CALDWELL, NJ — A resolution authorizing approximately $324,500 to engage Desman Design Management to providing architectural and engineering services for the Borough of Caldwell’s proposed Smull Avenue parking garage was approved, 4-1, during this week’s council meeting.

Mayor John Kelley thanked Councilwoman Christine Schmidt, Councilman Henderson Cole and Council President Francis Rodgers for having “the courage, insight and understanding” of plans that the governing body “has been discussing for months.” Kelley added that the council members “have reviewed both the parking study and the redevelopment plans, which the borough plans on adopting in the first quarter of 2020.”

“The parking garage is critical for satisfying our current parking needs; but more importantly, the long-term parking needs that will exist with the demand from development that the governing body expect to occur,” said Kelley. “The important point to make in regard to the cost of construction and operation of the Smull garage is that the revenue generated from the parking use will more than satisfy the debt service for construction along with other ancillary debt and expenses associated with its development.”

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The parking utility, which will encompass parking town-wide, is intended to be “self-sustaining” rather than using taxpayer dollars, according to the mayor. 

“Elected officials can sometimes be put into difficult positions which require you to make decisions that take into consideration ‘big-picture,’ community-wide benefits, but which will disappoint some,” he said. “Construction of the Smull parking garage is one of those decisions. Again, I thank Councilwoman Schmidt, Councilman Cole and Council President Rodgers.”

Councilman Jonathan Lace, who abstained from the vote, later posted the following statement on Facebook regarding his position.

“I believe that Caldwell does need an additional parking facility and that the Smull parking lot is the best location,” he said. “However, decisions to spend taxpayer dollars cannot be made on mere anecdotal evidence or personal opinion; public policy must be driven by publicly available facts and expert analysis.

The 2017 Master Plan Re-Examination Report states, ‘Both the parking constraints downtown, particularly on the weekend, and congestion on Bloomfield Avenue continue to be issues in Caldwell. Parking constraints are still not well understood. Before adjustments to parking regulation or investment in additional facilities can be made, the borough needs to first understand its current parking supply and demand. Where and when—what time during the day and which days—is parking the biggest issue? Is current parking capacity being efficiently utilized?’

“The parking plan presented at the Nov. 19 meeting consists of a categorized inventory of total available parking and economic analysis of both a 4 and 5 level parking garage. It does not answer the questions raised in the Master Plan Re-Examination Report or provide the recommended analysis of pedestrian and cyclist considerations. Finally, it does not make any specific determinations that a parking garage is necessary.”

Lace concluded that he would support a resolution “when a more comprehensive parking study is conducted that demonstrates that a parking garage in the Smull Avenue parking lot is the best and a necessary solution for parking in Caldwell.”

The resolution also brought residents to the meeting, where many posed concerns about the pending parking structure.

Some of their concerns included increased traffic in a residential area, impact on quality of life for neighbors in the immediate area, the need for the structure, the location, the process to date and the financial impact of the project on taxpayers.

“I'm concerned with the speed at which the council is willing to spend a minimum of $325,000 to design a parking deck that will ultimately cost the taxpayers more than $14 million in advance of performing the appropriate studies to determine the causes of the parking issues, the current needs and the negative impact of a five-story parking deck in the middle of a residential area,” said resident Rhonda DeStefano. “Towns spend years planning projects of this magnitude and often times make parking a multi-year strategy, starting with small improvements, working their way up to the more costly, high impact projects when all else fails. Caldwell has not attempted to implement any low-impact parking initiatives and is keen on destroying a viable alternative at the community center.”

DeStefano further argued that the Borough of Caldwell “never had a documented parking shortage, but rather limited parking availability in a couple of high demand blocks, which created the perception of a parking problem.” She noted that even a 10-story parking deck would cause complaints about lack of parking “because they will not walk from Smull Avenue to the western end of town, nor will they utilize that lot to walk to the community center.”

“The lack of the council's transparency on this issue also concerns me since the residents that are immediately impacted had no clue about this initiative until they received the notice and the meeting was conducted one week before the holidays, when everyone is preoccupied with the holiday,” she said.

Former council member Richard Hauser noted his objections as well, stating that there is a need for more parking, but not at Smull Avenue.

“We need to eliminate traffic on residential streets not increase it,” he said. “Parking is needed at the Kiwanis Oval - this is the wrong move.”

Hauser added that he has still not received a response to questions he posed during a council meeting in July, and told the council members that they “are falling far short” of the need for transparency and “need to do a better job.”

In other news, the council members also voted on two ordinances on second reading that will affect speed limits within the borough.

According to Business Administrator Thomas Banker, one ordinance “completes a schedule that previously did not have all streets listed,” and the other will add a 25 mile-per-hour speed limit to Central Avenue.

An ordinance that was scheduled for second reading was ultimately tabled until it can be amended and scheduled for a new vote in January. The tabled ordinance would have required that snow, slush and ice removal from dwellings and businesses be completed no more than 12 hours after a weather event ends, expanding the current requirement of eight hours.

Kelley opined that the 12 hours would be problematic depending upon when a storm is completed and suggested the council consider 18 hours instead.  The council agreed to table the matter in order to amend the time frame to 18 hours.

Hauser spoke again during public comment along with fellow resident Leonard Cohen to agree that 12 hours would be too confining for those who commute. Hauser also voiced objections to the language requiring homeowners whose sidewalks lead to a crosswalk to remove snow, slush and ice. He noted that his mother, who is well into her 80s and lives on a corner, would not be physically able to comply with the ordinance.

Another ordinance adopted on second reading adds the words “sump pump” to the existing code, precluding any homeowner from having the sump pump connected to the sewer system.

Cole remarked that during rainy days, the system’s usage is quadrupled and the system is already at capacity. Kelley added that this was “an open item” and that the administration is trying to persuade the four neighboring towns that utilize the system to pass similar legislation to protect the capacity and integrity of the system.

The council also passed resolutions authorizing Issac Khaneles as a firefighter for the Caldwell Volunteer Fire Department and supporting Senate and Assembly bills proposing a prohibition of single-use plastics in New Jersey.

The mayor and council members all wished the residents of Caldwell happy holidays as the meeting closed.

The Borough of Caldwell’s reorganization meeting will take place on Jan. 1 at the Caldwell Community Center beginning at noon.