TOWN COUNCIL MEETING OPENING REMARKS: MAY 10, 2022
(The following remarks were delivered by Mayor Brindle at the May 10, 2022 Town Council meeting.)
Good evening, everyone, and thanks to all who are joining us both here in the Council Chambers and online tonight.
We have a busy meeting tonight and, before we move to my opening remarks and the formal agenda, we are going to begin the evening with some very important appointments.
TOWN COUNCIL COMMITTEE APPOINTMENTSAs you know, at our last meeting, we swore in Councilwoman Emily Root to represent Ward 1, and, as a result, tonight we have changes to our Council Committee structures.
- Councilwoman Root is being appointed to the Public Works Committee, and will also serve as Vice Chair of the Public Safety, Transportation and Parking Committee.
- Councilman Katz will move from the Public Works Committee to the Code Review & Town Property Committee.
- Councilwoman Mackey will be appointed Vice Chair of the Public Works Committee.
- In terms of Council Liaison roles, Councilwoman Root will serve as liaison to the DWC, replacing Councilman Katz, who will become the liaison to both the Tree Preservation Commission and Library Board in the roles previously held by former Councilman Boyes.
DWC BOARD APPOINTMENTI’m pleased to announce the appointment of Kelly Richardson as the merchant member to replace Patricia Hanigan, who recently stepped down. Kelly is the new owner of The Farmhouse Store, and we’re thrilled to have his input and perspective. I am extremely grateful to Patricia for her dedication and service to the DWC Board, particularly during a very challenging time for our businesses driven by COVID.
TOWN CLERKTonight is bittersweet as we bid a fond farewell to Tara Rowley, who is retiring from her position as Town Clerk, and we congratulate Maureen Lawshe, who will be promoted from Deputy Clerk and sworn in as the new Town Clerk. Tara has been a valued colleague here in Town Hall, having served in her current role since 2017, following 20 years of experience in municipal government in Springfield and Cranford. Her consummate professionalism has made her a key member of our staff in Town Hall, and she will be deeply missed by all of us who benefitted from her work ethic, calm demeanor, and dedication.
And while we wish Tara all the best in her retirement, we are also fortunate to have someone as capable as Maureen to step into Tara’s big shoes. Maureeen was hired in 2014 as a Town Clerk Apprentice where she worked primarily in the Town Clerk’s office, but also spent time working in the Westfield Police Department Records Bureau and Tax Assessor’s office. Maureen obtained her Registered Municipal Clerks Certificate (RMC) in 2016 through the State of New Jersey while also obtaining her Bachelor’s Degree in Public Administration at Kean University. She was promoted to Deputy Town Clerk in 2017, earned her Master’s Degree in Public Administration in 2021, and was a graduate research assistant throughout her last semester for the Public Administration Department at Kean. In addition to her education, Maureen has been an integral part of the Town Clerk’s office for many years and assisted in the creation and implementation of various new processes and technology related to record retention efforts and the use of online forms and payments to streamline processes for residents. I am confident that the Town will benefit from Maureen’s knowledge, leadership and dedication for years to come.
I’m also happy to announce that, following a thorough search and interview process led by Town Administrator Jim Gildea, we have a resolution to appoint Natalie Berner as the new Deputy Town Clerk, replacing Maureen. Natalie resides in Rahway and has her Bachelor of Arts in Public Administration from Kean University, where she will be completing her Master’s in Public Administration this month. She has been working for the City of Elizabeth in various capacities, including as a Research Grant Writer and Housing Specialist for the Housing Authority.
Along with Natalie, we recently welcomed Martha Piscitelli to the Clerk’s office as a part-time Licensing Clerk, and we are excited about the great potential of this new team and the contributions they will make to our wonderful staff in Town Hall.
Following these appointments, Maureen’s swearing in, and a proclamation honoring Tara, I’ll also read a proclamation to recognize Building Safety Month.
OPENING REMARKSI’ll now move on to my remarks with the usual reminder that public comment will be accepted in person only, and we are live streaming for viewing only via Facebook. As always, the replay will also be available afterwards on Facebook, YouTube, and TV 36. ORDINANCES AND RESOLUTIONSRegulation & Licensing for Vehicle Towing and Storage Services
From the Public Safety Committee, tonight we’ll hear an ordinance on second reading amending the fees for various towing services, which had not been updated in over 20 years, enabling the town to offer more competitive rates so that we can have more towing companies at our disposal.
Amendment to the Downtown Westfield Scattered Site Redevelopment Plan
Also on second reading, from the Code Review & Town Property Committee, we’ll adopt an ordinance as well as a resolution to amend the existing Downtown Westfield Scattered Site Redevelopment Plan to allow for the property at 76 Elm Street, the former Chico’s space, to be utilized as a preview center for Streetworks Development. The ordinance was reviewed and approved by the Planning board at their last meeting.
You can expect to hear more details from Streetworks about the preview center ahead of its anticipated opening in July.
PROSPECT/FERRIS UPDATEOnce again, I’d like to thank the residents who are here to provide comments on the proposed redevelopment at Prospect/Ferris. At our last meeting, we heard the detailed results of the Traffic Impact Study by Stonefield and WSP in order to provide us with additional information to guide our decision-making prior to any vote on the final Redevelopment Agreement. We have posted a memo from WSP and Stonefield on our website that responds to some of the specific resident questions about the study, which I encourage you to review.
In addition, I joined Councilwoman Habgood at two neighborhood meetings she hosted in her home since we last met, along with Councilwoman Root and Economic Development Advisor Liz Jeffery, to answer residents’ questions and address specific concerns. It was a great opportunity to get input while also providing information about the process and communicating the benefits that have been extracted from the developer for this proposed project.
Many resident concerns are related to existing traffic and circulation in the area where necessary and long overdue improvements are already underway. New striping and signage has already been put in place at the lower part of Prospect Street, including the prohibition of left turns onto East Broad. Conversations with Trader Joe’s about parking lot circulation improvements are ongoing, and we are moving forward with our own plans to improve ingress and egress to the adjacent municipal lot. These are all improvements that are necessary, and unrelated to any proposed redevelopment.
That being said, this Council has been very clear in our intention to follow the guidance and outcome of the Master Plan, which was created with significant public input and unanimously supported by the Planning Board and this Town Council. A top priority of the Master Plan was to provide more living and working options that would drive regular daily foot traffic to our businesses to ensure they were sustained and suppported for the long term. Diversifying our housing stock was another top priority so that downsizers would have options to stay in Westfield, something that is already occurring with the apartments that have been built to date.
By appropriately utilizing the tools of redevelopment law through the groundwork we’ve laid to date, the Town is now able to exert significant control over many components of new development that were not historically available to us without Redevelopment Plans and Agreements in place. Our commitment to our priorities has not changed and, although there may not always be complete agreement on specific buildings and plans, we are grateful for the ongoing input we have received as we continue to utilize the vast expertise of our Town professionals to respond to these concerns.
In fact, we will be uploading a detailed FAQ about the project onto our website shortly, which addresses many of the questions we’ve received. I encourage everyone to take the time to read it in full. Tonight, in our conference session at 7:00, we also shared new building renderings with the Councilmembers that provide more detail and also reflect the changes made by the developer in response to residents’ feedback, and to ensure the building is more reflective of the neighborhood. We’ve provided those images to the press tonight and will also post them on our website, in addition to including them below.
I’m going to ask our Town Planner, Don Sammet, to join us briefly to provide an update on how the redevelopment team has been proceeding, and then we’ll get started with our formal agenda.