Government

Science and Art: Downtown Parking Meter Fees and Lot Term Limits, Public Beautification Debated and Detailed at Summit Council Meeting

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An new ordinance will double fees on select downtown parking meters. Credits: Greg Elliott / TAPinto Summit
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SUMMIT, NJ - The science of addressing parking in the Hilltop City -- specifically the adoption* of an ordinance creating a rate increase for downtown's 90-minute parking meters -- created heated public comments and sparked a lively debate at the Summit Common Council's second meeting of April.

Ordinance #18-3136, introduced by Council member at-large Beth Little, creates a rate increase for the 90-minute meters in Zone A. Effective July 1, rates on Zone A, 90-minute meters will double as per the ordinance, which states:

Meter or payment kiosk which registers zero (0) time on it, each user will receive fifteen (15) free minutes; 30 minutes for each fifty ($.50) cents; 60 minutes for each one dollar ($1.00); 90 minutes for each one dollar and fifty cents ($1.50).

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Previous fees were 30 minutes for twenty-five cents ($.25), 60 minutes for fifty cents ($.50), and 90 minutes for seventy-five cents ($.75).

Little noted that this action was being taken because the street parking is currently cheaper than the parking in the Deforest Avenue lots and they hoped to change public behavior and encourage longer-term parking in the lots, thus providing more rapid turnover for on-street parking to allow people to quickly access downtown businesses. She stated that raising the fees was not a source of revenue for the City, and that fees had not be raised since 2006.

Councilman Mike McTernan said that the proposal had been under discussion for many years and echoed the need for faster turnover for on-street parking. Councilman Matthew Gould stated that he had read several e-mails regarding the issue from business owners who were unhappy with the parking situation. Councilwoman Marjorie Fox noted that the town had tried many ways to address the public parking issue, including the expansion of the Lyft program for Summit residents.

During the public comment session, several downtown business owners voiced their objection to the new proposal as well as the 5-hour time limit currently enforced for the Deforest Avenue lots.

Lezli Salz-Bradley, owner of Willow St. Boutique, complained about her shoppers getting parking tickets and that some customers now refused to shop in Summit because of parking penalties. She stated that she felt that the 5-hour limit discouraged visitors who would come to Summit to shop, meet friends for lunch, and to attend beauty appointments.

The owner of The Silver Lining Jewelry Boutique echoed these frustrations, stating that her customers complained about parking every day. She also questioned how the price increase would address the issue of meter feeding. Both owners complained that while numerous parking studies were conducted, no one talked directly to shop owners. Other shop owners complained that they had not received adequate notice that the ordinance was being voted on.

Councilwoman Little reiterated the town’s efforts to address the parking issues, again referencing the Lyft program and saying that the Council was trying to think “outside the box.” She noted that per the Summit Parking Authority, during the first quarter of 2018, versus the first quarter of 2018, parking turnover had increased by 9,400 cars. Councilman McTernan stated that the five-hour limit had been designed to prevent commuter abuse of the lots and that the time limit was “not written in stone.” Mayor Nora Radest suggested that the time limit be reviewed at a future meeting.

Parking Services Manager Rita McNany also responded to public comment and said that it is a complicated issue. She stated that store owners were often feeding the 90-minute meters on behalf of their customers and said that she does not have enough staff to strictly enforce the 90-minute meters. She noted that up to one hour of free parking is currently available in all Deforest Avenue lots. She also referenced the 3-hour metered spots on Railroad Avenue which afforded people more time to complete downtown errands.

Council President Naidu said that having grown up with parents who were small business owners he sympathized with the many issues facing downtown businesses. He encouraged business owners to attend Summit Downtown Inc. meetings to further address their concerns. He echoed McTernan’s statement that the five-hour time was not set in stone. He also stated that the Council had begun several initiatives to support business owners in the downtown including an expansion of zoning regulations for first-floor businesses to encourage business diversity and that at the last Council meeting an Economic Development Committee had been approved.

The parking ordinance was unanimously approved.

