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Westfield Democrats Sweep, Blizzard, Creation of SID, Hiring of New Schools Superintendent Top Stories of '96
|By PAUL J. PEYTON for The Westfield Leader|
With 1995 barely gone over the horizon, the northeast was hit with the worst blizzard since 1947 on January 8. By the end of the storm, two feet of snow had fallen on the town, forcing the closing of schools. With both the town and Governor Christine Todd Whitman declaring emergencies, the town's Public Works crews were able to clear roads without having to dodge motorists. The storm cost Westfield over $230,000 in clean-up costs.
In January the Town Council also received reports from the Parking Task Force and from an advisory panel studying the creation of a Special Improvement District, both put together by former Mayor Garland C. "Bud" Boothe, Jr. Among the recommendations by the parking committee was a suggestion to boost on-street meter fees from 25 cents to 50 cents an hour in an effort to push meter feeders into long-term spaces in municipal lots.
New Mayor Thomas C. Jardim recently said he is leery about increasing street meters since this might push shoppers to other communities and shopping malls.
The 12-member parking committee, which was chaired by Robert D. Shaffer, recommended that two-hour spaces in the Prospect Street lot be increased while eight-hour spaces are reduced. Also, the report says two-hour spaces in the South Avenue railroad lot should be adjusted to 12-hour spaces. Also, permit spaces in the south side lot would be significantly increased while all permit spaces in the Citgo lot on North Avenue are eliminated in place of two-hour and eight-hour spaces. The South Avenue train station lot would be open to the general public after 10 a.m. on weekdays.
SID - Special Improvement District
In the SID committee's report, which favored the creation of the entity, an annual budget of $370,000 was recommended, to be supported by a tax assessment on properties amounting to .140 per $100 of assessed valuation. A total of $280,000 of the budget would be raised through taxes split 50-50 between municipal property taxes and an assessment on properties within the SID.
The largest piece of the committee's proposal was for an upgrade in lighting in the downtown. This cost alone, which was listed as part of the capital budget to be done over two years, was listed at $693,000. The committee recommended 240 new street and 90 new parking lot lights.
The council approved an ordinance in June to create the SID after months of public hearings. In approving the ordinance, redrafted by the Laws and Rules Committee, the council announced it did not support the use of residential property taxes to pay for the SID at this time.
The SID, named the Westfield Downtown Management Corporation, has just produced its draft budget of $215,000 for 1997 which will be detailed at a public hearing on Wednesday, January 8. The budget will be supported, in part, through an assessment on SID properties. This week's lead story provides more details on the proposed budget which must be approved by the council.
One area that did not change during the SID hearings
despite much support for it, however, was the inclusion
of the Central Avenue business district (from South
Avenue to Grove Street) within the budget. The committee,
instead, recommended that the council apply for the
state's Neighborhood Preservation Program for this area.
Another story which drew quite a bit of interest was the Westfield Zoning Board of Adjustment approval in January, by a 3-2 vote, of a 24-by-66-foot Colonial addition for the Victorian-style Kimball Avenue home of Kurt C. Bauer, Publisher of The Westfield Leader and The Times of Scotch Plains and Fanwood. Town Zoning Officer Jeremiah P. O'Neil had called the application "incongruous" and "incompatible."
Mr. Bauer's attorney, James P. Flynn, argued that the application did not violate any town variances.
Mr. Bauer died later that week, January 26, after a long illness. The application for his home never advanced to the construction stage.
In February, Dr. Mark C. Smith announced that he would leave the school district as Superintendent of Schools at the close of the 1995-1996 school year. Dr. Smith, who returned to his New England roots to become Superintendent of Schools in the Framingham, Massachusetts school district, had led the Westfield schools for a decade.
Dr. Smith was later replaced over the summer by Dr. William J. Foley, who had been an Assistant Superintendent in the district from 1984 to 1992, when he became Superintendent in Marlboro. Dr. Foley was hired following a process of interviews arranged by a consulting firm hired by the Board of Education. The board, which conducted a national search for Dr. Smith's replacement, wound up hiring Dr. Foley, who resides in Westfield.
On March 4, only weeks after his brother's death, Jeffrey L. Bauer was gunned down in the downtown Westfield offices of The Westfield Leader by his estranged wife, Meta Harrsen Bauer. Mr. Bauer, who became Publisher of The Leader upon Kurt's death, was shot three times and is believed to have died instantly from the hollow point bullets fired by Meta Bauer from a .357 magnum.
Two employees and Katherine Bauer, Kurt and Jeffrey's mother, witnessed the tragedy. Meta Bauer committed suicide after she killed her husband. She was said to be suffering from mental illness for years. Police later found her rental car in the train station parking lot. She had taken a train to New Jersey from her home in North Carolina.
Despite the murder-suicide, The Leader made its press deadline. A memorial service for the Bauer men, held later that month, filled St. Paul's Episcopal Church on Elm Street. Kurt and Jeffrey Bauer are buried in a family plot in the Fairview Cemetery on East Broad Street.
