As 2016 comes to a close, so does my first full year on Council. At the beginning of the summer, I reported that the City was in the process of the 10-year Master Plan re-examination. In November, after receiving public opinion through advisory committees, forums, an online comment page and public hearings, the Planning Board adopted a new Master Plan. I would like to share with you my thoughts on three key issues identified in the Master Plan, as well as what I have observed and heard from our fellow residents.
The “Affordability” of Summit is a key issue. This term means different things to different people. To many -- especially seniors who want to retire in the town they have lived in and young people who have entry-level positions, finding housing options -- whether to buy or rent -- at different price points is a challenge. Among property owners, residents, and the City, there needs to be an examination not only of how to incentivize this type of development, but where it would be appropriate. For others, affordability refers to the City fulfilling its Round 3 COAH obligations. Since the 1970s, municipalities have been required to provide for low-income housing. This year, in the third round process of this obligation, the City entered into an agreement to create zones where affordable housing will need to be integrated into residential development if such development actually occurs. Through this settlement, the City avoided fully litigating the matter in court. Council and the Planning Board will be looking at, and possibly approving, particular zones in January and February. The public is welcome to provide comments. Finally, for most people, affordability and taxes are synonymous. The constant increase in taxes, especially at the County level, places a significant burden on residents, especially the middle -class. Cognizant of this issue, the City works hard to keep its tax burden as low as possible while at the same time trying to provide the level of services that a community such as ours expects to have.
“Quality of Life” is another issue and which, again, means different things to different people. To many, “quality of life” refers to such things as congestion and traffic. The Master Plan calls for increased connectivity through sidewalks and bike paths. However, more than 17,000 people come to work in Summit each day -- and most of those in-bound workers drive here. As a result, pedestrian safety and speeding through residential neighborhoods is also a significant “quality of life” issue. This year, Council approved the resurrection of a Traffic Unit within the Police Department that will focus on enforcement in conjunction with engineering controls, e.g., placement of signs. Another “quality of life” issue for many is preservation of the historical character, including scale and density, of our community. There is a constant struggle between ensuring that there is new development and growth and not losing what attracted all of us to Summit in the first place. In the upcoming year, as plans for redevelopment of areas, such as the Broad Street corridor, are discussed, finding that balance will be critical.
The final issue is “Technology.” New technologies offer both new opportunities and new challenges. In the last weeks of December, Council had a public preview of a technology that will allow residents to track their permits online. The installation of this type of technology will not only increase transparency for residents, but will, hopefully, will lead to City staff spending less time having to respond to calls and thus, increasing the time they can spend on to processing permits. Council, recognizing the challenges businesses in our downtown face with increased online competition, also this past year, agreed to fund the installation of the infrastructure necessary to run high-speed Internet cables in the downtown. In addition, the City launched, a subsidized Uber pilot program, in order to “create” additional parking spaces. The efficacy and level of subsidization will need to be examined in the upcoming year when the pilot program is completed.
Finally, as the year comes to a close, the Council and the City began considering the budget for next year -- starting with the capital budget for the various departments. There will need to be prioritization as to what can be funded. As a City, our greatest asset is our residents, many of whom volunteer in all sorts of activities. I would encourage everyone to be engaged in the budget process in Spring 2017 to help us set the proper priorities.
Wishing all a very healthy and happy New Year.
David Naidu - Summit Common Council, Ward I