Oakland Borough Council Secures Crucial Bridge Funding, Debates Affordable Housing

In a notable win for the Oakland Borough Council, Mayor Schwager recently announced the allocation of an additional three million dollars in funding for the Patriots Way Bridge project. The funds are a part of the New Jersey Department of Transportation’s (NJDOT) fiscal year 2024 budget, currently pending Governor Murphy’s signature.

Previously, the borough had secured $1,213,170 in NJDOT grants, which proved insufficient for the project’s substantial costs. The total amount now stands at $4.2 million, allowing the project’s launch in 2024. “Yesterday, we were advised the NJDOT fiscal year 2024 budget being presented to Governor Murphy for signing includes the additional three million dollars in funding for the Oakland Patriots Way Bridge,” Mayor Schwager shared, marking it a “great day in Oakland for all our taxpayers”.

However, the meeting wasn’t without contention. Housing and infrastructure plans, including the Fair Share Plan for Downtown Ramapo Valley Road, garnered significant attention.

The housing plan, which fulfills low and moderate-income housing obligations and complies with the Municipal Land Use Law and New Jersey Fair Housing Act, was proposed for endorsement. This strategy includes approved applications, potential developments, and senior buildings, and it projects 47 affordable dwellings in downtown Oakland. This plan was overseen by a court-appointed special master.

The zoning component of the affordable housing plan received pushback. An overlay zone now allows first-floor apartments in downtown districts under certain conditions. The board appeared not to support this measure to expand housing availability, noting that “We argued strenuously … for months about that, and… [the special master] wanted to see at least the potential for downtown first-floor Apartments.”

Separately, disparities in council attitudes toward liquor licensing and cannabis legislation sparked some debate. Resident Frank Panthema challenged the council, pointing out that while a council member “spoke about the deleterious effects of cannabis,” the same council had no problem reinstating liquor licenses in the town, despite the fact that alcohol could have equally harmful, if not worse, impacts on the community. The council did not respond to the critique.

As the Oakland Borough Council navigates a course between much-needed infrastructure funding and contentious local issues, it remains to be seen how the newly secured funds and proposed plans will reshape the borough’s landscape in the coming years.

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