3-28 Council Meeting Roundup 7

marathonmeeting_marchDuring the March 28th council meeting in Oakland, it was announced that Matthew Ruggiero won the Pine Car Derby held recently at Valley Middle School….That’s as good as it gets, so continue reading at your own risk…

Mayor’s Report

The process of synchronizing the traffic lights downtown continues. The actual synchronization is expected soon, but preliminary steps are presently being completed; the Recreation and Environmental Commissions will be meeting to discuss strategies for how the Pleasureland property may be utilized.

Ramapough Conservancy Presentation

Judith Sullivan of the Ramapough Conservancy and David Epstein of The Land Conservancy of New Jersey introduced themselves and provided the town council with a draft ordinance to lease the Van Allen House and Stream House.

Sullivan and Epstein described the draft lease as a document that provides a basis for customization that could include milestones and agreements to assure their stewardship is in line with municipal goals. Council member Stagg referenced previous work The Land Conservancy of New Jersey had done for Oakland regarding open space purchases.

Essentially, the Ramapough Conservancy would lease the property for a defined number of years, and assume stewardship for the property. This would hopefully result in additional funding sources available to both private entities and government entities.

Groups like the Land Conservancy of New Jersey exist across the nation, and they organize at the state, county, and local level. The LCNJ has been in operation for thirty years, and their model of public-private partnership includes partnering with local groups who in turn engage the local populace and governing body.

Council member Marcalus, apparently not understanding the organization of a nonprofit conservancy, asked Sullivan and Epstein “what’s in it for you”.  There was a slight pause before Epstein explained the LCNJ function, and Sullivan detailed her desire to volunteer as an Oakland resident.

Buddy The Goose & Ducks

Two residents spoke with regard to animal control. The first resident once again asked the council for assistance with regard to allowing the return of Buddy the Goose and ducks to the River Road neighborhood. The birds had become neighborhood fixtures over the years to both residents of the neighborhood and those who drive by, but were removed by order of the Health Department

The resident referenced a recent news article concerning a neighborhood turkey in Washington Township where the council took an active role in supporting the residents. Like Buddy, the turkey there had become a neighborhood fixture, and she hoped the Oakland town council could show similar support.

Another resident also spoke and stated that a wrong had been committed, that the allegations of the ducks either being in danger or being a hazard were overblown and without basis. He asked the council to rectify the situation, allow the goose and ducks to return, and monitor the situation in a more reasonable manner to avoid baseless assumptions.

The resident suggested that perhaps putting up a Duck Crossing sign would have been a more appropriate response, and he offered to head a fundraising effort to purchase the sign.

Oakland council member Pignatelli, former Health Officer in Lincoln Park, claimed it was animal cruelty to allow the ducks to live in the River Road neighborhood; and, the Mayor suggested the residents attend a board of health meeting to address the issue — but residents have been there and done that.

Fast Facts on Board of Health Budgets 2011:

Wyckoff total $98,577
Washington Township total $111,753,
Oakland total $198,673
Lincoln Park total $276,920

Senior Housing

John Biale, a resident of Oakland and a member of the Bergen County Housing Authority, discussed a proposal to put a senior housing unit in the now vacant property a few doors down from the Oakland First Aid building. A dilapidated house was recently torn down, and Biale proposes one bedroom units for senior citizens or seniors with disabilities.

The Bergen County Authority would build and assume responsibility for the operation and maintenance, and suggested this would help Oakland meet its affordable housing obligations.

Later in the meeting, a representative from Burgis Associates – the borough planner – advised the council that the over $800,000 in trust for affordable housing would be seized by the state without a local commitment to spend the money. He suggested that the purchase of this property, which is estimated at about $300,000, would be a good expenditure.

Central Business District Ordinance

Burgis Associates reviewed the Central Business District plan created in 2006, and an accompanying ordinance created in 2007.

The ordinance seeks to institutionalize elements of the 2006 downtown plan in an effort to promote business and new development: allowing outdoor seating, defining architectural standards, allowing greater building coverage per lot, lessening the setback, easing parking restrictions, and allowing for “mixed-use”.

Mixed-use has become a popular trend in planning, but has existed in practice for thousands of years. The Burgis plan of lessening setbacks and allowing for the mix of residential and commercial entities is intended to simulate the Norman Rockwell image Main Street America where buildings line a street with retail storefronts on the ground level and two additional levels for apartments above.

Mayor Schwager expressed reservations in terms of having big buildings dominate the downtown landscape, but Burgis clarified that the new ordinance would change from presently allowing a 2.5 story building to a 3 story building.

