MILLBURN, NJ - Members of the Millburn community came out Tuesday night to voice their opinions on the contentious Complete Streets project at the Township Committee meeting. An updated agenda included Complete Streets under "old business," but it was clear that the citizens view this as a very current concern.
Complete Streets charged to the forefront of the meeting with a report from the Ad Hoc working Committee who, two meetings into the new year, are tasked with looking into the concerns with the project. In conjunction with Arterial, the working sub-committee is entertaining multiple areas of the planning process and actively discussing elements that may have been overlooked originally, for example adding a drop-off lane at the train station.
Committeewoman Diane Eglow presented the sub-committee report. "We have halted Phase 2. There is no work moving eastward on Millburn Avenue in the spring, and there are no design plans being worked on at this time." She also indicated that two areas unfinished in the Phase 1 part of the project are on hold until further notice.
Eglow's sub-committee report continued, "We discussed if we move forward what would now be Phase 2 would be Millburn Avenue headed up to Essex Street. The plan as it is shown calls for changes to the lanes on Millburn Avenue narrowing one lane from the current two at the Essex Street bend."
The committee discussed additional traffic studies and questioned the motivation to go down to one lane and the potential impact on Millburn Avenue traffic.
CEO and Managing Principal of Aterial, LLC David Lustberg presented an update to the committee including the possible paths ahead from a design standpoint. He also answered questions and fielded requests for design options focused on potential Phase 2 changes.
"The drawings for what we are calling the Phase 2 area are at what we call 50% design. It's by no means a fixed design. They are intended to be reviewed and adjusted and tweaked and worked toward a final design." Lustberg also outlined the timelines for drawing approvals to start construction.
Eglow stated, "I believe we almost have to go back to the beginning because Phase 1 has caused so many problems in town. Merchants are saying they have lost 40% of business, people from our neighboring towns complaining about coming through Millburn, avoiding Millburn, going through Washington/South Mountain sections. There is so much about Phase 1 that needs to be addressed. Are we going to bring in an outside engineer, an outside expert to review the bump-outs?" Eglow continued, "There are still so many open issues with Phase 1, I personally, speaking for myself, I don't even know why we are talking about moving forward."
Mayor Burstein questioned Eglow, "In order to answer those questions, don't we have to look at what they are doing?" You need to start somewhere. If we are saying we are not going to do anything, then what is anyone looking at?"
Before the meeting opened to public comments, Mayor Burstein read a prepared statement outlining the parameters and restrictions for the discussion. "In order to address the committee, we ask that you come to the podium and identify yourself and your address. In the event you want to discuss Complete Streets, we welcome any observations, comments, suggestions, criticisms, etc., as well as any opinions concerns positive or negative impacts of the project. On the advice of counsel and because the township is currently a defendant, as are some of the members of the committee, are involved in litigation involving the Complete Streets project the members of the Township Committee will not be responding to questions. The clerk shall make a note of any questions, and we will seek to provided answers as soon as the litigation is settled or resolved. While we regret the necessity to impose this limitation on the back and forth dialogue in response to questions, it is the long-established policy of the Township Committee not to discuss either the factual or legal aspects of litigation in which the Township is involved at public meetings."
Cary Heller came to the podium and questioned the discussion restriction from the committee answering questions on Complete Streets and had a terse exchange with township attorney Christopher "Kit" Falcon. Heller said, "Why after six months is the counsel not going to answer non-relevant questions to the litigation?"
Falcon explained his recommendation to the Township Committee to not answer questions in a public forum that, "Due to the lawsuit brought by a concern of which you are involved, and I had a conversation with your attorney, where he agreed completely with me that there should be no discussion of Complete Streets. That would be antithetical to the concept of litigation."
Heller retorted, "I would encourage the public to challenge that recommendation. The public is going to be deceived as to what is going to be occurring throughout this process." Unsatisfied with Falcon's explanation, Heller voiced his displeasure, "I'm done, I'm done with this [explicative]," before continuing to address other points of discussion and concern with Complete Streets.
The public discussion period shifted tenor as Janet Piszar delivered an impassioned rebuke to the Complete Streets critics. "Let me say how disgusted I was to hear all the complaints and all the criticism and premature assessments about this project when it was under construction. I just don't understand how improving the sidewalks, expanding the sidewalks and making pedestrian safety a focal point is hurting the merchants in the downtown area. The objective was pedestrian safety."
Residents also raised concerns about the puddling on the sidewalks and street level water issues from the projects as well as the aesthetic of the new light poles currently being installed.