Montclair Township Council: Parking Fees, Water, Health Department, Sister City of Graz

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The Montclair Township Council covered an array of topics at its February 5 meeting, and two perennial subjects – parking and water.  Gary Obszarny, Montclair’s director of utilities, spoke to the council about both of them.

the Montclair Township Council

At issue regarding parking were the Fullerton and Bay Street decks and the fee increases proposed for both of them.  A proposed ordinance would raise the parking fee at the Fullerton deck from two dollars an hour, as it is currently, to two dollars for the first two hours (or fifty cents an hour) and two dollars for each hour after.  Resident Catherine Danatos said the current rate was unfair to members of the YMCA, who have to watch the YMCA clocks or their own time pieces to renew the meters in time.  Sometimes YMCA members miss them by a minute and have to pay an exorbitant $60 ticket.  She proposed that either the meter rates be lowered or free parking for Y members be made available.  Meanwhile, the Bay Street deck’s monthly commuter fee would increase from $60 a month to $80 a month as of April 1, 2019 and to $100 at the start of 2020.

Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville asked how the proposed rate increase at the Bay Street deck was determined.  Mayor Robert Jackson explained that most people who use the Bay Street deck are from out of town, and Obszarny said the increase was needed to keep up the lighting and elevators for Bay Street, along with general maintenance.  Dr. Bakserville said more data was needed to figure out who used that deck the most, because she was concerned about local residents who use the deck because of its proximity to their homes.  Obszarny insisted that most of them were out-of-town residents, adding that the lot has a long waiting list for permits because of its low rates.

Both Dr. Baskerville and Deputy Mayor / Third Ward Councilor Sean Spiller believed more data was necessary to make a decision on both decks, and Acting Township Manager Tim Stafford said he could put it on the agenda for the Economic Development Committee’s next meeting.  But Mayor Jackson believed that immediate relief was needed for YMCA members at the Fullerton deck, whom Councilor-at-Large Robert Russo noted were mostly from out of town.  While no vote was taken on the ordinance regarding Bay Street, the council agreed to pass a resolution that would lower rates on the Fullerton deck to 75 cents an hour for 60 days effective immediately to give the Economic Development Committee time to go over the data.  Parking Director Emmanuel Germano said it would take a day longer to reprogram the pay stations accordingly than it would take to reset the meters; both could be done by Thursday, February 7. And with that, the council passed a resolution setting parking rates on the Fullerton deck at 75 cents an hour for 60 days.

Obszarny was more urgent in the need to raise revenue for his department’s water projects, mandated by state law.  He spoke in favor of proposed ordinance that would impose a fixed surcharge on water use in order to inspect and change new water valves and replace mains to comply with the Water Quality Accountability Act. Obszarny’s agenda also includes mapping out the valves in the system and testing them on a regular basis.  Given the high cost of compliance with what Councilor Russo called an unfunded mandate, the council is asking that the township professionals examine the financial issues and see if there is any possibility that the maintenance can be deferred to 2020.  The ordinance, which Obszarny said would offset the projected costs of perpetual compliance with state law, is due for a first-reading vote at the February 19 meeting.

Also, Health Director Sue Portuese discussed with the council its continued role as the Board of Health.  The Montclair Township Council acts as the town’s health board, unlike in other towns that rely on a separate board or an advisory board, and Dr. Baskerville, a pediatrician, said the council’s actions in that capacity have been relegated to watching the town health department advance ideas on administering health policy while the council has no voice.  Portuese sought to offer suggestions to correct that situation, and she said that the council members could always contact her and bring her in to discuss health issues with them.  Portuese also said she could relay recommendations to the council through Manager Stafford per their opinions.  Dr. Baskerville supported these suggestions.

Also, representatives of Overseas Neighbors, the group handling relations between Montclair and its sister city of Graz, Austria, briefed the council on the upcoming visit of a Graz delegation to Montclair in 2020 for the 70th anniversary of the relationship.  They advised the council to set an “appropriate time” for the visit, and Councilor-at-Large Rich McMahon recalled the “unbelievable reception” the previous Montclair delegation to Graz received.  Montclair’s association with Graz, for which Graz Park in the western entrance to town on Bloomfield Avenue is named, is its oldest sister-city relationship.

