Redevelopment Area Designation for Railroad Avenue Plot Considered by Summit Common Council; Housing, Parking Garage Possible

Summit Council President Richard Madden and Mayor Ellen Dickson at Tuesday's council meeting. Credits: Bob Faszczewski
Summit Community Services Director Beth Kinney outlines the area in need of redevelopment suggestion for the Railroad Avenue property. Credits: Bob Faszczewski

SUMMIT, NJ -  A number of ideas for possible future use of the rear of the current Summit Post Office near Railroad Avenue were floated by Mayor Ellen Dickson and members of the Summit Common Council on Tuesday as Community Services Director Beth Kinney made a presentation on designation of the property as an area in need of redevelopment.

The designation was approved by the city planning board upon the recommendation of Burgis Associates, Summit’s city planning consultants.

Kinney explained that the area in need of redevelopment is a designation under the state’s Local Redevelopment and Housing Law aimed at encouraging private reinvestment in underutilized or rundown areas. She said currently there are 99 parking spaces behind the post office on the plot of land and, although the area is considered rundown, it is very open and accessible to the city’s downtown.

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She added Burgis suggested the site could become the home of a mixed-development that would provide a walkable area near the central business district.

Councilman Gregory Drummond, who chairs the governing body’s building and grounds committee, noted that a developer has expressed some interest in the area but would like a larger site. The larger site, he said, could be attained by adding the area currently housing the Gallo Building.

Councilman Thomas Getzendanner said, however, the best way to approach the area would be to advertise it as an area available for sale and sell it to a private developer, as the city did last year when it sold the city-owned property at 2 Walnut Street. He added one of the best uses of the property would be construction and operation of a private parking garage.

Getzendanner noted the council last year had rejected the area in need of redevelopment designation for the site.

Councilman Patrick Hurley replied, however, that any designation of the area would only be a preliminary step and a council resolution for a designation would not necessarily commit the city to a parking garage or any other use.

Council President Richard Madden suggested that the federal government be approached for sale of the current post office building and its relocation.

According to Dickson, since the city in the next several years will be considering construction of a new fire headquarters they could build the headquarters on Broad Street close to the Salerno Duane automobile dealership and add the current fire headquarters site to the Railroad Avenue property. She said townhouse-type housing then could be constructed on the site.

Drummond said the council could possibly act on a resolution designating the site as an area in need of redevelopment at its Tuesday, March 19, meeting with the Gallo building site added to the resolution.

Councilman Dave Bomgaars, who chairs the governing body’s finance committee, said the councilmen probably will introduce the city’s 2013 operating budget at the March 19 session. He noted, through cooperation between the city administration and the finance committee, the budget currently includes a .003 percent increase over the 2012 spending plan, which would result in a tax increase for municipal purposes of only $10.77 on the average Summit home, assessed at $410,000.

Getzendanner noted, however, that the proposed Union County budget is up 6.3 percent over last year.  Due to the application of the state equalization formula to the county tab, Summit residents will experience a 9 percent increase and the Hilltop City will bear 27 percent of the “tax levy pie,” he said. He noted Morris County has zero increase in its budget this year.

A suggestion by Getzendanner that more of the governing body members attend Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders meetings to express their opposition to county spending drew a negative reaction from Hurley, who said Getzendanner had the wrong approach.

Hurley has said in the past that Summit should either consider secession from Union County or request that the freeholders restructure their board with some freeholders elected in districts in order to give municipalities in the western, more suburban areas of the county a greater voice in county affairs.

Currently, Union County freeholders are elected at-large and, officials in the suburban areas have often complained that, for the last several years, victorious freeholder candidates have chiefly come from the more populous urban areas of the county.

On another matter, the council voted to amend a proposed ordinance diverting traffic from Briant Parkway during the morning and evening rush hours. The ordinance was formulated after resident complaints that cars trying to avoid the traffic light at Orchard Street and Morris Avenue often turned onto Briant Parkway from Orchard Street or Springfield Avenue.

As originally introduced, the measure would have kept traffic off Briant Parkway from 8 to 10 am and 5 to 7 pm. After further resident input, however, Hurley advocated changing the prohibited times to 7 to 9 am and 4 to 6 pm.

Responding to resident Joanne Fiorilli, Police Chief Robert Weck said although patrol cars would not be constantly stationed near Briant Parkway to enforce the new restrictions the area would be monitored.

He urged Fiorilli to call police if she saw excessive speeding or truck traffic on the street.

Madden, who lives on Morris Avenue near Briant Parkway, said the new restrictions could drive some traffic to use Edison Drive to avoid the Orchard Street light. He also said the restrictions could add to the problem of motorists traveling westbound on Morris Avenue backing up at the light while trying to make a left turn onto Orchard Street.

The council president said an additional lane or a lane restricted to left-turning traffic was needed.

Hurley and Weck indicated Union County officials would have to review the proposed restrictions because they have control over the Orchard-Morris intersection, and suggestions on the left turn could be made at that time.

The public hearing on the amended Briant Parkway ordinance also is scheduled for March 19.


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