Central Themes Persist as City Holds Second re: Vision Summit Master Plan Community Meeting

Topology's Krzysztof Sadlej speaks to attendees at the second Summit re:Vision Master plan community meeting. Credits: City of Summit Photo Services

SUMMIT, NJ—At the second Summit community meeting seeking input on the city’s master plan revamp, some new ideas emerged, but the central themes voiced by residents, business constituents, and civics leaders closely resembled those raised at the first public meeting, which was held June 1.

Mayor Nora Radest began the meeting by thanking to Wendy Graeb and The Connection staff for hosting the second session and to the many hundreds of residents, business owners, employees and city staff who participated on the various committees and made the process possible.

The mayor noted that 500 - 600 people already had come to meetings on the master plan renovation, and that the city had received thousands of comments through online surveys and via many emails.

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Radest called the second community meeting “the beginning of the end of the process,” and noted that information provided at the second session featured displays of “what has risen to the top” from the previous community meeting, subcommittee meetings and other input.

She added, “We may add or subtract from this. This is the first cut. There will be a few more opportunities for more input and more public meetings before the city gets to the document the planning board ultimately will adopt.” 

“However,” Radest concluded, “Without your input we will have a dry document and not one which will represent what we want our community to be.”

Steps already taken in the process -- and steps yet to be taken next -- were presented in more detail by Krzysztof Sadlej, director of project management for Topology, the planning firm helping the city map out the strategy for the redoing of what he called Summit’s “key strategy document for the next 10 years.”

Sadlej said the purpose of the second session was to look at the broad goals already identified and to get community feedback on policies and zoning ordinances that would govern city planning and development for the next 10 years. 

He noted that the process started in May and involved six committees with more than 60 members and, by the end of November, the new master plan document would be adopted. 

Steering committees, according to the project manager, had 15 meetings over the last few months, and there had been several focus groups, interviews with stakeholders, more than 480 comments on the city’s online platform, more than 1,000 suggestions from the first meeting, thousands of Post-It Notes, and two surveys, with over 120 people attending the first community input session.

Additionally, signs asking for comments had been posted throughout the city, resulting in more than 250 texted comments, Top topics seemed to have been sidewalks and pedestrian safety, he noted, while there had been many responses to the housing survey and the retail and entertainment survey drew 520 responses. 

Overall topics covered in discussions and in information from the planners included:

  • Land use
  • Economic development
  • Transportation and circulation
  • Parks, open space, conservation and community facilities
  • Housing
  • Citizens’  Advisories

Sadlej noted there seemed also to be a major focus in all the categories on connectivity, with interest in walking, biking and buses providing current access now and providing greater access for all in the future.

Maintaining the “dynamic life” of the city’s downtown was seen as a major goal.

Outlined as current advantages of Summit’s downtown were:

  • It is walkable and authentic
  • People care about it
  • The farmers’ market
  • The retail mix

What could be better:

  • Public spaces - like the Beechwood area -- not enough people use it.
  • Parking
  • Places for Teens 
  • Housing options.
  • Business operating hours - too many things shut down at night.
  • Flexibility and functionality is needed.

Sadlej noted there has been much discussion about traffic and parking. However, he added, you only have so many spaces in the business district where parking can be created and parking capacity increases have social and economic costs.

The planner noted that Uber has made a significant contribution by working with the City so Summit will become the first city in the nation to use a car service to connect commuters directly to the train station.

Among other items pointed out by the Topology representative from the first meeting was voting on the most hated buildings, called by some “McMansions,” and the best looking -- a modern-looking, multi-level structure that is not too tall, but which “takes historical cues from what already is there.”

In constructing new structures, respondents said, developers should avoid changing the character of the street or area on which these structures would be located.

Other comments and concerns:

  • Lack of a sidewalk network
  • The need for safer streets getting to the train station
  • Supporting reinvestment in the city
  • Better connections of the business districts near River Road and Springfield Avenue to downtown
  • More trees are needed along Broad Street
  • Make better use of Passaic River Park
  • Preserve shade trees when major development occurs
  • Promote more use of the Village Green
  • Expand open space.

At the second public input session, a number of exhibits drew interest and comments, including The Park Line -- a 1.2 mile greenway located along abandoned railroad right-of-way stretching from Briant Park to the area of Overlook Medical Center and the Hidden Valley area and downtown -- for which the the Summit Common Council recently approved a license agreement with the New Jersey Department of Transportation (DOT)

First Ward Councilman Robert Rubino, one of the chief proponents of The Park Line, fielded a number of questions involving costs of the project, access by users and emergency equipment and the completion timeline. He said private donors are being solicited to provide funding, and the project would be done in phases probably stretching over as much as 20 years. Probably the first phase to be completed, starting construction in about six to 12 months, would be a two-tenths-of-a-mile section adjacent to Overlook that would include grass, benches and possibly a flagstone path.

Exhibit topics also included:

  • Preserving and maintaining a dynamic and vibrant downtown.
  • Preserving and enhancing the city’s natural beauty.
  • Improving the connectivity between people and places to promote a healthy and vibrant community.
  • Guiding development in order to maintain and enhance the character of the business environment.

Among comments posted at the various exhibits during the second session:

  • More affordable housing for retirees and empty nestors. Mobility is an issue for seniors, youth and disabled people.
  • Improvements in businesses aimed at keeping people shopping in the city and bringing in more from other communities.
  • Although changes in the downtown are needed, a “buffer” should be maintained with existing neighborhoods.
  • Traffic signals and crosswalks need improvement.
  • Although streets should be made larger to promote traffic flow, traffic should be routed away from residential neighborhoods.
  • There should be more dog-friendly areas, but pet owners should clean up better after their dogs.
  • Springfield and Passaic Avenues should be included in any development plan.

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