UNION, NJ – In her New Year’s Day Reorganization Meeting speech, Union Mayor Michele Delisfort touted the Township Committee’s 2019 accomplishments in the areas of public engagement, infrastructure, revitalization and redevelopment, and financial management.
“It is my honor to be here today to celebrate our progress and reaffirm our commitments to our residents, to our Township and to each other,” said Delisfort. She said 2019 was a year of “continued progress, accomplishment and transformation”. Delisfort added that within the scope of inclusively and public engagement, the Township Committee “successfully established communication, collaboration and partnerships” that included:
• Meetings about the Master Plan process which afforded residents an opportunity to articulate their vision for the future.
• Heritage Flag Raisings to continue the township's tradition of celebrating diversity through flag raising ceremonies for all the communities that make up the township.
• Outreach to youth with the establishment of the Teen Advisory Council.
• For the special needs community, the township’s Americans With Disabilities Committee continues to fundraise, raise awareness, and advocate for a more accessible and inclusive experience. Delisfort thanked members of the committee for their passion and enthusiasm and welcomed new committee chairperson Elsie Mackey “for her willingness to chair the committee.”
• LGBTQ+ Inaugural Pride Month Flag raising ceremony in June.
• Parking Advisory Committee, made up of residents and professionals. Delifort said the Township Committee looks “forward to the Committee’s recommendations”.
• Senior programs, with residents like Nick Basil and Allen Collins “who continue to coordinate a plethora of programs for our senior community”.
Speaking of infrastructure improvements, Delisfort said “our commitment to improving the quality and lifespan of our infrastructure assets has never been stronger”. She said those improvements are evidenced by rising property values throughout the township, expanded economic investment all around town, and by Union continuing to be a "desirable community where people want to remain and relocate."
Regarding road reconstruction, Delisfort said in 2018 the Township Committee embarked on a town-wide comprehensive road program that was expanded in 2019 and “will continue to be robust in 2020”. Delisfort said other infrastructure programs in 2019 included the design, renovation and reconstruction of:
• Veterans Memorial Park which included new landscaping, lighting, walkways, and new honor roll plaques
• Sgt. Herbert Davis Jr. Park with newly resurfaced basketball courts, new bleachers and a rubberized surface and curbing installed at the playground area.
Delisfort discussed the improvements made to Springfield Avenue, including pedestrian scale lighting, holiday lights and decorations, street furniture and trash receptacles. She outlined the Gateway Plaza project at the intersection of Springfield and Millburn Avenues as a source of pride for the Vauxhall community and the Township Committee that “enhances the pedestrian experience, triggers increased patronage to nearby businesses and provides a welcomed passive recreation area for our community”.
“As a professional planner,” said Delisfort, “I can’t resist the opportunity to tout the benefits of redevelopment, such as blight elimination, tax base expansion, strategic planning for population shifts, increased property values, and job retention and creation.” She said redevelopment contributes prominently to Union’s tax base, “keeping taxes low”, and allows for expanded recreation programs and community initiatives. Delisfort added that redevelopment projects contribute both short term and permanent jobs to the community, jobs earmarked for residents. “Our commitment toward economic revitalization has never been stronger,” she added. “It is undisputed, that ‘A rising tide lifts ALL boats’”.
Delisfort outlined the township’s 2019 revitalization and redevelopment efforts and accomplishments. She said the projects represent a total investment in the Township of Union of nearly $1 billion dollars. “Economic development, business retention and attraction in Union Center and beyond have always been priorities for this Committee,” said Delisfort. “Don’t ever let anyone tell you that sound and strategic redevelopment will not work in our Township.” Redevelopment efforts reviewed by Delisfort included:
• The demolition of the old CC Mugs and Rimmele Florist sites on Stuyvesant Ave.
• The closing of the Garden State Motel. “The blighted property will be demolished and reconstructed in 2020 and be the new home to an accessory retail use, a Wawa and the Fairfield Suites by Marriot.
• The property known as the Money Store, vacant for the last fifteen years at the intersection of Morris Avenue and Spruce Street, has been purchased by Children’s Specialized Hospital. “This gateway project is a wonderful addition to the Township, and we are honored to have this venerable institution as part of the Union family,” said Delisfort.
• A new commercial project at the Weinstein Scrap Metal site on Morris Avenue will come before the Planning Board in January.
• The American Landmark Developer's new construction project “will continue to transform and modernize the Center”. Delisfort said, “the three-phased project was born from our desire to increase foot traffic in the Center, make the shopping experience more aesthetically pleasing, change the physical fabric of our downtown and enhance the socio-economic conditions of Union Center”. She said Phase 1 of the project is complete and opening in February 2020.
• Construction at Titan Union, formerly known as the ConnectOne Bank property in the Center, is well underway. Delisfort said the interior of this adaptive reuse project has been demolished. Upon completion, it will include a community space, residential and commercial uses and an arts and culture component “directly situated at the heart of the most important intersection in Union--our downtown”.
• A mixed-use project at 1206 Stuyvesant Ave, over Brooklyn Pizza, will include existing ground level retail and 24 dwelling units.
• A mixed-use project at 1181 Morris Avenue, near Lehigh Avenue, is in its preliminary stages of development.
• Vermella Union, a four-phased mixed-use project across from Kean University. Delisfort said the project was voted as one of the Top 10 Most Amazing Projects in NJ by NJ.com. She said Phase I is complete and work for Phase II has begun.
In 2019, Delisfort said, the Committee focused a great deal of its efforts on improving the downtown area. “Union Center is the epicenter of our community – socially, culturally, and gastronomically.” She encouraged residents to visit some of the diverse restaurants in Union Center. “We are fortunate to have some of the best restaurants located in Northern New Jersey right here in our Downtown.”
Delisfort said these projects have resulted in a minimal impact to Union’s school system which is “consistent with fiscal impact projections and academic studies”. Delisfort added that Standard & Poors reaffirmed the Township’s AA+ financial rating due to “strong management and conservative fiscal policies”.
Delisfort said Union has seen a sharp reduction in violent crime, with a reduction in the crime rate year over year of 2%. She added the township has experienced a continued decline in petty disorderly incidents and a marked increase in premier emergency response. "Our police, fire and EMS services rival the very best departments in the State of New Jersey, and we are extraordinarily proud of them," said Delisfort.
Delisfort outlined a number of the Township’s 2020 initiatives, including to:
- Create a Decennial 2020 Census Advisory Committee.
- Embark upon Arts and Culture Initiatives in Union Center which will include a Black Box Theater and Pop-ups to reinvigorate underutilized or vacant spaces.
- Complete the WiFi in the Center Initiative.
- Bolster Union’s engagement efforts and continue collaboration with the Board of Education, NJ Transit and Kean University.
- Implement the Springfield Avenue Façade Improvement Program.
- Launch the Female Leadership Initiative
- Complete the Park Master Plan
- Complete the Springfield Avenue Pedestrian Plaza project
- Support the Union Public Library Renovation Project.
- Complete the Master Plan
Delisfort concluded her speech by saying, “as a member of the Township Committee, I start the New Year inspired by you, the residents of Union. I start the New Year resolved to continue working to improve this Township and the quality of life of all its residents. Finally, I start the New Year renewed in the spirit of public service to continue to shepherd this Township toward the greatness it deserves.”