Washington Town Council Grapples with School Traffic Concerns, Proposed Expansions, and Community Transparency

In a recent meeting of the Washington Town Council, concerns over traffic congestion around Washington School and its proposed expansion dominated the discourse. Residents, stakeholders, and council members discussed safety measures, potential sidewalk installations, and community collaboration, all with an aim to balance growth with resident needs.

The traffic situation at Washington School has become a notable challenge. Council President Boulware reported significant concerns after attending a Westwood Regional Board of Education meeting. Numerous attendees underscored the perilous nature of the current traffic flow, urging the Board of Education to intervene. While the Board’s immediate response seemed muted, Boulware later received an email from board member Mrs. Peterson, suggesting an openness to collaboration.

The school’s proposed expansion, which remains in its preliminary stages, has added layers to the traffic predicament. At a recent Board of Education meeting, the status of the expansion plan, particularly its provisions for traffic, drew pointed questions. When Mr. Rosado, representing the Board, mentioned that sidewalks were incorporated into the plans after discussions earlier in the year, it raised eyebrows. Both Council President Boulware and Councilman Sears expressed surprise at this revelation, with neither having prior knowledge of such a decision.

Residents like Lenny Sabino emphasized the need for transparency regarding these plans, stating, “I think it would be prudent that you speak to Mr. Rosado… and maybe that plan would be put on the township website for all of us to see.”

This issue of sidewalks elicited varied opinions. Ann Palucci critiqued it as a surface-level solution that failed to get at the root of the traffic problem. Norman Bellion mirrored this sentiment, arguing that traffic’s multifaceted nature required more holistic solutions. Contrarily, Alex Ruiz made a case for sidewalks, linking the decline in students walking to school to safety concerns. He noted the stark drop in walking rates over the past three decades, asserting that sidewalks could boost physical activity among students while mitigating traffic.

On a broader scale, Bob Stickel, a local resident, raised eyebrows by spotlighting a growing discrepancy in school taxes between Washington Township and neighboring Westwood. Pointing to Westwood’s declining school taxes in comparison to Washington’s rise, Stickel connected this trend to Westwood’s property reassessments, voicing concerns about its fairness and implications, particularly concerning potential overdevelopment.

Councilwoman Feeney responded by suggesting a “rolling tax assessment just like Westwood.”

Amid these discussions, Mary Ellen Stickle highlighted another pressing concern: the issue of private jet noise pollution affecting Washington Township residents. Citing disruptive flight patterns leading to Teterboro Airport, she introduced a petition aimed at redirecting flight trajectories, emphasizing both noise disturbances and environmental concerns.

However, as the meeting progressed, not all community concerns revolved around traffic. Councilman Cassio introduced the contentious topic of state interference in parental rights within the school district. Citing a 2017 law detailing what can and can’t be discussed with parents regarding their students, Cassio emphasized the state’s “overbearing breach in some areas.” A consensus among council members was evident: decisions concerning children’s education should remain local.

The discourse ended with council members emphasizing collaboration. Whether concerning school expansion, traffic solutions, or upholding parental rights, the collective sentiment leaned toward more transparent and cooperative efforts with the Board of Education and the community at large.

In other news, the council also deliberated over potential renovations and expansions of the Police Department and Council Chambers. Three main options were presented: the first, estimated at $1.4 million, included both an addition and internal reconfiguration, potentially displacing the police during renovations. The second, a $1 million plan, had a smaller addition. The most comprehensive option, priced at $7.6 million, proposed relocating the council chamber to make room for the police department, requiring initial construction of the DPW building, which would then house an expanded police department and new council chambers above.

The township’s stormwater management program underwent scrutiny from the EPA and DEP, emphasizing ordinance revisions and enhancement of stormwater mapping backed by a $25,000 grant. Concerns also arose over the Gardener Field Playground’s equipment replacement timeline, potentially affecting Saturday practices. Additionally, a contentious issue emerged around the township’s health benefit plan, with PBA 206 representative Michael Ferreni voicing concerns about increased out-of-network costs and other limitations in the proposed Difference Card program.

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