MAYOR BRINDLE'S YEAR-END ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
(The following remarks were delivered at the January 3, 2023 Annual Town Organization Meeting.)
Thank you all for joining us this evening, and a special thanks to Rabbi Ethan Prosnit from Temple Emanu-El for that Invocation, and to Reverend Dr. Jenn Hrynyk from First Congregational Church who will be delivering the Benediction to close out the evening.
One year ago tomorrow, five of us on this dais, newly re-elected, were being sworn in by Governor Murphy outside in the cold wearing masks to protect against the COVID Omicron variant that was sweeping through our community. We moved inside to a near empty chamber for the Reorganization Meeting, having discouraged the public from attending in person for public health reasons. So tonight, it brings me great pleasure to see all of us, and all of you, here in person to reflect on what we accomplished in 2022, share our goals for 2023, and most importantly, appoint the many volunteers to our various Boards and Commissions, and reorganize this Council for the exciting work that lies ahead.
But first, I’d like to thank the members of the Town Council, including Finance Committee Chair Linda Habgood, Public Works Committee Chair David Contract, Public Safety Committee Chair Mike Dardia, Code Review Committee Chair Mark Parmelee, Councilpersons Dawn Mackey, Scott Katz, Emily Root, and Mark LoGrippo, as well as former Councilman Jim Boyes for their leadership and contributions this past year.
None of these accomplishments would be possible without the incredible efforts and dedication of our Town employees, and in particular Town Clerk Maureen Lawshe, who serves as the heartbeat of Town Hall and didn’t miss a beat when she was promoted to this position last year. To our Town Attorney (and former mayor!) Tom Jardim, who manages to stay one step ahead of our legislative ambitions enabling us to make progress on so many initiatives. And of course there are not enough words to express our gratitude for the unflappable and hardest working Town Administrator, Jim Gildea, who continues to lead with a steady hand and remains the center of gravity for us all.
Jim’s leadership is reflected in the culture of collaboration and professionalism he has instilled among our employees, who never fail to step up when asked and take immense pride in the extraordinary service they provide to our residents. On behalf of this Council, I’d like to thank department heads Police Chief Chris Battiloro, Fire Chief Michael Duelks, DPW Director Greg O’Neil, Town Planner Don Sammet, Construction Official Frank Vuoso, Library Director Allen McGinley, newly promoted Assistant Town Administrator Heather Re, Public Information Officer Kim Forde, and Regional Health Director Megan Avallone, all of whom continue to keep us safe, healthy, and informed.
Tonight, I’d also like to welcome the new Executive Director of the Downtown Westfield Corporation, Samantha Horning, who started in her role today. We are very lucky to have her leading the downtown in what will be a critical year as well as the years to come.
And lastly, thanks to our families, including my own, especially my husband Kip, for their ongoing support of our volunteer service. We couldn’t serve with them.
Let us now move on to tonight’s business and appointments, which I’ll follow with additional remarks in my State of the Town address.
2023 STATE OF THE TOWN:
A YEAR OF NEW BEGINNINGS
I now have the privilege of delivering the 2023 State of the Town address.
First and foremost, I’m happy to report that the state of our Town is exceptionally strong, and we have fully recovered from our COVID challenges and fiscal uncertainty, emerging stronger than ever with a resiliency that gives us confidence as we move boldly into the future.
If 2022 was a year for a return to normalcy, 2023 is a year for new beginnings, reflected most visibly tonight in the many upgrades you see in these Council Chambers, and more broadly in the key initiatives we are undertaking this year.
Our significant progress these past few years can be attributed to two main factors. The first is our steadfast focus on four key priorities since we were first elected: (1) strong fiscal oversight, (2) charting a vision for our future, (3) championing quality of life issues, and (4) increasing resident engagement.
The second is the dedication, enduring commitment, and resiliency of all those who make our work possible – our Town employees, resident volunteers, and our business community.
I am proud of the significant accomplishments this Council made on many fronts last year, and I’d like to share a few highlights:
- Welcomed 30 new downtown businesses with additional openings planned for 2023, including Millburn Deli, Fresh & Co, Rumble Boxing, and more
- Introduced a proposal for One Westfield Place, the culmination of three years of planning and collaboration with HBC | Streetworks Development, which I will address more specifically later in my remarks
- Adopted a historic first formal shared service agreement with the Board of Education for the Edison School Fields Project, paving the way for future additional BOE shared service initiatives
- Delivered a 1.9% tax levy, well below the rate of inflation, resulting in a five-year average increase of only 1.3% while continuing to maintain a healthy budget surplus
- Conducted a remarkably successful bond sale yielding a net interest cost of 2.49% in an unfriendly interest rate market, and reaffirmed the Town’s AAA bond rating, one of only 44 (out of 564) municipalities to achieve that status
- Reduced auto thefts by 50% as a result of added police patrols, increased surveillance, and License Plate Reader installations
- Paved 16 miles of roads, with approximately ten paid for by the utility companies as a result of our 2019 road paving ordinance – bringing our paving total to 60 miles of roads (out of 100) in five years
- Oversaw the groundbreaking of Maize Cocktails & Cocina, an adaptive reuse of the Town’s historic northside train station with an anticipated late spring 2023 opening, and of Redi-Farms, the region’s first hydroponic vertical farm, an adaptive reuse of the former Handler Building on North Avenue
- Held the fifth and most successful year of AddamsFest, which is financially self-sufficient, ensuring an enduring new tradition for Westfield
- Adopted 21 general ordinances which regulated 5G, designated historic homes, allowed outdoor consumption of alcoholic beverages downtown, and more
- Addressed numerous public safety traffic concerns, most notably in the area of Prospect and East Broad
- Attained professional accreditation for the Westfield Police Department Dispatch, making the department one of only five in New Jersey to achieve accreditation for both its service and dispatch departments
- Designated three additional historic landmarks, bringing this administration’s total to ten voluntary designations, delivering on our commitment to historic preservation
There is a much more exhaustive list of accomplishments that can be found on the Town website, but I’d like to spend more time focusing on our future.
