In the words of Mayor Gayle Brill MIttler, “It is a wonderful time to be living in Highland Park, NJ.” And the spirit of those words permeated the Highland Park Borough Council Reorganization meeting on Tuesday January 5, 2016.
The Highland Park Borough Council on Tuesday, January 5, 2016, welcomed the new year with upbeat predictions for the well being of Highland Park in 2016, as well as effusive praise for all paid staff and volunteers who made 2015 such success. Council President Welkovits in her remarks at the meeting asked: “Did you know that between our Public Works Department Head Don Rish, our 2 Foremen Frank Troy and Mike Wieczorkiewicz, together share nearly 110 years of collective expertise and experience in public works?”
After the new-term council members were sworn in – Mayor Gayle Brill Mittler for a four-year term as mayor, Susan Welkovits for a three-year council member term, James Walsh for a three-year council member term – each councilperson did a 2015 review of their individual areas of responsibility. Mr. Walsh, who is brand new to council, had nothing to report. Therefore, his predecessor on council Gary Potts (who chose not to run for re-election) did the review, said his goodbyes to his colleagues, and received their praise for his selfless dedication and commitment to the community. In addition, council members approved the mayor’s nomination of Ms. Welkovits for the position of council president.
According to the mayor’s remarks, the community is looking forward to significant progress in the area of town-wide development and downtown redevelopment that will yield financial and lifestyle benefits for all the residents. She said the following:
- “We will continue to pursue smart development. We recently broke ground on the former Y site, which has been approved for development of 23 townhouses. That development will continue through 2016. We are also anticipating that work on the project at the Kaplan’s Castle on River Road, 200 luxury apartments with the required number of affordable units, to possibly break ground in 2016. The revenues generated by these developments will also help by contributing to our tax rolls.
- We will embark on the projects outlined in the Infrastructure and Capital Improvements Task Force report including a) acquisition of an ADA compliant transportation vehicle to better service our seniors and residents with disabilities, b) acquisition of an alcotest and livescan fingerprint machine for our police department, c) completion of the new roof on our library building, d) installation of an energy resiliency generator at our senior/rec building provided by a FEMA grant, and e) completion of our first and much-needed teen center.
- Knowing that the key to our Borough’s financial future lies in downtown development, our Economic Development Agency has worked to update their plan, an outgrowth of the Borough’s master plan, to make it more in tune with the requirements of the current downtown climate. As many of you may remember, because many of you participated in it, hundreds of residents participated in development of our master plan, including downtown development. The updates do not change the overall direction of the plan you helped develop, but they fine-tune some elements.
- With this updated plan, our Agency has been aggressively pursuing smart downtown development that will, as the chair of our Redevelopment Agency, Rosie Baruh, likes to say be “net positive” to the Borough. We have some early interest from several developers looking at several possible sites.
- (For 2016) I have asked Councilman George, as chair of the Council’s Economic Development Committee, to concentrate his and the Council’s efforts on: completing a parking plan recommendation for our downtown; and achieving one developer’s plan for a downtown, multiuse, retail/residential development; working with me on a shuttle bus service between Highland Park and New Brunswick.
- We need to improve high-visibility areas with an eye toward beautification. Our recent partnership with the Y site developer to paint the retaining wall along Raritan Avenue and the commitment from Rite Aid to install and maintain a Mason Gross-curated art walk along South 4th are just two examples of that. (Mayor Brill Mittler told the Highland Park Planet that the Planning Board mandated improvements to the South Fourth Avenue side of Rite Aid will occur during the first quarter of 2016)
- In this spirit, I hope to work with (other council members and Main Street Highland Park) on reinforcing Highland Park as an “arts” destination.”
Even though every member of council has been elected to participate in all issues that come before the governing body, they are asked to focus on different areas of responsibility in local governance. The following list provides the name of each council member and each of his/her general area of responsibility. For details and specific liaison assignments, please go to the municipal website. www.hpboro.com
Mayor Gayle Brill Mittler – Administration.
Council President Susan Welkovits – Public Works.
Councilmember Jon Erickson – Finance.
Councilmember Josh Fine—Health and Wellness.
Councilmember Elsie Foster-Dublin – Public Safety.
Councilmember Philip George –Economic Development.
Councilmember James Walsh – Arts, Seniors, Recreation.