Lord & Taylor, Municipal Lots Redevelopment Plans Move Forward

By REBECCA MEHORTER
Specially Written for The Leader/Times

WESTFIELD — The Westfield Town Council met for the last time in 2020 on Tuesday, at which time officials discussed a new recycling vendor, redevelopment plans and multiple end-of-the-year resolutions to prepare for 2021.

Town Administrator Jim Gildea made a recommendation at the start of the meeting to accept a contract with Grand Sanitation Service for the curbside recycling program. The council later in the meeting passed three resolutions related to the awarding of contracts.

The contract is for the hauler only, and the town then directs the hauler to a disposal site of its choice. The previous vendor decided not to bid for the next year, Mr. Gildea said, so the town had to look for a new group. The town rejected two bids for cost reasons, he said, but there still will be a rise in cost with the new vendor.

The program will still be every-other-week pickup for 1s, 2s, paper and cardboard, and it will still be single-stream. With the new vendor is a new schedule for pickup. Instead of four collection zones for recycling, the town will have 10 zones. Residents should expect their pickup day to change and can check the town website for the new zones in the coming weeks.

The council passed a resolution to approve a conditional designation and interim-cost agreement with Streetworks Westfield LLC. Mayor Shelley Brindle explained in her opening remarks that the resolution designates Streetworks, a subsidiary of the Hudson’s Bay Company (which owns the Lord & Taylor properties), to be the developer of the Lord & Taylor properties, the South Avenue and North Avenue train station municipal parking lots and municipal Lot 7, which is across from the post office.

“Rather than operate independently of the town’s input to decide the best use of their property — something they would be within their rights to do — they understand that our success is their success, and as our largest downtown property owner, our futures are intertwined,” Mayor Brindle said.

With this resolution, Streetworks has the power to present plans for the properties, using input from the public and guided by the Master Plan, to the town. Mayor Brindle said these plans should be ready by mid-2021. The town can then choose to adopt the plans or not, but Mayor Brindle emphasized the town will have no obligation to do so. Streetworks’ designation will expire at the end of next year with the option for a renewal process if warranted. The resolution also allows the town to be reimbursed for the related development, planning and legal costs to date and for Streetworks to incur the costs going forward.

Councilman Mark LoGrippo said he voted no on the resolution because he was concerned about crowded schools and overdevelopment. Mayor Brindle clarified that no plans have been determined as to what will be built on the properties. She also said the school board will be heard on the matter while the plans are made as well as after the plans are presented.

Resident Kerry Murphy spoke during the public-comment portion of the meeting with concerns. Ms. Murphy said she was concerned residents may not realize what has been occurring relating to redevelopment because of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. “Given everything that’s going on right now, is now the time to be doing that? Can we not shelve it until we get past this really difficult stage?” she asked.

Mayor Brindle thanked Ms. Murphy for her concerns but said that it was not her experience that residents are unaware and that she does not think redevelopment can wait specifically because of the pandemic.

“The last thing we can afford to do, economically, is shelve it and watch more and more businesses close and then spend our time figuring out what we’re going to do,” Mayor Brindle said. “We need to act with a sense of urgency that this pandemic has thrown at us.”

The council also passed three ordinances at the meeting. Special Ordinance No. 2220 authorizes a special emergency appropriation related to coronavirus-associated revenue loss. The ordinance allows the town to potentially spread losses over a six-year period if needed. However, Councilwoman Linda Habgood said that town finances are “going quite well despite all the things going on this year,” so the ordinance is more of a protective measure. Everyone but Councilman LoGrippo voted in favor of the ordinance.

The council unanimously passed General Ordinance No. 2201 and No. 2202 as well. No. 2201 adjusts the town code to update town job titles and salary ranges starting January 1, 2021. No. 2202 adds two more members from the public to the Tree Preservation Commission. According to the ordinance, the commission “shall assist the Planning Board or the Board of Adjustment, as the case may be, in an advisory capacity on tree preservation and management matters pertaining to the Town.”

Councilwoman Habgood practiced her monologue skills as she read over 30 resolutions for the finance policy committee. Many of the resolutions related to end-of-the-year responsibilities of the chief financial officer as well as resolutions to set the town up for 2021. The town council and Mayor Brindle also approved the resolution to receive their salaries — $1 each — for 2020, although Mayor Brindle assured the public they do not cash their dollar.

The council also passed a resolution in support of New Jersey Senate Bill No. S-2964 and New Jersey Assembly Bill A-4925. The bills offer reform to make it easier for new restaurant owners to obtain liquor licenses, something Mayor Brindle said has become more urgent due to revenue loss related to the pandemic. She said licenses are so expensive that new and young restaurateurs lose the opportunity to get a license. The bills attempt to protect expected revenue losses from current license holders by giving them a tax credit. The council voted unanimously in favor of the resolution.

Mayor Brindle also thanked Darielle Walsh of the planning board and Recreation Commission Chairman Gary Fox, who both served at their last meetings on Monday night. Both Ms. Walsh and Mr. Fox served on their respective boards for 13 years before stepping down.

The Westfield Town Council will meet next on Tuesday, January 12, 2021.

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