Community Development Director Glenn Domenick explained that the property was included in the township’s original plan to redevelop the area around the train station, but the development “digressed.” (The owners, 110 Washington Street Associates, fought the township’s efforts to take the property by eminent domain and were ultimately able to get the property removed from the development area). The owners then planned to redevelop the property on their own. However, Domenick said, there were various hold-ups, and the owners eventually filed a lawsuit against the town, which was settled in 2011 in Bloomfield’s favor.
Since that time, Domenick said he has been working with the minority owners of 110 Washington Street Associates to move ahead with the development, which was initially approved by the Planning Board for 151 units. Originally the plan was for condominiums, but Domenick said after the meeting that banks are not loaning money for condos, and the units would be apartments.
Domenick explained that the minority partners plan to buy out the majority partner of the firm once a revised application is approved by the Planning Board. The original 151-unit plan included some 3-bedroom apartments. The revised plan will eliminate 3-bedroom apartments and include more units but fewer bedrooms. The mayor and council voted unanimously to approve the developer’s agreement.
Proposed Environmental Commission Ordinance
At the beginning of the meeting, Kerry Miller, Assistant Director at ANJEC (Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions) presented information about environmental commissions. She explained that New Jersey passed enabling legislation in 1968 (NJSA 40:56A) that gave communities the ability to create local commissions that oversee environmental resources and open space. She said that commissions include five to seven members appointed by the mayor, who serve staggered three-year terms. Alternates, who vote if one or more regular members are absent, serve two year terms. Environmental commissions serve in an advisory capacity.
Commissions need a modest budget that covers training sessions, memberships, and administrative costs, as well as funding for special projects. They are subject to the requirements of the Open Public Meetings Act, and must provide an annual report and records to the governing body and create an environmental resource inventory.
Miller said ANJEC provides resources to environmental commissions, including an annual commissioners’ training course, workshops, webinars, publications, and grant opportunities.
She said that commissions have flexibility in their responsibilities, which can include energy-related issues, sustainable communities, recycling programs, cleanups, education, stream bank restoration, and more.
Councilman Carlos Pomares said that some of these tasks are already being done by existing township committees and organizations, such as the Recycling Committee and Greener Bloomfield. He said he is most interested in forming an environmental commission that would work closely with the Planning and Zoning Boards to oversee redevelopment projects. He said he and Nick Joanow would work together to craft an environmental commission ordinance, making sure that the commission’s responsibilities would not overlap with other organizations’ missions.
Ron Simoncini, representing the Bloomfield Property Owners, spoke about possible drawbacks to passing a rent control ordinance. He said the ordinance Bloomfield is considering is similar to one passed in Newark, which caused unintended problems and had to be revised. He said he had provided a large amount of information to Glenn Domenick at a recent meeting discussing the proposed rent control ordinance.
Trish Comstock, President of the Bloomfield Tenants Organization (BTO), said that tenants had “suffered a classic betrayal” by members of the governing body who had promised to implement rent control prior to the previous election. She also said there had been a “lack of transparency” and that the tenants organization was not represented at the recent meeting with Glenn Domenick.
Jane Califf spoke in support of the tenants organization, and said that Glenn Domenick, who does work for Forest Hill Properties in Bloomfield, has a conflict of interest and should not be facilitating the negotiations on rent control.
Mayor Venezia said that Kevin Lindahl, Vice President of the BTO, had been invited to the meeting with Domenick and Simoncini, and there was a mixup that resulted in Trish Comstock being left out. He said there had only been one meeting to date, and promised that any future meetings would include the tenants organization.
Councilman Joe Lopez asked for an update on Felton Field, which has been closed to the public due to contamination since 2012. Township Engineer Paul Lasek said that the engineering firm Remington and Vernick had completed all additional testing that had been recommended. They took 30 soil samples, and found that the lead and PCBs are “fully limited” to the areas which have been already closed off. The Licensed Site Remediation Professional (LSRP) is now working on a remedial action plan, and a draft is expected in two weeks.
Lopez also brought up the contamination at the Department of Public Works building on Grove Street. He questioned whether township workers are being exposed to dangerous contaminants. DPW Director Anthony Nesto said that the workers weren’t supposed to be going into the buildings, and that to his knowledge no one had developed any illnesses as a result of any exposure to the site. He acknowledged he had learned that some workers had been parking trucks inside the building, and he said that he would put an end to that.
The township has been looking for a new site for the DPW operations for years, but previous locations that were identified did not pan out. The developers of the Hartz Mountain site have agreed to allot two acres to the township which can be used for a new DPW depot. Nesto said that they could easily put trailers and a hangar to protect the DPW vehicles on the property once the site is improved and available to them.
Good Neighbor Act
The council voted to move ahead with an ordinance proposed by Councilman Joanow to hold owners of rental properties responsible for any “egregious” behavior on the part of their tenants. Landlords would be required to post a bond to cover township expenses if their tenants were involved in two major incidents that required the police or other township responders to be called to the site. Councilwoman Davis questioned whether landlords would be notified after the first incident so they would be aware of the problem. Joanow agreed they should be notified and this will be incorporated into the ordinance. The final vote was 6-0, with Councilman Pomares abstaining.
The council voted unanimously to create “Welcome to Bloomfield” signage at the north, south, east and west borders of Bloomfield and at the Parkway egresses. Nine-year-old Nick Polidoro, Jr. spoke during public comment to urge the council to put up the signs.
The council also voted to repeal the left turn prohibition at Bloomfield and Glenwood Avenues. The town will work with the county to determine whether a left-turn arrow should be added at the light until the whole intersection is revamped as part of the Six Points Project.
Felicity Tower is in the process of refinancing their mortgage and requested that the council pass a resolution confirming the continuation of their original 50-year PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes), which is set to run until 2021. The resolution passed unanimously. Ron Jampel, the financial consultant to the Felicity board, said that they are working with HUD to obtain subsidies through Section 8 for the majority of the tenants. He said the ultimate goal is for no tenant to pay more than 30% of their income for rent.
The council voted unanimously to approve the purchase of Lawsoft CAD software to enable the Police Department to effectively manage its operations. Acting Director DeMaio said that the current software is hopelessly outdated.
The next meeting will be a regular meeting, to be held on Wednesday, November 5, at 7 p.m. at Watsessing School.