Saturday, March 30, 2013

Fight or Flight Facts for Bloomfield Taxpayers

News of Bloomfield's 2013 proposed budget for both the township and its schools is sparking doom and gloom predictions on many fronts along with sighs of relief that the worst budget projections were avoided. Many say they now have to prepare to move out of the area or even out of state. Others say they are stuck in unsalable homes since no one would want to move to a town with a semi-vacant downtown and deteriorating schools.

While there may be some justifications for these equally pessimistic points of view, a snapshot of our town's housing market challenges our own version of March Madness. There are early signs of a seasonal spring blossoming in the increased number of homes on the market, yet local inventory is still at the lowest level since the bubble burst in 2006.  There are currently only 201 Bloomfield homes and condos (with 1 or more bedrooms)listed on the Multiple Listing Service -- about half the number listed at the bottom of the "burst". This is resulting in a steady increase in sales prices -- though at a slower rate in the northeast then in the rest of the country.

According to the latest data updates, the median sales price for homes in Bloomfield for Dec 12 to Feb 13 was $229,900. This represents an increase of 1.1%, or $2,400, compared to the prior quarter and an increase of 3.9% compared to the prior year. Sales prices have depreciated 35.2% over the last 5 years in Bloomfield.

The average listing price for Bloomfield homes for sale on Trulia was $276,968 for the week ending Mar 20, which represents an increase of 3.7%, or $9,941, compared to the prior week and an increase of 4.3%, or $11,348, compared to the week ending Feb 27. Average price per square foot for Bloomfield NJ was $157, an increase of 36.5% compared to the same period last year.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Media Crackdown Proposed by Council

It may turn out to be coincidental timing, but last weeks elimination of TV coverage for the Bloomfield's annual Budget planning meeting, turned out to be a prelude to a laundry list of new restrictions on coverage of council meetings.

The planned changes appear to have originated from a complaint by the Mayor regarding the use of cell phones to send text messages during meetings. Some councilmen were even accused of texting each other.

The proposed new rules will make it significantly more difficult for attendees to use audio, still, and video media to document both conference and regular meetings whether they be residents or journalists. Rule number 1 has sparked the greatest concern:
The citizen must provide the Clerk of the municipality with no less than 30 minutes verbal notice prior to the Meeting of his intention to exercise his right to videotape or photograph the Meeting. Failure to provide advance notice of the intent to utilize the equipment prior to each Meeting shall preclude its use at such Meeting.
 Other restrictions include limited the use of such devices to the last 2 rows of Council Chambers, not allowing photographers to move from their initial position during the meeting to get a better angle, and not allowing audio recordings to be transcribed for any purpose. Perhaps the most sweeping and vague rule declares that:
no photographs may be taken or audio/videotape recordings made within a public facility of any person, place or event relating to the administration and/or conduct of official municipal business.
This seems to suggest that no public official could be interviewed or photographed ANYWHERE for ANY reason. At last weeks conference meeting the township attorney Brian Aloia maintained that he was adhering to the guidelines of NJ's Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) The unfortunate reality is that there are still many grey areas in the act that continue to be interpreted the courts.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Attacking Bloomfield's Crumbling Infrastructure

Spring is arriving a bit late this year, but the last deep freeze may deposit it's last pothole on Bloomfield's streets by the end of the week.

Stanziale Construction of Bloomfield, NJ was awarded a contract last year for a number of streets and will complete the following

- Ashland Avenue
- Maolis Avenue
- Williamson Avenue

This work is scheduled to start in two to four weeks.

DLS Contractors of Nutley, NJ was recently awarded a contract for resurfacing of the following roads:

- Bellevue Avenue
- Kinder Drive and Pieretti Court
- Brighton Avenue
- Farrandale Avenue
- Spring Street (Speed Humps)
- Clair Street (Speed Humps)
- Broughton Avenue (From Elston Street to Barbara Street)*

This work is scheduled to start in the early spring.

*A striping/traffic calming program is currently under design for the entire length of Broughton Avenue for
implementation later this year.

Broad Street from James Street to Hoover Avenue will undergo a major streetscape improvement. A bid opening is
scheduled for May 2nd for all interested contractors. Once awarded this work is anticipated to start after Memorial Day.

JFK Drive (north and south), south of Bloomfield Avenue up to the Garden State Parkway Ramps will be
resurfaced this year. Authorization to advertise will be presented to the Mayor and council on March 27th.

