SUMMIT, NJ — An uncharacteristically balmy winter evening found the Summit Common Council members speaking over the hum of a pair of portable air conditioning units at the February 21 meeting.
Council President David Naidu opened the meeting with a moment of silence for the victims of the February 14 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Florida.
Referring to that event, Mayor Nora Radest, in her report, applauded those Florida students now challenging their lawmakers to action. Emphasizing that “our children must feel safe,” she invited Summit Police Department (SPD) Chief Robert Weck to speak.
Weck described some of the extensive measures in place to protect Summit students, including the expansion of active shooter response training to all officers on the force and police vehicles equipped with essential gear. He characterized the department’s strategy as “practice where you play,” explaining that officers spend time inside the schools, becoming familiar with their layout. He lauded the good relationship between the police department and the Board of Education. School response officers and noted that Sergeant Ryan Peters, the SPD’s juvenile officer, visits the schools frequently, walks their halls, and interacts with their staff.
Summit schools were among the first to be trained in the ALICE -- Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate -- active shooter training system. “The training is in hopes that we never have to use it….Our main goal is to minimize casualties,” said Weck. Finally, he urged the public, “if you see something, say something.” Parents, relatives, or friends who hear something suspicious may avert a crisis by reporting a potential threat.
The Council approved a resolution authorizing the purchase and installation of artificial turf for Upper Tatlock Field for $434,473. Tatlock is the final field to receive replacement turf. Ward 1 Councilmember Mike McTernan noted that the capital improvement fund allocates $100,000 per field.
Judith Josephs, director of community programs, described the work of the Field Restoration Committee. She pointed out that partial funding comes from a $20 fee paid by each child participating in a team sport, over and above team fees. The turf being installed will be cheaper in the long run than real grass, and the City is realizing additional savings by participating in the county co-operative system.
The Field Restoration Committee has observed this turf, which Josephs described as “knit with thatch underneath,” in use in other towns’ heavily used fields and “it held up beautifully.” In addition, she explained it has the field lines stitched into the turf itself, eliminating the need for someone to paint and maintain lines before games. She predicted it will be a significant labor-cost saver.
Glenside Field is expected to pass impact -- or “g-max” -- testing, which measures the shock-attenuation performance of sports surfaces, soon which should allow it to open in time for the start of spring soccer season in two weeks.
McTernan observed that the public tends to think fields should last forever. Josephs explained the life span of artificial turf is approximately eight years. Through -- according to Josephs -- "excellent maintenance." Tatlock’s useful life was stretched past ten years even with near-constant use. Josephs reassured Council there is a game plan as Summit moves forward with additional upgrades for City athletic facilities.
Gould questioned whether the $20 fee on athletes could be raised slightly, as that level was established in 2005. Josephs replied that they prefer to keep it at this level “until we really need it,” as the income is currently adequate and because it can be burdensome on families with multiple children playing multiple sports.
Beth Little, councilmember at-large, observed that while this is a large investment, “we’re investing in our youth. There’s no better way” to spend money, especially as the fields will be in use nearly daily, touching so many people.
Naidu announced his intention to have various City committees make presentations at Council meetings during the year. First up was the Environmental Commission, represented by its chairperson, Beth Lovejoy. The commission is gearing up for its twelfth annual Earth Day cleanup on April 21; she encouraged the public to participate.
The Environmental Commission offers low-cost energy audit program for homeowners for $49, substantially less than what usually charged by contractors. Set to end in June, that program has benefited more than 200 homeowners so far. She mentioned the grant awarded to the commission last year by ANJEC (the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions), which will be used to renovate steps along the Passaic River trail. Another function of the Commission is assisting with Summit’s Sustainable Jersey application. In 2017, Summit was Silver-certified and earned more points than any other mid-size New Jersey municipality. She added that an important part of the Commission’s work is public outreach, through Facebook and other channels.
Lovejoy was joined by Melissa Spurr of 'Green Summit', a volunteer organization providing support to the Environmental Commission. Spurr described her group as the “worker bees” for the Commission, providing extra manpower for projects. 'Green Summit' works to educate the community about sustainable living through social media, a newsletter, and monthly activities, many of them free, such as composting and zero-waste programs. 'Green Summit' also partners with other green groups in town.
According to Lovejoy, in the past 10 years, Summit has lost between 400 and 500 trees to storms like Sandy and other causes. She also warned that the emerald ash borer, an invasive insect, will kill every untreated ash tree. Certain ash specimens are being selected by the City for treatment, but it’s a costly process. “We need to educate people about the value of trees,” she said, listing some of the many economic reasons for preserving mature trees, including that they absorb storm water; they reduce hot spots and provide a wind break, cutting heating and cooling costs; and they produce oxygen and clean the air. She called trees “nonstructural fixes that can save the city money.”
It’s Lovejoy's hope to see more robust enforcement of existing tree ordinances since “we’re losing more trees than we’re planting.” Asked by Ward 1 Councilmember Matthew Gould what constitutes optimal tree cover, she answered 40% -- and the City was at 37%, before the storms.
Naidu noted many of these issues are also part of the Master Plan. A strengthened tree ordinance is a financial issue for the City and residents; clear-cutting trees in yards affects property values. He expects that the Council will take up a revised tree ordinance in the near term, with the involvement of the shade tree commission.
A previously introduced ordinance prohibiting parking in front and side yards was passed with minimal discussion. Resident Davis Gates, during public comments, asked Council to be on the lookout for an uptick in people paving over portions of their lawns. He was assured by Gould that there are regulations governing paved coverage and that there would be vigilance. In response to Naidu’s concern that some residents might have an occasional emergency need for yard parking, Chief Weck answered that officers would talk to homeowners and be understanding of special circumstances. But in the case of an actual violation, they now will be empowered to issue a summons and a fine.
Ward 2 Councilmember Marjorie Fox introduced an ordinance to amend and clarify the Development Regulations Ordinance governing air conditioner condensers. The amendment specifies a uniform five-foot side yard setback and requires that condensers be screened with fencing or vegetation. This clarification should minimize the number of variance requests received by the zoning board. The ordinance will be heard at the next Council meeting.
In other action, the Council named Richard Pechter and Tijana Hitchon to fill two openings on the Mayor’s Arts Committee.
They also named four individuals to the Hometown Heroes Ad Hoc Committee: Paul Cascais, representing DCS; Michael Arlein and Karen Schneider, citizens at-large; and Marjorie Fox, Council liaison. The Summit Area Public Foundation and American Legion will name their own members to the committee.
The Council also authorized applying for an Summit Area Public Foundation grant for up to $10,000 to supplement funds raised for the Hometown Heroes program. No matching funds would be required. The program will recognize local service members with banners along Deforest Avenue. Gould pointed out that many veterans are too modest to nominate themselves, so he hoped friends and family would step up. In response, Fox emphasized the importance of getting the nominee’s permission.
In other activity, Naidu announced that the Council is going “on the road” in order to meet residents outside of chambers. The first “listening session” will be held on March 27 at Wallace Chapel AME Zion Church. He, the mayor, and two councilmembers will be in attendance. Additional sessions are planned during the year.
He also promoted the upcoming talk by Summit resident Robert Max, a WWII labor camp survivor, at the Summit Free Public Library on March 7 at 7 p.m. Max wrote "The Long March Home: An American Soldier's Life as a Nazi Slave Laborer," about his experiences in the war, at age 93.