Montclair Township Council Considers Parking . . . Again

Montclair Mayor Robert Jackson (right) and  First Ward Councilor William Hurlock at the January 27 Montclair Township Council meeting
Montclair Mayor Robert Jackson (right) and First Ward Councilor William Hurlock at the January 27 Montclair Township Council meeting

The Montclair Township Council conference meeting on January 27 was relatively informal, as indicated by the casual-Friday look sported by Mayor Robert Jackson and a few other council members, likely because of the snow. Its small agenda was made even smaller due to the postponement of two first-reading ordinances and five resolutions to be voted on during the meeting.  But there was still plenty to talk about, as evidenced by the game of whack-a-mole that is setting street parking rules.

Residents of Oxford Street, learning that residents of nearby Cambridge Road had gotten the council to consider an ordinance limiting parking on Cambridge Road to two hours, appeared before the council to express dismay over the proposal in light of the fact that Oxford Street residents had asked for two-hour parking limits but had had to accept four-hour limits instead because of the recommendations of the Traffic and Parking Advisory Committee (TPAC). That ordinance, in fact, was one of the postponed measures originally on the night’s agenda.

Resident Kate Lemmer said that employees of nearby businesses on Grove Street have been parking their cars on Oxford Street for four hours have been moving their cars from one space to another, just as Cambridge Road residents have noted about parking on their own street. Lemmer was afraid that the problem on Oxford  Street would be exacerbated if Cambridge Road got two-hour limits, and she her neighbors wanted the council to reconsider their request for Oxford Street to have the same limit.

“We have a serious issue with parking.  We had a tractor-trailer park on our block for four days,” resident Ernest Smith said. “It’s become so bad, with pulling in and out of our driveways, and . . . [for] just the general public to walk across the street.” He said that their property values were being decreased and that the street was becoming more  unsafe for children.  Smith also said that people who complain about the parking tend more often to be people from out of the neighborhood than from in it.

Oxford Street resident Ernest Smith makes a point about parking on his street while Township Attorney Ira Karasick (left) listens.
Oxford Street resident Ernest Smith makes a point about parking on his street while Township Attorney Ira Karasick (left) listens.

Mayor Jackson said he’d understood the problem with parking near the Walnut Street train station to be caused more by commuters than by local employees, and Deputy Mayor Robert Russo said the council never intended to encourage parking on one street by limiting it on another. Councilor-at-Large Rich McMahon said the two-hour limit for Cambridge Road was conditional, and subject to change. He believed that both streets should have four-hour limits, intended to allow longer parking for residents, just to be consistent. The mayor then brought up the issue of employee parking in the area, which he noted included employees of the Deron School, and reminded the council that they still had to park somewhere.

“They’re going to go somewhere else, and then someone else is going to complain,” Smith said. “It’s going to be domino effect. Unless the owners of these business or the school  provides parking for these individuals, it’s always going to be a problem.”

Making more spaces available behind the Grove Street lots was discussed as one possibility. As for street parking, the overlying issue was the ongoing need for a comprehensive parking policy for all of Montclair, for which the township seeks to hire a consultant. A request for proposal for such a consultant has not been sent out yet. Councilor McMahon vehemently defended the TPAC for trying to set consistent parking rules township-wide, and he proposed a moratorium on any further residents’ petitions requesting changes in parking hours, except for those already pending, leaving only the police and departments free to request them in the future for safety reasons.

First Ward Councilor William Hurlock was opposed to this. He argued that residents had the right to petition for relief from parking rules that adversely affected their neighborhoods, citing numerous complaints he’d received from residents around Bellevue Avenue near Valley Road. There were no votes taken on changing any parking rules, but Township Attorney Ira Karasick said the postponed parking ordinance could be amended as necessary regarding both streets (Cambridge Road and Oxford Street) being discussed.

Later in the meeting, Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville said that the new parking management system at the Bay Street deck, though successful, has not provided for validated parking at the deck for public meetings at the fire headquarters, the Montclair Pedestrian Safety Committee meeting on January 13 being the latest example. Acting Township Manager Timothy Stafford said he would look into the matter.

