Summit Council Approves Placement of Fountain Baptist Historical Marker

A historical marker will be placed on Chestnut Avenue signifying the original site of Fountain Baptist Church, which is celebrating its 120th anniversary this year. Credits: Greg Elliott / TAPinto Summit

SUMMIT, NJ - History and youth each shared the spotlight at the first Summit Common Council Meeting of June, with Ward 2 Council member Marjorie Fox introducing a resolution to allow the placement of a historical marker -- on City property -- marking the first permanent location of Fountain Baptist Church at 19-21 Chestnut Avenue, while several ceremonial acknowledgements took place, praising Summit teens for their scholarly achievement and volunteer contributions.

Fountain Baptist, the oldest African-American Church in Summit, will celebrate its 120th anniversary this year and Dr. Betty Livingston Adams spoke about the history of the church. She is a longtime Summit resident, Harvard-educated historian, and associate minister at Fountain Baptist Church.

In 1897, 27-year-old Violet Johnson moved from Brooklyn to Summit. “Within a year, the domestic servant had organized a Baptist church… a year before Summit was incorporated as a city.” This set Johnson on a path of Christian activism, and she would be later cited for her “genius for organization -- religious, civic, social, and industrial.” In the 1890s, Summit’s African-American population was just about 100 individuals, but they established a building fund. In 1906, the congregation purchased lots 19 and 21 on Chestnut Avenue for $2,000. In August of 1908 the cornerstone was laid and; ten years later, the building was completed. It was in use by the congregation until 1989, when it was sold to the City for its new city hall campus. Fountain Baptist now worships at 116 Glenside Avenue.

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The marker, paid for by the church, “will make a significant part of Summit’s history visible,” said Adams. She expressed the church’s appreciation for the City and religious leaders who have assisted Fountain Baptist. Adams also noted that Violet Johnson’s story led her to consider Summit as the site of scholarly research for her book, "Black Woman’s Christian Activism: The struggle for Social Justice in a Northern Suburb."

The resolution passed, and Adams hopes the marker, which has already been produced and which is consistent with other historical markers around town, will be installed by June 24. Mayor Nora Radest presented a certificate of recognition to Aalia Smith, a semifinalist in the 2018 Louis Bay II Municipal Leadership Scholarship competition, and Radest and Council President David Naidu presented certificates of recognition to Emily Pommier and Timothy Ritter, two Summit Free Market student members who have spent four years on the organizing committee.

Beth Little, Council member at-Large, moved four previously-introduced resolutions, explaining that they would fund budget items previously approved by Council. Three passed with little or no discussion by Council or the public. These included the appropriation of funds and the issuance of bonds for various improvements to municipally-owned facilities ($2,375,000 in bonds); upgrading the sewer system ($712,500 in bonds); and resurfacing parking lots and improving signage at various lots operated by the Parking Services Agency ($95,950 in bonds).

The fourth resolution, to improve roads including Wallace Road, Hobart Avenue, Linden Place, Oakland Place, Laurel Avenue, and Larned Road, by directing a special assessment for part of the cost and authorizing $1,482,000 in bonds, prompted a response from David Goodstein of 25 Wallace Road, who showed a short video he’d shot during rainy weather that illustrated an ongoing flooding problem on Wallace Road, with water flowing from Canoe Brook Country Club, gushing form manholes, inundating the road, and flooding neighborhood backyards. “I think that by putting curbing in, it’s going to channel water faster down the road,” he said.

Noting that this has been a problem since he moved there in 1992, Goodstein questioned whether it was worth making cosmetic improvements to Wallace if the water situation was not addressed first. Ward 1 Council member Matthew Gould said he’d toured the various water sources involved in this project, admitting it is a very complex situation. Radest pointed out that while the motion in the table was to approve the funding, its exact allocation was not cast in stone. Gould said he was assured by City Administrator Michael Rogers that if it turned out that additional funding was required to fix the situation, they would approach the Council to amend the capital budget and authorize a new bond issue. Naidu added that they need to work with Union County and Canoe Brook to ensure that a solution is reached.

Goodstein also alerted Council to the rough condition of Rose Lane; Little said they will have to look into that. The motion passed.

