Montclair Deputy Mayor / Third Ward Councilor Sean Spiller held a community meeting Wednesday at the Montclair Public Library, where he inevitably received a great deal of concerned feedback over one of the biggest issues concerning Montclair in general and the Third Ward in particular – parking. Acting Township Manger Tim Stafford and Police Officer Travis Davis were also in attendance.
Seymour Street, at the center of a major redevelopment already underway, received a good deal of attention. One resident said parking opportunities on Seymour Street went from small “NO PARKING” zones to no parking at all, yet people are being allowed to park. Residents were frustrated by the lack of consistency. Councilor Spiller explained the township is changing parking allowances and regulations for Seymour Street because of what Manager Stafford and Township Attorney Ira Karasick, the point persons on this issue, have been hearing. Manager Stafford added that Montclair Communications Director Katya Wowk has been sending e-mails and communicating on social media alerting residents to changes being made to the parking rules for Seymour Street. He said anyone who wants e-mail updates could get on a mailing list. Also, parking is now allowed on the eastern side of Seymour Street, but the “NO PARKING” signs have been taken down.
Manager Stafford also said the township has sent police officers into the area to enforce the parking laws appropriately to mitigate the situation. Councilor Spiller indicated that there will be more funding for enforcement. Patrons of the Wellmont Theater, be it for Hillsong Church services or concerts, have been among the biggest exacerbators of the parking crunch in the area, with one resident pointing out to Councilor Spiller that Plymouth Street and Wilde Place are being especially overrun with parked cars in part due to musical performances at the First Congregational Church, leading him to make the observation that theater concerts are taking place in a church even as Hillong’s church services are taking place in a theater.
Councilor Spiller told his constituents that one idea under consideration is a “red zone” in which all parking violations would be doubled where legally allowed, the exceptions being any “NO PARKING” areas governed by state statute, such as fire hydrants. He said an understanding of the extra enforcement may lead to a change in behavior among people from out of town who seek parking for a Wellmont event, and the township is willing to try any other method to change behavior that can work.
The councilor also addressed the issue of the development going on in the Third Ward, from the MC hotel to the plans for apartment buildings on the eastern corners of Glenridge Avenue and North Willow Street (neither of which have been started yet). Developers, Councilor Spiller said, are legally entitled to build whatever they want that zoning laws allow, and they are moving to develop their properties in Montclair as the real estate market in town heats up. Spiller was confident that the new parking decks being built around Seymour Street, which the developers are paying for, would alleviate parking in the future while also providing more revenue from parking fees. He was quick to add that the township tries to mitigate negative effects in response to concerns about overdevelopment that has lessened areas for storm water to be absorbed even as storms get more intense. The councilor urged residents to reach out to the Montclair Environmental Committee, which addresses such issues.
The issue of development led many residents to express concern for the rapid proliferation of luxury apartments at the expense of middle-income and lower-income residents who cannot afford increasing rents. Councilor Spiller said that Montclair has been recognized as meeting or surpassing affordable-housing obligations, allowing flexibility with the inclusionary zoning ordinance to focus on Montclair residents getting priority. On the issue of new construction, he said efforts have been made to have developers who get variances to offer fewer affordable units offer something in return. He cited Montclarion developer Richard Polton (though not be name), who was required to offer so many affordable units at the Montclarion at Bay Street Station completed in 2015. The township worked out a deal to continue affordable controls at the original 1988 Montclarion building around the corner to allow longtime residents to stay in their homes in exchange for providing fewer affordable units in the new Montclarion building.
He said Montclair’s record for producing affordable housing allows for modifications with developers, such as having them provide some sort of affordable housing in another part of town.
With development comes traffic, and Councilor Spiller used the occasion to announce that new traffic signals for the Six Corners intersection anchored by Bloomfield and North and South Fullerton Avenues should be in place by the summer of 2019, adding that timing and synchronization will be improved and North Fullerton Avenue and South Fullerton Avenue will have separate phases rather than move at once. But the development issue also led to a discussion of the increasing number of homeless people, many of them forced out of their homes by the high cost of living in the area. Manager Stafford said he was impressed by the police, ambulance staff and other first responders who have handled homeless people, saying also that homeless people are only moved to shelters if they want to be or if they are ill. He said he noted that they feel safe in Montclair because of the social services and the accommodating mindset of residents, which has mitigated the problem. But resident Heywood Woods cautioned Manager Stafford and Councilor Spiller that there is no easy answer for handling the homeless, and he worried about how one or two homeless people might pose a problem if they prove to be dangerous. Any homeless person who acts out, he said, would lead residents to have a different view of them.
Officer Davis reported that police were continuing to promote Coffee With a Cop, the program allowing residents to share coffee and conversation with a police officer. Councilor Spiller also touted the continued paving of streets and increased funds for tree planting, and he also said the fountain at the traffic circle where Valley Road meets Church Street should be taken care of once Pinnacle is done with the hotel.