Progress: Union County sees many advancements in 2020

Photo by David VanDeventer
An overpass is built at Route 22 in Hillside.

UNION COUNTY, NJ — 2020 was packed to the brim with goings-on, from COVID-19 to the census, from the Black Lives Matter movement to the presidential election. While COVID-19 and unrest dominated headlines, there were many infrastructure advancements in Union County. The following is a short recap of some of those improvements; this is by no means a comprehensive list, as there is just too much to report.

Can we build it? Yes we can!

A three-story apartment building was OK’d in January to go up on Raritan Road next to the Clark Village Shopping Center after the planning board unanimously approved a 42-unit structure for the 2.68-acre site. The building, north of the intersection with Westfield Avenue, will occupy 18,000 square feet and have 96 parking spaces.
A project to replace the abandoned United Lacquer warehouse on West Elizabeth Avenue in Linden with a six-story, 402-apartment commercial and residential complex was approved by the planning board in January. The property will include a two-level parking garage, a restaurant space, a fitness center, a courtyard, a volleyball court and a small pool area.

Cypress Equities announced in April that it had secured a $90 million construction loan for a Walmart-anchored shopping center in Linden. Phase 1 was completed in late 2019 with the opening of a 185,000-square-foot Walmart Supercenter and seven finished pad sites. Phase 2, set to open this year, will add 157,000 square feet.
At the end of June, a ribbon-cutting ceremony unveiled a new 1.1-mile walking path at Conant Park in Hillside. Conant Park’s new walkway was part of an overall refurbishment plan for the park, costing approximately $500,000 in all. A new walking path was unveiled the same week at Zimmerman Park in Union.

Roselle Park’s latest development, Meridia on Westfield, filled up faster than expected, reaching 85-percent capacity in its first building in just a few months, as of September. Once both buildings are complete, the project will include 212 luxury apartments with a fitness center, social lounge, restaurant and courtyard; the apartments will have granite countertops, stainless steel appliances and hardwood floors.

Union County announced in August that a public monument will be erected honoring Elizabeth native and LGBTQ civil rights activist Marsha P. Johnson on Freedom Trail in Elizabeth. The monument is anticipated to be the first public monument in the state of New Jersey to honor an LGBTQ person and transgender woman of color.
Ribbons were cut in the fall for two synthetic turf fields, which were striped for soccer, rugby and lacrosse, in Madison Avenue Park in Rahway. Lighting was also installed, as well as bleachers and goalposts/nets for soccer, rugby and lacrosse.

Freeholders, now called commissioners, awarded grants in the fall for improvements to recreation resources for children, through the Kid’s Recreation Trust Fund. The following projects were funded: Berkeley Heights received $50,000 to install a new play area at the new municipal complex at 29 Park Ave. and to resurface tennis courts and bleacher pads at the Columbia Middle School softball field. Clark received $16,029 for improvements to the Nelson and Dolan girls softball fields and facilities and for replacing the flooring of the Senior Fitness Center. Cranford received $65,000 for renovation of indoor tennis court, upgrades to the Centennial Avenue Pool and resurfacing of basketball courts at Adams, Buchanan and Johnson parks. Elizabeth received $115,000 for ADA-compliant improvements to the Kellogg Park playground. Fanwood received $40,000 for master plans to improve Forest Road Park. Garwood received $3,362 for a deep clean of the turf field at the Garwood Sports and Recreation Complex and for the purchase of field hockey goals. Kenilworth received $75,000 for removal and remediation of asbestos tile in the recreation building and for removal of tennis courts. Linden received $70,000 for reconstruction of the tennis courts at Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park. Mountainside received $30,000 for playground upgrades and renovations to the Deerfield softball and baseball fields. New Providence received $40,000 for modifications to the walking path surrounding the recreational complex. Plainfield received $90,000 for the installation of new lighting at the basketball courts in Rushmore Park. Rahway received $25,645 for milling, resurfacing, color coating, relining and adding ADA access to the basketball court at Howard Field. Roselle received $75,000 for Phase 2 of improvements at Grove Street Park, with a new toddler playground that meets state of New Jersey safety requirements. Roselle Park received $50,000 for recreational improvements that are part of a larger project planned for the Hawthorne Detention Basin, including installation and improvement of soccer fields and walking paths. Scotch Plains received $65,000 for improvements to safety netting at the Scotch Hills Country Club, to protect the historic Shady Rest clubhouse from errant golf shots. Springfield received $40,000 for installation of playground equipment, for fencing repairs and for accessibility improvements. Summit received $59,250 for improvements to the basketball courts at Soldiers Memorial Field. Union received $75,000 for updates and improvements to the equipment at Hoover Park and the fitness path in Volunteer Park. Westfield received $52,500 for upgrades to Edison School Field, for recreation equipment at Tamaques Park and for an ADA study of municipal parks.

