SUMMIT, NJ - Summit’s citizenry has consistently taken a keen interest the Hilltop City’s future, evidenced by the considerable crowd that attended the April 2 City of Summit Common Council meeting. Several residents shared their thoughts following a presentation by Topology, the Newark-based planning firm, on the proposed plan for the Broad Street West redevelopment area.

Annie Hindenlang, Topology’s COO and principal, and Phil Abramson, founder and CEO, gave an overview of that area’s potential destiny. She reiterated the plan reflects a great deal of public input. The redevelopment area is near the Central Business District and close to the train station, and key buildings – the firehouse, YMCA, public library, and post office among them – are within its boundaries. The area comprises 10.1 acres, 8.4 of which are public land. Topology envisions four “subdistricts” within this space, each with its own characteristics.

Hindenlang listed a number of principles the firm kept in mind while developing the plan:

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  • Context-sensitive design that bridges the gap between residential and commercial districts

  • Creation of a new small neighborhood to support the downtown and transit ridership

  • Sustainability and modern standards for construction (i.e., what do retailers or residents want in a space?)

  • Spaces for people of all ages to enjoy

Additionally, the plan includes elements such as smart regulation of building heights; guidance on door and window placement; regulation of building materials; “intentionally designed” open spaces and plaza designs that work year-round; and sustainability steps like green roofs, being solar-ready, and 100% stormwater recapture. The plan includes 100% replacement of existing parking and generous estimates for both residential and commercial parking spaces. Bike parking is accounted for, as well. She introduced the concept of the “woonerf” or living street, pedestrian-friendly spaces that include automobile traffic regulated by traffic calming and low speed limits.

Hindenlang laid out possible uses and proposed standards for each of the four subdistricts. In Subdistrict #1, which includes the post office, the district would be more commercially oriented, with a height cap of four stories / 60 feet, a minimum retail space of 2,500 square-feet, and 3,000 square-feet of public open space. In #2, which includes the library and YMCA, there would be a maximum of 30 residential units per acre, with maximum heights of three stories / 50 feet. There would be at least 3,500 square-feet of open space. In #3, which includes the firehouse, density would be capped at 45 residential units per acre, at four stories / 60 feet. There would be at least 6,500 square-feet of open space plus 12,000 square-feet of retail. She described this subdistrict of having more of a “nightlife” component, with a brewery / brewpub listed as one possible type of occupant. Subdivision #4, next to City Hall and senior housing, would have a maximum density of 40 units per acre capped at three stories, 1,500 square-feet of open space, and at least 2,500 square feet of retail space.

There would be a negotiation process for developers seeking additional density or height, in which they might be required to provide other amenities such as additional parking for the senior housing facility or pedestrian enhancements.

Following the presentation, Council President David Naidu pointed out that this is “non-condemnation redevelopment.” Private entities within the area can opt-in or -out of participating; the City won’t be using eminent domain to acquire properties. He added that one private parcel – 7 Cedar Street, a small office building – has come on the market, and the City is in negotiations to purchase it. Not only is it strategically located in Subdistrict #2, it is a fully-occupied building generating income and tax revenue, and will continue to do so. He emphasized that there will be a negotiating process with involved developers before anything is actually built, but that this plan lays out Summit’s vision for itself.

Ward 1 Council Member Matt Gould directed a question to City Solicitor Matthew Giacobbe regarding the possibility of a brewpub or brewery – can the City obtain more liquor licenses? No, replied Giacobbe; licensing is determined by the state ABC based on population. However, he noted there are “pocket licenses,” held by people but not operated, and the sale of those can be spurred by opportunities such as those presented by this redevelopment, with demand setting the price.

Council Member at Large Beth Little applauded the people of Summit for their participation in this process, noting that involvement “from all walks of life and from all four corners of Summit” is what will make this project successful.

Although this was not technically a public hearing of the plan, Naidu allowed audience members to speak following the Topology presentation.

Pamela Zave, Kent Place Boulevard, questioned whether the amount of proposed parking would actually fit into the spaces provided. Hindenlang assured her the spaces had been “test-fitted” and were feasible.

Vivien Hardy, Oak Knoll Road, a former library board member, has lived in town for 51 years and seen it develop over that time. Particularly in Subdistrict 2, “Summit needs to think about the history of Summit.” She pointed out that the current library building replaced an original Carnegie Library. “Having a sense of the past is just as important as getting to be modern,” she said, warning against “creeping urbanization.” She also expressed concern about the library and its extensive programming, and whether patrons would be displaced. Mayor Nora Radest agreed with her about the library’s importance, and that the city would be “very mindful” of the library’s role.

In response to the concerns of Richard Wheeless, Kings Hill Court, who echoed Hardy’s concerns about preserving Summit’s history and village feel, Radest explained that as the owner of much of the property in the area, the City is able to maintain some control over what happens in zone, versus a developer buying a piece of property outright and doing “his own thing.” Naidu added that the plan draws on the expertise of the Historic Preservation Commission and the Environmental Commission. He acknowledged that people “came to Summit because we all like what Summit feels like.”

