Question 4: What question do you find yourself being asked most frequently by prospective voters and how do you handle it?
People that know me well usually ask questions pertaining to development and how Verona is handling the ongoing growth and changes that come with it. These questions, whether from friends, colleagues or similarly interested residents know that I was
opposed to the overdevelopment of a property adjacent to Everett Field. The developer of this property planned to rock-blast for upwards of a year in a densely populated residential neighborhood, creating a molehill from an actual mountain in order
to accommodate a mini-mall with apartments above. My opposition didn’t waver throughout 3 applications that spanned over four years because the plans were completely unmindful of the surrounding neighborhood and because of the drastic changes that would occur to our Township’s topography. The plans for this 1.564 acre property placed the building in the worst possible location; in the back of the property, requiring the most excavation and closest to the century+ old residential homes.
As I’ve read our master plan and our zoning ordinance, this plan, and any others like it are antithetical to many of the precepts in those two documents. Most notably, there must be harmony between zones and neighborhoods; even when commercial
neighborhoods abut residential ones. This development was 100% remiss in this precept. Development is obviously going to continue to occur and I am not opposed to that fact. However, I would like to be the council member that helps to usher
sustainable development into Verona; development that isn’t overbearing, wasteful, obsolete or that infringes upon existing development. My answer to this first question is usually quite candid. I will stand by my conscience on this matter and apply
myself to seeing Verona maintain its character while allowing for smart, sustainable development. I would also be even more satisfied if new development utilized green building practices and materials.
The other question that I more typically receive from those with whom I am not as familiar is: How can you improve the downtown business sector, the traffic and pedestrian safety? I know it’s a question that encompasses many issues but they are intrinsically tied to one another.
Our downtown has been plagued with vacancies that stem from a collection of issues; a burdensome move-in process, traffic on Bloomfield Avenue and a deficiency in parking, which leads to unsafe pedestrian conditions. Add to that, the development of the Hilltop, the future developments of both the Annin property and the Overbrook property in Cedar Grove and we’re only adding to that congestion and the risks to pedestrian safety.
To begin, vacancies within our town center have become difficult to fill due to excessively high start-up costs. When a business moves into a commercial space that has a different yet permitted use (ie: personal service changing to retail) then a “change of use” variance must be acquired even though that new business is a permitted use in that zone. This raises start-up costs due to the need to hire professionals for the application process. Permitted uses should be allowed to simply apply for a construction permit and proceed to build out without the delay and onerous costs. This will save the business owner thousands of dollars that can be invested into his or her business plan.
Traffic snares, parking deficiency and pedestrian safety are undoubtedly issues that are tied together and need to be addressed. Everyone complains about the lack of parking. I have long thought that because there is limited space available, that we should work with private property owners to help accommodate our business owners. An example could be a small modification of the bank parking lot across from the Police Station. If the bank was willing to open into the parking lot behind the Bagelwich, there would be fewer frustrated drivers slowing down in the right lane, looking for that one spot on the Avenue. Perhaps there’d be fewer drivers flowing onto the Avenue in the first place. This opportunity may be available in other underused downtown lots as well, such as the vacant lot known as the IHOP.
As we see in Caldwell, it is far better for the flow of those looking for parking to occur behind the businesses and off of the Avenue. Cost saving solutions are important to consider and may be found without the extravagant expense of a parking deck.
I also would strongly suggest implementing some common sense solutions such as shifting the ordinarily center yellow lines at the stoplights of our secondary roadways to allow for a better flow of traffic off of Bloomfield Avenue. I recommend highlighting crosswalks with signage, strategic street painting and flashing beacons at certain inter-roadway crossing areas. Even though we complain about parking, we’d also like to see Verona become more of a walking-friendly town and the businesses certainly would like to see this happen as well.
Finally, both questions that I am commonly asked are also tied together by a central theme: smart, sustainable development. As a council member, I know I will always be mindful of the future and the impacts that my decisions will have on the days, weeks and years following my service. Those decisions must be made based upon the overall picture and the far-reaching effects that they will have on sustainability, traffic, infrastructure maintenance, safety and certainly, the impact it will have on our taxes.