Despite an agenda of mostly trouble-free ordinances and resolutions at the Montclair Township Council’s regular meeting on July 22, controversy was stirred up in public comment over two recent events at Nishuane Park, while a third event is being planned there for August.
Resident Michael Norman of North Brookwood Drive, which is across from Nishuane Park, spoke to complain about recent events at the park, most notably the Montclair High School all-class reunion that took place on July 19.
Norman said he attended a meeting with Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville, Township Manager Marc Dashield, and Recreation and Cultural Affairs Director Pat Breschka about the various problems regarding events there, including traffic control and parking, but especially excessive noise. Norman suggested that there could be temporary measures that could be taken vis-à-vis while an effort was made to come up with long-term solutions to staging events in all of the municipal parks, such as lowering the volume of the music played at the events, re-positioning the speakers to keep the sound away from the neighborhoods, and extra police presence to monitor the traffic. He was afraid that the problems could be repeated when the Montclair Jazz Festival is held in Nishuane Park on August 16. He cited ordinance regulating sound in public spaces that was passed by the council in 1986, when Mayor Robert Jackson was a councilor-at-large, as something that could be built on to make life more bearable for the Brookwood Drives.
Mayor Jackson responded by noting that there are fewer events in Nishuane Park today than in the previous 20 years, and two of the three major events in the park today — the African-American Heritage Festival and the Montclair Jazz Festival — happen annually, while the all-class reunion is once every two years. While showing sympathy for Norman and trying not suggest he was minimizing Norman’s concerns, and while also saying that he asked that the volume of the music be turned down while at the all-class reunion, the mayor noted that the two of the few remaining events at the park are attended largely by Blacks, with the jazz festival drawing a more racially mixed audience.
“Do we have an issue with just who and not what?” Mayor Jackson said.
Norman, who is white, insisted that race was not the issue for him, and he added that he was glad that the park was being well-utilized. He said that his issue was with the size of the events and the suitability the events for any municipal park in Montclair for such events. “It has nothing to do with the nature of the event itself,” Norman said.
Mayor Jackson said that Montclair’s numerous events and celebrations are what draws people to live there in the first place, and that reconciling the town’s lively atmosphere with residential concerns was part of the trade-off for living in a town that was not a sterile example of classic suburbia, adding “So many of us, if we really wanted to live in a more homogenic, placid community, we would move to Chatham.”
Dr. Baskerville said she hoped the many concerns of residents could be addressed for what they are and avoid any suspicions of racially driven motivation. Hackensack resident and Montclair High School class reunion committee member Toi Blount re-iterated her objective to avoid infringing on anyone’s quality of life and hoped to work out any standing issues before the next reunion in 2016. Resident Ilmar Vanderer, whose house is across the street from Anderson Park, said that living near a park commonly used for major events mean that such disruptions go with the territory, while South Brookwood Drive resident Mark Parrino said that the issue was a “matter of numbers,” noting that security for large numbers of people and parking issues should also be concerns. Parrino added that large numbers of parked cars created blind spots at intersections in the area.
As part of the meeting’s agenda, jazz legends and Montclair residents Christian McBride and Melissa Walker, husband and wife, laid out the plans for the Montclair Jazz Festival, which is produced by their organization Jazz House Kids. Walker noted the many steps taken to ensure the 2014 edition of the jazz festival is a success. Jazz Houses kids’ contingency plans for this year, she said, involve a police patrol twice as large as that in 2013 to be augmented by private security officers, an aggressive cleanup task force to keep ahead of garbage, and amplification geared mostly to acoustic music to ensure a tolerable level of sound. She suggested that complaints about the music at the class reunion in Nishuane Park were more of a question of genre, noting that house music was played at the reunion, which is not the same as jazz.
“The nature of that music itself is different than perhaps other genres,” she said of jazz.
McBride, who was the jazz director for the Los Angeles Philharmonic for four years, noted that the Hollywood Bowl has a similar issue with noise due to its location in a residential neighborhood, and he said that he’s familiar with the need to keep the volume down for outdoor concerts. At the Hollywood Bowl, he said, rules stipulate that even heavy metal acts are required to keep music at a limited decibel level out of respect for the local residents.
While jazz got a lot of love at the council meeting, heavy metal — at least Ted Nugent’s version of it — certainly didn’t. Dr. Baskerville, Third Ward Councilor Sean Spiller, and Deputy Mayor Robert Russo arrived late at the meeting after having appeared at the Wellmont Theatre to express solidarity with the groups protesting the “Cat Scratch Fever” rocker’s appearance there that evening for his bigoted, reactionary views. Deputy Mayor Russo said that the Wellmont’s managers, who were compelled to present Nugent there because of a deal with the Live Nation promotional company, vowed to make sure that he would never play there again.
Also at the meeting, Environmental Coordinator Gray Russell shared with the council proposals for water conservation, such as employing lawn watering restrictions by having watering days coincide with garbage collection days, and requiring low-flow toilets and efficient shower heads in new construction. Mayor Jackson asked Township Attorney Ira Karasick if an ordinance requiring such toilets and shower heads in new construction and rehabs could be enacted. Karasick said that he could look into it.
The council also passed an ordinance requiring cars to park at least two feet from either side of a driveway apron, with, as amended, exceptions for four-foot setbacks in areas near schools. A first-reading ordinance requiring stricter repaving rules for portions of streets dug up by public utilities also passed, and resolutions renaming the Nishuane Tennis courts after tennis instructor James Firebrace and accepting the gift of a seating area in Edgemont Park were passed. A resolution authorizing a contract to install a traffic signal and Bloomfield Avenue and Lloyd Road passed, with a caveat from Councilor-at-Large Rich McMahon that Parkhurst Place ought to be re-designated as a one way street from Bloomfield Avenue with Rockledge Road re-designated as a one-way street to Bloomfield Avenue. Dashield said it was important to secure the contract first, and Councilor Spiller, having dealt with paving issues regarding these two streets, said that communication with local residents was needed before any such changes to the traffic patterns could be implemented. The resolution passed in order to facilitate the signal installation, with the traffic patterns to be worked out through proper channels later.