urged the Council to increase the number of North/South route bus signage to encourage people to take public transportation, adding NJ Transit would do this free of charge.

Resident William Scott defended Sorkin, stressing to the Council that he was only looking for information. 

"The public has the right to question the Council and not be attacked." 

He also asked about undervalued properties in town, using parking decks as an example. 

Township Attorney Ira Karasick agreed, "We are looking at this aggressively."

The Council then heard from Edwin Schmierer, the township's affordable housing special counsel, following public comment.

He said a fair housing advocacy group at Princeton suggested the town's affordable housing obligations would be around 1,000 units for the next ten years. 

"This number doesn't make much sense," Schmierer added, and extending the existing 30-year deeds could count towards the undetermined housing number. 

Town Attorney Ira Karasick interjected, "We want the obligation to be as low as possible."

Mayor Jackson explained the Council wants to give priority to current and former Montclair residents. 

"We want more control over the process." 

Councilor Baskerville questioned his role. "I'm wondering why we are retaining you." 

Jackson also commended Schmierer for liaising with the township attorney and planner, but implored Schmierer to engage the Council more on affordable housing policies.  

Jackson asked Township Manager Tim Stafford for an update on the use of border collies for geese problems. 

The mayor also asked Stafford for additional information on the Green Acres Fund, specifically whether the town could scoop up another $46,000 for the parks at Edgemont and Mountainside.  

All Ordinances placed before the Council were passed. 

Karasick elaborated on an ordinance authorizing and approving a financial agreement between Montclair and HP Orange Urban Renewal LLC for the hotel project.

The financial benefits for the town, he said, included $500,000 to be put towards the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, a $300,000 added to "utility coffers", and the project could generate $1 million in yearly revenue.  

"It will be the biggest revenue maker for the town." 

Another ordinance amended Chapter 74 of the town's code as pertaining to alcoholic beverages, creating one hotel license. 

All Resolutions placed before the Council were passed. 

Karasick explained a resolution approving a redevelopment agreement between Montclair and Urban Renewal LLC, and an additional resolution approving the company's application for a tax exemption to the long term tax exemption law were both formalities, like the ordinance. 

Because of the project's pilot program status, the county would receive 5 percent of all taxes, instead of the usual 16.5 percent, he added. 

Karasick then informed the Council that the Edgemont Park house litigation concluded, resulting in the town receiving a check.  

Mayor Jackson made two proclamations following public comment; one congratulated the Rotary Award recipients and the other congratulated the 100 Club on its 50th anniversary.   

The Council will hold its next meeting in chambers on Dec. 8, 7 p.m., at 205 Claremont Ave. 

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