Also in March, the Town Council adopted a municipal budget of $21,807,062 which hiked property taxes on a home assessed at $178,000, the average for the town, by $72. Of the increase of $333,245 over the previous year, $230,000 was for the January blizzard. In order to try to avoid an even greater increase in the budget, the Westfield Memorial Library Board of Trustees budget request came up $39,000 short. With less funds the library had to cut back on its Friday night hours and was not able to provide Sunday hours as it had planned.
That same month the Board of Education adopted a budget of $48,987,031, with $42,942,204 proposed as the amount to be raised through taxes. The following month Westfield voters approved the budget along with re-electing Susan Jacobson and electing Arlene L. Gardner and AnnMarie Puleo to the Board of Education over Frances Masterson and Michael A.J. Farrell.
In April, Mayor Boothe announced his decision not to seek reelection. A week later First Ward Councilman Norman N. Greco officially announced his decision to seek the Republican Party's nomination for Mayor.
The road to victory for Westfield Democrats began when the nomination petitions by Thomas C. Jardim, Lawrence A. Goldman, and John J. Walsh were filed with Town Clerk Joy C. Vreeland, the same week Mr. Greco filed his petition.
In April the Board of Education approved the reorganization of the management structure at Edison Intermediate School in an effort to boost Early Warning Test scores of eighth graders while also addressing some disciplinary concerns. A new position, Dean of Students, was created for each grade level. They now report to the Director of Intermediate School Education, also a new position.
Appointed deans were former Jefferson School Principal Kelly Kissiah, sixth grade; Edison Principal Samuel Hazell, seventh grade, and former Westfield High School Assistant Principal Stewart Carey, eighth grade. Ms. Kissiah was appointed as the Director of Intermediate School.
In May the town signed a contract with the United National Bank of Somerset for a Westfield VISA card. In a press release issued by then Mayor Boothe, he noted the town hoped the card would generate annual revenues of between $20,000 and $30,000. He also suggested that the funds be used to renovate the Reeve House on Mountain Avenue which will eventually become a town museum and permanent home for the Westfield Historical Society's archives.
That same month the Board of Adjustment denied a request from the proprietor of Marylou's Memorabilia on Elm Street to display a mannequin. Marylou Strafaci, who had been displaying the mannequin over the course of 12 years, had come before the board after being cited by the town's zoning officer. A petition with the names of 30 merchants was turned over to the council in opposition to the removal of the mannequin.
The Westfield High School junior class returned to school on June 3 following the weekend to learn that their classmate, Liesja "Lisa" A. Tortorello, had been killed in a traffic accident along the Garden State Parkway. The entire class attended a memorial service for Liesja at the First United Methodist Church. A memorial service for the class followed an evening service the previous night at The Presbyterian Church in Westfield.
Also injured in the crash were Jennifer Kemps, Terry Caprario, Alena M. Lygate, and Lauren M. McGovern. The girls all recovered from their injuries. The high school's girls field hockey team, of which Liesja was a member, dedicated their 1996 fall season in her memory.
Second Ward Councilman James J. Gruba retained his seat on the governing body by defeating challenger Nancy Priest in the Republican Party Primary. Councilman Gruba won by a margin of 184 seats. With no Democratic challenger in the fall general election, the victory guaranteed Councilman Gruba another two-year term.
That same month, the Board of Education approved the creation of a girls lacrosse team at the high school starting this spring. Approval came after a private group of citizens was successful in garnering a grant of $12,500 to pay for expenses for the inaugural season.
The Westfield Leader and The Times of Scotch Plains and Fanwood were purchased by Watchung Communications, Inc. on June 20. Horace R. Corbin, President of the newly created corporation, became the paper's 10th publisher. His wife, Gail, Secretary of the corporation, was named General Manager with her sister, Karen M. Hinds, retaining the title of Office Manager. The rest of the staff was retained from the Bauer/Montalbano partnership which had bought The Leader from the Walter J. Lee, Jr. family in 1990. The Lee family had operated The Leader for 80 years. Mr. Bauer purchased The Times in 1993.
In July, Anthony N. Palumbo was named to the Republican ticket to run for Third Ward Councilman. Mr. Palumbo, an attorney in Cranford and former Union County Assistant Prosecutor, replaced Eric E. Munz, who dropped out of the race.
The council approved a resolution to allow Sunrise, Inc. to demolish the Westfield Nursery on Springfield Avenue. The move followed the April approval by the Planning Board which granted Sunrise's application to construct a 77-unit Victorian mansion as an assisted-living facility. The total cost of the project was set at $5.5 million.
One of the biggest stories of the year began to unravel in July when The Leader learned of uncertain future of the Rialto Theatre on East Broad Street.
A long Island development company is under contract to purchase the theater from Denver-based United Artists, provided it can find a tenant. Currently, a group of citizens has been meeting to come up with alternative ideas to save the theater. The contract with Armstrong Development, Inc. has been extended into January. Talks have included both movie house operators as well as retailers.
