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Upscale Chocolatier Coming to Downtown Millburn

Democrats Talk Parking and Flooding

Candidates look to add change the political make up of the majority Republican Township Committee.

Democrats gathered at the Library Monday night to meet the Democratic candidates for the Township Committee and to talk about the issues they think are important in Millburn right now, with two issues topping the list – parking and flooding.

The Township recently voted to build a parking deck on the corner of Essex and Lackawanna, across from the train station, after spending years talking about it.

If they had done it when it first came up as an issue more than a decade ago, it would be paid for by now, candidates Seth Levine and Stephen Thomas said.

But they also said they cannot understand how the township committee can decide on parking without tying the decision in with downtown re-development.

The flooding that took place during Irene is the other major issue for the town and will be for some time to come, the candidates said.

Several members of the audience were from the newly formed South Mountain Civic Association and were there to expressly learn the candidates’ views on the topic of flooding. One resident, who grew up here, moved back and into a house in the South Mountain neighborhood, two days before her house was flooded in the storm.

The township is going to have to do what it takes to bring the old and inadequate sewer systems up-to-date and address the flooding problems with the Rahway with towns upstream and downstream, the candidates said.

“The sewer system in South Mountain is too old and too small,” said Levine. “Part of why it's too small is because of its age.”

Levine abd Thomas said that not only does the sewer system need to be improved, but so does drainage and part of that will mean getting all the easements in order to run 24 inch drainage pipes behind some properties.

In addition, the candidates agreed, a bigger pumping station is needed at the Green Acres site along the river just off Gilbert Place, which could get tricky because of the Green Acres designation, although the township was told it could double the current capacity there without a problem.

“What if we find out that we need to triple the capacity? Will we be able to? These are questions that they need to ask,” Thomas said.

Levine and Thomas, both of whom frequent Township Committee meetings, are running against Republicans Robert Tillotson, an incumbent, and Sari Greenberg for two seats on the Township Committee.

With a committee that’s majority Republican, the Democrats say the committee needs a little more political diversity, so that there are more people who won’t just go along with the majority on decisions.

“It’s a positive thing to have Democrats on the Committee,” Thomas said. “We’re not a uniformly Republican township.”

The first Democrat to serve on the Committee was Dan Baer, who attended the meet/greet. Currently the only Democrat on the committee is Jim Suell.

Levine and Thomas are also running on platform that change would be good for the Township Committee and that the committee needs to make difficult choices and plan for the future.

“We flooded during Hurricane Floyd and the township reacted and did some things, partial measures but did not plan for the future,” Levine said. “The Township Committee is very reactive in nature. They very rarely take pro-active measures.”

The Democratic candidates will meet the Republican Candidates for a televised debate  tomorrow, which will be aired soon, and for a forum next week sponsored by the Short Hills Association at 7 p.m. Oct. 27 at the Education Center.