Also, resident Carol Schlein told the council that she refinanced her mortgage at the end of 2013, with the mortgage and the title company both paying her fourth-quarter taxes.  She said she was unaware of this at a time, only learning of it later, and that she didn’t get a notification of this from the town or get a credit for her 2014 taxes.  Schlein noted that notices are issued for what is owed but not for credits, and she added she was told that she was not entitled to interest. Ironically, a resolution fixing a rate of interest to be charged on delinquent taxes of assessments (which was later passed).

Karasick said overpayments are paid forward on future taxes, and that refunds are given only in cases of appeals. He said she should have gotten a credit which would be applied to the next quarter.

“That money should have been credited forward. We have no ability to play around with interest,” he explained to her. “We’re not allowed [to] by statute; the tax law statutes are very strict.”

Schlein said that the two companies that might have been notified that the taxes were paid, but she should have been notified of the double payment for 2013 so she could have applied it to 2014. Karasick said he could have the a transcript her account pulled to determine the status of her overpayment.

The council also passed as resolution opposing the de-listing of the Upper Montclair railway station from the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places.  Stafford also had to deal with Dr. Baskerville’s inquiry about a plan to have Bloomfield’s animal shelter take in some of the Montclair shelter’s animals.  Stafford assured her that no such plan was being considered.
 

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10 COMMENTS

  1. Such a warm, fuzzy sense of community I get when I read about people who complain about people parking on “their” street. #firstworldproblems

  2. Since you are not a property owner, you wouldn’t know that property owners have to maintain the right of way adjacent to the actual roadway. The Mayor has said that moving to Chatham is an option for you.

  3. Were the stores and train station not there when people bought their homes? B/c I’m pretty sure having close access to them was probably a reason why they bought their homes. At the same time, it shouldn’t have been a “surprise” that others would end up parking there for the same reason. It would be a different story if there had been time limits on parking that were suddenly taken away.

    Putting further restrictions on parking in town isn’t solving the problem, it’s adding to it.

  4. I totally agree with you that restrictions are not solving the problem. That is while I wholeheartedly support Councilor McMahon’s recommendation to place a moratorium on changes until the township starts conducting long overdue parking studies by TOD – like Walnut St.

    I also agree that multifamily zones have traditionally lacked appropriate parking and people’s expectations that move into these zones should not be the same as R-1 zones. Further, no property owner has a guarantee at purchase that the township will maintain current zoning. So, your point is valid. But, parking problems worsen because of other factors such as change in density, use and type. Two examples are the Deron School and the new Plofker development. Also, changes in density and use in surrounding towns also affect demand for the Walnut Street Station lots. I think the township does have an obligation to explain to residents that the future vision is to fully utilize (24 hr) on-street parking in the ¼ or ½ mile radius of TOD zones.

    This is the fundamental problem with the Land Use & Circulation draft to advocate much higher densities around the train stations without quantifying the baseline conditions. I know the PB theory is to just build parking decks because surface parking is a deleterious land use. Unfortunately, deck parking costs about $25,000/space. So, we need a developer to build them and the developer will want more density to pay for it. Either way we will have more traffic, so we need more traffic signals at $200,000 a pop. People do need to understand all of this is a fundamental result of more density.

  5. Seems to me that trying to stuff 10 pounds of density into a 5 pound bag is one of the major causes.

    My house is within the Walnut TOD. When we bought the house many years ago, the train station didn’t have nearly the same appeal because it was not Midtown Direct. The business area was kind of struggling, and the extent of traffic was at the end of the month when the DMV line went around the block. Now the area has become a thriving hub of activity which certainly has its merits!

    While I am fortunate enough to have a driveway, many of my neighbors do not and it can be a problem. However, even with all the benefits of the various improvements, I didn’t buy the house with the expectation that someday my tiny street would end up being an all-day parking lot for area business and train riders.