Roselle was awarded a $5.5 million New Jersey Library Construction Bond Act grant in November to build a community resource center. The library-addition project will begin with the renovation of the existing library, which is falling short as a community resource center because of its size and out-of-date design.

The first phase of the Brownstones redevelopment project in Rahway came to a close Dec. 21, when officials cut the ribbon at the factory turned apartment complex. The property will be home to four five-story buildings with 120 apartments in each.

Cranford reached a settlement with Hartz Mountain in December to develop its site at 750 Walnut Ave. at a density far less than the original application to build 900 units. The settlement came after more than a year of negotiations and will result in the 30-acre site being split, with 240,000 square feet of flex space commercial development on 15 acres and 250 units being built on the remaining 15 acres. The residential component will have 212 market-rate units and 38 affordable-housing units.

Getting down to business

Far too many businesses opened throughout Union County to name them all here, but here are some highlights. In June, Wawa reached its 900th-store milestone with the opening of a new store on Morris Turnpike in Springfield. Amazon Logistics signed a lease in July for a property to be a delivery station on Lower Road in Linden.

Merck announced at the end of April that it will be consolidating its New Jersey operations into a single headquarters in Rahway by the end of 2023. While this is a boon for Rahway, it is a blow for Kenilworth, which has served as the home of Merck’s headquarters since 2015. Though not thrilled that Merck will be moving, Kenilworth officials are confident the town can lure in another substantial business to join the community.

Summit Downtown Inc. announced in May that the first round of grants from the Sustain Summit Fund had been distributed to 117 Summit small businesses. The Sustain Summit Fund is a collaborative effort between Summit Downtown Inc., the Summit Foundation and the city of Summit to help local small businesses during this time of unprecedented economic and public health hardship.

With COVID-19 capacity restrictions and indoor dining closed for a long time, many restaurants moved their operations outdoors, adapting to serve area foodies in new outdoor seating areas. To help this along in June, the Union Special Improvement District shut down sections of Stuyvesant Avenue to coax residents out of their quarantine. In addition to allowing for expanded outdoor dining, the closed roadway provided opportunities for yoga and Zumba classes. In August, Summit Downtown Inc. and the city facilitated the use of parking spaces and Maple Street to allow for table service while restaurants were unable to open for indoor dining; to make things more festive, SDI purchased and installed string lights downtown.

The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs announced on Nov. 10 the award of $1.6 million in Main Street New Jersey COVID-19 relief grants to 11 business district management organizations. Downtown Westfield Corporation received $72,530 for an eight-part project to help businesses during the holiday shopping season. Summit Downtown Inc. received $120,000 to create a small business grant initiative called Sustain Summit Program and to install more market lights to provide extra lighting and ambiance during the winter months.

What’s in a name?

Remembering two influential women who’ve made a difference in the Hillside School District as well as in their respective schools, the Hillside Board of Education voted unanimously on July 23 to rename two schools in their honor. As a result, on Aug. 2, Calvin Coolidge School and George Washington School were renamed to honor Deanna Taylor and Ola Edwards, respectively.