Damian October 19, 2011 at 09:02 PM
What is so hard to understand? NO STUDY has been made to see how many business permit parkers daily occupy spots which should be reserved for train commuters. Anecdotally I have seen dozens parked at Short Hills and the downtown lots. Who, in their right mind, would commit our commuters (and you know the town will be on the hook as a back up for financing-anyone here read ANYTHING about SOPAC in South Orange?) to the deck when so much is unclear? What happens if we start deck construction (alongside the river) then find out things need to be changed mid construction to ameliorate the flooding issues further down the river? What's more important-figuring out the flooding, or rushing through an unneeded downtown concrete box?
MarkDS October 19, 2011 at 09:09 PM
But why is a deck better than valet, which works and is cheaper? You gain nothing with a deck as opposed to continuing valet parking.
Stephen V. Thomas October 19, 2011 at 10:09 PM
Damian--Though I agree with a great deal of what you've said, I think I might frame the debate a bit differently. I'll try to explain myself .... I've been up, down, and around this debate from what feels like most every angle. I've reached the conclusion that if we as a community are committed to doing SOMEthing for what seems to me to be a less-than-vibrant downtown business district, then we must begin by doing SOMEthing to help the business community. In short, for as long as I've been here, the business community has complained that the downtown area does not have enough parking to appease its customer base. Now, it's possible one might dismiss that thesis out of hand. I don't. And given that I accept it, I'm willing to combine the business community's needs/desires with what some people say is a shortage of commuter parking (we can debate that one for a loooong time). Enter a deck on Lot 2. (cont)
Stephen V. Thomas October 19, 2011 at 10:16 PM
(cont) However, though I believe that Lot 2 makes the most sense for any structure at this stage of the game, I remain confused that we as a community are proceeding with anything in the downtown area without giving some thought to redevelopment/revitalization. Finally, I agree that Irene changed the dynamics of the game, if not a lot, then at least somewhat. That is, we darn well better figure out what are dealing with in that arena before we pull the trigger on what is estimated to be an $8 million project on Lot 2.
Stephen V. Thomas October 19, 2011 at 10:19 PM
And to your point about people abusing permits: I can tell you that that question has been posed to the committee and various parking task forces over the years and, unless I'm mistaken, no one has actually been detailed to investigate, as best as possible, who is using what permits to park where...if I'm wrong, I'd love to see the results of said audit....
Charles October 19, 2011 at 10:38 PM
OMG. I can't believe I am seeing reasonable comments by a candidate here Mr. Stephen V. Thomas -- a Democrat, no less. If only your running mate had not committed to a deck using crazy reasoning. Anyway, keep it up and you'll get my vote for sure. The short of the matter is that there has been no study of who is actually parking and it is my belief that a great number of people are coming from out of town to park here in our lots. It is not only abuse of the business parking permit holder privileges at the commuter lots, although if you walk around and do your own "study" at the SH lot you'll see 20% are indeed business permit holders (meanwhile, many of the spots reserved for business holders only stay empty all day long).
Charles October 19, 2011 at 10:55 PM
Just a footnote to my last note - by referencing SH commuter lots I include all of the perimeter commuter "permit-only" parking on the streets very close to the station. This is where I've seen a great number of business permits. The business permits don't jump out at the casual looker - they are quite similar. Like Damian, I see no reason why business parkers need have access to all of the commuter spaces, while keeping the business spaces reserved only for business holders.
Charles October 19, 2011 at 11:06 PM
Uploaded a copy of the business permit application. You can see how easy it is to get a super business permit, including a transferable permit freely available for FIVE cars, at a cost of only $300. What is a "business," anyway? We're registered - we pay business taxes. Should home hobbyists qualify? Who's an employee? Should a babysitter qualify? There is no requirement that the cars registered actually be used for the business.
mollyb October 19, 2011 at 11:07 PM
I think we really need to take a close look at those business permits and parkers. The business owners have always complained about lack of shopper parking--yet the OWNER of The House parks her pink Lexus in the best parking spot (at a meter) outside her store EVERY DAY. Why would a business owner take the best spot away from a shopper? Why does she not have a permit and park in the business permit lot next to the recycling yard, which anytime I've driven by is not even half full (to be fair, I work all day and don't drive by often...but when I have on weekdays, it's practically empty). Why can't we move business permit parkers farther from the middle of town (if they care about their business, they won't gripe about the walk) and free up space for commuters and parkers. Why not turn the Rimbach building eventually into a business-only lot. While it did cost us a lot, it would still be cheaper than paying for an $8 deck.
mollyb October 19, 2011 at 11:08 PM
make that $8 million deck. wish is was 8 bucks!
Stephen V. Thomas October 19, 2011 at 11:09 PM
