It may come as a surprise to Westfield residents that our entire award-winning downtown has been designated as an area in need of rehabilitation. Our town parking lots have also been determined “…dilapidated, obsolete, faulty arranged, detrimental to public safety, health.”
Strong words indeed, but very helpful to a town seeking a “Redevelopment” designation for parcels under the banner of progress. Progress resulting in urbanization and high-density structures including apartments, resulting in higher population, larger student class sizes, less youth field space, traffic and lower quality of life.
The “Preliminary Investigation Downtown Parking Lots, Westfield, NJ” provided our Town Council and Planning Board the legal precedence to designate seven parking lots as in need of redevelopment. On June 30 they did just that, by passing a resolution (8-1) designating all seven in this manner.
The investigation, however, failed to substantiate that the parcels were ”…a detriment to public safety & health” or “falling into disuse, or their usefulness and public acceptance.” The Investigation was based largely on “Princeton v. Concerned Citizens” court precedence, but downtown Westfield isn’t Princeton, nor should it be.
Setting aside that Princeton had only one parcel designation, and Westfield seven, many of the investigation’s statements were counterintuitive, but more importantly conflict with the Master Plan Survey responses. The #1 goal of the Master Plan Reexamination was “To provide adequate light, air and open space by establishing, administering and enforcing bulk, density and design standards…” The Survey results overwhelmingly support maintaining the character of our downtown.
On Urbanization: “Parking lots leave gaps in the urban form … broken street walls detract from walkability, a negative impact on commercial activity.” The consultants believe that an uninterrupted wall of buildings is more commercially appealing in Westfield than landscaped breaks. Our new Lot 7 (pictured) that converted the end of Lenox Avenue with parking and nice landscaping is barely 18 months old, yet deemed obsolete by the Planning Board & Council. Do residents desire a multi-level structure on Watterson Street, across from one of our grammar school, as the Investigation recommends? That too, was deemed obsolete.
On Walkability & Safety: “Surface parking lots detract from health, safety and welfare by discouraging walkability.” The Investigation noted that some Lots lacked adequate striping for pedestrians and directional painting, which could easily be remedied. The Investigation failed to provide any comparison data that parking decks are any safer or more walkable than parking lots, but merely conjecture that multi-level structures promote both. Intuitively, drivers and pedestrians line-of-sight in an open parking lot is far greater than an enclosed deck that by design have tight turns & narrower parking spaces. Crime statistics comparing parking decks vs. lots were not provided.
The investigation made one reference the COVID-19 health crisis. Ironically, it didn’t discourage high-density development and urban form, which challenge social distancing and open space, but rather encouraged these structures because of pandemic.
In summary, the investigation concluded that all seven parcels should be redeveloped in the form of “Multi-level Structures.” Why you ask? Because these parcels are of such a detriment to resident’s “…health, safety, and welfare” from an economic perspective, and the remedy for this apparent ailment is for Westfield to be more “urban” and build high-density multi-level structures. That’s wrong, and the Town Council and Planning Board need to consider the impact of this redevelopment fix before the character of our town is permanently changed.