In this edition of Denville Life, I will focus on 3 of the cardinal points that my Administration has focused on the past 10 years; Flood Mitigation, our Downtown revitalization and our infrastructure. In following editions, I will aim to provide updates on the public health and safety, our great senior, recreational and social programs and improving our efficiencies all while running the Township in the most cost effective manner possible.
The Army Corp of Engineers and NJ Department of Environmental Protection has invested $1.2 Million studying our flooding issues with hopes to bring a significant future flood mitigation program to Denville. Although, not the direction we had originally had hoped, there is still a path to flood mitigation relief for many local property owners. Our plan of building larger-scale flood infrastructure was generally disqualified based upon the funding formula used by the Army Corps and the conservative cost estimates they utilized. However, the Army Corps found that raising homes, performing voluntary wet and dry flood proofing of homes and businesses in a targeted area had an excellent return on investment based upon their formula. Although we had hoped to cross the finish line with the Army Corps years ago, there is light at the end of the tunnel and we hope they will schedule public presentations in 2022.
On a local level, we continue to implement flood mitigation measures that are affordable and achievable. During the past several years, we have appropriated funding in the annual budget to remove trees and other snags from the rivers and streams throughout our municipality. If not removed, these snags create dams and cause water to spill over the river’s bank during storm events. Furthermore, with the assistance of a remarkable River and Streams Committee, which was recently combined with our local Environmental Commission this year, we coordinate an annual volunteer river clean-up date. Please mark your calendar as the 2022 river clean-up is scheduled for May 14th at 9:00 A.M., with everyone assembling in the Saint Claire’s parking lot. Individuals of all ages and skill levels are welcome.
The Township FEMA CRS rating was in renewed in 2021 and Denville remains one of only five municipalities in Morris County to have qualified to attain a CRS rating. As a resident who may require flood insurance, the lower the CRS rating, the lower your flood insurance premiums will be. Despite increased flood mitigation efforts in Denville since our last application in 2018, FEMA tighten the CRS rating standards, which resulted in our rating going from a CRS-6 to a CRS-7. This rating is still excellent and difficult to obtain and will result in an automatic decrease in your flood insurance premium of 15%.
In 2021, the COVID pandemic continued to put a strain on the economy of our entire community, especially the downtown. By local emergency order, we were able to once again permit the parklets for outdoor dining on Broadway and 1st Avenue. In consultation with local business improvement district, Downtown Denville, the parklets will not be returning in 2022. However, the green picnic tables the Township purchased and placed along the 1st Avenue Parking Lot wall will return in 2022 along with the more traditional sidewalk cafes.
During the past two years, the Township also collaborated with Downtown Denville to bring several very popular “Denville after Dark Events,” Pink Witches and the Holiday Open House, held the Friday after Thanksgiving. Downtown Denville’s Executive Board, along with Executive Director Ellen Sandman and their legions of volunteers, should be congratulated for the excellent results achieved with this year’s events, and marketing of the Downtown. Ellen has done a magnificent job partnering with Morris County Vocational High School’s Graphic Art class, Denville Beautification, the property owner, and Township in order to camouflage and decorating the old gas station at the point next to Denville Seafood. This property has been an eye sore for many years and until redevelopment occurs, this collaborative effort has certainly improved the image of the entire downtown.
In its ability to compete with malls and other shopping complexes as well as provide value to our community, including each of our property values, I believe wholeheartedly in the Business Improvement District model and I know it serves as the pathway for great success for our community and our downtown. As its charter was set to expire at the end of 2021, the Township Council made the extremely wise decision to vote to extend Downtown Denville’s charter for additional 5 years, which I eagerly signed into law.
The Township continues to make streetscape improvements throughout our downtown. The Township has been successful in seeking funding from the Federal TEA-21 grant program, which has funding more than $1.5 million of improvements on Broadway and 1st Avenue. The Township intends to apply for the next round of TEA-21 grants in 2022 to continue the streetscape improvements on Diamond Spring Road. We have ordered an entire replacement set of common parts for the existing poles as the original low bidder to facilitate quicker repairs in the future as the original manufacturer, who was selected in the public bidding process we are required to follow, has proven to be extremely slow in providing replacement parts.
