The Montclair Township Council held its first regular meeting of 2019 on January 22, and Mayor Robert Jackson and the councilors, (Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager was absent), took the opportunity to begin hearings for the years’ municipal budget.  They started with just one budget request — from the Montclair Public Library.

Montclair Library Director Peter Coyl

Library Director Peter Coyl addressed the council with a request for $2.8 million for the library for 2019.  He noted that funding for the library had been roughly the same in 2008 but had gone down considerably to about $2.5 million in 2011, though it has slowly climbed since then.  Coyl emphasized the importance of the library as a center for the community, offering services for everyone.  The budget request would be slated to improve library service in several ways, such as expanding hours at the Bellevue Avenue branch from 30 hours a week to 50 hours week plus expanded hours for two evenings.  Also covered would be upgrades to the radio frequency identification (RFID) chip system, which places chips in library materials and allows faster and easier check-out and check-in.  Coyl estimates an expenditure of $170,000 in RFID technology, $140,000 of which would be for an automated handling and sorting machine for RFID materials and the rest for security upgrades. It would be a one-time allocation to thoroughly leverage the system, which was paid for by private donations.  The funding request would also allow salary increases for existing employers and the hiring of a children’s librarian.

Coyl also said the library hopes to expand programs and become involved in more community events through the additional funding.  He noted that many of the programs offered by the library, such as Montclair’s participation in the Great American Read project and the library’s own Open Book / Open Mind lecture series (which included MSNBC personalities Lawrence O’Donnell and Katy Tur), have been funded by grants.  His presentation to the council stressed the loss of state funding over the years, from just over $45,000 in 2008 to flatlining at just above $15,000 since 2013. Coyl also pointed out that taxpayers get a $2.74 return on investment for every dollar spent on the library.

Questions for Coyl were few.  Deputy Mayor / Third Ward Councilor Sean Spiller only asked about the $400,000 increase requested over 2017.  He wanted to make sure he understood that the increase was as much as the previous years (2013 through 2017) combined.  Coyl said that it was. He also told Councilor-at-Large Robert Russo that the library workers were not unionized, and that there was no contract between them and the library.  Representatives of the library, including board trustee Ilmar Vanderer, were on hand for the presentation but did not comment.

Hahne’s Parking Lot Development

The other major issue the council reviewed Tuesday involved the Church Street parking lot that once served the now-gone Hahne’s department store.  A developer interested in building on the property requested that the plan be amended to allow the density to be increased from 65 units per acre to 90 units per acre so that a five-story, 74-unit mixed-use building be constructed.  The ordinance up for a second hearing allowing this change was tabled without a vote so that a new, revised first-reading ordinance be considered instead.  Township Attorney Ira Karasick read off the changes made between the tabled version, first introduced in November 2018, and the re-introduced version being voted on Tuesday night.  The changes include minimum side and back yard setbacks at zero feet be changed, with the rear setback being set at a five-foot minimum; the west side setback at a 20-foot minimum; and the east side setback at a five-foot minimum. A setback of at least eight feet after the fourth story would remain the same, but after that, on the second floor above on the east side, there would be a 30-foot setback for a minimum of at least 50 percent of the length of the building would be required.  Another proposed change is to require the roof mechanicals to be enclosed and placed on the roof plan.  The council approved this proposal 5-0, with First Ward Councilor William Hurlock abstaining because he did not receive details of the plans for the building in his e-mail in time, which Acting Township manager Tim Stafford confirmed.

The Planning Board will review the proposed redevelopment plan within 45 days, now that it has been introduced.

the Church Street parking lot. Image courtesy of Google.

Also, in council comments, Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville, who marked her birthday, and Councilor Russo, reported that they had just come from a “shutdown social” hosted by Anne Mernin of Toni’s Kitchen and organized by federal worker Carsen Mata. The intent of the social was to distribute food to local federal employees affected by the month-long partial shutdown of the federal government.  Both council members were impressed with the effort to help federal employees; Councilor Russo praised Mata, an Environmental Protection Agency employee, for her leadership.  

Members of the community at the Montclair “shutdown social.” From left: veteran Jerry Wallace, EPA federal employee Carsen Mata, organizer, Montclair Fourth Ward Renée Baskerville, Toni’s Kitchen Director Anne Mernin (who hosted the social), and Montclair Councilor-at-Large Robert Russo. Image courtesy of Robert Russo.

The council also passed on first reading an ordinance to install a four-way stop intersection at Van Vleck Street and North Mountain Avenue, much to the delight of local residents who came out to advocate for it.  The ordinance now awaits full passage on second reading at a later meeting.

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