Montclair Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville held her first community meeting of 2019 on January 29 at the First Montclair House on Walnut Street and discussed topics ranging from parking and public safety to affordable housing. Several guests appeared with Dr. Baskerville to provide the latest information on these issues.
Emmanuel Germano, the newly installed director of parking in Montclair, addressed complaints about the parking lot behind Walnut Street right outside First Montclair House, which has been in need of paving and in which speeding has also been a problem. Germano said he hopes he can get the repaving project for the lot in the 2020 capital budget, and he added that speed bumps have been a consideration for calming motorists who pass through. Dr. Baskerville, the Township Council liaison for the Traffic and Parking Advisory Committee, added that the township has met with local business leaders and pedestrian safety groups, with Police Lieutenant Stephanie Egnezzo participating, to see what can be done to make the lot safer for First Montclair House residents. The township is still exploring different options, with many of them still to be followed up on.
There was also interest in replacing metered spaces in the lot and along Walnut Street and Oxford Street, which are connected by the lot, with permit spaces to facilitate parking for local residents. Also, a traffic signal suggested by one resident for Pine Street and Claremont Avenue may be looked into once traffic patterns caused by the construction of the new medical office building for Hackensack University Medical Center at Mountainside commences.
Public safety as opposed to pedestrian safety was the chief concern of Montclair Police Chief Todd Conforti and Deputy Wil Young. Chief Conforti addressed recent burglaries in the Fourth Ward and said they are few in number and that Montclair is still extremely safe. In fact, when Dr. Baskerville asked Chief Conforti if there have been more break-ins in the Fourth Ward than the rest of Montclair, the chief said that the Fourth Ward has seen fewer burglaries than anywhere else in town. Dr. Baskerville then confessed that she already knew that but felt it was important for Chief Conforti to confirm so in answering her question.
Chief Conforti and Deputy Chief Young offered some crime prevention tips, including alarming houses, which will bring the police to one’s house faster, should a burglary be attempted, and locking car doors to prevent auto burglaries and thefts. Deputy Chief Young also warned against telephone fraud, where scammers call to report family members in trouble and demand cash as a way of helping them out. Similar scams involving con artists pretend to be from the Internal Revenue Service demanding back tax payments have also proliferated. The department is also able to check on people’s houses when they are away, provided homeowners inform the police of their pending absences. They also both said that they take fingerprints and DNA samples whenever possible, and Deputy Chief Young urged victims of car burglaries not to compromise investigations by touching anything in the car and tampering with evidence.
Carmel Loughman, a Fourth Ward resident and a Planning Board member, asked about the drug dealing that has reportedly been taking place in front of a liquor store on the corner of Pine Street and Glenridge Avenue. Both Chief Conforti and Deputy Chief Young admitted that it has been hard to eliminate such activity entirely, but they added that the drug dealing has dropped off dramatically since the late 90s. They responded to calls to reinstate a police substation in that area by saying that they were trying to strike a balance between too much policing and too little policing, and they thought the use of a mobile unit was headed in that direction. Deputy Chief Young conceded that it will always be hard to get rid of drug dealers entirely, since they come out when the police have gone. William Scott of the Montclair Housing Commission opined that the most effective way to deal with such quality-of-life issues is to make liquor store license renewals subject to pledges to handle such situations, as when a liquor store in the South End had to handle bottles and garbage from customers littering the streetscape, and that such businesses need constant pressure to maintain their establishments.
Planning Director Janice Talley, joining Scott and his fellow housing commissioner Deirdre Malloy, informed residents on redevelopment and new-construction projects in town, including the planned construction of Steven Plofker’s new office-retail building on the southeast corner of Grove and Walnut Streets. Though it was just approved by the Zoning Board of Adjustment, Talley said she has no idea when Plofker would start the project. A new business planned for the storefront on the northeast corner of Grove and Walnut Streets, she said, was not expected to be an issue as the proprietors did not request parking variances for it. She did say that the hotel was at a standstill owing to an unapproved roof component that has since been resolved with Pinnacle, the developer, and work continues on the interior while Pinnacle redesigns the roof component. Despite ongoing progress, Talley could not give a completion date for the project, which broke ground in April 2016.
Scott and Malloy spoke on affordable housing, with Malloy lamenting the recent government shutdown that adversely affected federal funding for Section 8 housing and still affects two hundred units on Glenridge Avenue because of the backlog the shutdown caused. She was still optimistic about the future of affordable housing in Montclair, with the new 20 percent inclusionary zoning ordinance, the commitments from developers to provide it, and the new initiative to give Montclair residents top priority in the application process. She also touted the new housing administrator for the town, the Cranbury-based Community Grants Programming and Housing, which has streamlined the application process and provided more staff. More information is available on the town’s Web site. Scott added that the state would be adding Section 8 applications online. The Montclair Neighborhood Development Corporation and the Wally Choice Community Center will provide Internet access to those who do not have PCs. The application process is from February 4 to February 8.
Dr. Baskerville was eager to explore more opportunities that provided affordable housing, including a suggestion from Frank Gerard Godlewski in bringing back boarding houses and sublet housing. She also said that it was important to stem the tide of gentrification – not the good gentrification that restored rundown properties and added to the tax base but the bad gentrification that drove renters who are lifelong Montclair residents out of their apartments. She said that as the pricing out of longtime townspeople spreads to different parts of Montclair, she was sure that more of an effort would be made to stop that trend, and she predicted that a mass uprising against it would arise as more Montclair residents are affected by it.