SUMMIT, NJ - In an effort to move away from what its president termed as “ad hoc decision-making” to date by the Summit Common Common Council regarding the project, the Hilltop City governing body unanimously approved a resolution authorizing an execution of understanding between the City of Summit and the Park Line Foundation. The agreement is intended to delineate the responsibilities of each of those parties during the process of creating a liner park along a 1.2-mile stretch of abandoned railway property acquired by Summit from NJDOTin 2016.
The resolution, introduced by Ward 2 Council Member Marjorie Fox, generated a packed Council chambers, prompted much discussion among the Council's members and elicited comments from nearly 20 members of the public.
To date, work on the Park Line has been performed without any specific agreement. Under this memorandum, the City would obtain safety plans from the fire and police departments and would hold a community workshop to answer questions and obtain feedback from residents. The memorandum also outlines fiscal obligations, including the Foundation funding construction costs and the city providing continuing maintenance.
Joe Gallegos, Denman Place, moved his family here from the Chicago area. He quoted that City’s motto, "Urbs in horto," Latin for “city in a garden." His street is adjacent to the trailway. “New Jersey is the most urban state in America, and any opportunity that you have to create a park within an urban space … ultimately is a benefit for the residents.”
Ju Zhang, Russell Place, questioned the wisdom of creating a park on a site with slopes as steep as 45 degrees and elevations as high as 20 feet, noting that it is already a green space. He further suggested that Summit has no shortage of parks, and that the funding earmarked for maintenance might better be spent on the City’s schools.
Marion Canan, Eggers Court, called it a “wonderfully positive idea,” adding that it will make walking into town considerably safer and less stressful.
Charles Rotondi, also of Eggers Court, said the project raises serious questions, including whether it will require additional police, who will ensure it closes at dusk, and whether it will add to the parking congestion in the area. The siting poses another problem for him: “People will be able to look right into the second floor of our homes…. I don’t think that’s really conducive to the quality of life and the maintenance of property values.”
Henry Street resident Barbara Powers, whose property abuts the park line site, is in favor of the project, calling it “very forward-looking. … I trust there will be a good group of people working together to solve the issues and work through them.”
The president of the Park Line Foundation, Dr. Robert Rubino, Prospect Hill Avenue, thanked everyone for their input and assured the audience that this is intended to “be an amenity for Summit.,” encouraging walking and biking in town and helping residents to make healthy connections. Rubino, a former Council Member who also served as its president, described Phase One as the “model home for folks to see what it could be like.,” saying it has been “spontaneously adopted” by the neighbors.
Brian Steller, Eggers Court, emphasized that people on the elevated park line will be able to look into his and his neighbors’ yards and watch their activities. “I really don’t want that. I don’t want them looking into my daughter’s bedroom or my dining room or my living room.” He also questioned whether the City could realistically close the park at night, vowing to report to the police any lights or noises occurring at night, every night if necessary.
Cromwell Parkway resident Bill Anderson moved to Summit from Reston, a planned community in Virginia. He observed that the homes on the bike trail there traded at a premium versus other houses in town.
Following the lengthy discourse, Council Member at-Large Beth Little thanked everyone for coming out and expressing their views, whether pro and con. She said she herself hasn’t yet made up her mind about the project, but stressed that tonight’s vote was merely to create a structure to move forward and to address resident’s concerns. She stated she was voting “yes” on that. Other Council members added their support for the resolution. Mike McTernan, Ward 1 council member, observed, “Clarity is not a bad thing. Having an agreement in place so that people will understand who is responsible for what, not just the people who sit on the committees but also the people in the audience, is important.”
Closing the discussion, Council President David Naidu said this document outlines a process for the current and future Councils. He assured listeners that there will be transparency and public input through an open, community process. Acknowledging that none of the Council members live in the area of the Park Line, he said residents’ property “is probably your largest asset, and we’re not going to do things that will harm your asset.”
After the resolution passed, Naidu called a brief recess to allow audience members who wished to leave to do so. The room promptly emptied.
Resolutions and Other Council Business
During the meeting’s public comments portion, Lourdes Aboud, Briant Parkway, questioned the need to move one’s car from a downtown parking spot after 90 minutes. Naidu happened to have with him a copy of a 1944 planning document proposing the installation of parking meters along Springfield Avenue. Since then, he said, it has been a balancing act between the needs of merchants who desire turnover of those spaces, and the needs of shoppers. He also pointed out that the proximity of Springfield Avenue to the train station necessitates that time at those spaces be limited to prevent them from being monopolized by commuters. Both Ward 2 Council Member Mary Ogden and Little discussed recent improvements to parking services in town, including free 15-minute parking at meters, an hour of free parking at various sites, and the ability to pay via a phone app, making a trek to a payment kiosk unnecessary.
