SUMMIT, NJ - While lacking perhaps the hype of a National Football League game held weekly on the same night, the Summit Common Council met on a Monday night, the unusual scheduling tweak a mere diversion to a meeting that featured reports on Summit's traffic signal network and water flow / disposal, a timely topic given the heavy amount of rain that has fallen in and on the Hilltop City.
City Engineer Aaron Schrager presented an update on the recently-completed traffic signal network inventory project and the City’s plans for ongoing maintenance of the signal network. Signals have evolved into complex electronic systems that can detect traffic flow and communicate with one another; basic ones average $150,000 - $200,000 each. There are 30 signals owned by the City and six owned and operated by the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT). The signals are paired with electrical boxes that house their electronics; they display red and green “telltale” lights to indicate their operating status.
Following an incident in 2016 that underscored the need to have a handle on who is responsible for which signals, the Engineering Department began its inventory project. With that complete, Engineering is ready to provide a laminated inventory list in all the City’s police, Department of Public Works (DPW), and Engineering vehicles. The signals are electrically operated; all now have battery backup and the ability to run off generator power, if necessary. And each signal control box has an identification sticker so people know who to call if there is a problem.
Schrager had an actual four-light signal with him at the meeting; it stood nearly five-feet high with lenses about a foot across. Since they normally hang 15’ in the air, “people are kind of shocked to see the actual size of it,” he said. Virtually every head in the room nodded in agreement. Schrager asked the community to assist Engineering by reporting a signal with a red telltale light, to use the pedestrian crossing buttons, and to use caution at the seven signals that convert to overnight flashers. Council President David Naidu raised the issue of people illegally turning left onto the bridge at Morris Avenue, and questioned if better signage can be installed there. Schrager agreed to investigate, now that traffic patterns have returned to normal with the completion of the construction project.
Water Flow / Disposal
Council then heard a presentation regarding the complexities of drainage along Wallace Road., as Assistant City Engineer Rick Matias gave a detailed report of the City’s approach to improving that area’s water flow. He provided a geographic and engineering overview of the area, the site of 16 homes dating mostly to 1967, Canoe Brook Country Club, and the municipal golf course. Flooding has been noted in the area since 1967 and it has been on FEMA’s flood zone map since 1977. Surprisingly, the golf courses, although grassy, are about as permeable as the residential development. The project is part of the 2018 capital improvement plan. Residents previously provided their input at a May 30 public meeting and the June 6 council meeting. Matias noted that there are limitations to remedies that can be implemented. For example, the culvert, installed in 1963, serving the area is owned by Union County, and various other solutions which might have been feasible at one time are now restricted by current permitting regulations.
Matias presented seven different approaches the engineering department has considered, ranging the simplest sewer and curb upgrades to a plan calling for the acquisition of a number of properties. While additional study is needed, the eventual solution, he said, will likely fall in the middle range, with improvements in storage, diversion, and grading. The projected groundbreaking is next summer and fall. One change will alter the golf course spillway into more of a horseshoe shape, said Schrager, for better flow into the Passaic River. The DEP permitting process is under way, and funding is in place. Matias assured the Council that they have been working with both the County and Canoe Brook, which has a considerable retention basin, as appropriate.
Remarking that the area was likely to see the remnants of tropical storm Florence shortly, Terrance Hayes of Wallace Road issued an invitation to visit his house. To see “the town sewers coming the opposite way, so flowing out. You’ll see the culvert stream out halfway up my lawn and … my neighbor’s.” Describing water covering the road, trapping people at one end of the street, he recounted telling his new neighbors, surgeons in Morristown, to park up the road so they will be able to get out in an emergency.
Dave Goodstein has lived at the corner of Wallace Road and Rose Lane for 26 years and questioned the ability to divert water down Rose Lane. Matias replied that proper grading and milling and new inlets can effectively handle the water. Goodstein also mentioned the sandbags that appeared some months ago on Canoe Brook. The Engineering Department agreed to investigate. Wallace Road neighbor Shawn Cooksey revealed that the sandbags were deployed by the Country Club after a neighbor complained about water flowing off the cCub’s property. He added that the Country Club’s leaves flow downstream into the culvert, exacerbating the drainage problem.
In public comments, Fred Blau, Woodland Avenue, challenged the City to investigate building a solar microgrid, once that can be isolated in the event of a power outage to maintain essential operations. He referred to the havoc in the wake of Superstorm Sandy in 2012 and the growing threat of cyberattacks on the electric grid. He suggested that solar panels might be installed on rooftops and over parking lots. When there is no outage, it could be connected to the Traynor substation to power essential buildings like the high school, city hall, police and fire departments, and others en route to Overlook Hospital. He cited other New Jersey cities in the implementation or planning stages. Recognizing that implementation would be costly, but that planning required far fewer resources, he offered to meet with Council to discuss these ideas further.
