SUMMIT, NJ - Summit’s Broad Street Redevelopment Plan is now official, as the Council Members approved it in a unanimous roll call vote at their May 7 meeting, after hearing from a half-dozen citizens. Marjorie Fox, Ward 2 Council Member, introduced the ordinance to adopt the redevelopment plan, which had already received the approval of the Planning Board.
Former Summit Free Public Library board member Vivien Hardy, Oak Knoll Road, expressed her enjoyment of seeing democracy in action, but worried about the plan’s possible effect on the Library. She noted a deed restriction on the property limits it to library use. Council President David Naidu asked the City’s redevelopment attorney, Joe Maraziti, to address her apprehensions. Maraziti explained that the plan does not “impose any obligations on any party” and is entirely optional. What the Library might do would be the Library board’s choice. He also pointed out that the City has no condemnation powers.
Jeslyn Wheeless, Kings Hill Court, is the youth services librarian. She spoke about how the Library is a great draw for both citizens and potential residents. She stated her desire that the City not tear down the current building and replace it with something “with apartments on top of it.” She also asked that a parking structure not be put between the Library and the YMCA, which would be “hideous.”
Melissa Spurr, Woodland Avenue, asked about the height caps around the Village Green, which is part of the City’s Historic District. She referred to balloons that had been placed by an unidentified individual atop the YMCA at various heights -- something of which Council members were unaware -- to apparently indicate potential structural heights allowed within the redevelopment plan.
Annie Hindenlang, COO of planning firm Topology, said the cap in that area was three stories or 50 feet, with the possibility of negotiating up to 60 feet. Spurr also asked about multi-use development and which school children living there would attend. Mayor Nora Radest replied that had not yet been determined.
Robert Trugman, Springfield Avenue, identified himself as both a resident and commercial property owner. He recalled several instances when his suggestions hade been adopted by prior Councils before proposing a number of ideas for the current redevelopment.
First, Trugman said that the City should “give direction to the developers to maintain the character, integrity, and charm of our existing landmark buildings and incorporate their architectural facades” into new structures in the area of the existing firehouse. Second, he proposed building senior housing behind the post office, maintaining traditional architecture to ensure synergy between the past and present. He said that would add tax ratables without impacting the schools, and allow senior residents to remain in Summit. Finally, he suggested that instead of building “unsightly” tiered parking facilities, “hundred-year” parking should be constructed under the Village Greene, maintaining that it would serve all aspects of the town, could be funded by bonds, and be capped at its completion with a beatification project for the park above it.
In this last suggestion, Trugman found a kindred spirit in Ward 1 Council Member Matt Gould, who admitted to being a proponent of underground parking.
Wallace Road resident Gil Owren owns a business downtown and served for 10 years on the Summit Downtown, Inc. parking committee. He expressed concerns over the fact that the proposed firehouse relocation would permanently eliminate 120 parking spaces and usurp 60 spots for at least two years during construction. He said another 300 spaces are available to developers, who would be required to replace them, but with no definite timeframe for when and where. He suggested that adding parking spaces needs to be the first priority before any work is done.
Naidu replied that parking is a central issue for commuters and businesses, and is “front and center in our minds.”
Rick Bell, Laurel Avenue, pointed out that sustainability and usable spaces by people of all ages are “not antithetical to parking, not antithetical to a commitment to cultural uses such as the library.” He sees the heart of the plan as creating a new identity for a new neighborhood to support the downtown. He said it has worked in other cities without changing their identity or their architecture.
Closing the public portion, Council then spoke.
Mike McTernan, Ward 1 Council Member, called this the culmination of many meetings and much hard work. He acknowledged this isn’t an easy process, and that while he himself has concerns, he knows there is a lot of creativity among developers and he’s excited to see what comes next.
Radest reiterated that this plan is a framework for what will happen next. Referring to the Master Plan revision in 2016, she mentioned the desire of both millennials and seniors to be able to walk in town. She also pointed to the need for what she called “workforce housing” for teachers, police, nurses, and others who work in the community. “Will it be messy from time to time, and a little chaotic?” she asked. “Yes, it will. But it’s an investment in our community that I truly believe is worthwhile and necessary.” She also took pride in the level of community involvement, noting that this amount of public input is not typical of other towns. And, she promised that there will be future opportunities for further public input as negotiations with developers begin.
Fox expanded on that, reminding listeners that Council will be able to negotiate appropriate heights, designs, parking, et cetera, and take information back to the community. “We have a lot of people guiding us in this process... Because it doesn’t say specifically how we’re going to do something in the plan doesn’t mean we haven’t thought of it or that we’re not intending to address it.” She explained that when agreements are reached with the developers, “that’s where the rubber hits the road,” and all will be laid out in detail.
Naidu said that -- after this vote -- things will probably seem quiet, but the City will be negotiating with developers. He described Summit as being in the middle of the process.
In other business, Council Member at Large Beth Little moved an ordinance to establish 2019 salary ranges for City employees. It passed unanimously on a roll call vote without discussion.