Charles--you're preaching to the choir, a choir that has been singing for a loooooong time. Maybe you can call the town and register your frustration? To echo Really People's concerns, there's not a great deal of engagement from the larger community on this and other important issues. Those of us who have been persistent seem to be seen as so much white noise after a while. Not saying that I'm not being heard, necessarily, but that it certainly feels as though one is looked at with a sort of 'oh, here he goes again' kind of look. Of course, perhaps had I felt I'd been heard over the years, I'd feel less inclined to continue to appear to register my frustration. And lastly, c'mon! Democrats can't be reasonable???
Charles October 19, 2011 at 11:10 PM
As to the last comment - the certification is that "the permit will be used only for the vehicles and employees listed above and in accordance with the [liberal rules]." Thus, there is no requirement that the vehicles be used in the business.
Damian October 20, 2011 at 12:02 AM
Stephen, we don't have a downtown parking problem. The problem is that people don't want to walk more than half a block to whatever store they want to frequent. There are always spots available behind School House Plaza. Rather than spend 8 million dollars why doesn't the town approach the lot owner next to the Post Office and pave and stripe that lot if affordable? It would provide downtown parking off commuter hours/weekends as well. The gorilla in the room is that some on the TC want no changes to the area around the Short Hills Station, and to have downtown absorb any overage when those lots fill. Not a word came out about any restriping or alterations at the Short Hills Station area during the final talks on the concrete box, just a rush to drop an 8 million dollar risky eyesore downtown on top of a river that floods.
mollyb October 20, 2011 at 12:15 AM
As to Damian's comments above about parking in Short Hills--amen! There has been studies done about increased surface parking there and nothing gets done. Dare you say you may cut a tree down on Chatham Road (and I'm not saying cutting trees is the way to go), the whole community goes crazy, yet we are happy to erect a big concrete box! I too have looked longingly at that empty lot next to the post office and thought what a nice little spot for shoppers or commuters. every little bit helps. has any member of the existing TC looked into that? Perhaps Stephen Thomas can do so...and surely earn my vote, even if the answer is it's not feasible.
Stephen V. Thomas October 20, 2011 at 12:31 AM
Damian--You won't get a strenuous argument from me about downtown parking and people's willingness to walk. As an aside, I'll tell you that when, in 1994, the task force I was a member of discussed the possibility of decking over Lot 1, the sister lot to Lot 2 at the corner of Essex and Main, the response from the mayor at the time was, and this is a quote, 'people won't walk that far.' To which I responded, A) they will if they have no choice and B) if people won't walk that far, we better get in touch with the Mall at Short Hills because that place will certainly go out of business what with the fact that people have to walk a lot there (specifically, from their cars to the stores). And a gorilla in the room? I'll politely disagree that it exists because at least a few of us have been pointing to that gorilla for almost 20 years and asking why it is none of the many, many, many suggestions for restriping or other modest alterations that would result in increased parking ever gets acted upon ... still another reason why I decided to run: Tired of being told suggestions will be looked into and then nothing happens.
Charles October 20, 2011 at 11:27 AM
Sounds great Stephen. There are three fundamental economic/enforcement points coming from the funding issue that I would add. One, if a committed decision is made to build the garage based solely upon the number of parkers, including fraudsters and others not intended to be benefited, the incentive to crack down is transformed into an incentive to overlook and even encourage additional fraud and loose regulation. This is because the funding will rely upon the cash generated by the unintended beneficiaries. Point two: since the town intends to increase the rates rather substantially fewer permits will be sold. There has been no study of the effect that this reduction may have on overall proceeds. Three: if one can stem demand by raising the prices, one should consider whether that, plus rearrranging existing lots/etc. can solve the problem completely.
MarkDS October 20, 2011 at 11:40 AM
What empty lot? If you are referring to the former gas station plot, that is privately owned and would be very expensive to buy or take through eminent domain. It is great to put out all kinds of ideas, ideas are needed, but when it comes to acquiring private property it will be expensive. I have suggested using the field next to the library for parking then building a replacement field on the Rimback site.
Stephen V. Thomas October 20, 2011 at 11:49 AM
Charles--At risk of repeating myself....I promise you, during the nine-or-so months that I sat on a parking task force between late '94 and mid-'95, I mentioned more than once the idea that our community needed to raise its parking fees such that they would come in line with surrounding communities. The fees to park in Millburn/Short Hills are stunningly below what one might consider 'market rate' (I'm going from memory here and my numbers will likely be a bit off; however, I stand by the larger point). We live in what a former mayor once crowed to the Sunday NY Times real estate section is 'one of the most affluent communities in the tri-state area,' and yet we demand that residents pay approximately 1/3rd what Maplewood, South Orange, and Summit residents pay to park. This has always confused me: the town is obviously in possession of a valuable commodity, parking, and yet, it is seemingly unwilling to charge anywhere near a market rate for said. And to be clear, I am NOT suggesting nor do I think towns should get in the habit of expecting residents to pay for what some could argue is an expected amenity. HOWEVER, isn't it reasonable to ask that that amenity be appraised 'fairly,' or perhaps in line with how neighboring communities value said amenity??
