SUMMIT, NJ - Summit Mayor Nora Radest, delivering her 'State of the City' address, said that Summit is "indeed strong" touting the Hilltop City's 21st Century flexibility and potential while describing the town as "an island of calm in a turbulent world."
Radest delivered her remarks at the Summit Common Council's annual reorganization meeting, which also saw Steve Bowman sworn in as new member, and Mike McTernan taking the oath as returning member, respectively, of the Council. McTernan was unanimously re-elected as the governing body's president.
During her 'State of the City Address', Radest cited the attitude of cooperation and bipartisanship, which, she said, led to many great accomplishments in Summit during the past year. She began by praising State Senator Thomas Kean, Jr., Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz, Assemblyman Jon Bramnick, and Union County Freeholder Mohamed Jalloh -- all of whom were in attendance -- for “the open line of communication we shared this past year, particularly regarding the Morris Avenue Bridge. Fortunately, construction is underway again.”
In speaking of 2016’s accomplishments and the City’s vision for the future, Radest said, “I am so proud of our community as an island of calm in a turbulent world. I ran on a platform of communication and bipartisanship. I believed that we, as a city, could continue to build bridges to connect with one another, and that together, regardless of political party affiliation, we could accomplish great things. I have found both of these things to be true. “
She noted that people from all areas of Summit had engaged with her personally, during her office hours, at civic events, and at her monthly 'Meet the Mayor' sessions around town.
The City’s highest-ranking elected official added, “Communication is central to the connection between the city and the community; this year the city made great strides in the frequency and variety of ways we interact with residents and businesses. Our new website, launched in March, received an average of 7000 weekly visits and our Report a Concern module, a quick way to report non-emergency issues, received and resolved nearly 1800 work orders from city staff and from the public. We continue to post on the city’s Facebook page and twitter several times a day, and of course we send all news items to all of the online and print media in our area. I said last year that communication is a two way street; much of the successes in 2016 stemmed from strong communication between the city and the community.”
Radest added that the Council, while benefiting from a variety of points of view and vigorous debate, “has worked closely and harmoniously, to provide the best services possible, find and implement new ideas, and, well, get things done. We may not always agree on everything, but we have never let a minor disagreement get in the way of progress. Thank you for the collegiality we enjoyed last year and I look forward to more hard work and progress this year.”
She noted that one of the major accomplishments of this past year was the community’s work on the Master Plan re-examination, during which, “we engaged in a robust public process that reached a broad spectrum of residents, businesses, workers, local officials and stakeholders. Over 70 people were involved in seven subcommittees, two public meetings were held with nearly 200 people attending, and the community participated in two surveys, both online and in person. In addition, we launched an interactive online site to maximize public input; the planning team posed questions and we received hundreds of responses. In fact, the city received an award from a state-wide organization, the League of Municipalities, for our planning process. Hundreds of people were involved in the process, collectively giving thousands of hours to this crucial project. I am grateful to all of you for your time and thoughtful participation; we have a very strong road map for the next 10 years because of your efforts.”
The mayor added that one of the clearest mandates to come out of the planning process was a need for balanced redevelopment in and around the downtown. This pointed to the desire to live close to a town center, ideally one with quick and easy access to New York, a trend that has been growing for the last decade.
Radest added, “Summit is uniquely positioned; we are a transit hub 20 miles from New York City in the center of a suburban metropolis. In this regard, we are quite fortunate as we already hold a Transit Village designation, a model for smart growth. We were awarded this designation because of our already existing downtown infrastructure and public transit. It is our goal to develop our Transit Village status, bringing housing, businesses and people into our downtown and encouraging them to walk, bike, and utilize our excellent transit options. This is good news for us as residents, as it maintains our property values.”
She noted that thoughtful redevelopment can offer an array of housing options that are in high demand, providing walk-to-town residential options for young singles and empty-nesters.
“Not only are we being good neighbors by making sure people of these demographic profiles are able to live here in Summit,” the mayor added, “there are practical benefits for us all as well. These residents will add much to the vibrancy of our downtown, our volunteer base, and our social capital. At the same time, there is a significant economic benefit. Redevelopment will create new sources of ratable income that will put our city on firm footing for decades to come.”
Yet, she noted, the City faces many pressures on its budget and Council endeavors to keep taxes as low as possible and increasing the City’s asset base is an important factor in continuing to provide high quality services.
She added, “We have a strong residential ratable base that has shown positive incremental growth in recent years. However, we must balance this growth with the negative impact on the commercial ratable base as a result of the sale of Merck’s property on western Morris Avenue to Celgene. We are confident there will be positive developments at that location in the future."
