FANWOOD — Work on the borough’s big redevelopment project on South Avenue got underway in the final months of 2023, while construction of a new library moved toward completion early next year.
Fanwood Democrats started 2023 by cementing their unanimous control of the borough council, with Councilwoman Kathy Mitchell being sworn into a record eighth term on the governing body and newcomer Gina Berry beginning her first term. Jeffrey Banks was chosen to serve as council president.
The start of the new year saw the demolition of the Fanwood Memorial Library. Construction of the new, $8.2million library began in February once the rubble from the old facility was cleared. That same month, the council extended the date for completion of the new library to March 29, 2024. While the new library is under construction, its operations have moved to trailers on the north side of the train station.
The formerA&P supermarket site on SouthAvenue, which sat vacant for several years, is being redeveloped along with adjoining lots into two apartment buildings, a restaurant and a new home for Fanwood Liquors. The planning board in August approved the site plan forwhatwillbeknownasCaranoSquare and be situated on the supermarket site and a portion of Old South Avenue. During the first phase of the massive, $52-million project, a temporary building andparkinglotforFanwoodLiquors will be built behind where it presently sits.Two four-story apartment buildings will be constructed, with one building having 74 apartments and the other having 66 units.A5,000-square-foot restaurant will be attached to the western side of the eastern-most building and include a rooftop terrace. A new home for the liquor store will be built on the site where it presently is situated.
Hooray for Hollywood — and Fanwood. In April, the borough council took a first step toward making Fanwood a “film-ready” community by adopting an ordinance that formally sets out a process for television and movie production companies to apply to film in the borough. Mayor Colleen Mahr spoke about the “heavy economic development component” of being a film-readycommunity,withstudiosand their employees and actors being in the borough to film and also spend money at local businesses.
The council in May discussed manpower shortages in the police department and potential ways to ensure the department is as fully staffed as possible. Since September 2021, the department had lost five officers while hiringthreenewones.Earlierthismonth, the council honored Dr. Caesar DePaco and his wife, Deanna, for their philanthropic work with local law enforcement. The couple donated $14,000 to the police department, which has helped with the purchase of four new AED defibrillators, vest-carriers for officers and two bicycles.
In June, the council approved the 2023 $10.675-million municipal budget, which will be funded in part by a 1.5-percent increase in the municipal portion of property taxes. Mayor Mahr said the increases in appropriations and taxes were mainly due to increases in health-insurance costs, pension contributions, cybersecurity insurance and other general costs involved with operating the borough government and providing services to the residents.
Borough officials in early summer condemned an anti-Semitic graffiti incident at the Nature Center and pledged increased vigilance to stem the recent wave of vandalism at borough parks.
Jesse Moehlman was hired as the new borough administrator in October after nearly three years serving as assistant business administrator in Millburn. He replaced Rayna Harris, who resigned earlier in the summer.
PublicWorks Director Clint Dicksen told the borough council in November that his staff has seen “no difference” in the conditions of the parks and the parks’ infrastructure since the ordinance allowing dogs in parks was passed in the summer of 2022. Residents are cleaning up after their dogs and “the program is working out well,” he said.
Mayor Mahr was elected to a sixth term on November 7, and Councilmen Anthony Carter and Jeffrey Banks also were re-elected. All three ran unopposed. Ms. Mahr first was elected in 2003, when she defeated Republican Mayor Louis Jung. In 2007, she won reelection withoutopposition,andin2011, she defeated Republican Joseph Britt to win a third term. She won her fourth and fifth terms in 2015 and 2019 without any opposition.
In August, long-time resident and communityvolunteerDeanTalcottdied. He was a 48-year Fanwood resident and a long-time member of the shade tree commission and the environmental commission, a curator of the Fanwood Nature Center and documenter of all of the older trees in the borough by age and location.