Also during the public comment section, two residents of Wallace Road, Terence Hayes and David Goodstein, addressed their concerns about road and property flooding to the Council. Hayes complained that during heavy rain storms the sewer lines flow back onto Wallace Road. He also noted that the Municipal Golf Course also drained onto the street and that the street is in extremely poor condition. Goodstein showed photographs of the street and neighborhood following Monday’s storm which clearly illustrated the flooding issues. He referred to a culvert at the end of Wallace Road that is filled with debris, adding to the flooding situation and that a nearby spillway was gated and not accessible during storms. Both men vented frustration that the issue has been going on for many years and has not been addressed.

Paul Cascais, Director of the Summit Division of Public Works, addressed the situation. He noted that the issue was complicated by the two nearby golf courses – Summit’s municipal course and Canoe Brook, and that the culvert is owned by Union County. He stated that improvements to the spillway and Wallace Road were approved for capital funding in 2017. The City has applied to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) for the necessary permits to conduct the work and is simply awaiting the approval to move forward.

Cascais also reported that all such spillways in New Jersey are gated and permission must be given from NJDEP to open the spillways. Although these requests can be made in advance of storms, the NJDEP must regulate which spillways are open and at what times because they drain into area rivers including the Passaic River. If all the spillways were opened simultaneously, there would be river flooding and would negatively impact other communities and homeowners.

The pond on the municipal golf course is regulated, however; the City utilizes the water to irrigate the land for environmental reasons and it cannot be lowered below a certain level. Cascais said that there would continue to be discussions with Union County to address the County-owned culvert.

Councilwoman Little stated that the Council was taking the issue seriously and that she had been shown the problems by City Engineer Aaron Schrager and was aware of the problem. Councilman Gould asked Cascais if the NJDEP could be compelled to act more quickly on the permitting issue. Cascais replied that he would share Goodstein’s photographs with them to demonstrate the severity of the problem. Councilman McTernan also encouraged the men to attend a Union County Freeholder meeting to bring the culvert issue directly to their attention for action.

Another resident asked when the Morris Avenue Bridge would reopen. Mayor Radest reported that the bridge was structurally complete, but that utilities, including the sewer lines, needed to be reconnected beneath the bridge. Dry weather is needed to reconnect the sewer lines, which has added to the delay. It is anticipated that the bridge will reopen in mid-June.

The Council also authorized the acceptance of public donations from the Summit Area Public Foundation for the Hometown Heroes Banner Program which will begin in 2018.

Additional ordinances for consideration and introduction were reviewed and all were approved. Several resolutions related to the 2018 fiscal budget were also approved including: the 2018 Municipal Operating Budget, 2018 Sewer Utility Operating Budget and the 2018-19 Capital Plan.

In other meeting activity, Vivian Rubin Furman and Estelle Fournier, representing Summit Public Art (SPA), gave a presentation on their organization and what it does for the community. Founded in 2002 as the Mayor’s Partnership for Public Art, the volunteer-based organization’s mission is to enhance the Summit cityscape, infusing it with assorted contemporary art installations that provide public art experiences to those who live, work in, or  visit Summit. The group annually installs seven works of art in public spaces within a one-mile radius of the downtown. These works change annually, and the committee is currently identifying seven new pieces that will be placed downtown this year.

The organization has undertaken two new initiatives. Rising Artists Mentorship Program (RAMP) Up, is a program that supports Summit High School art students. Eight students were chosen for the inaugural program that began in February. Working with a professional artists, the students will create an art installation that will be installed in May or June 2018.

The second new initiative is an expansion of the current public art program, with the organization set to commission outdoor murals. Two buildings have been identified and the owners have agreed to allow the murals to be painted. The first location will be the rear of the Regal Bank, facing the pocket park on corner of Bank Street and Beechwood Road. The second mural will behind the Summit Diner on Summit Avenue, above the diner façade. Artists are currently being identified for the mural program with SPA issuing a call for artists. The goal is to create murals with a broad-range appeal. The mural behind Regal Bank will likely be unveiled by this fall, and the second mural in the spring of 2019. In response to a question by Councilman Gould, they noted that the installations were expected to last a minimum of five years.

Council members responded favorably to the presentation. Councilman Gould noted that the art, “makes the town vibrant” Councilwoman Ogden noted that the works “brighten my morning” on her daily commute. Mayor Radest added that, although not everyone may agree on which pieces of art that they like, the art engenders community conversation, which is important.

*Editor's Note: This article was amended to reflect that the parking ordinance was not introduced, but voted on and adopted during this meeting. The new fee structure detailed in the ordinance has also been included.

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