- Received $1.3M in pursued grants, similar to 2021, which was the most in decades
- Awarded Silver Certification by Sustainable Jersey for the third time in Town history
Our 2023 key objectives remain as follows:
Specifically, we aim to accomplish the following:
- Continue our record of strong fiscal responsibility and management
- Champion quality of life issues that matter to all residents
- Increase resident engagement and continue to foster an inclusive and collaborative spirit in our community
- Advance plans for revitalizing our Downtown
1) Continue our record of strong fiscal responsibility and management
- Maintain AAA-bond rating and ample surplus while seeking new revenue and cost-cutting solutions to hold the line on property taxes
- Continue to invest in capital and infrastructure to upgrade equipment and services and mitigate long-term maintenance costs
- Continue to execute on unprecedented multi-year paving program, which calls for 80% of Town roads to be paved by 2026, with more than half paid by utility companies
2) Champion quality of life issues that matter to all residents
- Identify additional shared service opportunities with the Board of Education to deliver greater value to taxpayers
- As co-chair of the RVL Mayors’ Alliance, prioritize renewed, post-COVID efforts on advocating for enhanced RVL peak one-seat ride service with NJ Transit, now that normalcy has returned and new commuter patterns have been established
- Continue to engage the Route 28 Mayors Mobility Consortium to support county efforts to improve traffic congestion and pedestrian mobility along this highly trafficked corridor in anticipation of significant grant funding
- Implement North Avenue pedestrian sidewalk improvements from Central Avenue to Garwood enabled by the $400K grant recently approved in the federal omnibus bill
- Provide Westfield Police and Fire Departments with optimal resources and equipment to protect our residents and businesses, prioritizing:
- Auto theft prevention
- Speeding and traffic enforcement
- Sustaining active duty police force of 62, the highest staffing level in history
- Identifying potential for building new firehouse to meet the needs of today’s Fire Department
- Reassess staffing and funding of Westfield Regional Health Department to ensure adequate resources to manage future health crises
- Identify opportunities to improve flood mitigation and stormwater control measures through the Westfield Infrastructure Resilience Committee (WIRC) and by actively participating as a new member of the Rahway River Watershed Mayors’ Council
- Prioritize Green Team efforts in support of climate action and resiliency policy measures while continuing to engage and educate the public and business community on sustainability efforts
- Initiate the design and engineering phase for the Edison Fields project
- Create a detailed Master Plan for Tamaques Park and assess potential for relocation of the Westfield Rink, additional athletic fields, pickleball courts, dog park, bike and walking trails, expanded parking, and new entrance/exit off of Lamberts Mill Road
- Implement parking, safety, and restroom improvements to Houlihan/Sid Fay by 4Q23, funded by revenues from recent cell tower approval
- Continue cleanup and capital improvements to Brightwood and Mindowaskin Parks in collaboration with Friends of Brightwood and Friends of Mindowaskin
- Complete second phase of Windsor Park playground with anticipated completion date of 3Q23
3) Increase resident engagement and continue to foster an inclusive and collaborative spirit in our community
- Continue to support historic preservation efforts by pursuing voluntary designations of Westfield’s most historic landmarks; support HPC’s efforts to use grant monies to create a Historic Preservation Plan Element for the Westfield Town Master Plan and conduct a historic survey of our most iconic downtown properties
- Continue to support initiatives and events that celebrate and unite our community, including AddamsFest, March To Yorktown Day, public art murals and exhibits, and DWC events such as Sweet Sounds, Open Quimby, holiday events, and more
- Expand initiatives that support our seniors and mental health awareness and education through the efforts of Lifelong Westfield and our Mental Health Council
- Continue to prioritize inclusivity, celebrate diversity, and denounce racism and antisemitism by supporting the initiatives of the Human Relations Advisory Commission (HRAC)
And lastly, and most significantly:
- Support the efforts of the Westfield Memorial Library to implement their ambitious strategic plan recommendations towards becoming a premier 21st century community library
4) Advance our plans for revitalizing our historic Downtown to ensure it remains vibrant for generations to come
In last year’s State of the Town address, I mentioned, as I have every year, that revitalizing our downtown was a top priority, and we were working towards creating a “fiscally responsible smart growth plan that would enable a new downtown live/work/play ecosystem…to sustain our local businesses for the long-term.” We also committed to implementing a long-overdue downtown parking solution that would meet the needs of post-COVID commuters, employees, and shoppers.