Council member Pignatelli was resistant to any improvements to Oakland’s downtown and sited increased traffic as the main problem. A more vibrant downtown area would result in people liking it and therefore an increase in the number of cars. He also repeated the same arguments made in 2008 that outdoor dining in Oakland was impractical without sewers.

Not having been in office in 2007, council member Coira stated she would like additional time to review the 12 page ordinance. The council as a whole is seeking input from both businesses and residents.





Pay-for-Play and/or When-Pigs-Fly

An ordinance to implement a local pay-to-play was introduced for consideration by council member Coira. The subject, debated in a previous council meeting, appeared split along party lines – though it was difficult to determine which council person represented which party.

Coira, a “Democrat”, was promoting Governor Chris Christie’s initiative to promote local pay-to-play ordinances which is the number one item on the governor’s Best Practices Check List – The Governor is a Republican.

In Oakland, the “Republican” council members Pignatelli, Jensen, and Visconti expressed serious reservations with Governor Christie’s initiative. Council member Pignatelli was the most verbose in saying that the ordinance would lead to people pouring more money into the political process, and that no law can stop corruption.

Council member Jensen stated that you can’t stop crime, and seemed to imply that residents should leave their doors unlocked – assumedly to avoid having their windows broken by burglars. Council member Chris Visconti seemed generally flustered trying to understand how a local pay-to-play ordinance works.

Pay-to-play ordinances are focused to prevent vendors and contractors from acting as sugar-daddies to elected representatives or candidates. It was also discussed that local pay-to-play reforms provide  for more competitive bidding amongst potential vendors who see political contributions as a factor in being considered for a contract – hence the term Pay-To-Play.

In 2011, a handful of contractors and vendors contributed over $4000 to the last Republican campaign. Borough attorney Brian Chewcaskie alone contributed almost $1000.

While the subject of not being able to stop all corruption and all crime was proffered as an argument against Chris Christie’s efforts to promote local pay-to-play ordinances, the council members in opposition to the ordinance did not extend this argument to dismantling the Oakland Police Department.

Fast Facts: 2011 Police Budgets
Ringwood Police $2,414,901
Franklin Lakes $3,006,125
Wyckoff Police $3,174,412
Oakland Police $3,996,250

Bi-County Tax Assessment

Bi-County, from which Oakland already purchased a small plot of inaccessible open-space property for 5 million dollars several years ago, still owns land not included in the previous purchase. Their most recent assessment of the remaining property led to an adjustment from 7 million dollars to about 2.5 million dollars, due to new restrictions that prevent full development.

4 Hour Meeting

It was a long meeting……

7 thoughts on “3-28 Council Meeting Roundup

  • Repbulican sick of Oakland's RHINOS

    You forgot to mention that the Republicans, feeling the loss of their former leader and lack of any vision, are trying to co-op Schwager’s initiatives. As examples: Pignatelli is trying to take some credit for the light synchronization, at least he was rambling on as if he had some knowledge about it. Again they dusted off a former Republican councilman who has been spending the past 3 months giving his 2 cents (or are they marching orders to the Republicans?), this time he opined about the Van Allen house. And Visconti tried to make it seem like the senior housing was something he had been working on, until a gentleman from the audience asked a cutting question. Then it was only Bialli’s idea as the councilman stopped talking.
    The only idea the majority of this tired group of Republicans stood fast and strong for was their former leaders desire to put future tenements on RVR and call it downtown improvement.

  • Bob Davis

    The LCNJ proposals to manage the historic properties should be most welcome. In following this issue the last couple of years it became obvious to me that Oakland was split on restoring the Stream House with most residents that were opposed expressing concern over cost. LCNJ brings experienced management and fund raising abilities to the table. They recognize the cultural importance of preserving both properties and will remove the issue from the political agendas of both parties. Some politicians may resent this, but isn’t this the best solution to begin restoring a long term asset that has turned into an embarassing eyesore?

  • Just Me

    I caught the beginning of the meeting, but was pretty embarrassed for Oakland when Marcalus asked the man from the Land Conservancy of NJ, what’s in it for him. It was completely rude. Miss Pignatelli’s piece about the downtown but doubt I can watch a 4 hour meeting. Maybe next time.

  • Time to say sorry

    I, too, was mortified by Councilwoman Marcalus’ question. She should apologize to Ms. Sullivan, Mr. Epstein and the residents of Oakland. Shame on you Ms. Marcalus.

  • Judith Sullivan, President, Ramapough Conservancy

    Don’t worry; there was no offense taken by the question from Councilwoman Marcalus. David and I are very experienced professionals, and have appeared before numerous public bodies (and courts in my case, as I am an attorney) to answer all kinds of questions/inquiries. We were thrilled to appear before the mayor and council and honored we would be considered for this important project for the town. The project is a unifying event for the whole community, and we have many exciting ideas for the museum. We have a Facebook page at Ramapough Conservancy where we will periodically post updates.

