Summit Downtown Improvement Study Sees Need for 350 More Parking Spaces; Calls for Increase in Mixed-Use Structures

Miles McMahon, chairman of the Summit senior citizens bus, accepts a $12,000 donation from representatives of the Junior League of Summit at Tuesday's common council meeting. Credits: Bob Faszczewski
Consultant Edward J. Snieckus, Jr. reviews the downtown improvement study for the Summit Common Council. Credits: Bob Faszczewski

SUMMIT, NJ—A need for 200 to 350 additional off-street parking spaces in the next 10 years and increased mixed-use structures, including parking and retail in the same building in Summit’s central business business district, were among suggestions made in the Burgis Associates downtown improvement study outlined to the Summit Common Council by planning consultant Edward J. Snieckus, Jr. on Tuesday.

Although the planner said there was need for increased parking in the areas of Maple Street, Springfield Avenue and Union Place, he said the greatest need was on Maple Street, Summit Avenue and Union Place.

The appearance of the tiered parking garage, Snieckus said, needs improvement and the entrance should probably be reconfigured to make it appear as a “gateway” both to advertise its existence and to pull the public more easily into the business district.

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A combined public-private venture possibly would work well in the parking garage on the eastern end of Broad Street, he continued, with the Railroad Avenue parking lot in back of the Summit Post Office possibly accommodating more than 300 spaces and the lots on DeForest and Woodland areas able to increase by more than 180 spaces.

The Railroad Avenue lot, which the council already has designated as an area in need of redevelopment, possibly could be converted into a parking garage fronted by retail uses, the planner said.

Among the positive highlights of the study was the fact that Summit, seen as the “principal trade area” in the Burgis report, could generate a possible $1,476,099,520 in “effective buying income.”

Snieckus praised the city as a transit hub, with a good diversity of uses and good “walkability” from which pedestrians and commuters could reach the downtown.

He did, however, call for improvements in signage pointing to “gateways” in the central business district, and the addition of historic plaques to buildings of note to more readily draw people to the downtown.

Among uses recommended for the downtown business zone were instructional institutions, such as dance academies on the second floors of retail buildings, live entertainment in downtown restaurants and adult daycare.

To attact more of the commuter traffic, especially among the “millenials”, those in their early to mid-20s, he suggested that a concierge service be established at the Summit Train Station so commutters could order items and services on their Smart Phones.

Getting back to parking, Second Ward Councilman Richard Madden wanted to know where the study envisioned the location of additional commuter parking.

Although Snieckus said the study did not address that specifically in any depth, he said structured parking in a location such as the Broad Street east garage might provide a solution.

In a later discussion on the city’s capital budget, Madden suggested $10 million of the city’s project $96 million debt for capital items could be addressed by construction of a new privately-operated rather than a city-operated garage.

Council public safety committee chairman Patrick Hurley said that although the idea of live entertainment was interesting, it could bring need for additional cleanup by city public works crews and a greater need for public safety personnel.

Replying to a question from council finance chairman Michael McTernan, the planner said the size of the central business district appeared to be adequate, well-conceived, and well-planned.

He added, however, that there might be more opportunity for expansion, especially along the Broad Street corridor.

Snieckus also agreed with McTernan that increased Wi-Fi access in the business district could both increase use of the district and be used to promote businesses located there.

A number of marketing approaches also were favored by the planner, including brochures, signage designed in the shapes of buildings contained in certain areas and designation of distances to various shops on “gateway” signs.

During public comments on the report, Robert Steelman, who operates a commercial real estate firm in the central business district, urged the council to give more focus to ideas presented in the reported by, for example, naming the downtown improvement project.

He also called for critical thinking to determine what was needed, a vision statement and a focus on the benefits of the central business district to all stakeholders.

In official action at Tuesday’s meeting, the council tabled final approval of the 2014 city operating budget due to a few items Summit must correct to win approval from the New Jersey Division of Local Government.

Scott Olsen, the city’s chief financial officer, said none of the changes would affect the final appropriation figure of $47,316,053.

However, the budget must be readvertised and a second public hearing held on the amended budget, which will delayed it adoption for about four weeks, according to McTernan.

When the budget was introduced on April 1 it was estimated that the spending plan would result in a decrease of 0.38 percent in property taxes, or $14 on the average Summit home, assessed at about $420,000.

County taxes this years will increase an estimated 3.1 percent on the average Summit property, while school taxes will increase about 0.25 percent for the school year covered by the 2014-2015 budget and about 1.06 percent over the life of the entire budget.

In a five-year review of tax increases over five years at Tuesday’s meeting, city administrator Christopher Cotter noted that municipal taxes went up 4.4 percent, school taxes 8.5 percent and county taxes 34 percent.

One of the reasons for this year’s decreases in taxes for municipal purposes, according to the administrator, was a decrease in employee pension and health costs due to a state mandate that employees must pay more of the cost of those benefits.

McTernan said the council and administration decided those decreases should be passed along to city taxpayers in the form of tax reductions.

While praising city department heads, Cotter and his fellow council members for decreasing city taxes, Hurley said county spending was “out of whack” and the situation was made worse by the state equalization formula which adversely affects Summit.

Mayor Ellen Dickson said she didn’t know what the county was going to do when the equalization formula starts applying to municipalities in the eastern end of the county which, thus far, have not been hit as hard by its application.

She added that city educational funding could be adversely affected by the project $800 million state budget shortfall.

During the discussion on the capital plan, McTernan noted the council on Tuesday was approving the 2014 capital plan and reviewing longer range proposals for 2015 to 2019,

He noted none of the projects in either plan would be finalized until specific appropriations proposals were approved by the governing body.

As stated above, the finance chairman projected city debt would reach about $96 million as a result of capital proposals, in addition to the $17.5 million approved for renovations underway or soon to begin in the city’s schools.

At some point, he said, the council would have to decide whether to deal with the debt by raising taxes considerably or making large cuts in items on the capital project list.

Although Hurley agreed with the council decision to delay specific discussion at present on some of the more involved items, such as funding for a new firehouse, so they could be explored in depth, he said a decision would have to be made on that sooner rather than later.

He noted the current facility, built in 1902, was renovated in 1948 and the last time in 1968,

Councilman Albert Dill, Jr. said the council needed to decide on placement of the firehouse in conjunction with deciding the locations of possible future parking garages.

On another matter, Summit High School junior Zack Rissman complained that city parking restrictions on streets near the school caused students to get up to an average of four parking tickets and some of the parking zones were not clearly marked.

He said up to 35 students were affected and many of them came from families where two parents worked and could not drive the students to school.

Rissman also called for more signage and clearer delineation of no-parking zones.

Hurley said parking near the school was an issue the city had been dealing with for some time. He added that, on some of the streets, parking was blocking the way of emergency vehicles.

The public safety chairman said he would give the students in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting his contact information. He urged them to meet with him.

In another action at Tuesday’s meeting, the Summit Junior League presented “the Big Wheel,” Summit’s senior citizen bus program with a check for $12,000.

Community programs director Judith Leblein Josephs said the costs of the program, operated by a non-profit and administered by her department, run about $60,000 per year.

Community programs board chairman Jamie Colucci announced the board would hold a fundraiser for the service at 7 pm on June 12 at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Springfield.





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