Our unwavering commitment to this forward-looking vision for our downtown, which we have reaffirmed consistently and repeatedly, is why I believe most of us on this dais were first elected, why five of us were re-elected just last year, and why Councilwoman Root was overwhelmingly elected just two months ago. We are committed to following through on our campaign promise to you.
And here we are. Almost five years after being first elected, the proposal for One Westfield Place was presented to the public in September. This proposal is the culmination of three years of planning and collaboration with HBC | Streetworks Development, the result of the public’s input into a new Master Plan Reexamination that was unanimously adopted by the Planning Board and supported by the Town Council, and input Streetworks received from numerous community groups with whom they met prior to the proposal being introduced. Each of these planning milestones was discussed publicly and often, always with the goal of ensuring and encouraging resident engagement in the process.
The outcome is a proposal that will deliver a healthy downtown for generations, diversify our housing stock, address long-standing traffic, parking, and congestion challenges, enable the Town to invest more than $50M in transformational public improvements that would otherwise not be feasible through traditional residential taxes, and bring in unprecedented new sources of revenue to ease the tax burden on our residents.
I recognize for some this proposal is overly ambitious. For others, construction can’t begin soon enough. We can all agree that our intentions are aligned, while appreciating that opinions may diverge on how we get there. With a commitment to moving this process forward, while assuring residents that there remains plenty of opportunity to weigh in during an evolving process that will take time, I want to take this opportunity to provide you with timing on the anticipated immediate next steps:
- January 11 Facebook Live / 6:30 pm: Streetworks will present modifications to their proposal based upon feedback received through their interactions with residents as well as the input and questions this Council has heard directly. The Town’s Finance professionals will provide a follow-up to last month’s Finance presentation and answer questions that have been received since that initial presentation. The live presentation will be recorded so it can be viewed at your convenience.
- January 17 Town Council meeting / 8:00 pm: Streetworks and the Town’s Planning and Finance professionals will be presenting to Town Council the updated One Westfield Place project and financial structure.
- January 19 Facebook Live / 6:30 pm: Town and Streetworks planning professionals will review and answer questions regarding the updated planning and design aspects of One Westfield Place.
- January 31 Town Council meeting / 8:00 pm: The Town’s planning and legal redevelopment professionals will provide a presentation to Town Council introducing the One Westfield Place Redevelopment Plan (RDP) Ordinance which would enable the zoning for the project. The Council will refer the RDP to the Planning Board to assess Master Plan consistency.
- February 6 Planning Board meeting / 7:30 pm: Redevelopment Plan will be presented to the Planning Board who will determine if it is consistent with the Master Plan.
The adoption of a Redevelopment Plan is the first step in a lengthy process. A vote on a Redevelopment Agreement detailing the project specifics and designating HBC | Streetworks Development as the developer would follow, with subsequent votes required on the financial agreement and bonding, as well as eventual full site plan review and approval by the Planning Board. I share this to reiterate the transparency of the public process and the multiple opportunities for input in the weeks and months ahead. Every step of this process, from the 2019 Master Plan formulation, to the many subsequent public meetings on redevelopment designations, to the future meetings and votes I’ve just detailed – as well as the Preview Center and, of course, questions for this Council – is inclusive of public input and affords every resident the opportunity to be heard. Thank you to everyone who has engaged in this process to date, and, if you have not yet done so, please take the time to become informed so that you can provide credible, fact-based feedback and help shape our future.
- February 14 Town Council meeting / 8:00 pm: Public hearing and vote on the adoption of the One Westfield Place Redevelopment Plan if the Planning Board affirmed consistency with Master Plan.
I recognize that this project may seem like a lot of change for a community that has not historically welcomed it. Ultimately, we have a choice: To move Westfield forward and realize its full potential as a premier downtown community, or to accept the status-quo and fall behind our peer communities. To reiterate my comments when this project was introduced, we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to create the downtown we want our kids to inherit – one that serves as a national model for a post-COVID Main Street community dedicated to sustainability, walkability, inclusivity, and affordability – and one that meets the needs and desires of all of our residents and downtown businesses, including those who have been here for generations as well those who have just arrived. And very importantly, this proposal presents an unprecedented opportunity to ease the long-term tax burden for all residents.
In closing, I look forward to the promise of a new beginning that has emerged from the ravages of COVID. Our community has proven to be resilient, and I’m proud to affirm that the state of our Town is strong with a limitless future if we have the courage to embrace it.
It remains a privilege to be your mayor, and I ask that we once again approach this new year with gratitude for our families, community, and health. God bless our great community and country. Happy New Year!