LITTLE FALLS, NJ - A resolution authorizing the execution of a New Jersey Department of Transportation grant agreement for Donato Drive improvements has garnered opposition by residents of that neighborhood.
At a Township Council workshop meeting on Oct. 16, many residents spoke out during the pubic comment portion of the meeting, stating that they were initially unaware that sidewalks were going to be part of the list for improvements. Paul Place was also designated for improvements stemming from the grant application put through on Oct. 5, one day prior to the application's deadline.
Residents expressed concern that issues with flooding could worsen if sidewalks and Belgian blocks were installed. According to Donna Moline, a Donato Drive resident who organized a petition from residents in the neighborhood against the slated improvements, the sidewalks would cut into the driveways roughly seven feet.
"We just learned about this last Friday," said Moline, during the meeting. "It's my understanding that the township engineer and DPW superintendent included sidewalks for the town to have a better chance at winning the grant, and that this is a state initiative linking ourselves to the train station. However, the state knows nothing about our street or neighborhood and although we agree paving might be good, we are diametrically opposed to the sidewalks."
Moline added that many residents were shocked to know about the addition of sidewalks to the neighborhood, and that their initial shock quickly turned to anger.
"Every single resident I spoke to had the same exact argument and have experienced the same problem. These houses are 70 years old now, and have been built on slabs with underground ducts on swamp lands," she explained. "We don't have working garages because our houses are so small and if they cut into our driveways, we'd have no where to park our cars."
Mayor James Damiano said the state adopted the "Complete Streets" state transportation policy in order to make the roadways as safe as possible for vehicles, bicyclists, pedestrians and Americans With Disabilities Act accessibility.
"In order to have the best opportunity to receive a grant, the state asks that a town address all of those concerns, including pedestrian safety, which includes sidewalks," he explained.
Damiano added that after speaking to all the council members individually after the workshop meeting, the general consensus is that it doesn't make sense to move forward with the resolution.
"The beauty of local government is that the only people we have to answer to are the residents," he stressed after the meeting. "If the residents don't want something, it wouldn't make sense for us to move forward, especially if there's a cost associated for the town in doing so."
He also explained that local government meets a grant application deadline, and that during its scope phase reviews a variety of factors on whether to move forward once the grant is approved.
Damiano said the resolution will appear at the next council meeting on Oct. 30, but that based on his conversations with council members, he did not feel it would pass.
Moline said she and residents were relieved to hear this.
"The council bypassed voting on Monday night after we came out in opposition, so it was nice that they heard us," she noted. "I hope this never happens again. The mayor's feeling is that he never wants to impose harm on us - the residents. We expect this resolution to be killed at the next meeting That's what the residents are pushing for."
Council President Anthony Sgobba said that no voting takes place during a workshop meeting and that a resolution is on the agenda for discussion only, until its voted upon at the next regular council meeting. He said he, Damiano and council members, toured the neighborhood recently and are taking into consideration residential concerns.
"We walked the neighborhood and we all felt we should be thoughtful about the residents' concerns," he said. "The council meeting is where voting takes place. The purpose of the workshop meeting is to get input."