SUMMIT, NJ - Just a day after the season’s first snowstorm brought the area to a virtual standstill, it was calm and bright for the Summit Common Council’s first meeting of December 3.
Two Capital Projects & Community Services ordinances introduced by Ward 2 Council Member Marjorie Fox at the November 6 meeting were heard.
The first authorized the sale of the old Town Hall building at 71 Summit Avenue to Family Promise for the appraised value of $1.4 million. The buyer will be required to maintain the historic facade of the building. The property would revert to the City if it ceases to be used for non-profit purposes. The sale was approved by unanimous roll call vote with essentially no further discussion.
The second ordinance approved the revised Development Regulations Ordinances (DRO). The Planning Board has spent two years revising the DRO, which had its last comprehensive upgrade more than a decade ago. The new document is streamlined and easier to read; the prior version had more than 30 amendments, hampering navigation. It offers design standards, guidelines illustrating good design practices, and sustainability guidelines. The Planning Board, at its November meeting, determined the DRO is consistent with the Master Plan.
Bill Anderson, Planning Board chair, outlined several of the updates, largely influenced by input from the 2016 Master Plan reexamination process. Among the goals of the plan are driving development, maintaining the character of Summit, and strengthening design standards and guidelines. This revision addresses those goals, while striking a balance between the needs of the community and those of property owners. He quoted the sentiment residents repeatedly shared during the Master Plan workshops: “We like Summit the way it is – don’t screw it up.”
Anderson said the two-year process focused on making the 400+-page document easier to use, with illustrations of good design options and requirements that are specific and enforceable. He also characterized parts of the document, such as sustainability requirements like EV charging stations, as “aspirational.” The DRO is a “living document,” which will continue to evolve through quarterly meetings devoted to considering amendments which may be necessary.
Council Member at Large Beth Little asked for clarification of “green building” incentives, which offer potential bonuses such as extra height allowances to developers achieving LEED certification levels or other sustainability goals. Tom Behrens of the urban planning firm Burgis Associates, Inc. explained that even if a developer achieves more than one sustainability goal, only a single incentive can be implemented. He described the incentives as designed to trigger a developer to include sustainability factors within a project.
Greg Vartan, Ward 2 Council Member, described a test he and a friend did over the weekend to see if one could easily determine if, say, a permit was needed for a backyard fence. He was pleased to report they quickly discovered the relevant information within the document with a word search (and yes, a permit is required).
Ward 2 Council Member Stephen Bowman, as Council liaison to the Historic Preservation Commission, appreciated the preservation issues already addressed but asked the subject would be more thoroughly treated in the DRO. Anderson responded that preservation is a complicated issue which would have substantially delayed the new DRO, and that the Planning Board is now creating a subcommittee to address it, with a goal of producing something for review no later than June.
Bowman also questioned the requirement for newly developed off-street parking areas with 20 or more spaces to devote 7% of those spaces to electric charging stations. He noted that last year, hybrids represented 2.1% of U.S.-based cars. Behrens countered that electric vehicles are an “emerging technology” and that more charging stations will encourage more electric cars. Also, unlike gas stations, apps will direct drivers to charging stations. Marjorie Fox, Ward 2 Council Member, was pleased to see the removal of barriers to sustainability efforts like solar panels or green roofs. “Now we have measures that will make it easier for people to do the right thing.”
This ordinance also passed unanimously.
There was a relatively brief menu of resolutions. Little moved three under Finance. The first authorized the schedule of school levy payments, and the second authorized 2020 municipal, sewer, parking, and school debt service payments for principal and interest on bonds and notes. The third authorized renewing the city’s membership in the Suburban Municipal Joint Insurance Fund.\
Bowman’s two Law & Labor resolutions declared vacancies, one in the Department of Community Services (DPW) for a trash collection/snow removal position, and one in the Summit Police Department for an officer.
Fox moved two Capital Projects & Community Services resolutions. The first rejected a bid and authorized negotiations for 2020-21 snow and ice removal for walks and open spaces. Summit’s first bid request received no response and its second one received a single bid that came in above the project’s cost estimate. Under the law, the City is now free to reject that bid and negotiate for the service. Her second resolution changes the Park Line Steering Committee membership, replacing two community members with two resident members and a Park Line Foundation representative. The resident members will be appointed at the January 2, 2020, Council meeting.
All resolutions were approved.
Three teams of eighth-graders from the Lawton C. Johnson Summit Middle School presented their Public Policy Forum projects. Each year, the students research and create presentations on issues they’d like the City to address. Council President David Naidu called the project an “insight to what the people who will actually come after us and inherit this town want to see done.” The students were accompanied by social studies teacher Theresa Martin.