    If I wanted to take the PATH to work, I would not expect to drive to Harrison, park my call all day on the street somewhere for free, and then hop on the train, but that seems to be what’s happening here. People are frequently parked in ill-advised manner, jeopardizing the safety of their own car, ignoring the No Parking signage and obscuring sightlines … and many times, they’ve blocked my driveway even before the new 2-foot setback rule was passed. At this point I am tired of being unable to get in and out of my driveway without breaking into a sweat.

    And what is the benefit to us as a town, to allow people from perhaps other towns to park all day and take the train? Are we hoping that once they get off the train they’ll stop for a bite or a beer? Buy the newspaper in the morning?

    I wholeheartedly agree that a town-wide study must be done. The unintended effect of the parking restrictions on Oxford has made Cambridge almost impassable. Trying to navigate any part of Forest Street when cars are parked on both sides is nerve wracking. Now that there’s snow at the edge of the roadway, it has been down to one lane only especially up by the Co-op school, and that’s just a joy to get through when the school bus is heading right toward you.

    I would suggest the town take a realistic look at everything, including future growth, and consider making some of our more narrow roads parking on one-side only. In my humble opinion, having to dart aside between parked cars to allow another car to pass creates angst among drivers and, speaking for myself at least, having clearer paths around town would decrease driver aggravation and maybe, just maybe… even make people more considerate (gasp!).

    Just my 2 cents.

  6. There are some very good discussions and ideas in this thread. All good statements and thinking behind the ideas. All of that said what keeps coming back to me and as I have said in many other posts, our town has not done its due diligence work in their desire for more people to live in town. No studies such as the parking issue that is talked about here, no traffic studies on the affect more residents have on our streets,not water consumption studies, no studies done on our infrastructure. In my opinion if you want to have more apartments, more rateables and more people, then you should understand exactly what the true cost of all of that is. Developers are too quick to jump into the pond without understanding exactly what that implies.

  7. I feel one way to solve the problem is for Montclair, in coordination with other towns (i.e. Verona, Cedar Grove) to offer a jitney service. Surely this would be cheaper than building another garage and then it would help clear up spots at stations already packed. Seems like a win for all, no?

  8. Yes, it is the future that we need East/West public transportation options if the PB wants our Neighborhood Commercial zones to be more “regional” commercial centers.

    That is, in fact, one the the two planks underlying the current parking management philosophy to increase capacity (as it is a zero-sum exercise of actual physical spaces) at the point of the cycle we are in.

    One is to rely on increased utilization of existing spaces. The other is to lower the mandated parking requirements by waiver, rezoning/zoning overlays – or just allow more congestion to force new public transportation – all in pursuit of the elusive best & highest land use to maximize economic return. AKA, gentrification.

    So, we attempt to maintain a certain parking equilibrium to balance between economic growth and soft issues like quality of life, diversity, etc. Even as we add spurts of new capacity via parking decks, the capacity increase just serves to start a new cycle of balancing.

    My beliefs fall on the side of more organic growth from the private sector with some government help in very narrowly targeted, stagnant parcels. In the current vision, the potential rate/scope of commercial zoned growth, the lack of understanding of our current environment, and the over reliance of artificial government stimulus to change what many residents & business owners feel is working better than it isn’t.

    I never played it, but it sounds a little like playing the game SimCity.

  9. PS: 45% of the almost 700 public parking spaces in the Upper Mtc Village/TOD area are on-street parking spaces. I would guess that Montclair will pursue a higher utilization/maximization of these low-cost spaces for their TOD strategy before it pursues building parking decks. I have no doubt the new Parking Utility will be in lock-step with this approach.

  10. Wholeheartedly agree with claremont, Frank and Kay about the role that density plays in all this. Putting up huge apartment buildings without consideration of how the increased population will affect parking, traffic, water, sewage, pollution, schools, aesthetics, and general quality of life is not a good thing for our town. Letting developers run amok is an abrogation of the responsibility that this town owes to its residents.

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