Ward 2 Councilmember Mary Ogden replied that they are “of like minds,” and that the City is currently investigating grants, locales, and costs to effectively build a grid to be more sustainable. Blau agreed to meet with the General Services committee. Coincidentally, during the meeting, JCP&L and the City were dealing with a power outage affecting more than 500 homes, caused by a microburst earlier that day.
Lorelei Burns, Ashland Road, lives in the blackout area. But she was there with several neighbors to express concern about the new speed hump in front of their homes. She and her neighbors have requested, are eagerly await, the data that was used to determine the need for the hump, how it was collected, what methodology and standards were used, and what goals were anticipated. She said the hump was having what she believed to be “unintended consequences that are very intrusive,” and were interested in having a conversation about alternatives. Matthew Gould, Ward 1 Council Member, reminded listeners that when he walked door-to-door last year, “the number one complaint [he] heard was speeding,” Naidu assured them the data would be forthcoming, and that a meeting would be held if necessary.
The Council approved the ordinance introduced by Ward 2 Council member Marjorie Fox on September 4, amending the ordinance passed in May authorizing the private sale of the piece of property at 1000 Summit Avenue adjacent to the First Aid Squad building. This new ordinance adds mention of the property’s minimum sale price of $40,000, as required by state statute.
Stephen Bowman, Ward 2 Council Member, introduced an ordinance amending the City traffic code, identifying the eight loading zones in the downtown district and authorizing signage and striping for these zones. The Police Department and Summit Downtown, Inc. cooperated to create the ordinance, which aims to improve pedestrian and vehicular traffic.
Fox introduced an ordinance declaring as unneeded for municipal use and granting a perpetual easement for the air rights at 300 Alley. This will allow the owner of 40 Beechwood Road to use the skywalk connecting that building to one at Springfield Avenue as a conference room. The 170-square-foot skywalk has existed for about 50 years. An appraisal has put the value of the easement at $750.
These ordinances will be heard at the October 2 council meeting.
There was a short agenda of resolutions to be considered. Under General Services, Ogden moved to authorize a series of change orders, totaling $133,598, for the Community Center Renovation Project due, in part, to repairs of previously unknown conditions and replacement of unsuitable soil in front of the building. She pointed out that the costs are all covered by incoming grants, and that some of the changes were due to policy changes by JCP&L that could not be anticipated. When Ward 1 Councilmember Mike McTernan asked whether that money could have been used on other projects if these changes hadn’t been necessary, DCP Director Judith Josephs explained that only a portion of funding might have been able to be repurposed. She also said the city has been aggressive in pursuing BPU grants to offset the additional electrical charges. She described how on-site excavation uncovered coal ash and other unanticipated substances, but rather than paying to have it carted away, the team developed a plan to use it as a foundation for a park on the other side of the Community Center.
Fox moved a Buildings & Grounds resolution appointing members to the Transfer Station Task Force that was approved on July 10. From among those citizens who applied, the following at-large members were appointed to two-year terms: Patricia Cassin, Rob Friedrich, Christopher Harrison, Jack Hellings, and Adam Zucker. Also appointed were Elaine Anderson, Community Programs Advisory Board Liaison; Jeff Hankinson, Environmental Commission Liaison; Karen Raihofer, Recycling Advisory Committee Liaison; Mark Ozoroski, Department of Community Programs Representative; and Rick Matias, Department of Community Services Representative. Representing Council are Council Members Bowman, Gould, and Fox. In order to obtain state funds for remedial investigation of the property, the City needs to develop a “end use” plan for the site. The Task force ensures that there is citizen input.
Bowman bundled four Works resolutions, all seeking approval to submit grant applications to NJDOT. A $375,000 grant would be used for continued improvements to the Village Green, such as the installation of a bicycle parking / storage, wayfinding signs, ADA upgrades, lighting, and beautification. Two other grants would fund repaving, curb work, and improvements to the sewer and storm water systems on New Providence Avenue and Butler Parkway. The fourth grant would fund upgrades to pedestrian access to and from city parking garages to the train station, including safety and beautification improvements.
A pair of Finance resolutions moved by Little extended injury leave with and without pay to one DPW employee and with pay to another.
All resolutions passed.
As September 17 marked the 231stanniversary of the drafting of the US Constitution by the Constitutional Convention, Mayor Nora Radestproclaimed September 17-23 as Constitution Week, asking citizens to “reaffirm the ideals the framers of the Constitution had in 1787 by vigilantly protecting the freedoms guaranteed to us through this guardian of our liberties, remembering that lost rights may never be regained.” She presented the proclamation to Lois Hageman, first vice regent of the Beacon Fire Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.Administrator Rogers reported that Bigbelly smart, solar-powered waste and recycling stations are being installed in a number of locations within the next few weeks. A tutorial on their operation will be forthcoming on the City website.
Naidu invited residents to the next Council on the Road event on September 26, beginning at 7 p.m., in the Summit High School Media Center. Council Members Fox and Little will be joining Naidu.