Bid plans and specification are currently being prepared for a number of streets with the anticipation to bid and construct later this
year. These streets include:

- Gillespie Road
- Oak Tree Lane

The Township also submitted an NJDOT Local Aid application with the Borough of Glen Ridge for the resurfacing of Essex Avenue
between Benson Street and Bay Avenue. Construction is dependent upon award of these funds.

Any projects not started or completed by the end of the construction season will be carried into next year.

The township is responsible for approximately 85 miles of roadway. The engineering department has prepared a five-year roadway
resurfacing program which is re-evaluated every year. Criteria for prioritizing streets include, pavement surface condition;
condition/presence of curbing, traffic volumes and drainage conditions. All streets improvements are conditioned upon review and
approval by the Mayor and Council for the given Capital Budget Year.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

BOH Rings

Item: Bloomfield's Board of Health has hired a new grant writer and social media consultant.
"The Health Department, with the use of a telephone survey company, is conducting a random telephone survey from March 13-21. If you receive a call you will be informed that it is the Health Department that is conducting the survey. This survey is part of a comprehensive Health Assessment that is being performed so that the Health Department can tailor its services to the needs of the residents. If you have any questions, please call the Health Department at 973.680.4024."

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Chicken Coop Plans Will Hatch This Saturday Morning

Although plans for Bloomfield's annual budget meeting Saturday morning have laid an egg,(rescheduled for the following Saturday) there will be still be another ordinance related meeting at to discuss a the process for having the Bloomfield Town Council approve an ordinance and start a pilot backyard hen program. This movement was inspired by successful programs in such nearby towns as Montclair and Maplewood.  Guest speaker Victor Alfieri will be talking about his experience with raising hens.

The discussion will include ideas for urban and suburban homesteading. The location is the Bloomfield College Library (Oakland & Liberty) on Saturday, at 10 a.m.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Budget Weak

Tuesday evening's Board of Education budget  meeting will be held in the BHS auditorium to allow maximum public participation. It will also be taped by WBMA-TV.

Saturday"s special Bloomfield Town Council Budget Meeting is scheduled to be held at 8AM in the Mayor's Conference Room.(Rescheduled to Sat. March 23) WBNA-TV will not be allowed to tape it,  The proposed budget is being kept under wraps until the meeting, but previous budgets can be found on the Bloomfield Township website. The pie chart above breaks down 2012 expenditures. (click on graph to enlarge)

The Bloomfield Board of Education  is holding a Special Board Meeting, in the Conference Room on the second floor of the Administration Building, located at 155 Broad Street, Bloomfield, NJ 07003.: Sunday, March 17, 2013 – 11:00 AM (Open to the public)

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Below the Bone

Is this the future of education in Bloomfield?
At Tuesday night's meeting, Bloomfield's Board of Education reluctantly approved a 2013 budget that reduced the teaching staff of the school system by 20% or 86 teachers. The vote for the budget was 7-2 with Board members Catzel Bumpus and Robert DeMarino voting no. Extended online discussions of issues raised by the school budget shortfall are currently taking place on local facebook forums and the previously dormant NJO Bloomfield forum.

Two budged proposals are expected to be added to November ballot. The first asks voters if they to pay $2,730,000 to restore 42 teaching jobs. The second proposes a tax increase of $594,000 to repair and upgrade school facilities.

The complete video coverage of the BOE Budget meting can be viewed here,

Sunday, March 03, 2013

When a Home Business Becomes Big Business

Zoning Board meetings tend to deal with building improvements or additions that may require variances from the township code. Other than an occasional next door neighbor, they rarely generate much attention from the public, One of the two applications to be he heard at this Thursday's ZB meeting has already provoked much discussion on neighborhood Facebook pages all over town.

But when a newly purchased single family home began attracting lines of cars loaded with laundry every morning, neighbors up and down Pitt Street began to get organized to challenge what turned out to be a well established commercial cleaning business.

15-38. Zoning regulations. 

A. R-1A, R-1B, R-2A, R2B single- and two-family residential zones. 

(1) Purpose. The intent of these zones is to preserve the integrity of existing residential areas by preventing the intrusion of nonresidential uses into residential neighborhoods and by maintaining existing development intensity and population density consistent with residential neighborhood patterns and the specified one- or two-family densities for each particular zone..

This issue is not confined to the North Center Neighborhood. I've seen it happen in the Newark area on a smaller scale, but it can happen anywhere. Home businesses are a growing trend and can be an asset to a community, but lines need to be drawn. It's up to our Zoning Board to make the call.

UPDATE on Pitt St. Zoning Board Application: Their attorney did NOT give proper notice so the ZB will NOT hear this application on Thursday, March 7.