BY Steven Maginnis | Thursday, Jan 12, 2017 7:23am
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The Montclair Board of Education spent its January 11 workshop meeting looking back and looking forward. Interim Superintendent Ronald Bolandi gave a presentation of the district’s accomplishments in pursuing various initiatives and goals in recent years.
the Montclair Board of Education
Among the accomplishments he cited were developing a tutorial program in each school with after-school services and available busing for said services, initiatives to work with local clergy to bring tutoring to the neediest students, the development of an elementary-level literacy and math program with input from parents and staff, extensive training in the district’s “Undoing Racism” initiative, and developing a training program with the teachers’ union that employed full-day training as opposed to half-day sessions, which Superintendent Bolandi called counterproductive. He was particularly proud of the program to work with Montclair State University to assist the district with tutorial and staff development programs. The superintendent noted the involvement of Montclair State educational students in the program, and he credited Dr. Debbie Evans, the interim director of elementary education, for her efforts. Continue Reading
BY Steven Maginnis | Wednesday, Jan 11, 2017 9:00am
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The Montclair Township Council got off to a slow, quiet start for 2017 in its January 10 conference meeting. Five resolutions, which included the passage for the temporary 2017 budget, a purchase of anti-virus software for the township, and an application for a certified local grant from the New Jersey Historic Preservation funds, passed unanimously.
The one ordinance voted on, a first-reading measure amending the 2008 financial agreement for the Siena condominium apartment building, prompted resident Sandy Sorkin to ask for an explanation of it in public comment. Mayor Robert Jackson deferred to Township Attorney Ira Karasick, who explained it once the ordinance came up for a vote. Continue Reading
BY Steven Maginnis | Tuesday, Jan 10, 2017 8:39am
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The Montclair Planning Board began 2017 with a whisper more than with a shout. The board members had two subdivision applications on the agenda for their January 9 meeting, one being a continuing hearing of the major application for the property of Luther Flurry and Jarmila Packard on Madison Avenue and the other being a minor subdivision to create two lots from a property on Alexander Avenue. Neither application was pursued; Flurry and Packard requested a postponement until March 13, and at the last minute, attorney Alan Trembulak said that a witness was unavailable for the Alexander Avenue application. That hearing was postponed until February 6.
Those applications out of the way for the time being, the Planning Board had only one significant order of business at hand – a vote on the resolution to approve the Vestry apartment building at the current site of Mount Carmel Holy Church on Bloomfield Avenue. But the vote was delayed when attorney Neal Zimmerman came before the board to ask for clarifications to the resolution.
BY Steven Maginnis | Wednesday, Dec 21, 2016 11:45am
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Montclair Township Council wrapped up its business for 2016 in just over an hour at its December 20 meeting. Twenty-four out of 25 resolutions were passed unanimously, along with three ordinances on second reading. The three ordinances in question, respectively, were fixed salary ranges for various township offices, created new offices and fixed salaries for those new offices, and refunded a township bond ordinance providing for the advance refunding of all or a potion of general improvement bonds and school bonds with an appropriation of $19 million. All three had been passed on first reading on November 29. Chief Financial Officer Padmaja Rao said that adoption of the bond ordinance does not mean that the township has to forward any funding but, rather, it will put it in a position so that if market conditions are favorable, they can act quickly and provide necessary funding. In an unrelated observation later in the meeting, Mayor Robert Jackson spoke of Montclair’s financial health, stating that the township’s debt was $179 million going into 2017, down from $183 million from a year earlier and down from $223 million when he and the council’s current members all took office in 2012. The mayor added that Montclair remains one of the few municipalities in New Jersey to have an AAA bond rating.
Also passed unanimously were two first-reading ordinances, one adopting a new zoning map and the other assigning construction code and sub-code enforcement duties to the Department of Community Services. Councilor-at-Large Robert Russo was especially supportive of the latter measure, calling it a good-government imitative aimed at making local government more responsive to township residents.
The Montclair Township Council
BY Steven Maginnis | Tuesday, Dec 20, 2016 9:00am
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The Montclair Planning Board spent its final meeting of 2016 on December 19 going over some resolutions and considering consultants for upcoming redevelopment projects. Planning Director Janice Talley and the board members present – Carole Willis and Stephen Rooney were absent. A consultant, Anthony Rodriquez of the engineering and design firm CME Associates, presented his services for the board’s consideration.