Claire Toth, Sunset Drive, is a member of the Summit Downtown Inc. and the Historic Preservation Commission. She noted the many proposed open spaces abut the Village Green, “which mostly sits there unused.” Hindenlang explained that while people appreciate the peacefulness of the Green, they also want spaces with “hard surfaces” and seating they can actually use.

Lisa Resnick of the nonprofit Film Society of Summit asked about the possibility of a movie theater. While the space doesn’t lend itself to a multiplex, said Hindenlang, possibly a community theater or black box theater could be included.

New England Avenue resident and Realtor Mimi Allerton inquired about the architecture, noting that some of her favorite historic homes had recently been razed. Her concerns included both cohesiveness and affordability. Hindenlang answered that the plan includes not only the required “affordable housing,” but also what she termed middle-class “workforce housing.” As for the architecture, she reminded Allerton that Historic Preservation Commission guidelines were part of the plan, and that the city would be able to exert some control over much of the final look, ensuring it was both complementary and transitional.

Noanie Kirkland, Sheridan Road, expressed her appreciation for the City taking its time to go slowly to ensure things are done correctly. Radest elicited laughter when she pointed out it’s been two years so far.

The complete plan can be viewed online at cityofsummit.org/DocumentCenter.

Ordinances and Resolutions

Naidu explained the absence of Council Members Mike McTernan and Marjorie Fox, both of whom had children playing in the New York Invitational Music Festival at New York’s Carnegie Hall that evening. Representing Summit were both the Summit High School Wind Ensemble, led by Steven Rapp and Alex Bocchino, and the Summit High Orchestra and Choir, under the direction of Barbara Vierschilling and Daniel King.

Five ordinances were heard, voted on, and adopted.

Ward Two Council Member Greg Vartan introduced a Safety & Health ordinance to raise the hourly rate charged by the police department for “extra-duty assignments” or outside traffic jobs from $60 to $80 an hour, essentially matching the top patrol officers’ overtime rate. He also introduced a pair of ordinances codifying lane use and turning restriction changes on Passaic Avenue and River Road following the installation of the traffic light at that intersection.

Little introduced a Finance ordinance to approve the annual authorization to allow the City to exceed the municipal budget appropriation limits and establish a cap bank which, Ward 2 Council member Stephen Bowman emphasized, would be tapped only for emergencies, and is not part of the operational budget. Naidu likened it to a corporate line of credit.

Gould’s Capital Projects & Community Services ordinance authorized an agreement between Summit and the New Jersey Bike Walk Coalition to construct and maintain a bike shelter for 36 bikes at that the train station. Radest thanked Aaron Schrager, City engineer, for continuing to move this project forward.

Two new ordinances were introduced. A Finance ordinance raised by Little would authorize the City to purchase the property at 7 Cedar Street, within the redevelopment zone. This will be heard at the April 23 Council meeting. Gould’s Capital Projects & Community Services ordinance would adopt the Broad Street West Redevelopment Plan. This will be heard at the May 7 meeting, assuming its approval by the Planning Board.

Several resolutions were approved. Under Capital Projects & Community Services, Gould moved one referring the Broad Street redevelopment plan to the Planning Board for consideration at its April 22 meeting. Another authorized the purchase of road materials like asphalt and sand from Weldon Materials Inc. of Westfield through the Union County Cooperative Pricing System, not to exceed $65,200. The third authorized Arbor Day activities on April 26, including the planting of a Kwanzan flowering cherry tree at Lincoln Elementary and the distribution of seedlings to students. Naidu reminded everyone that bundles of five free seedlings are available from the state through May 5, so residents can begin to replace trees they may have lost in recent storms. Distribution information can be found at cityofsummit.org.

Little moved a pair of Finance resolutions. The first authorized services from the City's current audit firm, Ferraioli, Wielkotz, Cerullo & Cuva, PA, not to exceed $65,000. The hourly rate is the same as last year’s, but the contract includes a small increase to cover new state-mandated reporting requirements. The second authorized legal services from the City’s bond counsel, Hawkins Delafield & Wood LLP, not to exceed $60,000, which represents no rate increase. Summit has maintained a triple-A bond rating.

Vartan moved a Safety & Health resolution to appoint a new police officer. The candidate, Christopher Walsh, has passed all necessary requirements.

Gould moved two Community Programs & Parking Services resolutions, one declaring a vacancy for the Assistant Director of Community Programs and one appointing Kerry Baker Relf to the Community Programs Advisory Board.

The consent agenda typically is moved and voted on without comment, but Gould took a moment to spotlighting the authorization of a bid advertisement for the Wallace Road improvement project. He recalled that residents of that road had come to council last year to describe their considerable drainage issues, and that the city engineers investigated a wide range of options before developing a solid plan. Included in the 2018 budget, the work is anticipated to be completed by November 1 of this year. He gave his thanks to the Public Works and Engineering teams.

As the meeting neared its end, lights in the Council chambers flickered. Shortly thereafter, Gould received notification that a portion of the City was without electricity, although operations in City Hall weren’t affected.