Montclair’s 2020 municipal election is underway right now, with voters asked to mail in their ballots by May 12. Voters will choose a new mayor and six Township Council seats in the town’s nonpartisan elections. To help Montclair residents make an informed choice, Montclair Local asked all 14 municipal candidates a series of questions on some of the key issues facing the town going forward.
In the Third Ward election, voters will choose between Lori Price Abrams and Marguerite Joralemon. Incumbent Sean Spiller is running for mayor.
What do you see as the number one problem facing Montclair’s educational system? What would solve it?
LORI PRICE ABRAMS: The Montclair Public Schools provide excellent educational offerings, and we praise our teachers and paraprofessionals for their creativity and commitment to educating all of our kids.
However, over recent years we have been lacking the continuity of district leadership that will support our teachers, as well as the students, to achieve best results.
I note that they have risen to the challenges of distance learning, in this difficult time. However, continuity of leadership will be critical as we navigate the long-term challenges of the health pandemic.
I encourage the Board of Education to make a strong and hopefully enduring hire — someone who will bring steadiness to the system to best enable school staff to provide high-quality education for all of our students.
MARGUERITE JORALEMON: I feel that the number one problem facing Montclair’s educational system is the lack of continuity in leadership. We have seen many superintendents pass through in recent years.
Our school system has been exemplary in the past for tackling racial segregation in the district through structural changes that resulted in the magnet system. We cannot stop here.
We need consistent leadership who can bring anti-racist multicultural perspectives into everyday interactions — someone who acknowledges that persistent racialized situations and other inequities within the schools, whether intentional or unintentional, dehumanize us all.
The superintendent who is finally selected should be able to carry out his or her monumental responsibilities with skill, and sensitivity and compassion, and work in concert with BOE members, teachers, parents and community members.
What are your thoughts on the gentrification of Montclair? What specifically could be done to help keep Montclair diverse?
LORI PRICE ABRAMS: Not all of us were lucky to be born here. Many of us gravitated to a town representing values we cherish — including that we are better living alongside people from all kinds of backgrounds, wherever they fall on the economic spectrum. Gentrification wipes out some of that character and can push out those who want to stay. One cause is surging rents. I favor a rent control ordinance which limits rates of increase, as is being considered by the present council. I would favor other measures to protect tenants, about which I would engage with all stakeholders.
In addition, I would incentivize creation of senior housing to ensure that those on fixed incomes can stay in town in suitable housing. Accommodations to convert existing stock is one pathway, requiring review of current zoning laws. Along with socioeconomic diversity, the fabric of our community is stronger with generational diversity.
MARGUERITE JORALEMON: Gentrification by its very definition shifts demographics by displacing some residents and replacing them with others. To do this, the history of a community is downplayed, and its property eventually changes hands.
Economics is the driving force behind gentrification, as real estate ventures are generally not concerned with maintaining diversity or promoting integrated communities.
Given the appeal of Montclair, owners and investors are capitalizing on that by setting high rents on apartments because they can. Similarly, apartments in new construction are out of reach for not only those who are displaced, but for millennials, families starting out and two-income households of average means.
As housing costs increase, economic, cultural and racial diversity will decrease. We need rent stabilization and the commitment by developers to adhere to 20 percent affordable housing in all new buildings. We need to work together towards innovative and creative housing solutions.
Many recent developments have not set aside 20 percent of new residential units as affordable as required by a township council ordinance. Do you believe in the 20 percent set-aside? How can more affordable housing be created? Are you for or against rent control?
LORI PRICE ABRAMS: I applaud efforts to effect the township’s commitment to economic diversity of our residents and commitment to make available low-income housing. Montclair’s 20 percent affordable set-aside commitment is sound policy and a strong approach.
For projects within areas of redevelopment where the set-aside percentage does not automatically apply, I would strive to honor that commitment, as well. In addition, I would consider creative methods, such as public-private partnerships, for the township to enhance the ability of e.g., HOMECorp to purchase available housing stock in order to enhance this nonprofit partner’s capacity to fulfill its mission, leveraging its experience and volunteer base.
I favor rent control.
MARGUERITE JORALEMON: I support the ordinance for the 20 percent affordable housing in new construction. State and local citizens groups have advocated for years to include and implement this provision.
However, as someone who is reminded of ill-conceived overdevelopment every time I walk out my front door, I wonder how the same developer working all major projects manages to avoid the 20 percent affordability provision on project after project.
The free market is working well for the developers, yet we have not seen the benefits we deserve as residents. This includes offers for good design, setbacks and green space that we have not seen.
I am in favor of rent stabilization and stand with those who have been advocating for years. It is only now that the council has chosen to present it due to public pressure.
What ideas do you have to solve parking problems in Montclair? Are you for or against lifting the overnight ban and should residents get priority on lot permits?
LORI PRICE ABRAMS: The question of parking itself points to Montclair’s unique offerings and success as a destination, drawing visitors and residents, alike.