“Potential redevelopment is a win-win for us, as we are fortunate to have some transitional areas close to downtown that could benefit from such growth. Areas such as the Broad Street corridor could be revitalized by mixed use development, combining residential and commercial space with parking. One of the major entry-ways into our city could gain the visual charm and bustling street life that should epitomize Summit and which we all would like to see. This increased street life will also provide a needed boost to the economy of our downtown, which has had to adapt to a drastically changing commercial landscape. It is a symbiosis. The ability to live, work, and play in Summit will create residential demand, and the young singles and retired folks who move in will provide a needed boost to our downtown merchants.
This can be accomplished without encroaching upon existing residential areas. In fact, another central feature of the Master Plan is the desire to maintain and encourage effective transition zones between commercial and residential areas. Using a careful approach, we can increase our tax base while keeping the character, charm and tone of our town. Doing this will ensure that we can continue to enjoy the services that make this town special, and add so much to our quality of life. Working with Common Council, I intend to do my best to make this vision a reality.”
Historically, she said, Summit residents have recognized the need for affordable housing, and the City has done a very good job in providing such housing. Well-meaning state regulations, however, had the adverse effect of slowing the creation of affordable housing.
“After yet another set of twists and turns in the complex saga of New Jersey’s regulation of affordable housing,” she noted, “this year Summit entered into a new 10-year agreement regarding its affordable housing commitment. As a result, we have both avoided painful litigation, and provided several opportunities for public input as potential developments come before the Council and the Planning Board. It is my hope and intention to continue our tradition of providing housing for our residents who need assistance, while also making sure to adhere to the guidelines for development as delineated in the Master Plan.”
Other points touched on in the mayor’s remarks:
Connectivity - not only referring to the city’s internet connection, but residents, during the Master Plan meetings overwhelmingly stressed the need for safety improvements in the pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure in Summit. Of particular concern are gaps in the sidewalk network throughout the city.
“The growth of the sharing economy, the increased number of people interested in biking and a renewed focus on walkability are forcing us to think about how we move about our city. The environmental commission, along with the engineering department and the Summit Police Department is developing a bicycle plan for the city, and Common Council has already adopted the “Complete Streets” program; these are important first steps, and I believe we must incorporate them into all future planning decisions.”
Improving the Transportation Infrastructure - by improving safety on streets and sidewalks for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. Common Council approved the police department’s recommendation to re-establish its traffic unit with four officers involved in this unit in town, both educating citizens as to the rules of the road, and enforcing them, when necessary.
“Council members and I have received numerous complaints this year regarding traffic issues -- speeding, distracted driving and distracted walking,” she noted. “In the fall we participated in a program called Street Smart, funded by the New Jersey Department of Transportation; the results clearly showed that Summit residents and visitors are not being careful enough. While the police can educate and enforce, and the city can make engineering changes such as pedestrian lights at crossings, it is incumbent upon each of us to travel with deliberation and focus, whether by car, on a bike or on foot.”
Downtown Parking - a topic of much discussion during the Master Plan process.
“The city took some steps to address this issue in 2016, but it must receive additional attention this year. As part of the milling and paving of our downtown streets we were able to add 14 parking spaces. In the fall we launched the pilot Uber ride share program that freed up 100 spaces in the downtown commuter lots, allowing more people to park in town to shop or do business. We began to implement the License Plate Recognition System for ease of payment and more effective enforcement, and we will expand it throughout 2017. Lastly, to assist employees and shoppers, we permitted valet parking in the Springfield Avenue tier garage, and did not charge for parking at the 90-minute meters throughout the holidays. Common Council and I are committed to creating a parking plan in 2017 and will rely upon some of the action steps proposed in the recently approved parking assessment. The issue of parking is fraught with emotion and we can find solutions, but they will require creativity, technological innovation, compromise and honest communication among all of us,” Radest said.
Technology - Summit must leverage it to prepare for 21st Century economic development. Summit is home to cutting edge industries, and the mayor said she is committed to foster and support this innovative energy. She added a key component of the City’s strategy should be to continually promote innovation with city policy, infrastructure and investment. To that end, while repaving the downtown streets this summer, she noted, the City built a conduit “and we intend to pursue the installation of fiber optic cable to attract and retain businesses. Additionally, we will be implementing an online permitting system that will make it more efficient to establish a business in Summit. We will continue to find ways to use data and technology to drive policy decisions that increase the efficiency and effectiveness of city systems.”
She added, “Throughout last year I made it a point to meet with members of the county government in an effort to get to know them and determine where we can be of help to each other. My overtures have been well received and I have had several productive conversations with freeholders and county officials. I believe they understand some of the needs of our community, but more importantly, they understand the need to support Summit. I am confident that we will continue to improve our relationship in 2017."
“Many of you have heard me say that Summit’s best asset is its people, and tonight we recognize the many men and women who have volunteered on various boards and committees. They are all committed to making Summit the best that it can be and their hours of service are invaluable. Thank you very much.”
