SUMMIT, NJ - Like municipalities everywhere, the City of Summit is grappling with the myriad economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and attempting to find creative ways -- in the wake of the economic carnage caused by the associated shutdowns and restrictions -- to reopen its commercial community safely within allowed guidelines.
Nowhere in the Hilltop City -- renown as a 'restaurant town' -- is this effort more evident than the eateries that dot the downtown's central business district. In that vein, and at another Summit Common Council held remotely on June 23, the governing body took the first official steps to create incremental outdoor space for dining establishments to operate, imperative given the state restrictions that -- while allowing indoor dining beginning July 2 -- limit restaurants to one-fourth of their indoor capacity.
Council approved a resolution authorizing the temporary, extended closure of sections of Maple Street to allow for outdoor dining through August 30 -- until school presumably goes back into session. Springfield Avenue and the alleyways north and south of Springfield would remain open.
Since the Council meeting, City officials confirmed to TAPinto Summit that New Jersey Department of Transportation approval -- needed because the closure will last more than 48 hours -- has been obtained, and that Maple Street will close, in both directions, from Springfield to the nearest alleyways. Traffic detour routes will be announced.
Summit House, Roots, Fin, and Fiorino’s restaurants will use the road space rather than the sidewalks on Maple Street. The four restaurants employ some 200 people.
In addition, City officials have also confirmed to TAPinto Summit that the following establishments have been approved for 'sidewalk service' as of the close of business June 26:
Pizza Vita, Manhattan Bagel, Winberie's, The Office Tavern Grill, Piattino Neighborhood Grill, Summit Greek Grill, Due 360, Batavia Café, La Pastaria, Serra Restaurant, Zappias Cucina & Brick Oven, La Focaccia, Summit House Restaurant, Zappias Deli & Caterers, The Committed Pig, Boxwood Coffee and the Summit Diner.
A special Common Council Meeting will be held on Monday, June 29, "to consider resolutions pertaining to use of public property for temporary
outdoor dining." The meeting will be broadcast live through HTTV on Comcast Channel 36 and Verizon Channel 30 and will also be livestreamed through YouTube, accessible at youtube.com/channel.
There was a hearing on the bond ordinance to fund the city’s share of the flood mitigation project for the Joint Meeting of Union and Essex Counties. Ward 2 Council Member Greg Vartan, who introduced this ordinance at the June 9 meeting, explained that the Joint Meeting comprises 11 municipalities operating a wastewater treatment plant. To fund its share of this project, Summit will issue a bond ordinance to borrow $2,375,000 from the New Jersey Infrastructure Bank. The project will take place in seven phases; this covers Summit’s share of the first two phases. FEMA has committed to reimburse 85% of the costs to the municipalities over the project period. Stephen Bowman, Ward 2 Council Member, is liaison to the Joint Meeting. He reminded viewers of how close the facility had come to flooding during Superstorm Sandy, and how necessary this project is to ensure the continuous operation of the plant during storms. The ordinance passed by a unanimous roll call vote.
Nine ordinances were introduced, to be discussed and voted on at the Wednesday, July 8, Council meeting.
Vartan introduced four Finance ordinances. The first appropriates $4,225,000 and authorizes the issuance of $4,023,000 in bonds or notes for capital improvement projects as adopted in the 2020 municipal budget. An ordinance like this is passed each year following the budget adoption. Vartan pointed out that this ordinance doesn’t authorize any expenditures; for each capital project such as milling, paving, or vehicle acquisition, council must pass a resolution to award a contract for the project.
A second Finance ordinance appropriates $380,000 from the Parking Utility Capital Improvement Fund for essential repairs of the Broad Street Garage.
The third bond ordinance appropriates $710,000 and authorizes the issuance of the same amount in bonds or notes for sewer utility improvements.
The final Finance ordinance establishes 2020 salary ranges for all union and non-union City employees.
Four Safety & Health ordinances were introduced by Ward 1 Council Member Susan Hairston. These ordinances, originally raised in March just as meetings were moving to a virtual format, were postponed until now to ensure that the public would be able to comment on them. The first would prohibit parking on the east side of Waldron Avenue and implements two-hour parking limits from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day of the week. This ordinance addresses a petition from Waldron Avenue residents who say parking by commuters and shoppers narrows the street, creates hazards, and makes it difficult to safely exit driveways.
Three other ordinances authorize new stop signs to help prevent motor vehicle accidents and enhance pedestrian safety by creating four-way traffic stops at intersections at Tulip Street and Ashland Road, Tulip Street and Prospect Street, and Maple Avenue and Ashland Road; installing a stop sign at the previously uncontrolled intersection of Cleveland Road and Windsor Road; and installing a stop sign and pavement striping at the intersection of Wallace Road and Rose Lane.
Council Member at Large Beth Little introduced a single Capital Projects & Community Services ordinance to authorize public bidding for a leasing agent to manage vacancies in the City-owned building at 7 Cedar Street.
All these introductions were approved in unanimous roll call votes.
Hairston moved a Safety & Health resolution to confirm the appointment of Sergeant Michael Byrne as a police lieutenant, effective in July. Six candidates were interviewed. Mayor Nora Radest noted that Byrne “fits well” with Chief Anthony Bartolotti’s vision for the Summit Police Department.