In her Mayor’s Report, Radest reported that residents will see no municipal tax hike. While county taxes have gone up 1.755%, a smaller increase than in recent times, the equalization rate will actually result in Summit residents seeing a small decrease in their county taxes. The school tax increased 1.9%.

Two ordinances were introduced and approved for hearing. The first, moved by Gould, would replace the City’s current taxi and livery regulations with a new set of rules to ensure they are consistent with changes in state law and the city’s practices. The second proposed ordinance, introduced by Fox, would define additional types of businesses permitted in downtown, including indoor recreation, performing arts, and wineries and breweries. Additionally, the proposed ordinance specifies that downtown construction is subject to architectural and design guidelines. This will be heard at the July 10 Council meeting.

The following resolutions were passed:

  • Little moved that the remaining balance in the Sherrie Murphy Memorial Fund, created by the late city employee’s coworkers to help fund her children’s education, be distributed to her family.
  • Gould moved to approve the renewal of liquor licenses for 2018-19 for a number of establishments, which have all met the requirements for renewal.
  • Fox moved the reappointment of John Kostrowski, originally appointed in 2014, as plumbing subcode official, and the appointment of Christina Davis as Zoning Board Alternate Number 4.

Ward 2 Council member Steve Bowman moved a quintet of works resolutions. The first authorized a grant agreement for $100,000 from Union County to offset the cost of the Springfield Avenue project. The work will focus on an area between Railroad Avenue and Morris Avenue. A second resolution extended the agreement between the City and Summit Downtown, Inc, under which the City installs and removes the SDI’s promotional banners on Springfield Avenue, receiving fair compensation. A third rejected previous bids and reopened the bidding process for curbs and sidewalks, the previous bids all having come in higher than the city engineer’s highest estimates. Another resolution authorized purchasing road materials at a cost of not more than $130,000 from the Union County Cooperate Pricing System. Bowman noted the impact of rising oil prices on necessities like asphalt.

Finally, Bowman moved to appoint Richard Fiore for one year and student volunteer Rena Gabber for two years to the Recycling Advisory Committee.

Annette Dwyer presented an overview of the work being done by Shaping Summit Together (SST), a grassroots 501(c)(3) organization that grew out of the Valuing Diversity Initiative. Dwyer has been chairman since 2007. She characterized the organization as “collaborative by nature” with the goal of maximizing Summit’s potential.

Growing out of the Valuing Diversity Initiative, SST was called "Summit 2005" when the City of Summit and community stakeholders developed a ten-year plan to maximize Summit's potential according to a value system set forth at that time. The name was changed to Shaping Summit Together when the organization realized its initiatives were still valid and ongoing. The organization merged with the Summit Municipal Alliance in 2008, adding substance abuse prevention to its mission.

Dwyer described SST’s strategy as creating a “neutral domain for the cohesive integration of meaningful and important community values.” With its many community partners, it offers programs to enhance social and cultural literacy, character values and service, overall personal health, and prevention of drug and alcohol abuse. It has worked with community organizations, businesses, residents and the City in honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. through a day of service. The SST’ board is composed of community stakeholders representing not-for-profit organizations, community agencies, houses of worship, schools, and volunteers. Agency seats on the board are perpetual, though the people filling them may change, while individual seats are for three-year terms.

Dwyer noted the organization receives $7,890 from the city; the rest of its lean budget comes from individual donors, sponsors like the Rotary Club, corporations and foundations, grants, and fundraisers.

She also took the opportunity to introduce SST’s newest campaign, encouraging residents to display lawn signs reading “Parents who host lose the most. Don’t be a party to teenage drinking. It’s against the law.” She stressed that this is not aimed at what parents choose to do within their own family circle, but rather at parents who feel at “adults who willingly provide alcohol to groups of young people, unsupervised, on private property.”

In other news detailed at the meeting:

  • Radest announced that the estimated completion date for the Morris Avenue Bridge project remains around the end of June.
  • Work on Plymouth Road will begin on June 18, running into the fall, reported City Administrator Michael Rogers. Work on Tanglewood, Dorchester, and Winchester will begin later this summer.
  • Turf replacement on Tatlock Field is under way and is anticipated to be completed in time for the start of summer training for fall sports.

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