Anthony Rodriquez of CME Associates
Rodriquez said that CME Associates, whose initials stand for Consulting Municipal Engineers, works mostly with municipalities and not so much with developers, and has handled accounts all over New Jersey. He cited Red Bank as an example of CME’s work and how, in response to a query from Vice Chair Jason DeSalvo about how it ensures that redevelopment doesn’t undermine historic preservation, CME has tried to strike an appropriate balance in Red Bank. Rodriquez noted that Red bank feels under pressure from competing towns nearby while it loses businesses and deals with a dearth of parking. He said that CME has worked with the town to keep its historic character while seeking to expand its parking capabilities. Continue Reading
BY Steven Maginnis | Tuesday, Dec 13, 2016 9:00am
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The Montclair Board of Education received a long-awaited presentation on developing a world language program at its three-hour regular meeting on December 12. Jessica Lasusa, the district’s world-language consultant, gave an extensive overview that included a slide program, which is expected to be available on the district’s Web site on December 13.
World language consultant Jessica Lasusa
Lasusa explained that acquisition of a second language, applied linguistics, and ideas for teaching, should ideally blend into a seamless fashion in instructing world languages. But in reality only teaching ideas by themselves works in the classroom. She recommended a strategy for allotting time once or twice a year through grades K-8 for language articulation with a unified program between teachers in different schools at the same level of course, something teachers themselves told her was of primary importance. The collaborative effort would include proficiency targets and benchmark assessments to gauge student’s progress, along with professional development sessions for both teachers and administrators, and special emphasis on code-switching – alternating between English and another language with a single sentence – to help the students immerse themselves in the other language. Lasusa said that promoting culture, communications, comparisons, communities and connections to the world languages – the “5 Cs” – are more important than grammar in getting high school students up to fluency in said languages.
Lasusa said that everyone in the district has to work together to bring world languages into sync across the district, and that maximum exposure to other languages is the best way to success. She advocated emphasis on Spanish, French and Mandarin Chinese. She also said that the best way to build literacy in both English and other languages is to teach with a 50-50 ratio between English and the second language. Continue Reading
BY Steven Maginnis | Wednesday, Dec 07, 2016 9:06am
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December in Montclair usually means requests for community development block grants in the new year, and the Montclair Township Council spent the bulk of its December 6 conference meeting (Deputy Mayor/First Ward Councilor William Hurlock was absent) going over funding requests from various groups that do all sorts of community service in town. Planning Director Janice Talley, as per custom, hosted the groups filing for requests for community development block grant (CDBG) funding for 2017.
Montclair Planning Director Janice Talley presents the 2017 community development block grant applications to the Montclair Township Council.
Talley said she has not heard from Congress regarding what the allocation for Montclair would be for 2017, but she was told to assume the funding would be comparable to 2016, or about $320,000. Eight groups have filed requests for funding totaling $246,700 in all. Mayor Robert Jackson and the councilors will rank the requests to determine how the money gets allocated. Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville and Director Talley will serve as the Montclair’s representatives to the Essex County CDBG office to present the township’s recommendations.
Sue Seidenfeld of the COPE Center went first, requesting $40,000, double the group’s 2016 amount. The group expects to use the grant money to support its counseling and outreach services, administering to 440 Montclair residents. Seidenfeld talked about how COPE was seeing a spike in opioid abuse among the people it has been trying to help, and how it has come to rival alcohol abuse as a primary addiction. She says her group is seeing so many severe cases that their doctor has been authorized to prescribe Suboxone, which is used to treat opioid addiction. She said that COPE had received funding from the United Way, but that had been cut.
Marcia Marley of Succeed2gether asked for 20,000 for her group, the same amount as in 2016. Succeed2gether is a group fostering academic excellence among lower-income children and expects to use the grant money to support staff salaries and consultant expenses and also manage the increase in enrollment and student volunteers. She said the group is interested in pursuing places for 60 to 80 children for tutoring over the summer and reaching out to parents with workshops on things from navigating college to helping their children write. Marley said she promotes the group through flyers and the school system’s electronic backpacks, and she hopes to sponsor a literary festival in April 2017.
The Interfaith Hospitality Alliance was represented by Emma Justice, who requested $32,500 to continue her group’s work in finding emergency shelter and permanent housing for homeless families while counseling them on their problems and helping them toward financial and personal independence. In its shelter program, the Interfaith Hospitality Alliance provided shelter and support services to 18 families and 58 individuals, the majority of them under the age of 18 in 2016. Some 29 children participated in the group‘s after-school program. Continue Reading
BY Steven Maginnis | Tuesday, Dec 06, 2016 10:00am
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The Montclair Planning Board heard two applications at its December 5 meeting that are to be subject to review by the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC). One got approved, while the other, a previously approved application, was substantially revised – and led to a chaotic hearing. Attorney Neal Zimmerman represented both applicants.
