The Montclair Township Council passed the 2019 municipal budget at its April 2 conference meeting, with appropriations totaling $91.1 million, including $55.2 million for municipal purposes, $2.6 million for library purposes, and $7.8 million for school purposes in accordance with Montclair’s status as a Type 1 school district, to be raised by taxes.
This, however, was not the big story of the night. Much of the news was made in public comment, and the discussion over one issue raised led to a postponement of a resolution scheduled for a vote, even as measures scheduled for the next meeting got early votes.
In public comment, William Scott of the Montclair Housing Commission asked about a planned resolution authorizing a water agreement for a new 110-unit apartment building at 277 Baldwin Street in Glen Ridge, just beyond the municipal border. He specifically inquired what the impact would be on Montclair, and if this would mean that Montclair residents would be able to apply for affordable-housing units there. Mayor Robert Jackson said that because Glen Ridge hasn’t met its affordable-housing requirements, it would have to accept applicants from the region, which Township Attorney Ira Karasick confirmed.
Scott then asked about how the project would affect the water capacity set for Montclair, and Karasick explained to him that the Department of Environmental Protection informed Montclair several years ago that the township was short in firm capacity and purchased extra water to make up that deficit. Montclair now has 880,000 more gallons of water per day than it needs, and the Baldwin Street apartment building in Glen Ridge needs 30,000 gallons a day, so it would not have a significant impact. He did note that Glen Ridge has no water of its own to spare. Scott was not sure that helping a private developer in the next town was particularly wise, and it seemed to him that Montclair residents should be entitled to apply for affordable-housing units in the project if Montclair water is being used.
Deputy Mayor / Third Ward Councilor Sean Spiller echoed Scott’s skepticism, noting that the deal would be in perpetuity and fearing how a seemingly insignificant capacity could become an issue with climate change making water scarcity a greater possibility. Resident Audrey Hawley commented that Glen Ridge has never come up with a water conservation plan and so has been ineligible to add to its capacity, yet the apartment building was still constructed without a water conservation plan. She found this to be irresponsible.
The sudden thorniness over the resolution prompted Mayor Jackson to recommend pulling the resolution for now. He cited other issues that need to be resolved with Glen Ridge, though he did not elaborate on what they were. While he said that Montclair was under no obligation to enter into the agreement, he did add that the revenue generated from the deal would bring in money for the township and reduce the need for tax increases. The resolution was tabled pending further review.
Scott also brought up a proposed ordinance set for a vote on April 23 that would amend Section 347 of the municipal code by clarifying referral of construction applications filed for the Planning Board of the Zoning Board of Adjustment to the Historic Preservation Commission. He said that the Housing Commission should also have similar review privileges, saying that his commission deserved early engagement. Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville told Scott that the Economic Development Committee would look at his concerns and come up with a suggestion for a similar ordinance for the Housing Commission at its April 26 meeting, which could presented to the full council thereafter, and Scott was appreciative.
In public comment, resident Suzanne Aptman expressed gratitude to the council for planning to authorize an agreement for arborist consulting services, which the council plans to vote on at the April 23 meeting, expressing hope that trees lost to the ash borer insect and other causes would be quickly replaced. Acting Township manager Tim Stafford assured her that this would be a top priority for the new arborist service. Aptman also made it a point that the township consider an increase in tree planting by considering open spaces and to concentrate on native trees rather than non-indigenous ornamental trees. Manager Stafford said that the proposed arborist service, Rich View Consulting, would certainly do what was possible based on budget concerns.
Aptman’s enthusiasm led to immediate action on a related resolution slated for the April 23 meeting – a resolution awarding a contract to Louis Barbato Landscaping, Inc. worth $61,370 for planting of two hundred shade trees. Deputy Mayor Spiller said that in the future, he wanted to see more money devoted to tree planting and also see the amount of necessary watering of trees factored into the coast to ensure that they would survive. Manager Stafford said he would make a note of that for the appropriate staff members in the township, and the council passed the resolution unanimously, three weeks ahead of schedule.
This was not the only measure scheduled for April 23 that was passed early on this night. Also passed on first reading was an ordinance that sets parking rates for the Fullerton Deck from two dollars per hour to 25 cents for 15 minutes for the first two hours and 50 cents every fifteen minutes thereafter and raising the monthly permit at the Bay Street deck form $60 per month to $80 per month as of May 1 and $100 per month as of January 1, 2020. It was passed on first reading at this time instead of later to ensure its passage in time for the proposed May 1 permit increase at the Bay Street deck per Karasick’s recommendation. The council also passed a resolution suspending parking fees for various locations during the Montclair Film Festival in May.
Also, Planning Board members Daniel Gilmer and Tim Barr were unanimously reappointed, and Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager was reappointed as the council’s Planning Board liaison – also, unanimously.