We benefit economically from that type of revenue in our local economy, and which will be important as we overcome the challenges of the current health crisis.
Therefore, the township must meet parking needs in our commercial districts. However, the needs of residents for parking must be adequately met as well.
Overnight on-street permit parking is currently available in some districts, and may need to be expanded to other neighborhoods.
As the town has grown in population and commercial activity, we may have reached the point of requiring professional consultation for a parking study.
MARGUERITE JORALEMON: Parking problems exist for patrons of the business districts, apartment dwellers and for residents living adjacent to the business districts.
I am not in favor of lifting the ban on overnight parking in residential areas that have parking spaces available on private property. I am in favor of on-street parking permits for residents on a case-by-case basis in specified neighborhoods.
Residents should have priority for lot permits, as well as overnight street permits as deemed necessary. When investors buy single-family homes and convert them into two or three units, they should assume some of the responsibility for tenants’ parking needs, especially if the rental doesn’t have parking available on the property.
Additional parking decks and lots in appropriate locations would address some of the parking needs, however more development invariably brings more cars requiring more parking.
Does the new demolition oversight law go far enough in preserving Montclair’s history and character? What else would help?
LORI PRICE ABRAMS: Transparency is a valuable principle, and I am encouraged to see that the new demolition law increases oversight to preserve our town’s history and character.
Montclair’s architectural character and diversity add value to our town, fiscally and from a historic perspective, and as such, they should be protected in this way.
MARGUERITE JORALEMON: Montclairians have lamented the demolition of historic structures like the Marlboro Inn, the Hahne’s building and more recently historic homes on Lloyd Road.
As significant as the demolition is itself, the question that arises is what will replace it in quality, design and mass. The classic Hahne’s building on Park and Church streets was replaced by the Siena, a boxlike structure that lacks the common architectural features of the area. On the other hand, the former Katherine Gibbs building on Plymouth Street is an example of thoughtful, green LEED renovation of an existing space, that under different circumstances could have been slated for demolition.
The demolition oversight law should be stronger to include better public notice, and more input from the planning and zoning boards and Historic Preservation Commission.
Montclair has undergone a huge redevelopment boom in the last five years. How do you see this affecting Montclair, both good and bad?
LORI PRICE ABRAMS: In my view, the biggest issue facing Montclair is affordability and the ability to keep the interesting fabric and character of our town — progressive posture, cosmopolitan vibe, reflecting diversity, and celebrating arts and inquiry.
Responsible development is a key to increasing ratables, which helps reduce the municipal tax burden on residents, which directly correlates with affordability issues.
At the same time, development needs to align with local values, and not be the undoing of those same qualities we cherish.
The key to this and all issues is finding balance. A review and evaluation of the impact of past development should inform future decision-making.
MARGUERITE JORALEMON: I have experienced the development boom firsthand in the Third Ward. The Portland Place Neighborhood Association opposed a high-density development plan that would have increased traffic, created parking dilemmas, deprived our homes of sunlight, and affected overall quality of life in our beloved neighborhood.
Ironically, it turned out that the Valley and Bloom apartments and the MC Hotel have the same effect on downtown neighborhoods on the south side of Bloomfield Avenue due to their overpowering footprints and sheer mass.
While we enjoy the vitality of the downtown business district, we have lost local merchants and have seen a huge turnover of businesses due to rising commercial rents.
Thriving downtown Montclair continues to welcome shoppers, restaurant-goers, and lovers of the arts, both residents and visitors, to Montclair. And this is a positive outcome for all of us.
What is an issue in town (not otherwise addressed) that you feel strongly about, and how would you approach it if elected?
LORI PRICE ABRAMS: Montclair has stayed ahead of the curve on sustainability efforts, which is critical for public health and the good of the environment, but also for our economic bottom line. To that end, I am passionate that we pursue new approaches to fulfill these ends.
I favor review of an approach for additional diversion from the municipal waste stream, as the hauling of waste is costly per ton.
By separating food waste/grass clippings, along with leaf collections, we can explore the possibilities of town-wide composting. This will lighten the municipal waste stream and create a valuable by-product, while generating cost-savings for the municipality.
MARGUERITE JORALEMON: When my grandchildren were infants, I used a double stroller to walk with them around town. That’s when I realized how dangerous it was to cross Bloomfield Avenue at Valley Road.
This intersection was designated by the Montclair Times several years ago as the most dangerous intersection in Montclair, and today it is even harder to safely cross there.
I would like to see a mandatory 25 mile-per-hour speed limit on Bloomfield Avenue, a.k.a. County Road 506, from North Mountain Avenue to Maple Avenue. Lowering the speed limit in a business district is a common practice in communities across the nation. We are essentially a suburb, and we deserve it.
A strict speed limit in this section of Bloomfield Avenue would contribute to pedestrian and traffic safety.