SUMMIT, NJ—The Summit Common Council, at its first post-summer session, approved the upgrade of “gateway signs” at three entrances to the city.
The $27,500 price tag, however, brought objections from one councilman and some members of the public, while other council members and the community services director said the upgrades were needed to continue progress in making Summit a “destination city.”
Prior to a presentation on the sign upgrade project by Tony Somers, the Summit city planner from Burgis Associates, Summit Community Services Director Paul Cascais noted that, in the middle of 2015, his department was asked to enhance the gateways to the city.
Somers added that the council buildings and grounds committee had asked him to look at existing signage at four areas at entrances to the city:
- River and Brainerd Roads
- River Road and Passaic Avenue
- Springfield Avenue and Constantine Place
- 59 to 63 Broad Street
Somers added that the direction was to maintain a uniform style using the “identical font and material as the existing sign located at 59 to 63 Broad Street” on the other three entrance signs.
The planner added that the sign that formerly had existed at 556 Morris Avenue had been destroyed as a result of a motor vehicle accident, and it was recommended that the replacement sign be located on the traffic island at the intersection of River Road and Passaic Avenue.
The resolution calling for the sign changes also called for upgrading of the signs at Springfield Avenue and Constantine Place along with River and Brainerd Roads.
During these upgrades, Somers said, the lettering on the upgraded signs would be increased from 16 to 24 inches in height and evergreens would be added behind the signs for better visibility. The new signs would consistent of brick faces with stainless steel lettering.
In response to the presentation, Democratic First Ward Councilman David Naidu said that, although the redesigns of the signs were a “nice idea,” the council had to make careful decisions on how they spent money, and he saw the upgrades as more as a “want” than a “need.”
He wanted to know if Cascais, Somers or anyone else had looked at whether there was an economic case to be made for the signs.
Naidu said surrounding towns like Millburn, Chatham, Berkeley Heights and New Providence did not have the types of signs proposed and questioned whether spending money on the signs would prevent the city from fulfilling other needs.
He said he would not object if some of the costs of the improvements was being paid for by private donations or grants.
Cascais replied that, although a specific economic impact analysis had not been made for the sign upgrade, the city had been been making an effort to improve the downtown and signage on outskirts of downtown.
The Issue, he said, came out of the council buildings and grounds committee. The upgraded signs would provide a gateway -- an experience for anyone coming into the city.
“That’s what we actually evaluated,” he added, “but to answer your question, we did not put an economic value on it.”
Second Ward Republican Councilwoman and council finance chairwoman Sandra Lizza said that as alluded to by Cascais, for the last several years Summit officials have tried to talk about the experience -- to try to distinguish Summit -- “whether you touch it by physically driving in, by coming in on the train, or touch it by the internet or a website -- what does Summit mean?”
She added that is was not an economic evaluation so to speak, but it was decided as a means to improve the downtown and other business areas of the city.
Lizza added that If, as Naidu suggested, the opportunity presented itself to pay for these projects by private means itself she would be in favor of it.
She noted, however, that a lot of thought had gone into what Summit means to visitors and potential residents. The term “to distinguish the city” was used often.
The Second Ward representative said they looked at the sign in front of City Hall as a little more traditional, but wanted to add something more contemporary -- especially when proposed by Mayor’s Public Arts Committee— reflecting that, “although we are an historic town we also are looking toward the future.”
First Ward Republican Councilman Robert Rubino added, “as elected officials this is kind of within our wheelhouse. We are doing things to help make Summit a more distinguished community.”
He added projects like the gateway sign upgrades would set Summit apart even further from other communities.
Rubino noted that he appreciated the Mayor’s arts committee leading the way on the sign redesigns, adding that the Hilltop City was known as a regional hub for many things and was known as a“super ZIP code” for a lot of things with “a downtown like no other.”
He also said the Burgis report in 2014 said the gateway should promote a theme -- that you were entering a special place to make purchases, do business and pursue other activities.
The First Ward representative noted that what a person sees when entering the city helped create the first impression they had when getting into the city. “it says something about who we are and gets them really interested in Summit before they turn the next corner.”
Vivian Furman Rubin, co-chairwoman of the arts committee, said an architect came up with the stone wall backdrop, and the committee came up with the trees to signify the city’s commitment to nature and the stainless steel to make the signs more modern and show that Summit was looking toward the future.