In public comment, William Scott of the Montclair Housing Commission (MHC) asked when the process for approving the appointment of Peg Seip to the MHC would go through the process of approval.  Seip, a former Planning Board member, has attended MHC meetings but has not yet been recognized as a full-fledged member.  Dr. Baskerville accepted responsibility for the holdup, saying she erroneously forwarded Seip’s nomination to the Services Subcommittee instead of the Economic Development Committee as should have been done.  She said that she was certain that the Economic Development Committee would begin the approval process for Seip soon.  Scott accepted Dr. Baskerville’s explanation and confessed unfamiliarity with the flow chart of appointees and that the process was new to him.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Many surrounding municipalities charge out-of-towners a higher fee than they charge residents to park in local commuter lots. We should be doing the same, not just at the Bay Street deck, but in all of our commuter lots. Charging a higher fee for non-Montclair residents will yield two benefits: some higher revenue and, probably, causing at least a few non-Montclair residents to cancel their monthly spots and thereby making room for more of the Montclair neighbors who have been on waiting lists for years. (It took me two years after I moved here to get a spot at the Walnut lot and two more years before a coveted Bay Street Deck spot opened.) There is a rumor going around that we can’t charge differential pricing because NJ Transit owns the land under the parking lots, but I ran that rumor down during the 2012 Council campaign and found absolutely no support for it. I think we can do it, and I feel strongly that we should.

    Whether to charge a higher fee to Montclair residents at Bay Street than at other commuter lots is a more complicated issue. On one hand, it’s the only covered deck we have. It’s also the closest Montclair stop to New York and, therefore, the one with the shortest commute. On the other hand, I understand Councilor Baskerville’s concerns that we don’t want to penalize neighbors who use the lot for residential parking.

    I suggest the following: First, daily parking spots should be moved from the first floor to the (uncovered) roof. Daily parkers already are getting a great deal; there’s no reason they also should get the best parking spaces. Second, if we are going to raise the Bay Street rates, the Township first should figure out if there are Walnut/Upper Montclair parkers who want to switch to Bay Street and then let those who can’t/don’t want to pay the increased Bay Street charges to switch to those uncovered lots, rather than having to give up their spots entirely. Third, after figuring out how many Bay Street monthly spots are being used now by people who live nearby, consider setting aside a certain number of spots at the current rates for residential parking.

  2. I think our commuter train station lots should serve commuters first. The rates at all of train station commuter lots should go up, and for the ones most utilized, significantly. I agree that non-residents should pay more. The weekday permit rates equate to $3 day for commuters.
    (The evening shuttle charges $2. I’m not sure what the thinking is here about the rate structure.) Anyway, the Council wants to increase only Bay St to $4 and then $5 by next year.

    FWIW, I think something weird is going on at Bay Street’s 247-space deck and there needs to be more data collected.

    I think that this is just one symptom of not having a Parking Master Plan. Further, our approach to parking is not aligned to our redevelopment strategy nor how we bid out the outsourcing of parking management (both ImPark & ParkMobil). It’s a little crazy and it will get crazier still when the redevelopment projects come online, e.g.the Midtown Deck. Then we are really going to be scrambling. No one will be happy – visitors, residents, commuters, employees, etc.

    The Traffic & Parking Advisory Committee is on the sidelines and apparently not by choice. The Parking Study went into the circular file. So, we are winging it short term and have no long-term plan.

    Parking is not rocket science. We have opportunities to greatly increase the parking experience in Montclair. We need to. What is going on at the moment with the Fullerton Deck/Y issue and this is just dressing up the pig.

  3. For your further consideration of the daytime use of the Bay St Deck:

    The deck is part of a Transit Village and all that it is supposed to represent.

    The 247-space deck has 159 permit spaces, 75 daily spaces and 14 non-revenue spaces.

    Currently, a permit space generates $720/yr (less than $3/day) while a daily space contributes $1,720/yr ($7/day).

    The Bay Street daily ridership is 1,400 passengers. The Glen Ridge station also has 1,400 passengers a day.

    The Glen Ridge station has no real parking to speak of and relies on their jitney service – their AM/PM jitney pass costs $300/yr.

    A monthly NJT ticket from the Glen Ridge station costs $312/yr less than one for Bay St.

    The Glen Ridge station is 3 blocks further away from Montclair’s (evenings only) Jitney route.

    I think one approach we should explore and work towards is 1) a AM & PM jitney service, 2) reallocate a chunk of Bay Street permit spaces to daily users, and increase rates for both.

    Raising the permits to $80-$100 and daily to $9 would add another $135,000-$165,000 in parking revenue for this location. The current Council plan will bring in $38,00-76,000. No jitney. No help to the less frequent train riders. That increase would only cover deck maintenance & maybe some upgrade costs.

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