Rent Control, Redevelopment and Hi-Tech Community Services Discussed at Montclair Council Conference Meeting

Rent control, how the township is using technology to improve policing and community services and parking were among the topics discussed at the November 5 Montclair Council Conference Meeting.

Twenty-eight year Montclair resident Brenda Aguar who lives in a rental complex by Orange Road and Gates Avenue is trying to fight a large rent increase by her landlord and asked the council if it intends to investigate any rent control ordinances.

“We’re being pushed out of town,” said Ms. Aguar, who raised a son in Montclair and spoke about the benefits of raising her son in a diverse community. She said she knew of about nine people moving out of her complex because of rent increases.

Councilor-at-Large Russo asked Ms. Aguar if she remembers that town residents voted against rent control twice. Russo mentioned that he, Mayor Jackson, Deputy Mayor Spiller and Council Woman Baskerville recently intervened on behalf of tenants to reduce a proposed rent increase. Baskerville said the Montclair Housing Commission is trying to gather information on the number of people displaced and gauge interest in the issue.

“In the last few months we’ve seen a larger number of individuals coming out now and feeling their rent increases have been unfair. We’re addressing them and it is important to us,” said Baskerville.

William Scott, Chairman of the Montclair NAACP’s Housing Committee, also spoke at the conference and described situations where long-term tenants were facing large increases. If they didn’t accept the new leases, they were forced to accept month-to-month leases.

Tracking Snow Plows and Using Artificial Intelligence to Fight Crime

Tony Fan, information technology director for the township, Steve Wood, director of community services and Todd Conforti, chief of police, spoke about using technology to augment community services and the police force. Fan and Wood are looking at options for equipping more snow plows and garbage trucks with tracking devices.

Mayor Jackson said he’d like to see the township use technology to get to the next level of snow management. Mr. Fan said the township met with Verizon on systems to track plows in real time. The mayor said he was looking for a system that would go a step further and allow the township to visually record what streets were plowed. Jackson asked Wood about using a system similar to what Rochester and Buffalo use. Deputy Mayor Spiller said he’d like the township to adopt a broad, long-term vision for purchasing and implementing technology to enhance its capabilities across departments.

Chief Conforti briefed the council on the technology projects the police were engaged in. Since February the police have been using a new system to track reports, videos, photos, police vehicles and investigative reports. The transition to the new system has been seamless, according to the chief.

Another new system tracks evidence and has worked well. The force’s e-ticketing system connects with other systems to run plates and give updates on wanted people. Conforti mentioned that if the police and parking authority integrated their systems operating costs could be reduced substantially. “That’s a direction we may want to think about going in for the future,” said the chief. Conforti said he’d be happy to talk with representatives from the parking authority.

The chief said plans to upgrade the department’s 911 telephone system in 2019 to one that would accept texts and video uploads from citizens. Another system the police are considering uses artificial intelligence to scan and process all of the images from the township’s surveillance cameras. That system would use technology to recognize faces and articles of clothing. Mr. Fan said he is working with police leadership to determine how many cameras would be needed and their location. Areas they’re considering include the borders of the town. The mayor suggested integrating cameras in the schools with such as system. Mr. Fan said the township is looking into that. The chief also mentioned a system police forces around the county are likely to start using in 2019 that would facilitate tracking license plates.

Mayor Jackson asked Mr. Fan what technologies are available to enhance pedestrian safety. Another police officer at the conference said that speed sentry signs are an option. They track the speed of a car as it approaches the sign. The police can review data from that sign to see what locations need more speed enforcement.

Fire Pit Safety

Fire Chief Herrmann was on hand to answer a question Council Woman Baskerville had about fire pits and any ordinances the township had related to the proximity of fire pits from houses or property lines. Chief Herrmann said he was unaware of a regulation that specifically cites a distance from a property line, but would research the issue and get back to her. The majority of calls the fire department answers regarding fire pits are generally related to people using them for purposes other than their intended use, such as burning construction debris. If called to check on a situation, the department would make sure the fire pit was located a safe distance away from a house or any combustible material.

Resolutions on Parking and Paying Invoices

The council voted on a resolution that would approve the submission of the township’s Best Practices Inventory Checklist for 2018 to the State. The township achieved a score of 85 percent which entitled it to 100 percent of state aid to which it is entitled. The council approved the measure.

The council also approved a resolution to transfer excess funds, money the township doesn’t expect to spend for streetlight usage, to another account managed by the township.

The council approved a resolution authorizing two hours of free parking at meters on Saturday, November 24, 2018 for Small Business Saturday (the day after “Black Friday”).

The council approved a resolution for the township to pay invoices that have been received, audited and found to be correct for a total amount of $1,675,274.86.

Hahne’s Redevelopment and a New Parking Ordinance Proposed

Former parking lot of Hahnes where a 74-unit residential building is possible.

Items scheduled to be voted on at the Nov. 27 Council meeting were also discussed. They included:

  • An amendment to the Hahne’s Redevelopment plan (the parking lot on Church Street across from the “Siena” building) that allows more units for the area, from 55 to 74 units per acre. The amendment includes allocations for affordable housing and community/open space. Ten percent of those units will be reserved for affordable housing.

    The building isn’t any bigger, it conforms to the original plan. But under the amendment, it has more units. Once the council approves this amendment, it goes to the planning board for comment.

  • Contracts for supplemental snow plowing/removal to reduce the amount of time to clear roads after a snowstorm. Out of about 60 requests, two contractors responded with bids. One bid was for snow plowing and the other was for specific tasks related to snow removal.
  • The township also sent out a third request related to snow removal for the Montclair Parking Authority. Council Women Schrager asked if that bid included removing piles of snow in lots which can take up parking spaces. Acting Township Manager Timothy Stafford confirmed the contract would involve snow pile removal.
  • An ordinance, sponsored by Deputy Mayor Spiller, that would establish certain zones in downtown Montclair where parking fines would be doubled. Signage would mark those zones. The ordinance is intended to be a pilot project to see if such measures would alleviate street parking difficulties local residents face. The police would evaluate the number of parking tickets for these zones before and after the program to determine if the project changed behavior. If this program doesn’t deter illegal parking, the township would consider towing and booting.
  • A resolution authorizing the Township’s meter suspension program during 2018 holiday shopping season. It would allow two hours of free parking at metered areas in town from Dec. 1 through Dec. 26.
  • A resolution authorizing the use of competitive contracting for property appraisal.

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