SUMMIT, NJ - The recently approved Habitat for Humanity project affecting Ashwood Court was the hot topic at the Summit Common Council meeting on June 18. No closed session preceded this meeting, which was presided over by Council President pro tem Matt Gould.
On June 13, Summit’s Zoning Board approved a variance for Habitat for Humanity to build 12 units on Morris Avenue on a plot originally zoned for nine units, with access through Ashwood Court. It appeared that most of the residents of that four-duplex neighborhood turned up for the Council meeting, and several of them took the podium to share their concerns.
Kicking off the lively public comments section, Alejandra Gurevich noted that she and her neighbors are not opposed to the project – in fact, she plans to assist a friend in applying for a residence there – but to the density and access route. She pointed out that “somewhere between the [Council’s] adoption of the ordinance on May 2, 2017, and the publication of the ordinance, the language expressly requiring access via Ashwood Court was added, without any traffic study, without any notice to the public, and without any consideration for the safety of the residents of Ashwood Court.” She added that the requirement also “contravenes Summit’s Design and Performance Standards, which discourage any use of land when such construction … will adversely affect the use and enjoyment of adjacent or nearby property or the health and welfare of residents of the city.” She asked her elected officials to address this. City solicitor Matthew Giacobbe offered to look at the issues she’d raised and get back in touch with Gurevich.
Tara Gagliano noted the new building’s driveway will infringe on her own, requiring her to back out into the street. She said the traffic expert had testified the new residents would add some 70 to 80 trips a day through the cul-de-sac. “How are we addressing the safety of the kids on Ashwood Court?” She reported that at the zoning meeting, residents were mocked and called racist, and wondered, “why addressing safety for my child [makes] me a racist.” While a zoning board member had indicated he hoped Habitat would be a good neighbor, she said, “the only time Habitat really addressed us was after the meeting, when they had been approved. … I’m trying to understand how this overlay zone could have been passed.”
As it became obvious that many people wanted follow-up on this matter, City Clerk Rosemary Licatese provided a notebook on the podium so all speakers could leave their contact information.
Robin Dobiszewski had attended the zoning meeting. She felt that the board members felt, “this is what the town wants, so we have to do it.” She fears this “lovely, family-friendly neighborhood” – with five children under a year old, and a new one on the way – will be destroyed. She called adding 12 units, an increase in density of 150% with no traffic study, “a disgrace. … The safety of our family matters as much as the new people’s.”
Todd Dobiszewski reiterated nobody’s opposed to the Habitat building, but that access should go on Morris Avenue, calling that a “win-win.”
Lynda Gagliano, Michigan Avenue, has a daughter living on Ashwood Court. She was also concerned about the disregard for safety with the approved configuration, but also was angry that “in our golden years, we have to hire an attorney to fight this. … It’s not fair at all that we have to pay … to protect our property.”
Ordinances and Resolutions
Council unanimously passed -- in roll-call voting -- five bond ordinances moved by Beth Little, Council member at-large. The bonds will pay for projects approved in this year’s budget. In these actions, Council:
appropriated $2.1 million and authorized the issuance of $1.999 million bonds for items in the general capital budget,
appropriated $1.57 million (authorized $1.495 million bonds) to purchase 7 Cedar Street,
appropriated $101,000 (authorized $96,000 bonds) for improvements to parking lots and infrastructure,
appropriated $426,000 (authorized $405,000 bonds) for improvements to sewer infrastructure, and
appropriated $1.37 million, including a special assessment (authorized $1.304 million bonds), for road improvements on Butler Parkway, Caldwell Avenue, Clark Street, Dayton Road, Huntley Road, Willow Road, Eaton Court, Milton Avenue, Gary Road, and New Providence Avenue.
The latter appropriation -- the special assessment -- generated some questions from audience members. Chris Cordaro, West End Avenue, calling himself a relatively new homeowner, asked how the assessment works and who’s included. Little explained the process, from the creation of the budget through public presentations and its eventual approval by Council. She assured Cordaro that when individual projects are undertaken, there will be resolutions to authorize those bids.
Paul Cascais, Director of Community Services (DCS), clarified that property owners are only assessed for curbing and sidewalk repairs, not road repairs. He also noted some homeowners may not be assessed if their curbs and sidewalks are in good condition. Assessment meetings will be held to give homeowners a rough cost estimate of their particular situation.
Varun Ahuja, New Providence Avenue, said his street suffers a lot of wear and tear from transfer station traffic, and wondered about the best way to report problems. Gould recommended 'SeeClickFix' on the City website. Cascais said residents could also contact the DCS directly. He said Belgian block curbing would be installed on New Providence Avenue, drainage would be improved, and the road would be paved, although not until the construction of the planned Free Market building is completed. Cascais anticipated curbing might be accomplished this September or October; paving would have to wait for warm weather to return.
A single ordinance was introduced by Ward 2 Council Member Stephen Bowman, to amend the laws licensing peddlers and solicitors. He characterized the changes as streamlining the process, making the fee structure more consistent, and clarifying the insurance provisions. The ordinance will be heard and voted on at the July 9 Council meeting.
Bowman also moved a single Law & Labor resolution to approve the renewal of the remainder of the City’s 2019-20 liquor licenses.
Ward 2 Council Member Marjorie Fox moved a trio of Capital Projects & Community Services resolutions. A bid was awarded to American Asphalt and Milling Services for Wallace Road improvements in the amount of $383,883.38. The project was included in the 2018 capital budget; $95,000 is covered by a Union County infrastructure grant, and it is coming in under the budgeted amount. Little recalled that this is the culmination of a lengthy process involving much study by the Engineering Department and input from many affected residents. A bid was awarded to Centralpack Engineering Corporation to replace the City Hall air conditioning chiller, for $297,770. The present system, original to the building, is 25 years old. The project, included in the 2018 and 2019 capital budgets, will commence at the end of this cooling season. Fox’s third resolution authorized the locations of two Summit Arts Committee workshops, on the Village Green on July 16 and at the Family Aquatic Center on July 27. The public will be helping artist Sarah Langsam create a new piece of art to be placed on the Park Line.
Mike McTernan, Ward 1 Council member, moved a resolution from the floor on a time-sensitive matter. It authorizes Council to relay its support for NJ Assembly bill 5450 and Senate bill 3827. These bills clarify the telecommunication industry’s corporate tax responsibility. A 1997 change to those tax laws has been used by telecom providers suing municipalities to get out of paying taxes on their facilities in those towns. State legislators believe that was not the intent of the 1997 change and are seeking to clarify that to put a stop to those lawsuits. The bills could come to a vote as early as Thursday.
All resolutions passed.
Gould introduced the college students undertaking unpaid internships in various city departments: Claire Boudreau, environmental commission; Doug Humeke, City clerk’s office; Grace McGann, police department; Julie Phipps, mayor’s office; and Owen Wilkins, tax assessor’s office. Unable to attend the meeting were Louis Lizano, Finn Logan, and Patience Baldacci.