UNION, NJ – The new year will bring some big changes in Union's infrastructure, economy and community ties, said officials on Monday at the township's annual reorganization meeting.

Committeeman Joseph Florio was sworn into his 9th term and Cassandra Corbett was sworn in as a municipal judge. 

Mayor Suzette Cavadas was nominated as chairwoman of the committee and took about 25 minutes to outline 2018’s comprehensive initiatives in the areas of capital improvements, infrastructure, economic growth and strengthening community and families.

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“I’m certain that you have seen marked improvement in Union Center, an area that was certainly in need of renovations,” said Cavadas.  “Last year we endeavored to completely change the ambience of Union Center with not only a complete overhaul of our sidewalks, curbs, lights and crosswalks, but also an aggressive push to fill vacancies and feet on the ground to support them.”

Cavadas said Phase I of the Stuyvesant Ave Streetscape Project was completed this past October. “If you haven’t been through the Center, I urge you to do so,” said Cavadas.

Cavadas mentioned some of the new “niche, high-caliber retail” stores in the Center including Kung Fu Tea, Atlantic Beach Soap Company, and New York City Papaya. She said new stores also included the Beauty Supply Store, Care Plus Pharmacy, Norma’s Flowers, Vision Eyewear and a new Medical Building across from Stop n’ Shop. Also, Jammed Up Bakery, owned by Van Gogh’s Ear Café, is scheduled to open soon.

Cavadas said in order to continue to increase foot traffic, the Township Committee is endeavoring to create a neighborhood downtown by continuing to utilize a mixed-use development model like Cara Lofts- which has maintained 100% occupancy since its completion in 2015.

In addition, Cavadas said ground was broken on the American Landmark Developers project on Bonnel Court which will transform 300 linear feet of Stuyvesant Ave. beginning at the former site of Terminal Mill Ends. The project is set to include 10,000 square feet of new retail space and 134 residential units. Construction on this project will span a few years.  Cavadas asked residents for patience “as people continue to invest in our Center.”

“This spring we look forward to the continuation of Union Center’s renaissance with the launch of Phase II of the Stuyvesant Ave. Streetscape, which will span Morris Ave to Pearl Harbor Square,” said Cavadas.

In the area of infrastructure, Cavadas said in 2017 the township made improvements to more than 60 roads, and “year-round our department of public works has been out surveying the streets, filling pot holes and making temporary repairs on an as-needed basis to roads outside the scope of the normal program.”

“With over 600 roads in our town, infrastructure is an area in which we will continue to have long-term focus,” said Cavadas.

Cavadas said last year the Township of was ranked the 41st Safest City in America by Safehome, placing Union in the top 25th percentile for safest places to live in the U.S.

“The Union Police Department’s commitment to safety paired with the Township Committee’s unwavering position on providing public safety officials with the latest in crime-fighting and lifesaving technology are what I believe have been a catalyst for success in this area,” Cavadas said.

Cavadas mentioned the repurposing of the Old Vauxhall Library and said that in the past few years the Township has improved the recreational facilities and parks and continues to invest in enhancements to the programs and services available for children and families, including continuing the “Play Places – Safe Spaces” program.

“It is through this program and the process of surveying our parks that we recognized the need for additional upgrades and modernizations and as such will be working through the coming year on a Parks and Rec Open Space Plan to align upgrades with the needs of our residents,” Cavadas said.

Cavadas discussed improvements to and additions of “third places” in Union – those places that are neither one’s home (a first place) nor workspace (a second place). 

Cavadas said the Union Public Library serves as an important “third place” and in 2018 major improvements will be made to it, making the space more modern and capable of addressing the needs of the community.

Cavadas talked about eliminating ‘eyesores on the community’, including a total transformation of the Garden State Motel and Clinton Manor properties, “both of which have been a blight on the community and constant source negative activity.”  Cavadas added, “2018 will be the year that we will no longer stand idle and tolerate property owners who show such disregard for the maintenance of their properties, and the safety and security of their neighbors.”

Cavadas talked about the development of the Merck property, after years of litigation, and the anticipation of a change to the old Money Store on Morris Avenue.

The Mayor spoke about the upcoming start of the Springfield Ave Streetscape and continued work with the Mayors Council on Rahway River Watershed Flood Control, local and State representatives to advocate for better infrastructure.  She said the township is projecting to service between 75 and 80 roads as a part of the regular program with combined funding from local, and federal agencies, as well as the utility companies.

In addition, the County is expected to work on Stuyvesant Ave from Vauxhall Rd. to the Irvington line, and the State is projected to be working on Morris Ave from the Springfield line to Caldwell Ave.

After years of discussing a “one seat ride” on the Raritan Valley Line, Cavadas said with Union maintaining the third highest ridership on the Raritan Valley line, she is committed to working diligently with mayors and county and state officials to continue lobbying Union’s counterparts in Washington to ensure that “one seat ride” service is expanded to peak hours in Union.

Cavadas spoke about creating a Smart City and a Greening the Town initiative, kicking off with an aggressive campaign to plant trees around town.   “It is my hope that this, paired with our continuing annual events like Operation Clean Sweep, and the Earth Day Waterway Cleanup will help our entire community to recommit to sustainability and going ‘green’.”

Cavadas said the township will also endeavor to launch our UHS STEM Collaborative, its initiative to support and empower young women interested in science, technology, engineering and math.

Cavadas spent some time discussing her commitment to end bullying and cyber bullying in Union.

“It may shock you to learn the suicide rate among middle school students is on the rise,” said Cavadas. “On pages, forums and groups on Facebook, in comments on Instagram posts, and even in private Snaps, there is rampant negativity, personal attacks, and even threats of violence.”

“As such,” said Cavadas, “I’m proud to launch our 2018 Bully-Free Zone, Cyber Bullying Certification Program targeted to the pages, forums and groups on social media platforms where our residents engage with each other, and where we engage with our residents.”

The Mayor said the program asks for administrators of social media forums and groups to take a stand with the township against negative, detrimental online behavior and to set a precedent for future generations.

By participating, online administrators would make a commitment to cultivating a safe space for the exchange of ideas free of personal attacks by fulfilling three simple criteria:

Cavadas said the Township will no longer be sharing information into third-party groups or pages that are not “Bully-Free Certified”. Once certified, the Township will share information about special events and activities going on in town and work, through the public information office, to liaison with their followers to answer “tagged” questions and comments in an official capacity, “something that has never been done before.”

“We have an exciting year ahead- full of responsible growth, progression and positive change. I am certain that I speak for all of my colleagues when I say that we are all eager to do the work, in tandem with our Township Administration, and you -our residents- to continue to make Union the best place to call home.”