Robert Rubino, Prospect Hill Avenue, used the public comments time to thank Council for its attention to sidewalks during its last meeting and to promote further support of the Park Line. Rubino, former Council President, is president of the Summit Park Line Foundation Board. He cited the city’s 2017 Land Use Sustainability Plan and ways in which the issues of walkability and the Park Line are intertwined. Among the Plan’s goals are natural resource preservation; Rubino noted the Park Line is one of “the few green strips we have left in Summit.” Another plan goal is transportation that creates choices for safe walking, biking, and hiking. The Park Line also furthers the goals of “mixed use and green design.” He urged the promotion of the Park Line as a real amenity for all in Summit. For the neighbors in East Summit, he characterized it as a “sidewalk that’s not on a street,” connecting that area to downtown.
Rubino concluded by inviting the Council to the Park Line’s fundraiser on May 31.
Council approved 10 resolutions:
Ward 2 Council member Stephen Bowman introduced three Law & Labor resolutions. The first granted permission for the May 29 grand opening reception of the Community Center. The second appointed Public Defender John DeMassi as municipal court judge. DeMassi vowed to continue the standard of excellence set by retiring Judge Donald Bogosian. Thanking the Council for this opportunity, he shook their hands, eliciting laughter when Gould suggested he perhaps should wait until after the vote was taken. Bowman’s third resolution appointed August N. Santore Jr. to replace DeMassi as public defender.
Little moved two Finance resolutions, authorizing 2019 salaries effective January 1 of this year and authorizing salaries for the newly appointed judge and defender effective May 7.
Fox’s first Capital Projects & Community Services resolution authorized the use of online auction service Municibid.com, though a New Jersey state contract, to dispose of unneeded City property. The three-year contract may be extended for an additional two years. Summit has been using Govdeals.com, and could continue to do so if it proves more advantageous. A second authorized an agreement for the 2019 Union County infrastructure and municipal aid grant. This grant, in the amount of $95,000, required a match by the City, which was included in the 2018 municipal budget. It is being applied towards the Wallace Road improvement project, which is estimated to cost $500,000. A resolution amended the temporary art placement process, correcting references to “High Line” to read “Park Line.” McTernan noted that thee combination of art and park is a great combo. Another resolution authorized submitting the 2018 recycling tonnage report to the state DEP. Fox noted that the amount of recycling was down, but that overall trash tonnage was down, as well. Her final resolution appointed Diane Dresdale to serve out an unexpired Housing Authority term ending on December 31, 2022. Little, as liaison to the Housing Authority, noted the long hours and training required of Authority members and expressed her gratefulness for Dresdale’s willingness to serve.
Donna Patel, Environmental Commission chair, and Melissa Spurr, Green Summit member, presented the results of the Green Summit survey. More than 500 individuals responded, naming their top municipal and home environmental concerns. Leading the municipal list were plastic bag restrictions at 40.51%; tree canopy restoration, 22.52%; and food waste composting, 18.18%. Green Summit is educating residents about state bag legislation through a variety of media. It also distributed more than 1000 reusable bags on Martin Luther King Day, getting them in the hands of seniors and low-income families via food pantries and other outlets. Green Summit is a volunteer organization dedicated to educating residents about living more sustainably.
People’s in-home concerns were topped by no-pesticide lawn care, 26.28%; solar panels/renewable energy, 20.95%; rain gardens, 20.95%; and home energy savings, 19.96%. Green Summit held an informational session on home solar options in January. The Environmental Commission is looking into the state’s new community solar program, which allows individuals whose homes aren’t suitable for solar to subscribe to solar development. The commission is also learning more about microgrids, a localized power source. Dr. Frederick P. Blau will discuss microgrids at the May 13 Environmental Commission meeting at 7:30. Microgrids provide resilience against extended outages.
Naidu observed that the 'Skip the Straw' campaign is making a difference in town. He added his personal opinion that Summit needs to be more proactive than the state in banning single-use plastic bags and Styrofoam.
There were two ceremonial awards. The first marked May as Drowning Prevention and Water Safety Month, while the second heralded the founding of METAvivors of NJ and proclaimed May 7, 2019, as Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day in Summit. METAvivors of NJ is the local chapter of the national METAvivors group, is the first advocacy group for those fighting metastatic breast cancer.
In her Mayor’s Report, Radest said applications are being accepted from eligible residents for a lottery to establish a waiting list for affordable housing units.
In closing comments, Naidu applauded the Summit High School production of Pippin for its 16 nominations in the Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Awards – more than any other school in the state. The award ceremony will be held on June 4. McTernan added that the high school’s fall production of Peter and the Star-Catcher received nine nominations from the Montclair Theatre Night Awards, whose winners will be announced on May 20 at Montclair State University.
Naidu thanked the high school and middle school students who worked at the two recent Free Markets, adding that the activity underscored the need for a permanent building. He also thanked the Department of Public Works employees who handled remaining items, noting that as many goods as possible are further donated.
Fox said Public Works employees will start hanging Hometown Heroes banners for all 184 honorees later this week. She wanted residents to know that if they don’t see their banner right away, it’s because the process will take a couple of days. She thanked DPW’s Director Paul Cascais and City Engineer Aaron Schrager.
Naidu closed the meeting by reminding residents of Ward 1, District 1 and Ward 2, District 1,2, and 3 who had been voting at Pilgrim Baptist Church that they will now vote at the Community Center. Reminder postcards will be sent out.