By JOHN T. WARD
After seven years of planning, and months of intense pushback, Fair Haven’s council killed a plan to install sidewalks and curbs in an area that residents likened to a “country lane” Tuesday night.
The action, on a 3-3 vote without a mayor in place to cast a tiebreaker, left unanswered what to do about streets that still need repaving, and whether to waive a $350,000 grant to pay for it.
Supporters of the makeover plan, who had argued the changes would improve pedestrian and cyclist safety, were left frustrated.
“That road is in terrible condition,” said Councilwoman Laline Neff said, speaking of Hance Road.
If it stands, the decision means the borough will have to forfeit what would have been its largest-ever grant from the New Jersey Department of Transportation, said Administrator Theresa Casagrande.
The council action appeared to end years of slow-moving plans to improve pedestrian safety leading to two riverfront pocket parks slated for makeovers, and impose what borough Engineer Rich Gardella called “uniformity” in terms of street widths and curbing.
On the agenda was a resolution (2021-226) to put out to bid road-design plans developed by Gardella. Officials have been using a $600,000 project cost estimate.
Following an earlier council request, contractors were to be asked to price the sidewalks as an option, Gardella said.
The borough was was facing a November 21 deadline to award a construction contract for the town to be eligible for the DOT grant.
Standing at a lectern for more than an hour of the four-hour session, Gardella fielded questions about everything from trifurcated tree trunks to the depth of sidewalk concrete.
Existing road widths would have been preserved, but curbing would be installed where it now appears intermittently, Gardella said. Only two trees, one of which leans over Cooney Terrace, would have to be removed, he said.
“If we can work around it, we will,” Gardella said, noting that the conditions allowed for some “wiggle room” and to “do a half-moon” of curbing.
The plan was derailed by multiple objections, as Councilwoman Meghan Chrisner-Keefe, a Democrat, was joined in opposition to the bid resolution by the council’s two Republicans, Betsy Koch and Suzanne McCabe.
“There are too many critical priorities in town for us to be spending so much time on this,” said McCabe.
“Coming on the council [in 2020,] it felt like a lot of grant-based initiatives were driving our priorities and our spending,” said Chrisner-Keefe. “That process needs to change, and it needs to start now.”
Grange Avenue resident Tracy Cole, who’s running for council on the Republican ticket with Koch, was one of several commenters who rejected Gardella’s repeated references to “uniformity.”
“A straight, uniform design would alter the character of the neighborhood,” she said.
Richard Saxe, of Hance Road, said there was a “misplaced emphasis” on uniformity.
“It doesn’t need to be more uniform,” said Saxe. “It needs to work, and it really works the way it is now.”
Council members pressed Gardella on whether he could redesign the project without curbs and sidewalks in time to meet the state’s deadline.
“You’re asking me to engineer something that may not work,” Gardella replied, evidently exasperated. “It changes the scope of the project substantially, and the time frame doesn’t allow us to do that.”
Pressed again later on, Gardella said that as a professional engineer, he could not certify such plans. “I cannot do that,” he said.
The vote to approve the bid solicitation came in at 3-3 tie. But the borough is temporarily without a mayor, so there was there was no one to cast a possible tiebreaker.
The last mayor, Ben Lucarelli, resigned unexpectedly September 14; as reported Wednesday by redbankgreen, political newcomer Joshua Halpern was appointed at Tuesday’s meeting to succeed Lucarelli, but was not immediately sworn to office.
The vote outcome was again 3-3 a short while later, after Councilman Mike McCue made a motion to reconsider the matter.
Neff, who had favored the bid plan, opposed the reconsideration. She lamented that the discussion in recent months had veered away from the original, “holistic” aim of providing access to the pocket parks. But the decision had been made, she said, and the council needs to move on, she said.
“We don’t have enough support. Let’s drop the project,” she said.
Bill Dorner, of Spruce Drive, thanked the council “for ending this nightmare. Hopefully, in the future, grants will not drive” community decisions, he said.
If you value the news coverage provided by redbankgreen, please become a financial supporter for as little as $1 per month. Click here to set your own level of monthly or annual contribution.