Residents Debate Need, Location of Parking Deck
The township committee held a public meeting on Tuesday to gather comments on commuter parking.
Residents again said on Tuesday night they want a parking deck built on Lot 2, but there were also questions if a deck should be built at all.
The Millburn Township Committee held a public meeting on commuter parking issues. After a short presentation from the commuter parking subcommittee about the process of studying for creating a "long-term solution" to commuter parking, residents were able to ask questions and comment on the issue. The subcommittee is working on potential plans to build a parking deck on either Lot 2 at the corner of Essex Street and Lackawanna Place or on Lot 7, which is along Glen Avenue at the train station.
Robert Tillotson, a committee member, said there is 120-140 cars parked in valet each day, which is evidence there is demand for additional parking. The issue has been under discussion for more than a decade, he said, so it's important to find the long-term solution.
One of the issues mentioned was how the valet parking is utilized in the lots and how it may not be efficient.
David Cancell, of Glen Avenue, said he walks by the parking lots several times per week and notices the metered spaces aren't being used and the valet needs to be configured more efficiently.
Ellen Steinberg said if you took a photo from the top of the library, you could see how the lot should be reconfigured to be more efficient. There are spaces blocked by the valet, she said, and it means 10-20 spaces are not being used at times.
Frank Meyer, of Cape Court, who has spoken against a deck on Lot 7 many times, again said township officials should drop any consideration of the lot for a parking deck because it would be a detriment of the quality of life of the neighborhood. No other community has built a parking deck in a residential neighborhood, he said.
"Who would want to buy a house next to a parking garage?" he questioned. He also accused the committee of having a double standard in protecting other areas of town in zoning cases but not the Glen Avenue neighborhood.
Debra Camitta, Curate co-owner, said if a deck is built, it should be on Lot 2 because it would help both commuters and downtown businesses. A commuter-only deck would be empty on weekends and evenings, she said, but on Lot 2 it would get more use.
But she told the committee it needed to consider when it would do construction if a deck is built downtown. The bridge construction has been "devastating" to downtown businesses, and it will take time to gain back the losses. Doing another project that will cause parking and traffic issues downtown quickly would be further devastating to downtown businesses, she said.
Tillotson said the earliest they could start construction is in 2012, but they would want to coordinate with the downtown businesses to not impact them.
But there were some who questioned if there should even be a parking deck constructed.
Stephen Thomas, a Cape Court resident, said he has never said he is 100 percent opposed to a parking deck, but he doesn't think it's been demonstrated a deck should be built anywhere.
Peter Humphreys, who expressed opposition to a deck during his unsuccessful campaign for township committee last fall, said the reasons to build the deck—increases in parking permits, the Hudson River tunnel among them—no longer exist. The only thing left is the cost of valet service, and Steinberg, his wife, debated the cost of the valet service. Township officials cite the cost as more than $200,000 per year, but Steinberg said it's been $166,000.
Humphreys said there are people who live in town who buy permits for their family and friends who live in neighboring communities. Plus some business owners do the same, he said. The permit process needs to be enforced, he said.
Steinberg said the survey Humphreys did for his campaign showed 85 percent of those who answered were satisfied with the valet service. She suggested the committee survey all permit holders.
Jane Boiles, of Cape Court, said no one moves to Millburn-Short Hills for a parking deck. The deck only affects a small percentage of residents, and the quality of life of everyone else would be affected, she said.
"I don't understand why you're bent on building this," she said.
Tillotson said they're not bent on building anything but rather finding a long-term solution.
Residents questioned why township officials haven't considered offering a shuttle service to the train station, and committee members cited the lack of people who use the jitney service to the Maplewood Train Station.
James Suell, a committee member, said at most 10 people use the service, which is after mailings, coupon offers and relocating the stops. "There's been low interest shown," he said. Mayor Sandra Haimoff said Springfield officials were not interested in partnering to offer a jitney service, and the grid in Short Hills' streets is not conducive for a shuttle service.
"Even the strongest proponents are now saying it's not working," she said.
Thomas, in a second round of comments, said he was concerned with the dismissive comments from the committee. He's been dealing with the issue for 17 years and been asking the same questions during that time without getting answers. He said it's frustrating.
"The antagonistic, obnoxious tone is offensive," he said.
Haimoff said township officials are equally frustrated with the issue because they've heard the cry for more parking spaces. There's been study after study, but nothing happens, she said.
"We need to try to reach a conclusion," she said, which could include not building a deck anywhere.