She estimated the materials for the wall would cost about $500, the sign “cap” “a couple of hundred dollars,” and the letters about $2,000.
She said the current sign had been up about four years and required little or no maintenance.
Naidu, replied, however, that the resolution called for $27,500 with additional costs for landscaping in the Department of Public Works budget.
The resolution approving the upgrades calls for $15,000 for design, fabrication and installation of three new signs with an additional $12,500 for the base stone work.
The councilman also said that, although costs for sign upgrades supposedly had been included in the 2014 capital budget, no mention of the expenditures had been made this year. He advocated that more clear notations be made in current budgets about projects that previously had been approved.
Council President Michael McTernan replied that, as part of the capital budget process, projects and their estimated costs are listed in the capital budget and then actual funding is approved later.
McTernan also noted that residents who wanted to know the costs or anticipated costs of any project could easily find them “a click away” on the internet at the city’s website.
When it came time for public comment, Second Ward Democratic council candidate Greg Vartan said the sign upgrades ran contrary to the city’s reputation for fiscal responsibility, especially in light of the recent discussions about police and fire staffing, and the fact that Summit residents must pay $7,200 tuition per year to send their children to Full-Day Kindergarten.
Resident Rosemary Grace of Summit Avenue said the sign upgrades as proposed “were not welcoming,” adding that some of the words expressed about city improvement proposals at master plan update focus group meetings “were not flattering.”
When a vote was taken on the sign upgrade proposal Lizza, Rubino and McTernan were joined by fellow Republican and Second Ward Councilwoman Mary Ogden in supporting it, while Naidu voted against the proposal. Democratic Councilman-at-Large Richard Sun and Second Ward Republican Councilman Patrick Hurley were not at the meeting.
On another matter, the Summit Park Line, proposed as a park area along an abandoned rail line starting in Briant Park, resident Jack Callahan said he understood no taxpayer dollars would be used to fund the project, but questioned who would pay the cost of maintenance and police safety patrols of the area and the safety of five bridges in the Park Line that would be built over major thoroughfares.
Vartan also raised the issue of eventual taxpayer costs for the project, and both he and Grace questioned whether the council had kept the public completely informed about the project.
Rubino, who has spearheaded the project, noted that he spoke about it during his reelection campaign, there was an exhibit in a central business district storefront, and a number of public meetings had been held on the proposal.
In other business at the meeting, the governing body:
Uber Ridesharing Program
Approved a pilot program with Raiser, LLC, a division of Uber for “dynamic ridesharing,” whereby the city, from October 1, 2016 through March 31, 2017, would offer, to the first 100 city parking permit holders who apply, the chance to leave their automobiles at home and take Uber to the Summit train station at a cost of $2 per ride. The difference between the actual Uber cost and the fee paid by residents would be borne by the city. The resolution called for a maximum city subsidy for the program of $250,000. It is estimated the reduction in costs for future parking areas in the city could be partially made up by the fact that at least 100 fewer cars would be driven and parked in the central business district during working hours. After 100 participants register for the program, the Summit Parking Services Agency would maintain a waiting list for possible future participants.
Morris Avenue Bridge Construction
Continued to object to the ongoing delay in state renewal of the Transportation Trust Fund, which has put reconstruction of the Morris Avenue New Jersey Transit Bridge on hold for at least a year. The council passed a resolution authorizing placement of a banner near the bridge site saying “Let’s Get Moving” and urging residents to put pressure on legislative leaders and Governor Chris Christie to reauthorize construction funding aid. The banner will reference a website where residents can contact area lawmakers to support a compromise that will lead to funding renewal.
Proclamations and Ceremonies
Accepted donation by Mary Lou and Eugene Cellano to the Summit Fire Department of artwork honoring the heroic first responders who lost their lives in the 9/11 terror attacks.
Mayor Nora Radest also presented a proclamation to the Beacon Hill Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, declaring September 17 - 23 as Constitution Week to commemorate the 230th anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution.
Radest also issued proclamations signifying September as Volunteer First Aid Squad Month to honor the Summit Volunteer First Aid Squad that has served the city since 1962, and saluted resident Constantine W. Scerbo, a resident since 1964. on his 95th birthday in August.