The developer has been involved in negotiations with The Gap, Inc. to lease the theater as a Banana Republic store. The Gap currently operates two stores in Westfield's downtown.
Former Police Chief James F. Moran, 74, died on August 2. The Chief was most noted for his efforts in trying to solve the John List murders which occurred in November of 1971 in the former List mansion on Hillside Avenue.
Also in August, Brad Keimach's tenure with the Westfueld Symphony Orchestra ended. While the symphony originally announced through a press release that a search was underway to find a replacement for Mr. Keimach, the former conductor later announced that he had been terminated after refusing to accept a pay cut.
The symphony announced that until a replacement was found, it would bring in five guest conductors. The shows under the guest conductors were received warmly by symphony subscribers.
In September, The Leader reported that a two-man partnership from Camden County was interested in opening a brewpub in Westfield in the former Townsend Brothers Moving and Storage Company building on North Avenue. Although it has been revealed that this site is no longer under consideration, the concept is still very much alive.
The Leader also reported that a group of Westfield businessmen were holding discussions about founding a community bank. It was noted that the group would have to raise between $6 and $10 million in new capital within the community if the new bank was to become a reality.
Fairview Cemetery unveiled its new mausoleum on September 13. The new structure, which contains 382 crypts and 96 niches for cremated remains, is located on the Gallows Hill Road side of the 110-acre cemetery.
The council approved Kimball Avenue as Westfield's first Historic Prservation District in September. The district had been delayed while the council gave Mrs. Bauer, whose sons were the lone dissenters to the district, time to sell her house. Once it was revealed the new owners were in favor of the historic district the ordinance moved forward.
October got off to a bang with the Chamber of Commerce's annual Festifall, reported to be the most successful yet. The event, held a week later than planned due to rain, drew 25,000 persons to the downtown.
The council approved the purchase of 70 digital meters for downtown street parking at a cost of $12,000. Factored into the cost was a the $8 per meter the town received for trading-in of the old meters. The cost was taken out of the $50,000 appropriation in the 1996 municipal budget, which had been included for the new meters.
In November, Westfield voters went to the polls and chose now Mayor Jardim over Councilman Greco by less than 400 votes. Mr. Walsh was victorious by nearly 500 votes over Mr. Palumbo in the Third Ward race while Mr. Goldman edged out Janis Fried Weinstein in the Fourth Ward Race.
With their victory, the Democrats decreased the Republican majority from 8-1 to 5-4 on the nine-member council. In the case of a 4-4 vote, Mayor Jardim will cast the tiebreaking vote. Mr. Goldman and Mr. Walsh join veteran Democratic Councilman James Hely on the governing body.
At the county level, the Democrats also swept thus taking over the majority for the first time since 1991. Elected to the Freeholder board were Nicholas P. Scutari of Linden and Donald Goncalves of Elizabeth. Voters also re-elected Linda d. Stender to a second term. She will be named Chairwoman when the Freeholders hold their reorganization meeting this Sunday, January 5.
The Democrats defeated Republican Freeholders Linda-Lee Kelly, Linda Di Giovanni and their runningmate, Mountainside Mayor Robert Viglianti.
The Board of Adjustment delayed its decision until later this month on an application by 20-year resident Maureen Garrels to turn her circa 1876 stately home on Westfield Avenue into the town's first Bed & Breakfast. Ms. Garrels said she would charge $130 per night for a stay at "Holly Hedge."
After several months of discussion on a proposed amendment to the town's conditional restaurant license to allow public bars in such restaurants, the Westfield/Mountainside Ministerium Associates, headed by the Reverend Dr. Darla Dee Turlington, officially opposed the concept in a written letter to the council with a copy faxed to The Leader.
The letter was the first opinion provided either for or against the proposal. During previous council meetings only the holders of bar licenses or the conditional licenses commented on the issue. Reverend Turlington attended a council meeting in December to let feelings be known on the record.
The council decided not to take any action on the ordinance which had been tabled since October, thus killing the ordinance for the time being.
Currently, Wyckoff's, The Jolly Trolley, The Towne House, and the Echo Lake Country Club hold the only full licenses in town. Conditional licenses, which allow lounges and service bars (where drinks are prepared to be taken to tables), do not permit bars. Conditional licenses are held by Ken Marcotte, Ferraro's, and B.G. Fields. Two licenses, held previously by Raymond's amd Sinclaire's, are now pocketed or inactive.
The council approved the rezoning of 47 lots on Tudor Oval in December in an effort to end the rash of subdivisions after neighbors complained bitterly. The new RS-12, for 12,000-foot lots, replaced the previous RS-8 and RS-10 zones for 8,000 and 10,000 square-foot homes, respectively.
At the last council meeting of the year, the governing body and town officials said good bye to Mayor Boothe, Third Ward Councilman Gary G. Jenkins, and Councilwoman Weinstein. Prior to his five years as mayor, Mr. Boothe served 11 years representing the Second Ward, the longest stint on council in the town's history. Mr. Jenkins served for six years while Mrs. Weinstein joined the council in February to replace Michael E. Panagos who had resigned.
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