By ERIN ROLL and LINDA MOSS
Pleading that their street attracts more than 3,000 trick-or-treaters each year, a group of Montclair Avenue residents went to the Township Council Tuesday night to ask that their street be closed off to traffic for Halloween.
But the council, after hearing the objections and concerns of Township Police Chief Todd Conforti, nixed the request jointly made by Ari Laura Kreith, Helen Torris and Raj Amin. It was the third time that the township has denied the request for permission to close the street, but the first year that Montclair Avenue residents took their case directly to the local governing body.
Kreith told the council that Montclair Avenue draws about 3,000 children, or more than 6,000 visitors total when parents and younger siblings are included, on Halloween. In addition to candy, trick-or-treaters also get bundled copies of books gathered over the year by a woman whom Kreith described as “the Book Lady.”
She added that children from not only Montclair but Newark and East Orange come to Montclair Avenue, a safe venue, to trick or treat. But the street’s residents are concerned about their Halloween visitors being struck by vehicles while they are out collecting candy.
“There is no reason for the street to be open to drivers during peak trick-or-treating hours,” Kreith said.
This year a petition calling for the street to be closed was posted on the website iPetitions, and as of Wednesday morning it had just over 300 names.
“We have explored ways to address this with the township for the past three years, asking them to close the street to traffic,” the petition said. “The Traffic Bureau responded to our most recent request by stating that street closures after dark require police presence and they don’t have the budget.”
At its meeting Tuesday Conforti told the council that his department doesn’t have the manpower to patrol Montclair Avenue if it is closed on Halloween, which is a busy night for local police.
Halloween and Mischief Night are two of the busiest nights of the year for the Montclair police, according to Katya Wowk, the township’s director of communications.
The residents sought to have Montclair Avenue closed to traffic from Watchung Avenue to Chestnut Street, with township officials estimating that at least a half dozen officers would need to be stationed on the street if it was closed.
Even a block-party permit expires by nightfall, and the crowd expected on Montclair Avenue would be much larger than such an event.
“We’re not talking about a block,” Conforti said. “This is almost like a parade permit. This is a pretty long stretch.”
For safety issues the chief recommended that Montclair Avenue’s request be denied.
“As the police chief and a father, I would not recommend it,” Conforti said.
Amin suggested that township officials become “creative” to find a way to close the street, adding, “There are going to be 6,000 people on that street whether you like it or not, and someone’s going to get hurt.”
Several council members, including at-Large Councilman Rich McMahon, urged the Montclair Avenue residents to start planning early for next Halloween, and perhaps look to raise money to pay for officers to patrol their street, even out-of-town police officers, if it were closed for Halloween.
Romina Borsani said via social media that the street should be blocked from Watchung to Chestnut on Halloween during the trick-or-treating hours. “It should be a big block party request for the town,” she said.
Fourth Ward Councilwoman Renée Baskerville said that since the publicity about Montclair Avenue’s request, she’s heard from other residents who would like their streets closed to traffic on Halloween, as well. She said she is “all for it” as long as residents come up with the resources — perhaps through GoFundMe.com — to do it on their own.
Halloween is “an all-hands-on-deck night,” according to Acting Township Manager Tim Stafford.
“It should be noted that the police department did a thorough analysis and as a matter of public pedestrian-safety, it was determined — to the councilwoman’s point — first of all block-party permits terminate at dusk, and it was determined as a matter of pedestrian safety that it is just simply not possible, not advisable, to ensure safety to put simple blockades up,” Stafford said.
“There are six cross streets [involved],” he said. “It would require, I believe the analysis that we talked about was, six officers and a supervisor including vehicles for all of the cross streets.”