WESTFIELD, NJ — Developers in Westfield will no longer be allowed to clear-cut trees from lots without the town’s permission if the town council gets its way. Members approved an ordinance on first reading Tuesday night that would close a loophole in the law that currently allows developers to clear-cut lots before filing with the town for a permit.
The ordinance, which must pass a second vote, would require anyone cutting down three or more trees eight inches wide at breast height within a six-month period to first get a permit from the town. It also includes a notice provision so that neighbors would be notified as to when the trees will be removed.
Also at that meeting, the council voted unanimously to keep the salaries of council members and the mayor at one dollar per year.
“I think residents sometimes fear we’re going to sneak in a raise for ourselves,” Councilman Sam Della Fera said. Mayor Andy Skibitsky noted that Westfield is the largest municipality in New Jersey where the council and mayor go unpaid. (Their checks traditionally go un-cashed.)
At a conference meeting earlier in the evening, Tim Harrington told the council that he was concerned about the future of Westfield’s downtown.
“We’re not doing a whole lot of development in this town,” said Harrington.
Among issues that he mentioned Downtown Westfield faces are six banks closing in six years, medical groups consolidating, dependence on large chains that could close and strong development in other nearby towns.
“It creates a situation that I think needs to be considered more seriously,” Harrington told the council.
“I think we’re all aware that the retail paradigm is changing,” Mayor Andy Skibitsky acknowledged. But, he said, “The occupancy is still very high.”
Councilman Sam Della Fera said that developers are welcome in Westfield.
“To suggest that there’s something this body could do, I couldn’t disagree more,” said Della Fera.
“We get inquiries almost every day from companies all over the place,” added Town Administrator Jim Gildea. “We’re very fortunate. We’re a destination place, highly marketable.”
Councilman Jim Foerst listed several businesses investing in Downtown Westfield, including Stop & Shop, Adam’s Tavern and Vine Ripe Markets.
“The list goes on and on,” said Foerst.
Councilman Frank Arena and Councilman David Oliveira were absent from the meetings.
The next town council meetings will take place on June 23.