WEST ORANGE, NJ - Last week, TAPinto West Orange sat down with President of the West Orange Township Council Jerry Guarino to discuss what has been happening in town and what is coming up. There was a consistent theme of pride throughout the conversation where Guarino spoke about the positive programs and services offered by the township. And when he spoke about some of the negative undertones within the community, his response was positive too.

“Stop the negatives,” said Guarino. “If you see something that's wrong, then be part of the solution. Come to a Town Council meeting and use the podium to share your thoughts for five minutes. Write a letter to a councilperson or the mayor. Step up and tell us what you feel is wrong and offer suggestions for improvement. Don’t just sit back and stew—be proactive and be part of the solution.”

First up for Guarino was a discussion on the Downtown Alliance, which is led by Megan Brill.

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“Things are going well with the Downtown Alliance and the energy is felt by the people in the downtown corridor,” he said. “New businesses are coming into town. And the support provided by the Downtown Alliance to the small businesses is such a great positive to me.”

He added, “While our Main Street is never going to be like a Short Hills main street, it is going to be a great main street of services and businesses that service our entire community. It’s being cleaned up and people are feeling good about the area. And, new restaurants and businesses are coming into the area as more and more people are seeing that there's something vital to investing in the downtown West Orange community.”

He said he feels a great sense of community and solidarity in town these days.

“The people in this town care—they really do,” he said.

Next, Guarino addressed Prism, or what he calls—the Edison development. He said he expects development there to begin moving along very shortly.

“It will be a real boost to West Orange and when it gets going—it will be a catalyst to the Main Street corridor,” he said.

“Once the financial agreement between Prism and the new partners is signed, the work will start right away,” he said. “They're very excited about this project. These new partners see a development that's going to be very profitable and very successful. They have a commitment to the township and wouldn’t be investing in it if they didn’t see a value there for the entire community.”

“Nobody would put $26 million of their money into something that didn't believe in,” said Guarino. “They are going to throw good money after a good thing—not good money after a bad thing.”

While many people in West Orange have complained that Prism didn’t pay their taxes on time, Guarino shared that the taxes have not only been paid in full, but that they also paid penalties that were assessed, which in turn provided additional revenue for the town.

“Though I don't agree with people not paying their taxes on time, it is important to realize that in today’s world, many homeowners and businesses are having a difficult time and sometimes cannot pay their taxes on time,” said Guarino. “However, in this instance, the company eventually paid their taxes, and the additional penalties. So, monies were actually added to the town, and at the end of the day, the township didn't lose anything or get hurt—it benefitted from the situation financially.”

Up next was pedestrian safety and Guarino’s ordinance in creating the Pedestrian Safety Committee and the Pleasant Valley Way Civic Traffic and Safety Commission. Guarino shared that he is very proud of the work he has done on this as a councilman. He said there are plans to involve the entire community and not just Pleasantdale.

“The goal is to improve the safety for pedestrians—from our children to our seniors,” he said. “We want people to be able to get to places by feeling comfortable walking there.”

He talked about the grant that West Orange received from Partners in Health, a group in Montclair that supports organizations looking to do studies on the betterment of the community’s quality-of-life social issues. The grant will pay Rutgers University directly, with Rutgers’ Charles Brown of Rutgers heading up the pedestrian safety study.

Last week, the committee met with Brown to discuss: the scope of the study; what it will develop; how it will be delivered; and what information is needed from the township. This study will cover every neighborhood within West Orange because “every neighborhood has traffic and safety issues,” said Guarino.

“Just like I as a councilman work for and look at helping the entire community—this study will affect the entire township,” said Guarino.

“West Orange has so much to offer and there are so many great things happening in town like the Downtown Alliance, the pedestrian safety ordinance and upcoming study and even the Edison development that will soon be breaking ground to offer a vital area for residents and perspective residents,” said Guarino. “I wish people would see all of the good being done in town, and take ahold of the positive spirit, instead of being negative,” said Guarino.

Editor’s Note: This is Part 1 of this article. Part 2 will run on Wednesday.