I hope this holiday season is filled with joy!
This is my 12th month serving on Common Council. In keeping with my pledge to communicate clearly about our goals and progress, I have continued posting “Vartan’s Views” videos outlining three of my thoughts after every Council meeting. Additionally, I wrote a longer and more thorough update after serving for 6 months. These efforts have prompted feedback and the general impression that another similarly thorough update is welcome again now.
Before I get into the details, I want to take a moment to remember Matt Gould. He was an enthusiastic leader and strived to better our city. He did this by being thoughtful, curious, and speaking honestly. He believed we could accomplish anything. He was also a caring husband and father to his three daughters, and a well respected neighbor. He was both fun to be around and exceptionally funny. I miss him every day.
No one can replace Matt, but the person who could best carry on his legacy was his amazing wife Stephanie. We should all be grateful that Stephanie stepped up to fill his seat on Council. Her service was impactful not only because of her amazing selflessness, but because of the significant progress made on behalf of the people of Summit.
As was the case in the last update, I’ll describe some of the things the Council has done to continue making Summit more affordable by both protecting property values and expanding the commercial tax base.
Protecting Property Values
We have worked to do this several ways including banning the retail sale of dogs and cats, passing a re-written Development Regulation Ordinance, implementing a sidewalk installation and maintenance policy, and restricting access to single-use plastics.
Dogs and cats that are purchased from retail stores often come from disreputable sources. Despite the best efforts of state agencies to regulate these “puppy mills” and “cat factories” pet stores throughout the state still move into towns and sell pets that could potentially carry disease. Other municipalities in our area have had to spend time and taxpayer money to remove stores that do not follow the law. Council took the preventative measure of preemptively banning the retail sale of dogs and cats, which does not affect the ability for anyone in Summit to adopt or purchase a pet from shelters or a licensed breeder. The three existing pet stores in town will still be allowed to sell accessories and offer other services. This was passed with the support of numerous residents and animal rights organizations.
The Development Regulations Ordinance is a document that describes every aspect of how land can and should be used throughout the entire city. This is a very big deal. Summit’s ordinance was extremely old, virtually impossible to read, and not at all forward-looking. Two years ago, while I was a member of the Planning Board, the City embarked on the journey to completely rewrite the entire thing. This was a massive undertaking, and the results are impressive. The new DRO is readable, searchable, and clearly defines the character of Summit, including the ways that new development should be environmentally sustainable. This effort began and was approved in a bipartisan fashion and with unanimous support.
The City has long been in need of better connectivity between people and places, especially to make walking to school safer. To address this, the Council adopted the Sidewalk Installation and Maintenance policy. I encourage you to take a look at it on the City website to learn more about where exactly new sidewalks will be installed. The Council also changed the way new sidewalks are funded. In the past individual homeowners were assessed for 50% of the cost. Moving forward the city will assume the cost and roll installation into the regular repaving and curbing of streets. Also, it is perfect timing to make this change because there are no homeowners who are currently being assessed for the installation of a sidewalk. This initiative was also passed with unanimous support.
Plastic checkout bags, straws, and polystyrene products are causing our recycling processes to be drastically delayed every single day. They are littered on the streets, in our parks, and other public places. These things all cost us time and money to remedy. The Council passed three ordinances aimed at decreasing the use of these products. Starting in May of 2020 plastic checkout bags will no longer be available. Straws in restaurants will be by request only. And polystyrene, better known as styrofoam will also not be allowed. The ordinances were passed with several specific exemptions and a 6-month period for preparation and education.
Expanding the Commercial Tax Base
Broad Street West Redevelopment
Summit has been in the process of redeveloping broad street for several years. This process is slow, but extremely deliberate. The things most important are: the public being involved in the process, maintaining the character of the City, and making sure the development is environmentally sustainable.
These last several months of the process have taken place largely out of the public view because the city has been negotiating with developers. We are now very close to a conditional designation. That means that the City and the developers have preliminarily agreed to work together on the project. Council is likely to vote on this before the end of the year. It will allow for the actual design work to begin. There is still a long way to go in this process, but soon the public will be able to see what the area could potentially look like, and again provide input.
Other Ways Summit is Even Greater
In honor of Matt Gould’s desire to restore our tree canopy, Union County has generously agreed to provide a thousand trees to be planted over the next four years.
It was my honor to attend a live-burn training with our Fire Department. The cost for that and other training was offset partially by generous donations from Atlantic Health System and Celgene.
The Police Department also accepted the donation of a second motorcycle.
The City received grant money for our first EV charging station, and it will soon be installed in the Deforest lot.
Additionally, I am proud to be the liaison to the reinvigorated Rent Commission. “The mission of the Summit Rent Commission is to promote safe and fair rental practices for tenants and landlords. We serve to educate and support Summit residents, and recommend appropriate methods for settling rental disputes.” The Council heard an excellent update from the Commission. For more information, or to lodge a rent complaint please visit the City website.
Susan Hairston made history when she was elected, by becoming the first woman of color to serve on Council. She is a fourth-generation resident, fellow Jefferson Elementary School alumna, and already has an outstanding record of service. Her perspective has already added tremendous value, and it’s an honor to welcome her to the dais.
Mike McTernan will be leaving Council at the end of this year. He served two full terms, was Council President, and we spent this year together on the Safety and Health Committee. I want to sincerely thank him for frequently being a resource to me as a new member of Council. Though he will no longer be on Council, I am confident his service to our City will continue.
Finally, I also want to welcome Councilmember-Elect Danny O’Sullivan. I can already see how much he cares for this community and I look forward to working with him.
I am enduringly thankful that the people of this wonderful City know the power of their voice and the value of their vote. So please let me know what you think. Email me at email@example.com.
Thanks for reading and have a wonderful day!
Greg Vartan - Summit Common Council Member, Ward II