Updated with additional quotes regarding 25 mph issue from Councilor Baskerville.
Pomp and ceremony reigned at the Montclair Township Council’s first regular meeting of 2017. The January 24 session began with a celebration of the beginning of the “sister city” relationship between Montclair and Aquilonia, Italy, the resolution for which having been passed unanimously by the council as its first order of business for the night. Mayor Robert Jackson addressed the audience that gathered for the ceremony and noted that the township’s Italian-American population has long been a bedrock of the community. Mayor Jackson said he was pleased to be able to formalize its role in town by commencing this bond with Aquilonia.
Councilor-at-Large and former mayor Robert Russo did the honors by reading the official proclamation, which was followed by some words from Montclair resident Raffaele Marzullo, who spearheaded the effort to make Aquilonia a sister city and first presented the idea before the council in November. Marzullo, who is originally from Aquilonia, said he was grateful to the council for their support. He also said he would continue to lead the fight to save the Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish church, noting that the once-solidly Italian neighborhood around the church has become more diverse but that the parish remains a pillar of support for immigrants and people in need. Marzullo is a member of the church committee.
“We need for the church to continue to serve and aid parishioners who are so devoted to the church,” Marzullo said, “and the time has come to reverse the winds of change.” He has invited Cardinal Joseph Tobin, the new archbishop of Newark, to visit Our Lady of Mount Carmel to see the work it does for the community, and he asked Mayor Jackson to request a meeting with the archbishop to welcome him and explain the importance of the parish.
Mayor Jackson was then joined by Marzullo in signing the documents formalizing the sister-city relationship between Aquilonia and Montclair. Marzullo signed for Aquilonia Mayor Giancarlo DeVito. The mayor and council have been invited to visit Aquilonia sometime in June, and Aquilonia officials hope to visit Montclair in the fall.
Differing Opinions About Townwide 25-mph Speed Limit
Ordinances for first reading designating a house on Walnut Crescent an historic landmark and extending the term of the Business Improvement District passed unanimously without discussion, but two ordinances setting a township-wide speed limit at 25 miles an hour unexpectedly hit a snag. Councilor Russo expressed concern, based on complaints from residents, that lowering the speed limit on some of the streets affected wouldn’t necessarily help. He cited as an example the portion of Bloomfield Avenue between Prospect Avenue and the Verona line, which he said needed a 35-mph speed limit for westbound traffic to successfully climb to the top of the hill before entering Verona.
Other council members weighed in against the twin ordinances. Third Ward Councilor Sean Spiller insisted it would be more effective to repaint the lines designating the lanes and shoulders to calm traffic. He said he didn’t see any evidence that a lower speed limit necessarily encouraged slower traffic. Councilor-at-Large Rich McMahon said that speeds are set on specific streets for equally specific reasons, and he felt the streets with 35-mph speeds were given appropriate limits for their long, straight trajectories. Deputy Mayor/First Ward Councilor William Hurlock said enforcement of existing speed limits would be more effective in controlling traffic. But Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager countered that a uniform 25-mph speed limit for the entire township would make walking safer, and she noted that accidents occurring at 25-mph speeds caused less severe injuries than those occurring at 35-mph speeds.
Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville said that she had attended most of the meetings community groups have had about the issue, and she said she was very comfortable with the idea of pursuing a 25-mph speed limit throughout the township. “I think that we’re not doing it isolation,” she said. “We’re talking about doing that in conjunction with other things, whether it’s bumpouts, whether it’s flashing signs, and, definitely, we talked about the need for enforcement.” She said that when she learned that there were two officers to handled speeding traffic, one for north-south routes and the other for east-west routes, she decided it would be prudent to add more manpower to the police department’s traffic division so that the speeding laws can be better enforced. Dr. Baskerville said that there will always be people who break the speeding law, no matter what the limit, but she also said that would not dissuade her from supporting a 25-mph town-wide limit. She agreed with Councilor Schlager that a lower speed limit would render accidents less severe.
Mayor Jackson suggested tabling both ordinances for further consideration, noting that the council didn’t have the four votes to pass it, but he added there are only two streets where anyone can go 35 miles an hour at any appreciable distance – Upper Mountain Avenue between Bloomfield and Watchung Avenues and all of Grove Street. He said residents and commuters were fearful of the speeds on those two streets and asked for action. Mayor Jackson thought it was not ridiculous to try to lower the speeds there and see if it works in calming traffic, and he added that 91 percent of the township’s streets already have a 25-mph speed limit. The ordinances were tabled, 6-1, with only Councilor Schlager dissenting.
A pending ordinance assigning construction code and sub-code enforcement duties to the Department of Community Services (DCS) caught the attention – and the concern – of resident Audrey Hawley, who asked why the township was looking to do this. Mayor Jackson said it was to make code enforcement more efficient and more responsive to residents. Mrs. Hawley countered that during the last building boom in town, in the 1980s, the construction code was staffed with full-time workers but now have only part-time employees in a similar building boom. She said that part-time employees don’t have time to be as productive as the full-time employees had been, and she asked if anyone has looked into the code department to see what was going on. She said she was also afraid that DCS’s takeover of the code office would endanger their autonomy, and that no one in DCS would be aware of any of the code enforcement regulations that apply. Acting Township Manger Tim Stafford reassured Mrs. Hawley that the construction official would retain his autonomous status, and that the move of that office to DCS was specifically designed to foster efficiency. An operational and staffing review has just started. The ordinance was passed, 7-0.
Party House on Park
Also, in public comment, several Park Street residents complained about the disorderly conduct at 258 Park Street, which is occupied by Montclair State University students and has been the scene of wild parties that last well into the late-night hours. Resident Jarvis Hawley, a former Montclair firefighter, suggested that the authorities look into possible violations of fire codes, health department regulations, and other codes to bring down the “full force” of the municipal government. Both Councilors Hurlock and Schlager have promised to look into it themselves. The property is on the dividing line between their two wards.