The first application was the Vestry apartment building planned for Bloomfield Avenue next to the Montclarion II building that is scheduled to be completed in early 2017. The developer, David Genova, had reviewed the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) requirements since the board’s review of his application on November 7, and concluded that he did not need a deviation for silver certification. The testimony on the project came from architect Paul Sionas, who made more revisions to his plan.
Sionas’s changes include, among other features, added street trees, double front doors, reduced-size lettering on the sign up front, and a second floor terrace to cover the ground-level bicycle garage, with partitions in the terrace for each adjoining apartment. Sionas also included balconies for upper-floor apartments, and he modified the parking. He had a wall on the western side of the building slightly moved to accommodate for bigger spaces and he proposed a different striping pattern to provide space in the column areas. Sionas and Genova also assured the board that any tenant who requested designated parking, should the available parking spaces on-site be unavailable, would get an overnight space at the Bay Street Station parking deck. Continue Reading
BY Steven Maginnis | Monday, Dec 05, 2016 10:15am
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Members of the Montclair Arts Advisory Council (MAAC) held a forum on December 4 at the Montclair Fire Department on Pine Street to go over strategies and plans to promote the arts in the township. The group, chaired by theater director Elaine Molinaro, looked back at past efforts and looked ahead in the context of the planned arts direction around Seymour Street. Councilors Robert Russo (At-Large) and Renée Baskerville (Fourth Ward) were also in attendance.
Montclair Arts Advisory Council chair Elaine Molinaro at the December 4 arts forum
Retired teacher Jim Price and jazz musician Bruce Tyler led off the discussion with a look at previous efforts to promote the arts in Montclair. Price noted that the old Montclair Arts Council, disbanded by the township in 2010 for budgetary reasons, had created a plan in 2001 to, among other things, create a sculpture garden in Crane Park, feature music and stage performances in a newly refurbished auditorium at Montclair High School, provide live music at the Montclair Art Museum, and easy access to the arts on the town’s Web site, among other proposals. Tyler admitted most of these proposals didn’t work out, but that some progress was made by showing arts programming on TV34 and providing a Web site, Destination Montclair, for arts information. But many of the forward steps were countered by backward ones; Destination Montclair went offline due to staffing problems, and a similar staff shortage has left TV34 a shadow of its former self, with the post of a managing director left vacant and a lack of full-time staffers. Tyler said it was imperative to restart these efforts because of the economic benefits that arts information can provide, such as attracting more people by providing a calendar of events and offering listings for jobs and auditions. Continue Reading
BY Steven Maginnis | Friday, Dec 02, 2016 9:00am
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Loss of diversity, housing costs, gentrification and policing concerns were raised at an intergenerational community conversation on race, culture, and class Thursday night, presented by the Montclair NAACP and the First Congregational Church of Montclair.
Montclair NAACP Second Vice President James Harris and the Rev. Ann Ralosky officiated the discussion, the first in series, and were joined by a panel offering their opinions on housing and gentrification. The Reverend Ann, as Ralosky is known in the community, said she did not want anyone to pass judgment on other people’s statements; instead, she wanted people to replace judgment with wonder, as in wondering about the basis of the other person’s opinions. She felt that this would be the best way to foster discussion on the issues facing a changing Montclair.
James Harris of the Montclair NAACP at the intergenerational forum on race, class and culture.
The panel’s participants discussed the high cost of living in town and the state of law enforcement in America, with housing and gentrification the focus of the former topic. Matthew Donegan and his daughter Kayla noted that prices for goods ads well as housing were making living in Montclair out of reach for many families, and the elder Donegan said that the higher cost of housing made it harder for longtime residents to stay in town, a town where even renting an apartment has become difficult. An estimated 40 percent of Montclair residents live in rental housing.
Two onetime Montclair residents who both live in major cities – New York and Philadelphia – agreed. John Rogers, an associate pastor with First Congregational, said he would love to live in Montclair again but has had to reverse-commute from New York City instead of living in town, a situation current Philadelphia resident Naima Tryman said was absurd. What was more distressing, Tryman said, was the upscale trend of Montclair’s retail sector, citing the fancier stores along South Park Street and even in the South End, a historically black section of town now attracting more upscale and mostly white residents. Continue Reading