Charles October 20, 2011 at 11:56 AM
Good stuff Stephen. I guess I would add that as cheap as the residential permits may now be, in comparison to surrounding communities, the super-business parking permits (allowing parking at any lot, including commuter lots) are even considerably cheaper. They should be raised as well. Why should the town provide all this parking at heavily subsidized rates?
Stephen V. Thomas October 20, 2011 at 11:56 AM
(cont) Moreover, given the gnashing of teeth vis a vis parking this township has experienced ever since I moved into it, and given that there is at least some sense that abuse of permits is rampant, wouldn't it be logical to take steps that might limit that abuse? Raising fees independent of deck construction anywhere might be a reasonable first step -- if the exact same number of permits are sold, we're a good bit closer to an answer about parking needs. If, say, 100 fewer permits are sold, do we need to do anything?
MarkDS October 20, 2011 at 12:42 PM
I would be very reluctant to making commuter parking a revenue source above and beyond the cost of providing it. And, that would just make abuse of business permits that more attractive, But ordinances should be revised to clarify that business permits can only park in designated business spots, not designated commuter spots and then violators should be ticketed. Also the business permit proceess should be tightened to require proof of a business need and then tracked. It is amazing to me that through this whole process no steps in this direction have been taken.
M.Moore October 20, 2011 at 12:58 PM
I believe the empty lot mollyb is speaking of is next to the Millburn Post Office, not the Short Hills Post Office. That lot has been for sale for years and therefore the price may be negotiable. It is a short walk to the train station from there. It's a good idea to consider.
Charles October 20, 2011 at 02:14 PM
Exactly. Even if "abuse" is not in fact rampant, a reduction of just 10% of cars parked in the commuter spots would have a solid impact. The rules are loose; there is no need to consider anyone technically following the loose requirements and providing permits to their friends and relatives in, say Randolph or Parsippany, an abuser. And, of course, it doesn't take much to consider a sitter an employee (as a sitter really is) and get a permit which can then be given back. Another point is that the police seem to be too flexible about allowing call-ins for substitute cars. What is striking is a high percentage of cars in the commuter lots which do not show any permit at all. I thought that was just for when the permitted car is in for repair. And speaking of police, one of those non-permitted parked commuter cars has displayed a police cap on the back shelf.
MarkDS October 20, 2011 at 02:19 PM
I had a car out of commission for quite a while recently and took my other one to the train station.. I called in every day. Still, I was ticketed one day, in spite of calling in (though once they listened to the tape the ticket was dismissed). But it shows there is at least some ticketing of cars with no permits.
Damian October 20, 2011 at 03:05 PM
To Stephen, we may well have lower priced commuter parking compared to other towns. That said, our property taxes are the highest in the state. We should view commuter parking as a non profit area for the town, not something to raise just to get into line with other towns-after all, they don't raise their taxes to match ours!
Stephen V. Thomas October 20, 2011 at 03:14 PM
Damian--a legitimate point. Not positive I think the two are entirely analogous, but I'm willing to consider the point as I go about my day. I guess in the near term, I'd like to know parking rates as a percentage of property taxes; in other words, in neighboring towns, what are parking fees in relation to property taxes? If our ratio is considerably lower (and I admit, I don't know right this second), should it/could it be brought into line?
Stephen V. Thomas October 20, 2011 at 03:17 PM
Ultimately, I see your point, but I'm still not convinced we don't provide too great a subsidy to residents when it comes to parking. Full disclosure: I live VERY close to the train, so it's academic for me. Of course, one of the primary reasons my wife and I bought the house we did was because ... it was VERY close to the train and, therefore, we wouldn't need to buy a second car on what were then modest publishing salaries...
Charles October 20, 2011 at 04:52 PM
Full disclosure here as well - we purchase one ticket because although it is a ten minute walk and many people in our neighborhood and somewhat beyond walk to the train, my wife likes to drive. If the price goes up, we'll probably stop buying the permit. We also have a cheap Vespa scooter which can be parked without a permit at the bicycle stand. I've seen many of those scooters parked at other town stations and I would suspect we could see more here if the price goes up.
Charles October 20, 2011 at 10:17 PM
I think there is a reason why no business need is required. That is, the permits are intended to allow cheap commuter parking spaces for business employees. Although I do question that purpose, the real problem, I suspect, is that this intended looseness together with close-by commuter parking has provided a real loophole and/or opportunity for out-of-towners.
Charles May 13, 2012 at 02:25 AM
Here's the smoking gun - News from NorthJersey.com - SPRINGFIELD resident reports theft of his SUV from Short Hills Chatham Rd. Lot - parked 7:30 a.m., returns 6:30 -definitely parking for the commute. Patch could be interested: Millburn police: missing SUV towed from lot? NorthJersey.com Reports of an auto theft around 6:25 pm May 9 drew Millburn police to the municipal parking lot on Chatham Road. A Springfield resident told police he ...

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