The Montclair Township Council introduced the municipal budget for 2019 at its March 5 conference meeting, with $91.1 million in appropriations and 55.2 million in taxes, which was unanimously approved for a hearing on April 2. Mayor Robert Jackson said the budget anticipates no tax increase for 2019, and Acting Township Manager Tim Stafford thanked the Finance Committee, the Economic Development Committee, and Chief Financial Officer Padmaja Rao for their input on the budget. More details on the budget here.
Green Acres Grant For Township Parks
Steve Wood, director of the Department of Community Services (DCS), presented a plan to apply for a Green Acres grant to refurbish three township parks. The plan is to repave the parking lot and paths and restripe the parking lot at Nishuane Park and also replace benches and picnic tables and recondition the tennis courts. At Essex Park, Wood hopes to replace playground equipment and improve the lighting. And at Mountainside Park, Wood said he wants to resurface the tennis and basketball courts and also prune the trees back from the tennis courts, lamenting that the leaves from the trees have stained the tennis courts and affect the quality of tennis playing. The Nishuane Park improvements would cost $837,000, the Essex Park improvements would cost $936,000, and the Mountainside Park improvements would cost $168,000 for a total of $1.94 million. The money from the Green Acres fund would be a matching-fund grant of $1 million, and the township would have to come up with the rest of the money. Also, 25 percent of the grant would be an interest-free loan to the township that has to be paid back in 20 years.
Wood’s plan to redo the Mountainside Park courts, though, brought up dissatisfaction with the contractor who had worked on the tennis courts before. Wood said the contractor did a good job but that the work didn’t hold up as long as he would have liked. Noting that previous improvements to Nishuane Park, which were done by a different contractor, have lasted better, Mayor Jackson and Deputy Mayor / Third Ward Councilor Sean Spiller didn’t think it made sense to use the same contractor for Mountainside Park again. Wood suggested that the earth underneath the courts and the time of year and the weather may have been more of a factor than the choice of contractor used at Mountainside, but Mayor Jackson and Deputy Mayor Spiller expressed hope that a different contractor could be hired this time.
The council voted to authorize the application for the Green Acres project grant at the conference meeting rather than wait for a March 19 vote as previously planned. Resident William Scott, who sits on the Parks and Recreation Committee, told the council that Wood’s leadership has been phenomenal and that he has been a good listener when it comes to conferring with his committee.
Continued Concern About Lackawanna Plaza
A first-reading ordinance concerning the Lackawanna Plaza plan was brought up in public comment when Planning Board member Carmel Loughman, speaking as a resident, expressed concern about it. The ordinance would ban left turns onto driveways from Grove Street between Glenridge and Bloomfield Avenues, which Loughman feared would make access to the parking lot for the future Lidl supermarket difficult. She said it would cause people coming east on Bloomfield Avenue to go on Lackawanna Plaza itself and then turn right onto Greenwood Avenue and then right onto Glenridge Avenue before finally being able to turn into the supermarket lot off Grove Street, which the valet parking and medical office parking in the area would make more difficult even as Glenridge Avenue would handle traffic for the post office. “It’s a long block to go around,” Loughman said, “so I don’t know how this is going to be helpful.“
Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville said this issue was considered by groups like the Pedestrian Safety Committee and Bike & Walk Montclair, and the thought was that the town wanted to avoid the crossing of two lanes of traffic in opposite directions at all coasts to make it safer for pedestrians. When the ordinance came up for a vote, Mayor Jackson suggested the ordinance include an amendment asking the police, fire department and the Pedestrian Safety Committee to review it. Noting the need for the Planning Board to go over a site plan once construction starts, Councilor-at-Large Rich McMahon said traffic flow into the parking lot should not be viewed in isolation but rather be dealt with as part of a holistic approach. Mayor Jackson said the Planning Board, in addition to the governing bodies mentioned in the amendment, would have “ample opportunity” to review it, but Councilor McMahon was not satisfied. The ordinance passed for a second reading later on, 6-1, with Councilor McMahon voting against it.
It was also in public comment that resident Priscilla Eschelman brought up public frustration with the approval of the Lackawanna Plaza project – which includes the demolition of the railway terminal sheds – to the fore. She wanted to know how Planning Board Chairman John Wynn and Planning Director Janice Talley could be replaced. Mayor Jackson said that Eschelman could apply for a place on the Planning Board and, if appointed, could have a say in who is named chairman. As for the planning director’s position, the mayor said that personnel hires like Talley were “sensitive issues.”
Proposed Ordinance To Prevent Future Demolitions of Historic Homes
A proposed ordinance governing historic houses vulnerable to being torn down, due for a March 19 first-reading vote, was also discussed. Township Attorney Ira Karasick explained the ordinance as currently written to the council, saying that if there is no plan to build a new structure on a property with a house that the owner wants to tear down, the township can put a series of regulations and requirements in place that could slow but not necessarily stop a demolition. If there is an application for a new structure involved, the case would be referred to the Historic Preservation Commission, whose role would be advisory only. Mayor Jackson said that wouldn’t cut it, and he and Deputy Mayor Spiller urged Karasick to “push the envelope” when it came to saving historic houses. They suggested an ordinance preserving as many historic houses from the wrecking ball unless property owners can get approval – and if they can’t, their only recourse would be to sue the town. Karasick said he’d modify the ordinance, and Manager Stafford said he’d extend the current moratorium on demolitions of historic houses.