The mayor also extended her “sincere thanks to Sandra Lizza, who is stepping down after three years on Common Council. I cannot say enough about Sandy’s dedication and love for our city. She has consistently been one of the hardest working volunteers in this city, and she brought her intelligence, discipline and unwavering commitment to getting the correct answer and the best result. Sandy, you will be greatly missed by all of us. In addition, I want to welcome to Council Steve Bowman, recently elected to represent Ward 2. I have enjoyed getting to know you, and look forward to working with you. I want to reiterate what a pleasure it has been working with this Council as a whole, and with all of the wonderful people who work in city government in Summit. It truly has been an honor and a privilege. And finally, I want to thank the residents of Summit for being caring, upstanding, and engaged citizens. Working together we can ensure that Summit will not only continue to be a wonderful city, but one that is flexible enough to meet all of the challenges of the future.”
In addition to McTernan's re-election as Council President, Ward 2 Councilman Patrick Hurley was unanimously approval by the Council as Council President Pro-Tem, and will assume the duties of council president when McTernan is not available or unable to perform his duties. The council president pro-tem also will fill in for Mayor Nora Radest if she is not able to be present.
Prior to his reelection as council president, McTernan was sworn in by Radest to his second term on the governing body as his wife Julie and his son and daughter looked on.
Munoz administered the oath of office to Stephen Bowman, who won a narrow victory in November to claim his first term in one of the three Ward 2 seats. His wife Karen and his daughter joined him at the podium.
In nominating McTernan for the top council spot, Ward 2 Councilwoman Mary Ogden cited his integrity and empathy for all as well as his leadership during 2016 where, she said, the council leader did everything in the best interests of Summit. McTernan, in placing Hurley’s name in play for the second highest post, cited the Ward 2 representative’s five years on the governing body, his background in the security industry, and his ability to intelligently speak his mind in doing what was best for the Hilltop City.
The evening’s festivities also saw the presentation of joint resolutions by Kean and Munoz from their respective legislative bodies to former Ward 2 Councilwoman Sandra Lizza, who decided not to seek a second term in 2016.
Also, carrying on with a long Summit tradition, McTernan presented Lizza with the chair she used while on the council.
The council president said Lizza showed an unusual amount of preparation, focus and dedication to Summit. He also cited a number of public works projects completed while she chaired the public works committee and a number of Lizza’s accomplishments as finance chairwoman, including keeping the city’s tax rate increases among the lowest in Summit’s history.
McTernan, who first met the former councilwoman when they became runningmates during his first term, also referenced her many accomplishments previous to joining council as a volunteer with the city schools, scouts and other civic organizations. He added that Lizza “raised the standards of all around her.”
Lizza, in her remarks, called her next phase of life “a time of transition and a time of reflection.” She thanked former Mayor Ellen Dickson, Dickson’s husband Chip and former Councilwoman Millie Cooper and many others for encouraging her to run for a governing body seat.
Many of her accomplishments, Lizza said, were due to the support of the fine Summit city staff and such partners in her projects as Marin Mixon of Summit Downtown, Inc. The “enthusiasm and accountability by the Summit city employees make each of their departments the best they can be,” she added. Lizza also singled out City Administrator Michael Rogers for his leadership, and cited the accomplishments of the governing body and the City through the work of her council colleagues and the mayor.
She also wished Bowman well in his new role.
In closing, the former councilwoman urged her fellow Summit residents to get involved and stay involved in the life of the city by volunteering for community projects and with community and city organizations.
In addition to the other festivities, McTernan and Radest presented gifts to members and leaders of a number of city advisory boards who left during or at the end of 2016.
The council president also requested a moment of silence for the late Dr. Murray Ross, who passed away on December 30. Ross, who lived in Summit almost his entire 94 years, was an optometrist in the city. He also served on the council for 17 years. McTernan called him “a true giant of Summit.”
In addition to a number of civic appointments, the council approved its following committees:
- Buildings and Grounds - chaired by Ward I Councilman Robert Rubino with First Ward Councilman David Naidu on the committee.
- Finance and Personnel - chaired by Bowman with Rubino.
- General Services - chaired by Hurley with Ogden.
- Law - chaired by Naidu with Hurley.
- Public Safety - chaired by Ogden with Councilman-at-Large Richard Sun.
- Public Works - chaired by Sun with Bowman.
- Corporate relations - McTernan.
A number of council liaisons also were appointed.
Named to the board of school estimate were Radest, Bowman and Rubino.
Appointed as the new City solicitor was Matthew J. Giacobbe of the firm of Cleary, Giacobbe, Alfieri, Jacobs, LLC.
Additionally, the governing body amended its rules to provide that council members must be allowed to comment at public hearings on all ordinances as well as during the passage of all resolutions, and the public will be given an opportunity to comment on resolutions before they are passed.