The Montclair Township Council’s February 3 meeting reminded one of the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day. It was a conference meeting like the week before, it followed a Monday snowstorm like the week before, and it saw the snow issue come up like the week before . . . the day after Groundhog Day.
The big news of the meetings though, was Montclair Public Library director David Hinkley’s presentation for expanding services at the Main Library branch and constructing a new addition to the Bellevue Avenue Branch. The entire project is expected to cost $1.6 million, with a 50-50 split between public private funding. The cost of building an addition to the Bellevue Avenue branch would be $695,000, $485,000 of which would go to general construction, site work and furnishings and the rest to design services and miscellaneous costs.
The main library would get phased-in improvements to the existing facilities, working in part with MDA Designgroup of Brooklyn. Some improvements are already being made, such as a self-check-out system for library patrons (which was privately funded), which should be operational in a couple of weeks. Hinkley also hopes to expand meeting spaces for major events and for the Adult School of Montclair, which is now in residence at the library. The second floor is slated to get extra classroom space and “virtual office space” for telecommuters who work outside the home, along with enclosed tutoring spaces and a special space for Montclair authors and self-published writers, while the third floor will see more program space for children and a Young Adult Service Area, with the Senior Space going to the current Young Adult room.
The most ambitious project is the Bellevue Avenue library expansion, with a new wing on the northern side of the building facing the rear. It would feature an upper level and a sunken lower level, with a grade-level entrance in between that would be accessed from Norwood Avenue. The most important feature is an elevator connecting the levels and allowing the disabled to access the entire lobby more easily. The new wing would feature a room for special programs at the lower level and a meeting room in the upper one. Construction would begin in 2016.
Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville recalled a proposal for the Montclair Public Library to use facilities at Montclair State University and make the university more a part of the community, and she suggested that the Bellevue Avenue Library could add an elevator without a large addition. First Ward Councilor William Hurlock and Councilor-at-Large (and First Ward resident)Rich Mahon said that the Bellevue Avenue plans addressed the need for more public space in the center of Upper Montclair. Hinkley said that the cost of the elevator was such that the cost of the additional 2,000 square feet proposed age was comparatively low.
Third Ward Councilor Sean Spiller asked about the process for fundraising. Hinkley said that he was forming a steering committee to draw community donations and seek grant money for the project, adding that he thought he would be successful in getting half the necessary 1.6 million of more through this process.
Hackensack UMC Mountainside Hospital Expansion
Montclair Planning Director Janice Talley also reported to the council on the redevelopment study for Hackensack UMC Mountainside Hospital’s expansion plans, saying that Montclair and Glen Ridge had jointly issued a request for proposal for a consultant to conduct the study. The two responses they got came in $20,500 $32,500, with Talley recommending the lesser bid due to the similarities between them. Montclair and Glen Ridge are to share the costs. Talley also addressed the need to amend a telecommunications ordinance to allow antennas on a property in the Eastern Gateway redevelopment area to have antennas on its roof, which the zoning board had looked at. The way ordinance was worded, Talley said, properties in redevelopment areas were excluded from being allowed to have antennas, which she said was not the intention. Mayor Robert Jackson and Dr. Baskerville were afraid that amending the ordinance would give carte blanche to developers to put up antennas, but Talley insisted they would be allowed only conditionally. Township Attorney Ira Karasick said he wanted to look into it further.
Other issues were discussed. Township Engineer Kim Craft went over strategies necessary to mitigate floods and storm damages as part of the Essex County Hazard Mitigation Plan, which includes strategies to improve drainages systems, obtain backup power generators for widespread blackouts, and reduce flooding risks along Toney’s Brook. Township Attorney Karasick addressed the issue of a hotel occupancy tax for the coming MC Hotel. He said that the state permitted municipalities to charge a three percent tax on occupied hotel rooms, and he hoped to draft an ordinance to cover the new hotel to be built in 2016 for consideration by the council.
The snow issue was first raised by resident William Scott, who complained about the catch-22 of snowplows dumping snow on the sidewalks that residents were trying to remove without dumping it on the streets, which is not allowed. But Deputy Mayor Robert Russo complained toward the end of the meeting about a news report by Ilana Gold of WCBS-TV, which he said insinuated that the township’s road salt supply was running low. Mayor Jackson had spoken to Gold at the high school and he explained to her that Montclair and 350 to 400 tons on salt, with another 1,100 tons on order. He added that, though there was an issue with the lack of trucking capacity to get it delivered, there was no problem with having enough salt on hand. Deputy Mayor Russo said that Gold’s report seemed to suggest otherwise and led to angry calls from constituents. Mayor Jackson said he has not seen the televised report.
Without mentioning climate change as a factor, the mayor noted that daytime temperatures don’t rise above freezing after a snowstorm like in the past, and so most of the snow and ice stay around longer.