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.
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.