  • gina steele

    In response to Councilman Mr. Pignatelli who has never met me or my husband Pete Steele but felt it necessary to slander his name in Oakland where he has resided for the last 40 years. My husband Pete Steele had a conversation with the Board of Health Secretary and never said any such thing about using ducks as speed bumps. Pat Pignatelli said he “heard” that is what Mr. Steele said, which makes it hear say – on top of slandering my husband suggesting that he is inhumane for doing such a thing.

    My husband and I will be attending the next Mayor and Council Meeting at which time I will be presenting emails from Mr. Pignatelli in which we asked him from the beginning where we can obtain information regarding the original complaint on the ducks. Mr. Pignatelli, the liaison of the Board of Heath told us to call Animal Control in Teterboro, which ended up being a wild “goose” chase and the Animal Shelter in Teterboro told us they do not service Oakland and we would have to contact Tyco which is a private contractor that services Oakland. I should have known then that this was messed up from the beginning when the liaison of the board of health did not know the protocol and where to direct us to! My neighbor was given the run around and made several calls before speaking with Tyco who informed her that the complaint was given directly to the Oakland Board of Health – which has absolutely no written record of said complaint. I had filled out an Open Records request to be given two receipts from Tyco stating that on 2 separate occasions they picked up a dead duck from River Road – no complaint was ever produced stating that anyone complained on said date about ducks.

    So for Mr. Pignatelli, who has never met me or my husband to state at a Town Council Meeting which is televised for everyone in Oakland to see that my husband is some kind of monster that purchased ducks to slow the traffic on River Road – I just hope Mr. Pignatelli knows the meaning of slander – because I certainly do – it is when someone tries to soil your reputation!

    My husband, Pete Steele, has volunteered his time welding a score board for the fathers club in which he donated his skill and materials – and I have served on Dogwood PTO and Valley Middle School PTO for over 10 years as Treasurer and Vice President/Fundraiser. I have volunteered countless hours to help raise well over $50,000 for our schools and anyone in Oakland that knows me or my husband knows that we would never do such a thing.

    I also have emails from Mr. Pignatelli stating that a traffic study would be conducted and we should attend the 3/28 council meeting to discuss the findings, and then 2nd email stating that this study was not complete, so don’t come to the 3/28 meeting but hold off until the 4/11 meeting – and then I find out from a good friend, Bob Schwalb that he slanders my husbands name at the 3/28 meeting without having ever met him or having a conversation with him. Mr. Pignatelli did not attend the 2/14 Board of Health meeting in which my husband and 11 other neighbors went to discuss the issue with the ducks. Yet, based on here say of what some Board of Health secretary tells him he announces in front of the entire town that my husband used ducks as speed bumps!

    I am furious!!! And I will be attending the 4/11 Council meeting even though Mr. Pignatelli sent me yet another email saying don’t attend this meeting because traffic officer Piatini will be on vacation and unable to complete the traffic study by then.

    Please – save us time and money and forget about the traffic study on River Road – we have the findings from the last traffic study done in July of 2007 – in which they found that over 1200 cars travel on our road – as Mr. Pignatelli stated it used as a cut through for the many cars that come down Skyline Drive =- and yet he did not feel it necessary to explore this fact – but was more than happy to offer up to the residents in Oakland that Pete Steele, someone he has never even had a conversation with – is exploiting our water fowl friends.

    Mr. Pignatelli also stated that the ducks were better off in the environment that they were relocated to – even though two minutes previously, Mame Schwartfisher had gotten up and told him that only a couple of the ducks and buddy remain. So, 3 ducks are killed on RIver Road in two years from a motorist who according to the traffic study are averaging 18 mph and now 9 ducks are dead from predators at Potash where they were relocated just 3 months ago and someone how this is better? For who?

  • Charlie McCormick

    Hi Gina,
    Sorry to see you and the family are the latest target of this strategy of slander by sitting members of the Oakland Town Council.

    After having former mayor John Szabo initiate a two week investigation of me by the Oakland Police Department, I can understand why our police budget is about a million dollars more than surrounding towns.

    And then council member Visconti felt a deep carnal urge to slander me from the dais…This on top of council member Jensen sending the borough attorney a 12 page dossier in an effort to “get me”.

    While my wife would never allow me to express myself fully here on The Journal, I think it’s safe to ask….What the duck is wrong with these people?

    At long last is there no shame…

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