Have you seen the amazing improvements on the Rialto property? The permanent mural installation, coordinated by The Westfield Public Arts Commission, in partnership with the Center for Creativity at the Rialto, transforms and better connects the space from East Broad to the rear parking lot and is funded by a grant from Union County. You’ll also see bistro lights in this alleyway, and the area will soon have public wi-fi and a bike oasis with amenities for cyclists – including new bike racks, benches, a bike shelter, and bike tool repair station to further encourage biking in the downtown.
In addition, local artist and Westfield native Ricardo Roig has established the Heartwork Non-Profit Art Space next to the theater (in the former Robert Anthony Jeweler space), representing a further expansion of the arts in our downtown.
Please join us on Friday at 11:00 AM at Monument Circle for the annual Veterans Day ceremony. Thank you to the Martin Wallberg American Legion Post 3 for organizing this important event where the community can come together to recognize our veterans and their tremendous service to our country. As a reminder, Town Hall will be closed on Veterans Day.
Also in commemoration of Veterans Day, the next round of the Westfield Veterans Banner Program is underway and accepting submissions to recognize our veterans and active duty military personnel. The banners will be displayed each year from Memorial Day through Veterans Day in a partnership between the Town and the Westfield Veterans Fund, a locally established 501(c)(3) organization. Phase 1 of this program was introduced on July 4, when the first round of banners was unveiled on poles adjacent to Monument Circle, along East Broad Street, North Avenue, and South Avenue. For submission details and an application -- or to make a donation -- visit the Town website.
To highlight a few key items on tonight’s agenda, I will turn it over to Councilman Parmelee to discuss the topics from the Code Review & Town Property Committee.
CODE REVIEW & TOWN PROPERTY COMMITTEE ITEMS
(Remarks by Committee Chair, Councilman Parmelee)
Affordable Housing Trust Fund
Tonight, we will be voting on a resolution authorizing the release of funds from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund to Community Options Inc. to be used towards construction of a single-family home consisting of four special needs housing units for adults with developmental disabilities at 1753 Dakota Street. Community Options Inc. is a nonprofit organization that provides housing and employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
For background, our Affordable Housing Trust Fund currently has over $2M, which has accrued from contributions we’ve required from developers so that this fund is not subsidized by taxpayer money. Tonight’s proposed transfer is for $192,908, and is very similar to the action we took in January of this year for the Arc of Union County to build a single family group home at 901 Morris Avenue.
Community Options Inc. purchased the property at 1753 Dakota from a private owner, and the property is located in the RS-8 Single Family Residence District. The NJ Municipal Land Use Law permits community residences for persons with developmental disabilities as a permitted use in all residential districts in a municipality. By State law, development requirements are the same as for single-family homes in the district.
As part of our continued priority to responsibly fulfill our Affordable Housing requirements, this funding transfer would help further the goal specified in our settlement agreement with Fair Share Housing Center to work with non-profit affordable housing obligations to create 20 additional homes, half for families, by the end of 2025. This goal was approved by the Superior Court, when they approved our settlement and housing plan. We have a number of group homes in Westfield already, all of which have the appearance of detached single-family homes.
Beyond our actual obligations, our community is one that values diversity among our housing and our residents, and is committed to prioritizing the inclusivity that is enabled by this project. We look forward to welcoming these residents to their new home when it is completed.
Proposed Cell Tower
We’ll also vote on a resolution authorizing the award of contract for construction and maintenance of a cell tower facility and ancillary support equipment to be located at the Conservation Center, following a public bidding process.
As you may recall, this initiative was first brought up in February 2021, when we originally issued an RFP for cellular providers to place a cell tower adjacent to Houlihan/Sid Fay fields based on a letter we received from a wireless carrier at the time, expressing an interest in this placement. We took the request seriously based on a number of factors, including the desire to address poor cellular reception on the south side of Town, but also because of our need to address the long-standing parking and pedestrian safety issues at Houlihan/Sid Fay field – the lack of adequate parking, a restroom, and ADA compliance at the facility. In return for allowing a carrier to install a cell tower, the Town would require the provider to pay for some of these necessary improvements – an innovative solution to solve these issues at no cost to taxpayers – in addition to annual lease payments for the use of the property.
In March 2021, at the recommendation of the Code Review and Property Committee, the Town issued an RFP to bring on a consultant, at no cost, to advise the Council on negotiations with interested wireless providers – which ultimately resulted in a bid for lease of a communications facility issued this summer to cellular providers and tower operators, which yielded no bid responses.
This fall, we received some carrier feedback that placement of a cell tower at the Conservation Center on Lamberts Mill Road would better close the coverage gap that exists in a large portion of the southwest area of Westfield with a shorter pole required. In working with our consultant, we issued a new bid for this location and tonight will vote on authorizing the agreement with AT&T for an upfront payment of $100,000 that will be dedicated to the parking lot expansion and restroom facilities at Houlihan/Sid Fay Field. In addition, the agreement provides for an annual lease payment, as well as the potential for additional rent to be received from any co-locating wireless carriers on the tower.
Both wireless carriers and residents alike have repeatedly cited a need to improve cellular service in the southwest section of town, specifically Lamberts Mill to Willow Grove Road and Clifton Street, inclusive of Tamaques and Jefferson Elementary Schools. These areas have been identified as having wireless service gaps, specifically in the interiors of homes and buildings – a concern we hear increasingly from residents. Additionally, boosting coverage in this area would improve the reliability of our emergency response network for our first responders.
As discussed when we first explored this issue, it’s important to consider that if we don’t approve a location on Town property, the providers have the option to go to an alternate site on private property, either in Westfield or in close proximity in a neighboring town. This would improve the coverage but eliminate Westfield from being able to reap any of the investment or revenue benefits.
We understand there are many sensitivities when it comes to cell towers. However, knowing that a cell tower in the vicinity may be inevitable, it is prudent to take a proactive and engaged approach to ensure that we maximize the benefit to Westfield taxpayers and maintain controls in the process. In this case, we have the opportunity to resolve a long-standing safety issue at Houlihan/Sid Fay field and additionally reap the benefit of having someone else cover the costs of these improvements.
Edison Fields Project
Finally, for the reason many of you are here tonight, after 16 months of input, research, and discussion, we will be voting on a resolution authorizing the Mayor to sign a shared services agreement between the Town and Board of Education to move forward with the Edison Fields Project.
Last week, I detailed the reasons for my support of this project in a Letter to the Editor so that residents would have an opportunity to hear my position well ahead of tonight’s vote. Rather than recap those details again, I would like to make sure we hear from the many residents and our Council members on this topic of such vast interest, and I will weigh in when the vote is up for discussion. So, with that, let’s get started so that everyone has an opportunity to speak.