Leonia Borough Council Navigates Affordable Housing, Infrastructure, and Sustainability Challenges

In a recent Leonia Borough Council meeting, an eclectic mix of topics were tackled, with a common thread of sustainability and public service running through the discussions. The meeting, attended by Mayor Ziegler and Council members President Grandelos, Davis, Fusco, Hesterbrink, Terrell, and Ziegler, saw deliberations on ordinances, affordable housing, sidewalk maintenance, and capital budgeting.

The council introduced ordinance 2023-10, which proposed the creation of an affordable housing overlay zone (AH-2), facilitating construction of affordable housing units. This move aligns with the borough’s constitutional obligation to provide low and moderate-income housing, as well as the New Jersey Fair Housing Act. The preliminary plans identified a potential site at 106-108 Grand Avenue, which is now set to be reviewed by the Planning Board.

The council also addressed critical infrastructure issues, with sidewalk maintenance eliciting passionate debates. Concerns about damage caused by borough-owned trees, and the implications for homeowners, took center stage. While council members discussed models to manage sidewalk repair responsibility, a Teaneck-inspired approach that combines homeowner responsibility with borough-assisted repairs received positive attention. However, the council leaned towards the option of homeowners bearing full responsibility for shade tree maintenance. To clarify the responsibilities and potential liabilities, the council recommended formalizing the policy as an ordinance.

In the same vein, the council brought forth an innovative road condition detection system, aimed at categorizing and ranking road conditions. This digital system would aid in planning roadway improvements and increase public transparency. However, the council wrestled with the fiscal realities of infrastructure improvements, with the Borough Administrator highlighting the dangers of deferred maintenance.

Additionally, a contentious debate emerged over the borough’s multi-year plan, particularly due to the lack of historical data and future projections. Council members were assured that necessary documents would be provided soon.

The council unanimously adopted two ordinances. Ordinance 2023-08, amended the usage fees for publicly accessible municipal electric vehicle supply/service equipment (EVSE), simplifying the fee structure. Meanwhile, ordinance 2023-09 exempted certain areas within the central business district from parking permits, increasing accessibility.

There was also a spirited public discussion about affordable housing and tree preservation. Concerned citizen Lydia Maurice asked about the fate of old trees on private property, and Vito Mazza voiced apprehensions about the timing of the affordable housing ordinance amid various developments. The council clarified that the new housing overlay zone is an essential part of their strategy to meet housing obligations.

The public forum also touched on the shared responsibility of sidewalk maintenance. Ms. Barboza suggested policy amendments that would incentivize homeowners to rectify sidewalk damage caused by tree roots. Mr. Riley raised an interesting point about homeowners’ responsibility to replace sewer pipes and water lines in the new sidewalk policy.

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