Committee Members Don't Express Support for Short Hills Parking Plan
Several Millburn Township Committee members say they want to hear alternatives to address the commuter parking needs.
Millburn Township Committee members aren't expressing support in interviews for a plan that would remove trees for parking at the Short Hills Train Station.
Township officials are exploring a plan to change the parallel parking on Chatham Road to head-in parking, but no discussion or decision on the plan is expected until 2011.
Orange ribbons were tied around the trees along the side of the road closest to the train tracks to show residents what would need to be removed to make way for the parking. The plan would add 40-60 parking spaces. It's part of a subcommittee's study on adding commuter parking, which also includes studying possibly constructing a parking garage downtown near the Millburn Train Station.
Since the ribbons were placed on the trees and article appeared in Patch in early November, residents have expressed their opposition for the plan, forming Save Trees Over Parking and circulating a petition. The group also has a page on Facebook.
Jessica Zirkel-Rubin, of STOP, said the residents in the area have a variety of reasons to oppose the proposal ranging from aesthetics to environmental to safety.
"It's a lovely spot," she said of the trees along Chatham Road. "If they're removed, it would not have the charming, wooded village setting there is now."
She also pointed out how removing the trees flies against the township's recent certification as a sustainable community, and the project sounds expensive. Plus she's not sure the project would solve the problem of needed commuter parking spaces. "It also doesn't seem safe to back out onto Chatham Road," she said.
Zirkel-Rubin said the neighbors have thought about alternatives, like the abandoned gas station on Chatham Road. It's not clear if Summit Medical Group intends to move forward with plans to build there, she said, but if not township officials could purchase the property for parking. "It's already a paved area," she said.
Plus some parking could be added in the existing parking lot if the greenery was removed, Zirkel-Rubin said. There are bushes, but it would not be removing a significant number of trees.
"I hope they don't support (the tree removal for parking," Zirkel-Rubin said. "I hope they decide to do something else."
The matter isn't on the Township Committee agenda for Tuesday, and it most likely won't be addressed until late January of February, said Robert Tillotson, a committee member. Tillotson and fellow committee member James Suell are on the subcommittee addressing commuter parking issues. But Zirkel-Rubin said STOP members plan to attend Tuesday's committee meeting to address the issue during public comment.
"It's just a plan," Tillotson said of the status of the proposal. The proposal has yet to be discussed by the full committee and no decision has been made, he said.
Suell said nothing is written in stone, but now people can't say they weren't aware of the proposal. "Once we marked the trees, everyone could get a better idea (of what was proposed)," he said. "We're not trying to scare anyone ... There is no consensus on the committee it's going to happen."
Once details such as cost and number of spaces are available committee members can compare the plan to what would be added at the Millburn station with a parking garage, Suell said.
Mayor Thomas McDermott said the subcommittee was smart by tagging the trees. "It shows what exact changes would need to be made," he said.
Daniel Baer, a committee member, said it was important for the subcommittee to do their due diligence, and tagging the trees gave the public the opportunity to see what would happen.
Tillotson said he is not surprised by the opposition and expected it, but the committee is committed to addressing all commuter parking issues—both at the Millburn and Short Hills train stations.
"It's a valid point how most of the people who want to park come from Short Hills and most of the parking is in Millburn," he said.
Tillotson said the issue of adding parking at Short Hills also has been discussed since August 2009 when it was first brought up during a meeting. There have not been specific details, including the number of trees that would need to be removed, until now, he said.
Suell pointed to the Cape Court Association suggesting the addition of parking in Short Hills because they bear the brunt of the parking in their neighborhood. Tillotson said it was not appropriate to discount the suggestion and it needed to be studied.
But there also doesn't seem to be a lot of support for the plan from committee members. Tillotson said he doesn't like the plan, but he also hasn't seen any alternatives.
"I notice a lack of other ideas," he said. "I want to hear alternatives. But as it stands now, I'm not a big proponent (of the plan)."
Tillotson said there could be an alternative that scales down the tree removal or shifts the parking in another way that creates buffers. But if they're to add parking in Short Hills, he said, it can't be to repaint the lines in the parking lot because it won't add any spaces.
"There's no doubt we have a long-standing (commuter) parking deficit, and we need a long-term solution," he said. "We need to look at all options."
Suell also said he doesn't like the plan, saying it also puts the head-in parking too close to Glenwood Elementary School, which is a potential safety concern. Like Tillotson, though, he doesn't know of an alternative to add parking in Short Hills. But he said he thinks the parking should go into the deck being considered for the Millburn station.
McDermott said adding parking at Short Hills will be one of the options the full committee will consider when it discusses how to add commuter parking. But he doesn't think the Short Hills parking plan would get a lot of support. "It's not particularly attractive," he said.
But he doesn't see any other option in Short Hills that could be done without removing trees and green space. Every subtle change, including adding the parallel parking spaces a few years ago, has already been done. But if the deck can account for the needed spaces, he's not sure if parking would need to be added at the Short Hills station.
"Anyone who knows me knows how I feel about (removing the trees)," said Deputy Mayor Sandra Haimoff, referring to her work to make Millburn a sustainable, environmentally-friendly community. If someone was to say they thought the plan was viable, she said, she would have to educate them on how removing the trees would affect Millburn's carbon footprint.
Haimoff said there are about 20 trees in the wooded area that should be removed, but not for parking. The trees are invasive varieties, so they should be removed and replaced with native trees, she said.
Baer won't be on the committee when it takes up the matter in 2011 because his term ends at the end of the year. But he said he thinks the garage proposed for downtown would be the best option to address parking, especially since it would serve multiple uses. "It's a better idea than adding spaces in Short Hills," he said.
The neighborhood around the Short Hills Train Station is predominately residential, he said, and there are a lot of people walking and biking, including children going to school. "I'm not sure it's the appropriate area (for the parking)," he said. "Downtown is more appropriate."