NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ – The Borough Council held an Annual Goal Setting Meeting on Saturday, March 3 to discuss a variety of topics which included downtown parking, wayfinding signs, walking paths and additional liquor licenses.

Councilman Gary Kapner opened the discussion regarding the advancement of the Downtown Master Plan goals. He asked the council what “approach” it would prefer taking with regard to the ongoing parking problem – “the passive approach” assisting businesses and property owners as we see fit and letting “the market work it out” or alternatively a more “aggressive approach” which could include a borough property purchasing strategy, providing tax incentives, or imposing more regulations. 

Councilman Michael Gennaro said that he prefers the less aggressive approach, but the question is – will it work.” There has to be “an element of fairness” among businesses needing the spaces on the shopping center parking lot. Unfortunately, the business community has not been able to solve the parking issue. He noted that some building owners “just want to collect rent” and are not interested in the overall parking picture. 

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The more aggressive approach would require creating a parking authority, similar to what Summit has. The problem is that the downtown area has too many driveways that access the main roadways. South Street traffic is worse than ever, he said. However, he does not want the borough to lead “with threats,” but rather prefers encouraging more cooperation among the business community.

Councilman Jim Madden noted that there is still a significant traffic flow to and from schools although there is a new drop off area at the community pool. He added that there is a municipal parking lot which is only a couple of hundred yards from the shopping area. He also encouraged the enforcement of the South Street “do not block” box.

 Administrator Doug Marvin pointed out that once the court room renovation is completed the court will hold regular sessions at the municipal building and the parking lot will be used more during daytime hours. 

Councilman Robert Robinson emphasized the pedestrian safety angle and noted that the parking lot on the other side of Springfield Avenue is not an option unless additional traffic lights are installed ensuring the safety of those crossing the street. He suggested that the borough invite county representatives to town at 8 am so that they may witness the traffic issues first hand. 

“Let’s be realistic,” Mayor Al Morgan said. The problem is employee parking for which we have to find a solution. It is up to the store owners to enforce employee parking. There are parking spaces for up to 20-30 vehicles in the downtown outskirts. Should the employees take advantage of this option then customer parking would be more readily available.

The council also discussed the town logo and wayfinding signs both for travelers and pedestrians. The goal is to have all borough signs consistent, Marvin said. The borough is still trying to determine the preferred design. 

The wayfinding signs for pedestrians would be helpful to new residents in town, especially those at Lantern Hill who may not be familiar with the town. Kapner noted that the borough should keep signage to a minimum, but add locations in the geo-mapping system so that they would show on individual GPS devices.  

Additionally Kapner brought up the plan for a formal walking path from the Allen W. Roberts School to New Providence Middle School/High School and to the Salt Brook School. This idea has been initiated by the Economic Development and Sustainability Committees.

The path would utilize parks, open space areas and sidewalks. Kapner noted that there are sections of sidewalks missing on the planned route. Most of the path would be on borough property and Gennaro noted that the paths, if created, must be maintained.  He also pointed out that the residents along the river are not in favor of walking paths situated on the edge of their backyards.

Kapner said that the walkability of the town affects property values positively. Madden noted that there is an insufficient number of bike racks in town. There is not enough room for traditional bike racks on the borough sidewalks. However, there are so called hitching posts where up to five bikes can be chained or locked, Marvin replied.

Another idea to potentially enhance the downtown area is to allow a fourth establishment to have a liquor license. Robertson has been cautious in granting liquor licenses in town, advocating a six month waiting period while considering any requests for additional licenses. However, he said that he is questioning whether that is in the best interest of New Providence.

The borough has granted three liquor licenses only recently after remaining a dry town for a hundred years. The borough has now been approached by another establishment requesting consideration a a liquor license. The council is pondering the opening of another liquor license bidding which will be voted on at the March 12 meeting.