The Montclair Township Council’s first meeting of 2019 on January 8 featured a light agenda, but there was a great deal of discussion of its last item – an ordinance involving the inclusion of a four-way stop at a troublesome intersection. There were also discussions of topics not on the agenda. Acting Township Manager Tim Stafford found himself to be the man of the hour, answering questions and concerns from the councilors.
Stafford reviewed an ordinance, up for a first-reading vote on January 22, to install four-way stop signs at the intersection of Van Vleck Street and North Mountain Avenue. The intersection has been notorious for speeding traffic, something Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager, whose ward includes the intersection, made a point of at the meeting. Stafford and Director of Community Services Steve Wood explained that the ordinance implementing a four-way stop was based on a study that met the minimum criteria. Councilor-at-Large Rich McMahon noted that a two-day study had been conducted that didn’t say what the counts were and that more than two days of study was needed. Wood said it had been done before, but the equipment had been vandalized. He said that the test was redone and compared to prior reports to expedite the matter. Deputy Mayor / Third Ward Councilor Sean Spiller said he got the impression that the report was not so much a recommendation as it was an explanation of the way things are at the intersection; he said he would like to see a recommendation from an expert so that someone who is removed from the issue can give a professional assessment.
Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville asked what the process was for determining the need for a four-way stop. Stafford said a request for a study is usually submitted to his office. He then refers it to the police department, which delegates to the traffic bureau for an analysis. The police, he said, set up sensor equipment to get an accurate count based on regular traffic flows. Dr. Baskerville appreciated the explanation but added that someone in the administration should spell out specifically how the process is done and explain the findings in detail.
Dr. Baskerville also brought up the use of a private engineering firm as a replacement for former Township Engineer Kim Craft, which she admitted feeling uncomfortable about. She asked if she could revisit the idea of having a full-time engineer, adding that she didn’t know who or how to contact the engineer contracted to the township. Stafford said he could handle requests for meetings with the engineer and refer them to Wood to make the arrangements. Deputy Mayor Spiller said this would be a good time to test the process and observe how it works before the council decides whether to hire a township engineer or continue the contract with the engineering firm.
Councilor Schlager also brought up a non-agenda item — the increase of hourly parking rate at the Fullerton Deck affecting members of the Montclair YMCA who park to use the facilities adjacent to the deck. She suggested that YMCA members be waived the first hour to give them a break for parking long hours. Mayor Robert Jackson thought the idea might have merit, as it would increase the utilization of the Fullerton Deck, which is patronized less than other decks in town (including the nearby Crescent Deck), but Dr. Baskerville questioned whether giving one group of people a break on a parking rate was fair if it were to be denied to other motorists using the deck. Stafford was sensitive to both Dr. Baskerville’s and Councilor Schlager’s concerns and said he would ask Utilities Director Gary Obszarny, who oversees parking, to analyze the situation.
Stafford also reviewed a resolution, due for a vote on January 22, to purchase computer hardware for the township through the National Association of State Procurement Officers (NASPO). Deputy Mayor Spiller said he thought leasing computer hardware made more sense, given the rapid challenges in technology, and added it was at least something to consider, and Stafford said he would. Mayor Jackson said he didn’t see the township rejoining NASPO, and Stafford said the township didn’t have to.
Stafford also addressed concerns in public comment voiced by William Scott of the Montclair Housing Commission (MHC). He asked about the amendment requiring 20 percent affordable housing in any development of the Hahne’s parking lot, and Stafford said the Economic Development Committee (EDC) would review it at its January 18 meeting and would make a recommendation to the council. Scott asked if he could attend the meeting, and Councilor Schlager said that EDC meetings aren’t open to the public. Scott said he felt that he ought to be allowed to attend in his capacity as co-chairman of the MHC, and he said he wanted to see when an engagement with the MHC would take place. He also asked about plans by the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) to conduct surveys of certain neighborhoods, and Stafford said that the HPC was looking to conduct a cultural survey of the Estate section of town, which includes 306 historic properties – eight of which are included on the national and state registers of historic places, with four additional properties in the state register only, and one property designated as historic locally by the township. Whatever grant funding the HPC gets will pay for the survey. When Scott asked if this was part of a comprehensive township survey, Stafford said it was only for the Estate section. He urged Scott to ask the HPC why that particular section is being studied.
Also, resident Robin Woods informed the council that the Essex County Project Homeless Connect Day is scheduled on Tuesday, January 29, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Branch Brook Park Roller Skating Center at Seventh and Clifton Avenues in Newark. She also alerted the council to the Montclair Salvation Army’s food-pantry service available to anyone who needs non-perishable items. Woods said that the Salvation Army ‘s location at Trinity Place is also serving breakfast from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. No one needs to fill out forms for the pantry services, she said.
Mayor Jackson and the council voted 6-0 to adopt the temporary budget and the temporary capital budget for 2019 in anticipation of hearings for the permanent budgets. Councilor-at-Large Robert Russo was absent.