Mayor Nora Radest proclaimed September as 'Summit Volunteer First Aid Squad Month'. and called on the community to support the squad both by contributing and volunteering.
In May, Council authorized the private sale of an odd-shaped piece of property at 1000 Summit Avenue, adjacent to the First Aid Squad building. Fox introduced an ordinance amending that prior ordinance to conform to state statute. It will now include the property’s minimum sale price, $40,000 as determined by an appraisal. This will be voted on at the Monday, September 17, council meeting.
The Council moved swiftly through a roster of additional resolutions.
Council approved four Finance and Personnel resolutions moved by Little. Two extended paid sick leave to a finance and fire department employee. Another approved the 2017 audit corrective action plan; the audit was approved by Council in July. Little characterized the corrective measures as “de minimus,” crediting this to the work of City Treasurer / CFO Marge Gerba and her staff. A fourth item cleared the City books of accounts which had been authorized but never funded.
Matthew Gould, Ward 1 Council Member, moved a safety resolution authorizing the state contract purchase of self-contained breathing apparatus for the fire department in the amount of $98,586. He explained that the units have an approximate ten-year lifespan, requiring regular replacement. The motion carried.
In further Buildings and Grounds matters, Fox moved a resolution to authorize a grant application to the Summit Area Public Foundation to continue the Hometown Heroes banner program for a second year. While 100 service members were honored on 50 banners in 2018, there is already a waiting list of 30 additional names. No City funds are used for this program; it is reliant on public donations and grant money. A second resolution authorized applying for a grant for a local energy audit through the NJ Clean Energy Program from the state Board of Public Utilities. Municipalities can participate in a no-cost energy audit of their municipal buildings to determine whether any energy cost savings may be realized. The audit would cover City Hall, the Summit Free Public Library, Cornog Field House, and the public works facility on Chatham Road. In addition, the Board of Educations has been asked if they would like to participate; that decision will be made at their next meeting. Both resolutions passed.
Ward 2 Council Member Stephen Bowman introduced three Works resolutions. The first awards a bid in the amount of $113,000 to ACP Contracting of Fairfield, for a new air conditioning cooling tower to replace the 25-year-old mechanism currently in place at City Hall. Bowman noted the new unit will be more environmentally friendly and efficient, saving the city money. An award was also granted to Cifelli & Son Paving & Masonry of Nutley, for the Hobart Avenue Section 1 improvement project, in the amount of $333,010. At this point, Gould, acknowledging the nearly empty meeting chamber, proposed only half-jokingly that that perhaps the big-dollar items might be placed higher up on the agenda. His suggestion was further strengthened by Bowman’s third resolution, authorizing a change order restoring $74,648.01 to the budget because of cost savings in the Blackburn Road improvement project. Gould suggested residents should be aware of good news like this as well. All these resolutions were approved.
Two General Services resolutions were raised by Ogden. The first authorized the application by the City for a $18,700 grant to continue to provide special needs youth programs and to continue to fund a special needs coordinator at the Department of Community Programs. This includes the TryCAN Special Needs program that also benefits eleven other cooperating communities. The second authorized a change order and final in the amount of $5,550 for the purchase and installation of artificial turn on Upper Tatlock Field, to Shaw Sports Turf. An additional 200 tons of stone was required to complete the project. Both resolutions were approved.
In her Mayor’s Report, Radest reminded everyone that today was the first day of school; consequently, motorists and pedestrians should be mindful of safety. The police will be enforcing parking and speed regulations. She asked that drivers leave five minutes early to give themselves enough time, and to drive “as if you were on your own street.” Traffic calming measures have been implemented over the past several months, including speed humps and a fourth four-way stop at Oakland Place and Maple Street; four more are planned.
In his President’s Report, Naidu remarked that two events in August commemorated Summit residents with “a vision of the future.” He was referring to the plaque dedication for Reverend Dr. Florence Spearing Randolph, a founder and pastor of Wallace Chapel, suffragist, and temperance activist, and the memorial service for Gene Fox, a pioneer in local recycling efforts.
He asked persons interested in serving on the newly formed Transfer Station Task Force to submit their applications before September 10, and invited residents to the next Council on the Road event on September 26 at 7 p.m. in the Summit High School library.
Naidu provided a brief update on the Broad Street Redevelopment Project. Eight developers responded to the city’s RFQ; the steering committee has had conversations with each of those developers. Conceptual plans are due by October 10 and will be shared with the public.