The Montclair Township Council dealt once again with redevelopment and taxation in its February 18 conference meeting, but with rock salt supplies and patience wearing thin in Montclair after so many snowstorms, Township Manager Marc Dashield treated the situation like the emergency it was, with Director of Community Services (DCS) Director Steve Wood and Parks and Public Works Superintendent Rob Bianco in attendance. The township has ten tons of salt left, which Wood dismissed as being tantamount to having “nothing.”
“We’re still in the same predicament, ” Dashield told Mayor Robert Jackson and the council members. “We have nothing left to account for.”
Dashield and Wood told the council that, with the streets getting narrower, parking would continues to be temporarily prohibited on side streets. The DCS was preparing to remove the snow with loaders and heavy trucks from streets, prioritizing streets with schools, business districts, heavily traveled roadways, and whatever other streets can be done. The work would be done at night to avoid inconveniences. Dashield also said he contacted Essex County, which is going to look at Bloomfield Avenue and Valley Road to widen the paths through the snow.
“We’re going to be interrupted by cleaning catch basins first,” said Bianco, “probably, depending on the amount of melt and rain we’re anticipating to get between now and the weekend.” Bianco said that melting machines were being looked into, and Mayor Jackson said he hoped to look into the possibility of the county handling that process.
Wood said the township has 750 tons of salt on order and that he has been told by separate companies that salt might be delivered by the end of the week, but Wood could not promise that any salt would arrive. “It’s a shell game,” he said of the delivery process, adding that DCS’s attempts to handle snowstorms with low salt supplies was comparable to fighting fire without water.
Later, Dashield went over a proposed measure to amend Montclair’s snow removal ordinance, which would allow the township to hire with a contractor remove from sidewalks snow and ice that has not yet been removed from a sidewalk twelve hours after daylight. Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville suggested that homeowners be cut some slack in situations in which homeowners have had trouble complying with the law for the simple fact that the township has continued to struggle with snow removal this winter.
At the conference meeting, Planning Director Janice Talley also reviewed a resolution up for a vote on March 4 to allow the Planning Board to study properties along Seymour Street, Glenridge Avenue and the Lackawanna Plaza area as areas in need of redevelopment, along with parking lots near the Wellmont Theater and the lot across from the library. The Planning Board would send out a request for proposal to have the area studied. The property owners would be consulted. Some of the properties had been designated as an area that needed redevelopment in 2002, and Talley wants to look at them again to see if any of them meet the criteria for redevelopment after twelve years.
Dr. Baskerville asked Talley what was driving Talley to look at these specific properties.
“Certainly, there’s interest in developing these properties,” Talley explained, “partnered with the township’s potential acquisition of the Social Security building. It’s in our best interest to take a look at it and develop a plan.” She added that areas along Glenridge Avenue and Lackawanna Plaza needed to be given a closer look, along with a strategy to develop Glenridge Avenue in particular and make it more attractive to potential businesses. Mayor Jackson recalled that there had been a plan for Glenridge Avenue, which Talley said was never adopted.
Assisted Living Facility Fight
Dick Grabowsky, Hinck Building owner, and his lawsuit against Fountain Square’s development of an assisted living facility (ALF) on the Hahne’s parking lot at Church Street prompted Fountain Square’s Harley Cook to address the council in public comment. Grabowsky has appealed the case to the state Supreme Court, and Cook fears that it could take up to three years for the case to be decided before construction can begin, costing the township $9.5 million in lost revenues, while a victory for Grabowsky could force a ten-year delay may cost the township $43 million.
“I think it’s not a surprise to you that he and I have different dreams,” Cook said of Grabowsky. Cook’s dream — a dream of providing shelter for assisted-living patients and creating 100 jobs — is ready to go, with submissions for building permits and financing being finalized.
Township Attorney Ira Karasick said that the issue is whether former Mayor Jerry Fried and former Third Ward Councilor Nick Lewis should have recused themselves from the original ALF approval because their membership in the Unitarian church next door suggested a conflict of interest, as some of the new residents next door would theoretically join their church. A Grabowsky win in the state Supreme Court wouldn’t ban an ALF development; rather, it would make Montclair have to go through the approval process again. The council could theoretically do so in advance, rendering a Supreme Court decision moot, and Mayor Jackson told Cook he would respond to him by the end of the month.
Montclair Tax Assessor Joan Koziensky addressed the council on the tax assessment issues discussed a week earlier. She explained that a compliance plan was being considered in place of revaluations and assessments. A compliance plan would compare assessments to the home sales of the year before the last assessments and also take into account the year of the previous revaluation as the base year. All values placed on properties would be as of October 1 of the pretax year for the tax year that follows. Koziensky said that this would produce a fair system of property taxes that would take into account differences between neighborhoods and the degree of economic activity. A compliance plan would also be done in-house and save money for hiring outside firms to assess properties and determine their market values.
Dashield also announced that the 2014 budget will be introduced on March 18, with budget hearings to begin in April.