Vartan raised three Finance resolutions. The first authorizes the City to execute an agreement with Union County to receive reimbursement for COVID-19-related expenditures from federal CARES Act funds. The second resolution waives 2020 sidewalk café application fees; the waiver is retroactive, so businesses who already paid the fee will be reimbursed. This doesn’t apply to lease fees for liquor license expansions. Vartan noted this will result in an approximately $6,000 revenue loss to the City but will aid local businesses as they reopen. Vartan’s final resolution authorizes 2020 salaries, effective July1. He explained this is a twice-yearly adjustment made to accommodate contractually obligated salary increases for certain union and non-union employees. Bowman pointed out that these figures were used to create the new budget.
Danny O’Sullivan, Ward 1 Council Member, moved a pair of Community Programs & Parking Services resolutions. The first reinstates parking fees and permits beginning July 15. These had been waived during the pandemic to assist local businesses. Some 15-minute curbside pickup spaces will remain, but the goal is to have commuters, employees, and shoppers parking in their accustomed spots. Overnight parking will be enforced. O’Sullivan recommended using the ParkMobile app to minimize having to touch parking meters or payment kiosks, as well as saving the City transaction fees. He promised sufficient communication so nobody is caught unawares.
Ward 1 Council Member David Naidu said that, as the public comes back in increasing numbers to patronize downtown businesses, what those businesses need is turnover in parking, and fees encourage turnover. Vartan added that the Summit Downtown, Inc. and Economic Development Advisory Committee both feel that reinstating parking fees on July 15 is reasonable, while reminding all that the DeForest lots still offer an hour of free parking. He also said the City is working to improve its online parking permit system.
O’Sullivan added that many New Jersey and New York communities never suspended parking fees, and many nearby communities reinstated them on June 1.
O’Sullivan’s other resolution authorizes the Summit Area YMCA to use part of the Village Green for its summer camp from July 6 to August 21. The camp will run weekdays from July 6 to August 21. O’Sullivan noted the importance of the camp for child care and socialization.
Two Law & Labor resolutions were moved by Bowman. The first authorizes a license for Roots Steakhouse for a sidewalk café at the intersection of Springfield and Maple. The second authorizes execution of a one-time sidebar agreement with Teamster Local 469 to allow City employees to donate unused accrued sick leave to a fellow employee who has used up his accumulated sick leave.
Little had four Capital Projects & Community Services resolutions. The first authorizes the acceptance of Summit’s Affordable Housing / Mt. Laurel midterm report, which is required by Summit’s settlement with the Fair Share Housing Center. It details the City’s efforts to provide new affordable housing units as well as work on existing units. It will be posted on the city website.
Next was a resolution authorizing the temporary extended closure of sections of Maple Street to allow for outdoor dining (see above), while the third resolution authorizes the acceptance of a grant from the Union County Municipal Infrastructure Project for $77,000 for the Huntley Road area improvement project. This includes repaving, curbing repairs, and drainage improvements on Huntley Road, Clark Street, Caldwell Avenue, Eaton Court, and Willow Road.
Her final resolution authorizes a grant application submission to the Community Compost and Food Waste Reduction pilot project. The US Department of Agriculture is soliciting applications; this grant would fund a waste audit to determine, among other things, what percentage of Summit’s trash stream is compostable materials. This would help determine if a community composting program is feasible and what size composter would be needed. The grant requires a 25% match which would be met by available recycling funds. Fox said it would provide a “wealth of data that will allow us to manage our waste better and save a lot of money in the process.”
All resolutions passed.
The June 23 meeting was the first time the new rules of public engagement -- approved at the May 26 meeting -- we in effect. Moving forward, all public participation in online meetings will be by video or audio conference. Questions or comments submitted by email will no longer be addressed during the meeting but answered afterwards.
During public comments, Eileen Kelly, Woodland Avenue, referred to mix-ups with vote-by-mail ballots. While the Council was unfamiliar with any specific instances, City Clerk Rosemary Licatese directed Kelly or the affected voters to contact the Union County Clerk’s office directly.
Robert Weakley, Union Place, has been in discussion with several Union Place business owners who asked him to share their comments. Noting the parking difficulties on Union Place, he said there’s concern that proposed parklets for outdoor dining there will cause “inequitable” hardships for businesses that aren’t restaurants, and hurt more than they help.
Fox responded that she’s unaware of specific proposals for Union Place, but suggested he attend the special Monday, June 29, council meeting dealing with such plans. She invited him to review the application packet that will be posted on the city’s website Friday. Fox further said council members will be walking the town this weekend to familiarize themselves with the various areas covered by the proposals, to better weigh all the factors in their approval decisions. That remote meeting will begin at 7:30.
In her mayor’s report, Radest noted Summit’s census return rate to date is 73.8%; it was 75.4% in 2010. Radest stressed the importance of everyone completing the brief and confidential questionnaire.
Radest promised there would soon be a mayor’s forum via ZOOM to discuss issues in town and the nation, saying “Having these conversations continue is very, very important.”
City Administrator Michael Rogers reported that all City buildings will reopen to the public on July 6 at 8 a.m. Masks and social distancing will be enforced. The City’s currently observing summer hours: 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, and 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Fridays.
Atlantic Health Systems has created COVID hygiene signage for businesses. Business owners can call the city’s press office to receive printable copies via email.
O’Sullivan described the frustration of a local business owner with customers who refuse to wear a mask. He emphasized that masks, social distancing, and hand-washing work, saying, “Doing these three things will help keep you and our fellow citizens safe and allow us to continue through all the phases of reopening our economy.”