The Montclair Township Council met for over three hours in its October 9 conference meeting to discuss a laundry list of topics while preparing its agenda for its October 16 regular meeting.? While a small step was taken in moving toward progress on the rebuilding of the wall of the pond at Edgemont Park, the council moved swiftly to decide on First Night 2013?There?isn?t?going to be one.
Fourth Ward Councilor Ren?e Baskerville recommended skipping First Night this coming New Year?s Eve in a routine report from the Council Municipal Services and Communication Subcommittee. Dr. Baskerville reported how Township Recreation and Cultural Affairs Director Pat Breschka had looked into sharing First Night with an adjacent municipality, given the popularity of First Night with non-residents. ?It had become apparent that other towns had no interest in the idea, especially when the tough economy reduced the number of New Jersey municipalities hosting a First Night to five (down from 107) with the closest municipality, Morristown, too far to collaborate with Montclair in a New Year?s Eve celebration. Dr. Baskerville found so few venues in town willing to donate space that she recommended holding the festival in alternate years and finding non-profit groups to stage them. Mayor Robert Jackson agreed, as did Deputy Mayor Robert Russo.
?It seems like a lot of folks around town do come,? Deputy Mayor Russo said, ?but there are so few coming, and the resources are so limited, that it?s probably time for us to not do something at this late date that?s not going to be successful and in the tradition of Montclair.?? He suggested that a hiatus could make for a much more successful First Night for 2014.
The Edgemont Park pond issue took center stage in light of Township Manager Marc Dashield?s push to pass a negotiated contract for dredging the pond and rebuilding the retaining wall.? Dashield has not yet found a bidder for the projected, budgeted at $800,000 from a Green Acres grant.? An earlier hope to present such a contract for the October 2 regular meeting had failed.? He is currently negotiating with two prospective bidders.
Tom Nussbaum of Friends of Edgemont Park, a group that helps with the park?s upkeep, expressed disappointment with the township?s inability to get a bidder for the amount of the grant or revise its plans to find a bidder willing to do the project for $800,000 but added that his group supported the council?s ongoing efforts to make it work.? However, he had his doubts.
?Given our experience with the previous dredging project, and the currently collapsing walls, we are gravely concerned that the project has adequate oversight so that all aspects of the project are completed on time within specifications and with minimum impact on the use of the park,? he said.
Township Engineer Kimberli Craft and Community Services Director Steve Wood told the council that replacing the wall must take precedence over dredging due to its eminent collapse.? A partial dredging would be done instead, with possible recycling of the dredged mud into the northwestern corner of the park to level the ground, saving the cost of carting away the dredged material.
?The bottom line is that, if the wall has to be done, then the dredging is the thing that needs to be reduced,? Craft said.
?It?s a million-dollar project,? Wood said of the wall construction and dredging.? ?We have $800,000.? We bid every time, it keeps coming in the same.? It wasn?t an anomaly that we had that cost.?? He concurred with Craft that a new retaining wall was more necessary, and that dredging is more of a maintenance issue.? The wall being proposed, Wood added, would be a more permanent fix for the pond than the previous wall, which Wood said was improperly constructed.
Councilor-at-Large Rich McMahon noted that the west side of the pond?s wall looked to be in better shape than the east side, and he suggested that the project merely replace the worse half. Wood countered that taking apart a bad section of the wall could have an effect on a better section and cause that to be replaced, with the cycle repeating itself. ?You?d just be chasing your tail,? he said.
The discussion of the poor workmanship led Mayor Jackson to ruminate on the township?s historically bad record with capital projects.? He expressed a desire to properly manage this time the construction of a pond wall that can stand up to water.? He wanted to avoid the possibility of future dredging contractors complaining that the builders of the wall ?didn?t know what they were doing.?
Craft and Wood later explained their inspection of local streets and curbs and their prioritization of which streets and curbs need redoing the most. The number of deteriorating streets, Craft reported, stands at 28.4 percent of all streets today compared to 26.9 percent in 1999.? Wood advocated a dedicated amount of founding going forward to keep the street infrastructure up to par.
Also, Planning Director Janice Talley said discussed the wishes of CentroVerde?s developers to provide affordable housing off-site to be ?realistic? and be timed to the development of the market-rate units, suggesting that CentroVerde finds it more beneficial to produce affordable housing in the First and Second Wards, which both lack such housing in significant numbers.? While Deputy Mayor Russo thought the amendment to the plan would help those wards commit to a fairer share of affordable housing, Dr. Baskerville said that affordable housing at the DCH site, where CentroVerde will be built, makes more sense due to its proximity to Montclair Center and mass transit for affordable-housing residents who may not have cars.
Among other issues, Township Attorney Ira Karasick reported that the liquor license charges against Park Sports bar owner Jeffrey Melnikoff had been narrowed down to three, and that the October 11 hearing will be devoted to at least half an hour to assessing the penalty, which will be approved by a majority of a quorum of those councilors present.? Residents may offer public comment but will not have input on the penalty decisions.? The issue was discussed further in executive session, after the public portion of the meeting.
There was also some light entertainment at the meeting from Drew Horn of the Turn a Frown Around Foundation (TAFA), who offered a funny depiction of how his organization brings companionship and comedy to residents of nursing homes and psychiatric patients, and he asked the council to get behind TAFA?s efforts in Montclair.? TAFA is hosting a ?Wacky Walkathon? celebration at the recreational center gym at Montclair State University to raise money for its efforts, where Mayor Jackson is scheduled to appear.