WEST ORANGE, NJ – Improved transparency on the progress the Edison Redevelopment Project, better oversight of the Gregory School renovation project, and the advisability of establishing a Senior Citizens Advisory Board came to the fore at the West Orange Township Council meeting Tueaday night at West Orange City Hall.
A quick update on the Edison Redevelopment Project turned into a lengthy, occasionally heated discussion between Councilman Joe Krakoviak and West Orange Township Administrator John Sayers as to whether regular written updates were needed to ensure that council members and town residents were kept fully in the loop regarding the project’s progress.
According to Krakoviak, the redevelopment agreement stipulated that the township should be getting detailed, written progress reports from the developer, Dune Realty Partners, at least on a quarterly basis.
“More transparency and accountability is better when it comes to this redevelopment project,” said Krakoviak. “The council should be getting more information about the progress of the construction than a quick overview at the beginning of our meetings. I want the Administration to enforce the contract for this incredibly vital project that the township has a huge financial interest in.”
Sayers said the administration is enforcing the contract, and he assured council members that the project is moving along well. He didn’t see a need for written reports, especially since he in touch with the developer on a constant basis.
He also said that the developer has been fully transparent as far as he is concerned, and that there is no need at this time for a written report. Sayers said the council members are welcome to take a tour of the project if they wish to see the progress up close.
According to Sayers, the members of the West Orange Preservation Commission met with project’s developer and identified differences they had regarding the type of windows that should be installed in order to preserve the historical character of the buildings. He said both sides will continue talks regarding this issue until it is resolved.
Councilwoman Michelle Casalino said that the council should be kept in the loop regarding discussions that take place between the developer and the commission.
“I would like to see a timeline of the construction schedule every quarter,” she said.
After hearing both sides of the argument, Council President Victor Cirilo said that at this time he saw no need for a written report since no issues of negligence have been raised. He left this matter open to further consideration.
Another project that came under scrutiny on Monday was the construction occurring at the Gregory School to expand its parking lot and add a bus driveway at the front of the school. Jerome Eben, an architect who served on the West Orange Planning Board, said that he was concerned that there was not enough oversight to make sure that the contractor properly follows the engineer’s plans and does the job correctly.
He noted several problems that have arisen, including an unauthorized tree removal and no silt fence in place when the project began.
Casalino said that the Gregory School contractor has agreed to make restitution for whatever has gone wrong at the site. She added that the contractor has assured her that the project will be done before school starts.
Another issue that concerned numerous residents that attended the meeting was the establishment of a West Orange Senior Citizen’s Advisory Board. Leading off the public comment session focusing on this issue was long-time resident Rosary Morelli, who said the Township needs to be more proactive in helping seniors “age in place.”
She called for a survey of senior residents to learn more about what services needed to be expanded in order to help older adults stay in their homes as they age.
“It is important that we know all the specifics of what it will take to make West Orange an age-friendly township,” said Morelli, who urged the Council to quickly consider an ordinance that will set-up a Senior Citizen’s Advisory Board that will advocate on behalf of the Township’s growing older adult population.
Cirilo said the Council’s decision as to whether it wants to approve the establishment of this Advisory Board will take place after it has been vetted by the Township’s legal experts and with the Administration’s input.
Megan Brill, Executive Director of the Downtown West Orange Alliance, reported that the Downtown Thursdays programs this summer have been well attended. “These programs, along with the exciting downtown development, are working to generate more interest about our Main Street. More and more people are seeing the great businesses we have downtown,” she said.
The next Council meeting will be held on Sept. 6.