The Montclair Township Council had a light agenda for its October 24 meeting so far ordinances and resolutions were concerned – two pending ordinances, two new ordinances, and 20 resolutions, more than half of which were in a consent agenda – but the meeting became busy thanks to public comment on two scary subjects – Halloween and traffic.
Montclair Avenue residents Ari Laura Kreith, Helen Torris and Raj Amin appeared before the council, which was being chaired by Deputy Mayor / Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager (Mayor Robert Jackson was present, but was nursing a sore throat), to request that the street be closed to cars on Halloween night from Chestnut Street to Watchung Avenue to allow for the annual tradition of a special trick-or-treating night that attracts children from neighboring communities. Montclair Avenue is known for its large trick-or-treating event involving resident Judy Newman, who gives out stacks of books to children to encourage them to read, and the event itself is aimed at children who may not have the opportunity to go out for Halloween in their own neighborhoods because it is not as safe. Over a hundred houses participate. Three side streets and one cross street would have to be blocked per their plans.
Montclair Police Chief Todd Conforti, who was present for the meeting with Deputy Police Chief Wilhelm Young, sympathized with the residents’ desires, but he said closing the street at night would be unworkable. He said the department needs at least six to eight officers to handle calls at the station while an increased number of officers are needed throughout the township. Not only would a block-party permit for the Montclair Avenue event be undoable – block-party permits expire after sunset, and most children go out for Halloween after dark – but the length of the street, Chief Conforti said, would more likely require a parade permit. Deputy Chief Young added his own concerns, saying that more than seven officers would be needed to prevent automobile traffic, and handle the overflow of children expected. He said it boiled down to staffing and lack of adequate manpower or resources to pull it off.
While commending Kreith, Torris and Amin for their community spirit, Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville agreed it would be difficult to get the adequate number of officers required for such a big event, despite efforts by Montclair Avenue residents to raise money for it on GoFundMe. She did say the Montclair Avenue Halloween celebration was a wonderful way to bring people together and suggested that they start planning for 2018 now to make next year’s event a greater affair. Although Montclair could outsource officers from adjacent communities for support, Dr. Baskerville said Montclair officers would best be suited for a future Halloween celebration. Councilor-at-Large Robert Russo thought a daylight event would be better. He said he remembered the Roseville Avenue Halloween parade in Newark from his own boyhood, and how it was always held before dark. He also warned that the Montclair Avenue event should be pared down to prevent an overflow of children and attracting older children out to make mischief. The residents will not get police protection this year, but they seemed encouraged to begin planning for 2018.
Residents Say More Light Needed To Make Grove Street Safer
Later, before the final vote on an ordinance to lower the speed limit on Grove Street to 30 mph for the entire length, a group of residents rose to offer suggestions as to how the area along Grove Street where it junctions with McDonough Street, which runs from the west, and Dodd Street, which runs from the east, could be improved. They suggested brighter streetlights from the crosswalk areas, lowering the speed limit as prescribed by the pending ordinance, and setting longer no-parking zones from the street corners to improve sightlines for motorists and drivers to see each other. Councilor Russo said improving streetlights was PSE&G ‘s purview, and Acting Township Manager Tim Stafford said the township could study the block to see it a brighter streetlight could be installed. If not, the township would have to make the request for a different light fixture. Councilor Russo was hopeful that PSE&G, understanding the need to respond to its customers, would in fact act in favor of the residents if they petitioned the utility enough.
In the meantime, Stafford said rectangular rapid-flashing beacons would be installed along Grove Street as soon as possible would be installed at “critical spots” on Grove Street and other parts of town. Some are on order, while a few are ready to be installed soon.
The vote on the ordinance lowering Grove Street’s speed limit to 30 mph sparked contentious debate among the councilors. Councilor Russo had not given it support in the past but was now willing to vote for it provided that enforcement is stepped up accordingly. Deputy Mayor Schlager concurred, saying that another Essex County municipality is notorious for enforcing traffic laws to the point where people obey the speed limits for fear of getting pulled over and ticketed.
“I want us to be that town,” she said.
Three other councilors were skeptical. Councilor-at-Large Rich McMahon said accidents on Grove Street are down in 2017 so far compared to the period from January 1 to October 24, 2016, from 38 to 25, and 55 summonses for speeding on Grove Street have been issued in that same time frame for 2017 compared to 36 for the same time frame in 2016. He thus saw no need for lowering the speed limit. Re-iterating his main point about pedestrian responsibility from his October 19 community meeting, First Ward Councilor William Hurlock said pedestrians need to be more mindful of the traffic and the rules for crossing the street. Third Ward Councilor Sean Spiller said traffic-calming devices such as bumpouts would be more effective in making the street seem narrower, forcing derivers to slow down. All of them voted against the ordinance, but it passed 4-3. Dr. Baskerville had proposed adding Valley Road to the ordinance, but Mayor Jackson said there was confusion over signage and the county’s role in setting speed limits, so it would be better to focus on Grove Street for the time being. Dr. Baskerville regretted that the council wasn’t dong “as much as we could” on the speeding issue.
Also, the mural mystery of Glenridge Avenue, which some council members viewed as unauthorized repainting/vandalism of a wall along Glenridge Avenue next to the Midtown parking deck, that had caused consternation at the October 3 township council conference meeting, was apparently resolved when Azie Shelhorse came forward. Shelhorse, owner of the Glenridge Avenue antique shop Verdigreen, addressed the council with her husband Travis and her two children by her side. She explained she had first painted the neglected, dirty wall with colorful stripes in an effort to beautify it with encouragement from then-Montclair Business Improvement District executive director Luther Flurry. Flurry later found a muralist who added the faces and the words “Notice Me.” That mural began to wear out – the result of latex paint being used instead of chalk paint. Last spring, Shelhorse, with help from local children, finished the striping project she had started by painting the colorful stripes where the mural had deteriorated and adding the words “LOVE WHERE YOU LIVE” to present a positive, upbeat message.
Councilor Russo said that the biggest shock was not the quality of her work but the surprise that came when Shelhorse failed to inform anyone of her intentions. Dr. Baskerville said that, given the municipal ordinances that govern public art, she should have sought permission to redo the artwork on the wall. Israel Cronk, Flurry’s successor as Montclair Business Improvement District executive director, asked what the final decision on what to do with Shelhorse’s mural was. Deputy Mayor Schlager said that no decision had been made yet.