MONTCLAIR, NJ - The Montclair Township Council held a regular meeting on February 16 to consider the second-reading ordinance amending the township’s rules and regulations regarding gasoline-powered leaf blowers and also a brief consent agenda of resolutions that yielded some unexpected discussions about two of the items listed.
Public comment was lighter than usual, and it was mostly focused on the leaf-blower ordinance. The amendment restricts the use of gas-powered leaf blowers to between March 15 and May 15 and between October 15 and December 15 on weekdays between 9:00 A.M. and 6:00 P.M. for landscapers and between 9:00 A.M. and 8:00 P.M. for occupants or owners of properties, Saturdays between 10:00 A.M. and 6:00 P.M. for landscapers and between 10:00 A.M. and 8:00 P.M. for occupants or owners of properties, and on Sundays, Good Friday and Thanksgiving between 10:00 A.M. and 5:00 P.M.
Numerous residents called in to the remote meeting to express their unwavering support for the amendment, with some residents such as Leah Katz suggesting that the township commit to greater enforcement of the ordinance and also communicate regularly with homeowners and landscapers regarding the new rules. Other callers promoted the use of leaves as mulch to place around trees and nourish the earth to help protect the environment. But Richard Goldstein of the New Jersey Landscape Contractors Association called in to suggest that the township was catering to a minority of residents who wanted the amendment passed, saying that the restrictions would make it harder for landscapers to do an effective job in maintaining properties. Goldstein called the regulations “ridiculous” and wondered why the township wasn’t going after other motorized products powered by two-stroke engines, like mopeds and scooters.
The debate among the council members ended by falling on the same lines as it had over the ordinance’s first reading. Both councilors-at-large, Robert Russo and Peter Yacobellis, strongly supported it. Councilor Russo said it would guarantee five months of uninterrupted peace and quiet for Montclair residents, stressing in addition that the township would not ban leaf blowers powered by electricity, while Councilor Yacobellis said, in agreement with Leah Katz, that the township should educate residents and landscapers on the particulars of the new rules. Deputy Mayor / First Ward Councilor William Hurlock remained concerned about the stringent penalties of up to ninety days in jail or up to $2,000 in fines for violations, and he said hath the ordinance needed more work. Mayor Sean Spiller said that the ordinance, imperfect as it was, still benefited from the input in crafting it. Deputy Mayor Hurlock and Fourth Ward Councilor David Cummings both voted against the leaf-blower ordinance while Mayor Spiller and the other four councilors voted for it.
In public comment, resident José German-Gomez, who had supported the leaf-blower ordinance because of the health effects of gas-powered leaf blowers, also called to the council’s attention the county’s inability to communicate with black and Hispanic residents about the COVID-19 vaccine and the misinformation involving vaccinations, especially the lack of printed information in Spanish. Councilor Cummings replied that Governor Phil Murphy is having a reach-out to Hispanics in a call on vaccine information this Thursday, February 18. Mayor Spiller noted the many town halls the state has had with minority residents, and he added that Essex County has been providing transportation 200 to 300 people per week; he urged residents without private transportation to reach out to the township’s health officer for assistance.
On the rent control ordinance – again before a judge after the Montclair Property Owners Association was granted a stay on the enactment of the ordinance in late January – Township Attorney Ira Karasick told resident Ahava Felicidad that the review of the case was still on for Friday, February 19, but he could not guarantee that Judge Jeffrey Beacham would rule to let the ordinance – first passed by the previous Township Council on April 7, 2020 – go forward. He assured resident William Scott of the Montclair Housing Commission that the township would appeal if the ruling went against the Township this coming Friday. Also, another caller spoke out for diverting money from the police to a mental-health intervention program that would better and more cost-effectively serve mental-health patients than police. One out of every three calls handled by the police involved a mental health case.
Councilor Cummings and Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager both requested items pulled from the consent agenda of resolutions Councilor Cummings, asking about a resolution with a contract with Arterial LLC in redoing the Church Street / Valley Road circle, said that the Montclair Center Business Improvement District (BID) had discussed the possibility of taking over the project and had some funding that could be used. He asked if the council was all right with that and said that the BID should be informed if it is not. Mayor Spiller said of the resolution, which increases the not-to-exceed to amount of the current contract with Arterial from $28,850 to $38,840, that the contract is centered on designing the streetscape around the circle. Funding for the centerpiece of the project, the fountain, has not been taken care of yet, and he expressed his hope that the BID would help with the fountain through grants, calling it a “significant financial undertaking.” Township Manager Tim Stafford concurred that the contact was mostly for design services. The resolution was passed unanimously.
Councilor Schlager asked about a resolution authorizing the award of a contract for fire officers promotional testing for the Montclair Fire Department to Resource Management Associates, Inc., asking why the middle bid from one of three firms, not the lower bid, was accepted, and also asking why the township did not turn to state tests for fire officials. Manager Stafford said that the bidding had gone through a competitive contract process that allowed the township to take not necessarily the lowest bid but the most beneficial bid. He explained that Resource Management Associates, Inc. offered the bid best suited to Montclair’s needs and that lower bid was too vague. Also, he said, Montclair is not a civil-service jurisdiction, so the civil-service tests offered by the state were incompatible. He assured Councilor Cummings, who also had reservations about the resolution, that Fire Chief John Herrmann would have a role in crafting the tests for the promotions.
The resolution passed 5-0-2, with both Councilors Cummings and Schlager abstaining.