In discussing one of the presentations, which dealt with the risks of vaping, Police Chief Robert Weck added that there will be an anti-vaping seminar for parents held on January 7, with one for students in the works. Vartan said the Safety Committee will be discussing ways to limit teens’ access to vapes, while McTernan noted that this kind of peer-to-peer education is extremely powerful.
Joseph Billy jr., Housing Authority (HA) executive director, updated Council on his organization’s activities. The Authority oversees nearly 200 units in three facilities. The 2018 financial audit for 2018 came back clean; there is about $3 million in unrestricted assets.
Over the past year, projects have included upgrading exterior and interior lighting with LEDs and motion sensors, earing positive feedback from residents. New laundry equipment has been installed at all three facilities. Utilizing a smart card system, the machines do away with the need to carry – or collect – quarters. Enhanced CCTV security systems have been installed. New floors have been laid in two levels of the senior housing; the remaining two floors await the new year’s budget.
Going forward, Billy said, about a million dollars’ worth of renovations are planned for the Glenwood site. These 40 units, built in 1972, are the authority’s oldest and “most challenging.” One of nine exterior staircases has already been replaced. Sliding patio doors and windows, which make it hard to install window AC units, will also be replaced as the weather allows.
Billy described the most problematic project, to take place at the senior building. There, 80 feet of sanitary sewer line, buried under 36” of concrete under a main hallway, has deteriorated and must be replaced. The 26 residents in that wing will need to be relocated – with family members, to a hotel – during the work, expected to take 10-15 days. He promised to do what they can to ease the process. The project is slated for February; since the sewer line runs parallel to a storm sewer line, the work can’t be done if it’s raining. After the holidays, the authority will meet individually with residents to determine best course of action for each of them.
Tenant relations have also been improved through the implementation of regular resident meetings and a quarterly newsletter.
In addition to these projects, Billy noted that the authority also serves as the contract administrator for Community Development Block Grants Program and as the city's designated Affordable Housing administrator.
Naidu asked about plans for the remaining $2 million available to the authority. Billy explained that the money is actually meant to cover a 20-year period. When the Housing Authority transitioned to from HUD’s Public Housing Division to the Rental Assistance Demonstration program, a 20-year physical needs assessment was performed to determined how much money could be borrowed from HUD. The authority decided to convert to the RAD model because it allows for private-public partnerships and borrowing from banks, which was prohibited under HUD. If the city pays off this loan earlier, it can then borrow additional money if needed.
Both Naidu and Ward 1 Council Member Mike McTernan raised the issue of continual maintenance on aging buildings. But Billy said it would be extremely difficult to put together th funding from multiple sources to “start over.” He called HUD’s creating the RAD program a good idea. Since HUD doesn’t really want to be involved in the management of housing units, the RAD program lets participating housing authorities act as private management companies which can borrow money and use it as they see fit. Seventeen municipalities in NJ made the transition when it was offered.
Naidu pointed out the HA housing isn’t like a historic home meant to stand for the ages, while McTernan noted that $2 million will not build many houses. Housing Authority Board of Commissioners Chair Nancy Galietti responded, “I appreciate your bringing up a long-term strategic view, and that you care about that.” She pointed out that the senior housing is close to the Broad Street West redevelopment area, suggesting there may be a creative way to “think big thoughts and then figure out how to afford it.”
Ward 1 Council Member Susan Hairston asked about the City’s waiting list. While the wait is 1.5 - 2 years for senior housing and 6 - 7 years for a family unit, Billy said the urban housing authority for which he previously worked, with 2,000 units, had a wait list of 5 - 8 years for seniors and 12 - 15 years for families.
She reported the city received a $352,000 grant for the West End Avenue improvement project from the NJ Department of Transportation. Since 2008, Summit has received 13 consecutive awards totaling more than $3.5 million in local aid grant funding.
Finally, Radest thanked the City staff, and particularly the DPW, for its handling of the recent snowstorm, applauding the “coordinated effort among the departments to keep the streets clear, the citizens safe, and the information flowing.”
Michael Rogers, city administrator, shared some storm-related facts. Summit’s unofficial snowfall total was 5”, handled by 75 person-hours on Sunday and 308 on Monday-Tuesday. The DPW used approximately 200 tons of salt and 100 gallons of liquid calcium.
He reminded -- and invited -- the public to a special 2020 capital budget workshop meeting of Common Council December 11 at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall.