SUMMIT, NJ - The Summit Common Council, at its second November meeting, unanimously approved free parking at 90-minute meters in the downtown area during the holiday period, but not before several Council members said they may amend the enabling resolution to mandate a monetary contribution from Summit Downtown, Inc. (SDI) to partially compensate the City for lost meter revenue due to the program.

The approved initiative, instituted last year and in prior years, sees free parking at 90-minute meters from December 11 through 23. However, to encourage turnover, the time limit at the meters -- which wil be bagged -- will be strictly enforced. At the conclusion of the program, City parking services manager Rita McNany will provide a report to the governing body on the effectiveness of the concept.

Council general services chairman Patrick Hurley, noting at the meeting that the City loses about $15,600 because the “bagged” meters do not generate revenue, was the first to ask if SDI should be asked to contribute since the program is designed to generate holiday shopper traffic and, thus, provide a benefit to SDI member businesses.

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Ward 1 Councilman David Naidu agreed that the program provides a benefit to downtown merchants, but also noted the turnover benefit was more evident in 2016, when there were about 220 citations issued for overtime parking at the “bagged” meters compared to 20 in the previous year.

Naidu added, however, that the enforcement program should be very closely monitored so the City could tell if the citations were being issued more to employees of downtown businesses or to shoppers. He said this is now more feasible thanks to the City’s new license identification program.

The Ward I representative also noted that the purpose of the program is defeated if more employees, rather than shoppers, take advantage of the free meters.

He also said that, especially since SDI has been pushing for the program to become permanent, it should be willing to participate financially.

Downtown businesses have benefited from the City’s discount ridesharing program and the holiday valet program for shoppers, Ward 2 Councilwoman Mary Ogden said, and SDI should be encouraged to contribute so they will have “skin in the game.”

McNany said, however, that her agency needed to begin the program and cover the meters as quickly as possible so the program could start on time. Therefore, she seemed resistant to delaying approval of the program to give the council time to decide if, and how much, SDI should contribute.

Both Hurley and Ward 1 Councilman Robert Rubino urged approval of the program this month with the addition of any SDI contribution provision next month.

However, Mayor Nora Radest noted the downtown group has a small budget and already contributed to advertising for the holiday valet parking program this year. She urged the council to hold off on an SDI contribution to the free meter program until next year.

Both Naidu and Councilman-at-Large Richard Sun agreed that giving SDI enough advance warning would enable it to budget better for next year.

However, Council president Michael McTernan said the City should know what value City merchants place on such programs as parking promotions and the free meter program, and an SDI contribution would be a way of gauging this.

McTernan added he would like to see something on an SDI contribution to the free meter program accomplished this year. The Council president also noted that the City provides one hour of free parking in shopper lots all year long.

In a second parking-related move and as reported by TAPinto Summit November 13, the Council agreed to extend -- for one year -- the City program through which Summit commuters can participate in discount ridesharing between their homes and the Summit train station.

This year, however, the $275,000 contract for the service was awarded to Lyft, Inc., chosen over Uber, the program's previous provider.

Under the Lyft proposal, the service will operate between 5 a,m. and 11 p.m., Monday through Friday excluding holidays. Beginning December 4. The current Uber program only operates from 5 a.m. through 9 p.m. Additionally, program participants will be able to schedule rides, an option not offered under the Uber program.

Hurley explained that the dynamic ridesharing program allows for “virtual parking spaces,” meaning each participant does not take their vehicle to a municipal parking facility, thus freeing up that space for some other driver to use and helping address somewhat the city parking deficit.

He added this provides somewhat of a saving to the City because every parking space costs about $25,000 to provide and maintain. Ward 2 Councilman Stephen Bowman added the program provides a “big benefit” to City commuters and he hoped residents take advantage of it.

Rubino said the program is not inexpensive for the City, but it is good to have as part of the city’s “multipronged” current approach to dealing with its parking deficit. He added three City parking studies already have concluded that a new parking structure will be necessary in the future to deal with a deficit estimated at about 450 spaces, again saying this needs a closer look.

McTernan added that the program cost, over three years, would bring in a savings of $60,000 per space and, over 15 years would be “cheaper than a parking deck, but not cheap.” He added that, if he believed the City would have a parking deficit of 400 spaces in 20 to 30 years he might go along with the reasoning for a parking deck, but the “parking landscape” could be completely different in 20 to 30 years.

The Council president said the City still needed solutions for it current parking situation.

In the end, the Lyft contract was unanimously approved by the governing body.

On another matter touching on City business districts, the Council heard a presentation by Phil Abramson, president of City planning consultants Topology on the declaration of the so-called Broad Street West area as an “area declared in need of redevelopment.”

Abramson said the New Jersey Land Redevelopment Law allows for improvement of area in need of redevelopment if this would better the public welfare. He also said the law gives communities the “planning and financial tools” to remove deleterious conditions to make redevelopment feasible and enables such programs to qualify for state subsidies. 

Participation in such programs, the planner said, is voluntary for property owners included in the study areas.

He cited the landmark New Jersey Appellate Court ruling in a Borough of Princeton case that found that a surface parking lot represented “an obsolete land use that was exacerbated by a faulty design,” and, therefore deleterious to the community.

The Broad Street West study, he said, involved 17 Summit particles, including the City fire headquarters and its lot, the senior citizen housing parking lot, the public library lot, the Summit Post Office and its parking lot and the Summit YMCA parking lot.

There area encompasses 9.6 acres, of which 8.3 are tax exempt, with $44,780 in assessed valuation and $4,576,200 worth of private property, with a total of $199,722 in property taxes paid in 2016.

Of the various surface parking lots in the study, Abramson called the 7-11 parking lot, at 317 Morris Avenue, “a faulty arrangement.”

He also said the Summit YMCA, although it has “tens of thousands of feet of recreational facilities,” has a “handful of parking."

The library lot, he said, is not adequate for the many civic and social functions it provides, including parking for a number of other community facilities in the area.

A funeral home in the area shares a parking lot with the firehouse, thus creating a “title issue,” and the firehouse was found by a study last year to rate at 12 percent in a 100 percent rating system, making it extremely obsolete.

The study also found the firehouse lot populated by retaining walls and a very tight space for maneuvering equipment, the planner said.

There also was a dental office whose lot was “under parked” for a medical office space and Memorial Hall, which is part of St. Theresa’s Parish but relies on public parking for a portion of its parking needs.

He said the state law allows more zoning flexibility than other state land use laws and also payments in lieu of taxes in the redevelopment area.

When it came time for public comment on the Council resolution concerning the redevelopment area, former Councilman-at-Large and planning board member Gregory Drummond said it was an error to include the YMCA lot and he had voted against its inclusion in the study area when the study came before the planning board.

Drummond said it was astonishing to call the property “obsolete” and “detrimental to the welfare of the community, adding that, if 'the Y' parking lot was obsolete then many properties in the downtown also were obsolete.

He also decried the fact that the planning board had, 56 days before the Broad Street West Study approval, okayed a fitness center where 25 parking spaces were required but approved it with only five approved parking spaces.

Naidu, the Council representative to the planning board, noted that body had held two meetings on the Broad Street West study, and representatives of the YMCA were given considerable time at the second meeting to state any opposition they had to its inclusion.

The Ward I representative added that the proceeding was a “non-condemnation proceeding” in which all property owners would be given an opportunity to participate or opt out if they wished.

He added that Drummond had voted in favor of the entire study the first time it was presented and only voted against it during the second pass, a memorialization of the first vote.

He added the YMCA’s proposed renovation, referenced by Drummond, would not be affected by the study area proposal and that it would be better for YMCA officials to “be at the table” during redevelopment area discussions rather than having a developer decide the fate of their facilities.

Rubino, saying he agreed with many of Drummond’s comments on 'the Y', also added that he did not want residents to believe the Broad Street West proposal was “the be-all and end-all solution for the central business district.”

He added Summit needed to “create an experience” in its downtown to compete with the Internet and nothing substantive had been done in the central business district for “the last 20 years.” Rubino also said he “did not want to put the entire fate of the downtown into the hands of a developer who may or may not show up.”

He agreed with Drummond that including 'the Y' in the study area might hinder the facility’s fundraising efforts.

Although a YMCA official who addressed the Council said 'the Y' would like more clarity on some of the issues, Abramson said he had met with the YMCA’s chief executive officer, who said he did not need anymore answers on the process.

Sun added the redevelopment process had a long way to do go before it was concluded. He further disagreed nothing had been done for the downtown, citing for example, the installation of one of the first computer fiber networks in the United States. Sun also said the central business district could benefit from “economies of scale” and the “growth of the pie” in assessed valuations would help all Summit taxpayers.

Ogden cited ridesharing, the valet program and possible “stacking” of parking in some municipal parking areas as evidence of improvements in the central business district. She agreed that the study could help address the cCity’s need for more rateables to broaden its tax base.

Hurley agreed that Summit was trying to cultivate “the experience” of its central business district and wanted to see more of how the Broad Street West study fit into the overall “picture” of the district over the next several years.

Abramson assured Hurley and Rubino that one of his agency’s highest priorities was support of the downtown. He added all property owners would be given a “seat at the table” to help determine their own fates.

The Council unanimously approved a resolution accepting the planning board recommendation on the Broad Street West study.