SUMMIT, NJ—The Summit Common Council, at its first meeting of November, authorized application for a maximum $1 million federal grant that the majority of Council members feel will kick start the proposed Summit Park Line project, and bring needed sidewalks to sections of Broad Street and Morris Avenue in East Summit.
The federal grant, part of the Transportation Alternatives Program, is administered by the New Jersey Department of Transportation and does not require municipal matching funds.
According to First Ward Councilman Robert Rubino, the sidewalk project will help with the first phase of the proposed Park Line project, a 0.2-mile section in the vicinity of Overlook Medical Center.
Rubino said the first phase would help with objectives of the City’s proposed Master Plan re:Vision by opening up more greenways for enjoyment of visitors to Summit, and provide connectivity to the central business district from an area that does not enjoy as much connectivity to the downtown as other sections of the city.
He also said the grant funds would enable Summit to save about $450,000 it would not have to spend in City dollars to pay for the sidewalks needed in the area.
As envisioned by the Summit Park Line Foundation, which is collecting private funding to pay for the project, the Park Line will convert an abandoned rail line right-of-way stretching from Briant Park through the central business district to a public park, walkways and nature areas while offering a view of the Manhattan skyline.
It is seen as similar in concept to the Highline in New York City.
However, First Ward Councilman David Naidu, who voted against the grant proposal, said he would like to see the City sign a specific agreement with the Park Line Foundation outlining specific costs of each phase of the project.
Naidu added that he would like to see a breakdown of City costs to provide increased security in the Park Line area, and to the City public works department for providing additional maintenance to the area.
He also said he had been walking on the New York Highline the weekend before the meeting, and had seen signs indicating that a private foundation paid 98 percent of the costs of the Highline.
Naidu wanted to know if that would be the case with the Park Line Foundation.
Rubino replied that the Foundation would pay 100 percent of the costs of the Park Line and the Foundation's mission is the construction and maintenance of the Park Line.
Additionally, Summit Police Chief Robert Weck said his department would respond to calls from the Park Line just as it would to any other similar area in the city. He did not envision any additional patrols or security costs for the proposed project.
Similar assurances came from Community Services Department Director Paul Cascais, who said Department of Public Works personnel would perform maintenance on the Park Line just as they did for other City parks and Briant Park, which is a Union County facility.
A few of the residents who spoke at the meeting said residents living near the proposed project site had not been asked their opinions of the Park Line. They also raised questions about City costs for maintaining the facility and maintenance costs.
However, Lisa Allen, a volunteer with the Park Line Foundation, said the facility would be a great addition to the City, and provide more green space and access to an area of Summit that often is considered underserved.
Former Summit Business Administrator and Summit resident, Chris Cotter, repeated what he had said in a memo about the proposed facility when he was administrator -- that it would provide a “lasting legacy” for Summit.
Council president Mike McTernan also said he was tired of implications that there was some type of effort to hide the costs of the Park Line or the City’s participation in it, and added that there was no reason for an agreement because the Foundation, not the City, would be responsible for the Park Line.
McTernan also said his understanding from the Foundation was it only would finance each section of the project when it was able to raise funds to finance those sections, and those sections for which funds which were not yet raised would not be constructed.
Noting accusations that fundraising for the Park Line was competing with potential private donations for other worthwhile causes, the Council President said Hilltop City residents were noted for their generosity, and he believed any competition for charitable giving would not adversely affect other charitable projects to a great extent.
Second Ward Councilwoman Mary Ogden added the City may have missed excellent opportunities for a donation of parkland to the City in the past if it had turned down offers of private land donations on what eventually became Memorial Field and the Reeves-Reed Arboretum.
Naidu, replying to the comments of McTernan and other Council members, said he fulfilling his fiduciary responsibility as a councilman and shouldn’t be criticized for “asking the tough questions.”
He added he didn’t see why the City could not memorialize its understanding of its responsibilities and that of the Foundation in a written agreement.
The First Ward representative also said, when certain sections of the project were not completed due to lack of funding, residents expecting completions of those sections would press to have them done.
Councilman-at-Large Richard Sun said although he agreed with Naidu’s concerns about an agreement, he did not oppose approving the grant request since it only pertained to what would potentially be only the first phase of the project.
Sun added statements from Weck and Cascais detailing that no additional City costs would be incurred, also persuaded him to vote for the grant resolution.
In other business, the Council voted to extend the Thanksgiving Parking Holiday Weekend to include the Saturday after Thanksgiving this year and to make this change permanent.
Also authorized was free parking at the City’s 90-minute meters by bagging the meters from December 12 through 24 of this year.
The City Parking Services Agency estimated the total revenue loss for extension of the free parking privileges at about $33,000, with the free December period revenue loss estimated at $15,600.
Parking Services Manager Rita McNany said the 90 minutes of free parking during the December period would be strictly enforced, aided by the City’s new automated license plate recognition equipment.
The December proposal, in particular, resulted in a vigorous Council discussion on the lost revenue, benefits to downtown merchants, and whether the free parking privilege tended to work against maintaining high shopper parking turnover, which often is favored by merchants.
On another front, it was announced that the SDI board of trustees has agreed to purchase $1,500 worth of $1 parking coupons from the City, at 75 cents on-the-dollar, for merchants to give to customers to assist them with the cost of parking in the DeForest lots.
Several council members, in particular Second Ward representative Patrick Hurley, said the merchants, not the City, would be in the best position to decide whether any parking incentive was successful for their businesses.
They also agreed with SDI chairman Tony Melchionna that one of the main reasons for parking incentives was to change the perception that Summit is more interested in issuing overtime parking summonses than making business district parking more friendly to store patrons.
However, Second Ward Councilwoman Sandra Lizza felt that if the December program was thought by merchants to be a promotional program for businesses then SDI should contribute more to the city to make up for the lost revenue.
Lizza was the sole Council member to vote against the December program.
On another matter, Summit Fire Chief Eric Evers gave a presentation on the organization, functions, structure and goals of his department.
He reached many conclusions, among them, that the Summit Fire Department responds more quickly than other departments to emergencies and that there less loss from serious fires in the City.
Evers, however, noted that the current fire headquarters and staffing levels are below those seen as optimum by national fire organization standards.
Among goals are consideration of building of a new fire headquarters and increases in staffing.
Evers and McTernan both said more specific budgetary implications would be discussed when City budget briefings are held later this year.
In other business, the Council authorized the naming of the new senior citizen van the City -- acquired through a Union County grant program -- for long-time Summit senior citizen activist and bus advocate Miles MacMahon, who passed away on March 24.
The Council also appointed Detective Michael Byrne as a sergeant in the Summit Police Department.
McTernan also announced that work on the Morris Avenue Bridge replacement project, delayed by negotiations for renewal of the state Transportation Trust Fund, would now continue because the trust fund has been renewed.
The Council president also congratulated Rubino, a long-time specialist in obstetrics and gynecology, on being named by Governor Chris Christie to the University Hospital Board of Directors.