WEST ORANGE, NJ — Last week’s Township Council meeting addressed redevelopment, the tree canopy and finances.

Council President Michelle Casalino reported that Edison Lofts is 67 percent occupied and popular with empty-nesters. Eugene Diaz, principal of Prism Capital Partners, is looking for a restaurant, a dentist and other businesses to lease space in the building. He wants "commercial establishments that complement his tenants.”

Prism is moving forward with Phase 2 of townhomes and conducting market studies regarding people moving out of Manhattan and possibly New Jersey. Diaz feels luxury apartments are still in demand. In other redevelopment news, Township Attorney Richard Trenk told the council that the Central Avenue property is mostly occupied.  

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Public Comments 

Sally Malanga congratulated Our Green West Orange members and talked about strengthening the tree ordinance. Seven large trees were cut down behind Shillelagh Club. John Linson, the town forester, wants a more stringent ordinance to protect trees.

A handful of West Orange High School students called in to support making the township’s tree ordinance stricter. 

“It’s legal to chop down up to three living trees a year without a permit," Emma Svetvilas explained. Many residents cut down trees each year, so West Orange loses a great deal of trees cumulatively. She mentioned that removing trees negatively impacts global warming, erosion, floods and more. 

Svetvilas also noted, “Trees add 15 percent value to properties and neighborhoods.” Trees buffer noise and are calming and beneficial to emotional and physical health, she said.

Another student proposed that dead trees should be replaced with live trees. Dead trees serve as animal habitats and sometimes are able to help prevent flooding during storms.

Marissa Edelman told the council that she checked the air quality app on her phone, and it said the air in West Orange was polluted. Trees produce oxygen, absorb carbon dioxide and improve air quality. She also reminded the council that trees are part of the township’s appeal.

Another student pointed out that the ordinance doesn’t protect trees under 15 feet, and smaller trees should be protected as much as larger ones. 

Loren Svetvilas, Captain of Our Green West Orange, shared that that the organization has been very active. He noted that West Orange has been losing a lot of trees. He cited the Shillelagh Club, St. Joseph’s Church and other places that have removed trees. 

Joyce Rudin commented that one of the companies charges $300 per hour for appraisals. “Resolutions 210-20 and 211-20 will be very expensive” at a time when so many residents have lost jobs. She added that fruit trees don’t grow taller than 15 feet, meaning that they are all in jeopardy of being cut down.

Councilman Joe Krakoviak suggested that council members vote to amend the tree ordinance and move forward with changing it. Councilwoman Cindy Matute-Brown wants to create a Tree Canopy Committee.

Councilwoman Susan McCartney reported that the Forester prepared tree applications and fact sheets have been put together. The forms have been forwarded to the legal department.

She also mentioned that she reinstated the Environmental Commission to make the tree ordinance more stringent. Every tree removal will require a permit, which will ensure accountability. She welcomed students to join the commission. Linson will attend the next council meeting and speak about the ordinance.

McCartney also shared that the Open Space Commission and Environmental Commission secured grants and planted eight gardens and over 600 trees at “The Rock” at 570 Mt Pleasant Avenue.

Regarding redevelopment, Ada and Mark Levinson called on behalf of their neighbors to say that Edgemont Road and Farris Drive residents are “strongly opposed to Crestmont Country Club’s townhouse proposal.” They are extremely worried that monetary limitations will affect West Orange’s ability to protect the property.

Krakoviak shared that the Open Space Committee recommended that the town council authorize and fund two appraisals for to 90+ acre forest area for Crestmont Country Club so they can preserve it. He mentioned that Essex County is interested in preserving the land, and it has more resources to purchase it than the township has.

Other Business

David Cubie, Director of West Orange Public Library announced that the New Jersey legislature approved spending more than $3 million for a new West Orange library.

Resident Elizabeth Williams expressed her concern about an increase in homelessness. She saw someone living in car at Essex Green and another near city hall. She added, “Hidden homelessness is being brought to the forefront.” 

Township attorney Richard Trenk stated that the Council approved working with the Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris Counties. They send professionals to help homeless people get services and send them to shelters. They also conduct a follow up. Project Hope assists individuals with substance abuse issues.

John Gross, township Chief Financial Officer, reported on the Best Practices Survey. Residents gave the town its highest score on town policies. He said, “We have been doing a lot of this stuff long before they’ve been asking questions.”

Gross will post it on the West Orange website. Survey questions are about topics such as personnel, budget, transparency, COVID-19 response, environment and more.

Casalino spoke to the Recreation Department about the holidays. They are having a virtual Gingerbread House contest, and a mailbox will be outside the Recreation Building where children can mail letters to Santa. 

The annual tree lighting will be Dec. 5 and streamed live on Facebook. There will be a drive-by Santa. The annual menorah lighting is scheduled and the town is working on Kwanza.

Councilman Jerry Guarino stated that a December 15 meeting will kickoff the Street Smart Campaign. Easy Ride NJ, NJ Transportation and Sustainable NJ are involved. The program will help with traffic and education. The event will then “roll out into the streets.” More information is available on the town website.

The council discussed Hatzalah of Essex County (HEC), part of an international organization, providing free emergency medical care in West Orange. Trenk said they provide care until the police and EMTs arrive. HEC will be invited to describe their services at a future meeting.

Gross talked about borrowing money rather than increasing the burden on tax payers more. Casalino feared that the town would have to lay off employees if COVID expenses and other things continue to drive up the township’s bills. The council passed the resolution. 

The council also approved Gross’ proposal to refinance municipal bonds to save approximately $232,000 over six years.

New bathrooms are being built in the fire station. The firefighters need working showers during COVID. Gross said they’ll rent showers/toilets to keep personnel safe if necessary.

West Orange is applying for a grant for a Washington Street Corridor. The grant is between $500,000 to $1 million and would be used to make the street safer for Washington School students and all pedestrians.