During the past several years, the Township has appropriated funding and paved many of the parking lots downtown, including upper Bloomfield Avenue Parking Lot, which was completed in 2021. I will ask that the 2022 budget includes paving of the lower Bloomfield Avenue lot. In early-2020, in conjunction with Downtown Denville, the Township adopted new parking regulations in order to maximize the efficiency of the available parking spaces downtown and shift the commuters, in conjunction with Lakeland Bus, to the Savage Road Park and Ride to free up an addition 40 – 50 spaces. These changes went into effect just as the COVID-19 pandemic hit but a preliminary review has demonstrated the changes have had the desired beneficial effect. A parking map is available at Town Hall or by googling “Downtown Denville Parking Map.”
Dave Sipple and our Beautification Committee continue to amaze and do more year after year to beautify our downtown and entire community, continually setting the bar higher and higher. The Beautification Committee are now teaching the local Girl Scouts, the next generation of volunteers, how to take care of the tulip garden in front of the Town Hall. The decorations the Beautification Committee put up Downtown, along with the work of the DPW Director John Egbert and his staff certainly made for a holiday shopping experience second to none in the State of New Jersey.
In 2012, I implemented a road improvement program in order to improve and preserve our road infrastructure. The program is centered on an engineering-based road rating system which is used to prioritize the roads most in need of resurfacing. We have also adopted a local ordinance, which prohibits contractors from cutting into our roads for at least five years after they have been paved except in cases of emergency. The program is certainly paying dividends and we are making considerable progress in the overall improvement of our local road network. In 2021, with State resurfacing grants and local appropriations, we budgeted $983,000 for road resurfacing. The total 2022 appropriation for road resurfacing, which includes a $255,000 NJDOT grant to resurface Pocono Road, will reach $1,140,000
NJ Natural Gas has continued to replace gas mains throughout the Township, in accordance with their BPU mandate. By State law, they are only required to resurface on one foot of either side of the trench. As part of our road improvement program, we have worked NJ Natural Gas to increase curb-to-curb paving throughout the community as part of their required restoration.
Another important element of road maintenance is catch basin repair. Every winter, catch basins collapse due to the expansion and contraction caused by the groundwater freeze and thaw. DPW Director Egbert has a crew assigned most of the year doing a remarkable job repairing these catch basins as well as rebuilding all the catch basins on the roads scheduled for resurfacing. As of January 1, 2022, we have a list of only three collapsed catch basins in need of repair. When I assumed office, the number of collapsed basins exceeded 100, which is why it was quickly made a priority of my Administration.
In 2019, we created a drainage master plan to prioritize our more chronic drainage issues, which became all too evident during the record precipitation we experienced in 2018. Our drainage system is a patch work of homemade, private, and often ineffective systems not to mention a large series of streets without any drainage at all. Since creating the plan, the Township has begun addressing the most chronic of the drainage issues in the plan, which has almost immediately resulted in less salting and overtime during the winter months. Of course, some of our drainage problems are significant and will require large capital investments in the coming years.
For the last 6 years the railroad Division of the NJ Department of Transportation has been trying to shut down the Lackawanna at-grade crossing. Denville’s position has been shutting down the crossing would be bad for our community and traffic circulation. NJ Transit has always been the most difficult of all State agencies to work with and our worst neighbor as evidenced by the poor condition of the railroad trestle on Franklin Road, the railroad bridge on Franklin Avenue, the retaining walls on RT53 and the general condition of the train station.
After years of resistance, NJ Transit indicated they would close the crossing with or without our cooperation. As such we did our best to make the best deal possible. This includes NJ Transit, in conjunction with the NJDOT, upgrading the Lackawanna Emergency Access Road to the standards of a proper municipal roadway. NJ Transit will also be creating a ‘Quiet Zone’ at Station Road by upgrading to quad gates, which will dramatically reduce the number of times the horn is blown while the train is approaching or departing the Mt. Tabor Station. Finally, NJDOT will review and potentially widen Station Road at its intersection with RT-53. Once all of these task are completed, the State will permanently close the Lackawanna Crossing.
Due to maximum pressure from the Township and assistance from Senator Bucco (who was also exceptionally helpfully with the Lackawanna Crossing situation), NJ Transit advised that it will be replacing the structurally deficient bridge on Franklin Avenue just north of Palmer Road starting in mid-2023. They anticipate the repair will last up to 18 months, during such time the bridge will be closed.
In the next edition of Denville Life, I will look to submit an article related to the 2022 Municipal Budget and a larger overview of our exceptional municipal financial position, where Moody’s recently conferred a AAA bond rating on Denville, one of less than 25 municipalities in the entire State of New Jersey that have been conferred their top AAA rating.