Columbus Park on Morris Avenue in Union was renamed Anthony E. Russo Park at a dedication ceremony on Dec. 7. A plaque was unveiled during the ceremony to outline the many accomplishments and contributions of the former Union mayor.

Cranford residents now have a way to show off their historic housing and take pride in Cranford’s longstanding history. Cranford’s Historic Preservation Advisory Board designed a brass plaque for buildings within the North Cranford Historic District that have been identified and documented as a historic or cultural resource. The North Cranford Historic District represents a significant period in Cranford’s history, when the town was the “Venice of New Jersey,” during which time the area was transformed from a rural farming village to a suburban railroad community.

Water, water everywhere

With an investment of $4.6 million in Hillside, New Jersey American Water began replacing approximately 11,000 feet of aging 6-inch water pipes in the town in February. The company upgraded the water lines, installed in the 1930s, with 8-inch ductile iron main along the entire lengths of Cornell and McLean places, and Paul, Buchanan, Purce, Leo, Chapman and Tillman streets. Twenty-three fire hydrants and 462 utility-owned service lines along the pipeline route were also replaced.

NJAW approved a $5.9 million investment in Linden to replace approximately 12,900 feet of aging water main and install 3,100 feet of new main in February. The project also replaced 21 fire hydrants and installed four new hydrants along the pipeline route. The company installed new main along West Curtis Street, from Keep Street to North Wood Avenue, and upgraded the aging water lines with larger ductile iron main along several streets.

The Union County freeholder board announced in September that it will be receiving $250,000 in state funds that will be used to dredge the Clark Reservoir, which sits off Lake Avenue in the township.

Where we’re going, we still need roads

The U.S. Route 22 eastbound connector ramp to Hillside Avenue was closed in January so that work could begin on the Hilldale Place/North Broad Street safety improvement project in Hillside; it should remain closed through this spring for the $10.3 million federally funded project, which involves replacing the existing bridge, which serves as the Route 22 eastbound connector.

The Union County Freeholders Infrastructure Grant program funded various projects throughout the county in May, including parks, sewage drainage, road resurfacing and signage. The following awards were made: $60,000 to Berkeley Heights for roadway improvements to Plainfield Avenue; $50,000 to Clark for roadway improvements; $87,500 to Cranford for Brookside Place drainage improvements; $130,000 to Elizabeth for a parking lot on Pine Street; $50,000 to Fanwood for Paterson Road, Phase 2 and Ridgeway improvements; $35,000 to Garwood for curb, sidewalk and tree repairs at various locations, and for cleaning and television inspection of sanitary sewers; $55,000 to Hillside for Orchard Street terrace drainage improvements; $65,000 to Kenilworth for records management scanning; $97,500 to Linden for the resurfacing of East Linden Avenue; $50,000 to Mountainside for Borough Hall safety upgrades and for the resurfacing of Dunn Parkway; $55,000 to New Providence for a municipal roadway paving project; $110,000 to Plainfield for a roadway improvement project on Prospect Avenue; $90,000 to Rahway for a road resurfacing project; $60,000 to Roselle for Columbus Avenue roadway improvements; $55,000 to Roselle Park for improvements to West Sumner Avenue and for ADA improvements at the municipal complex; $100,000 to Scotch Plains for its roadway assistance program; $57,500 to Springfield for Tooker Avenue paving improvements; $90,000 to Summit for Huntley Road–area improvements and for a City Hall records management improvement project; $95,000 to Union for a township road rehabilitation project; $97,500 to Westfield for improvements to North Chestnut Street; and $10,000 to Winfield Park for various improvements of street signs, salt spreaders and surveillance cameras.

During the summer, the city of Summit began construction on its Huntley Road area improvement project. Sewers were cleaned and inspected, storm drain inlets were upgraded, and storm pipe was installed. Additionally, repairs to existing curb and installation of new curb took place, followed by the road being milled and paved.

The Summit Police Department and city of Summit Engineering Division were awarded a pedestrian safety grant in the summer in the amount of $15,000 from the New Jersey Department of Transportation to be used to help reduce pedestrian-related motor vehicle crashes.

The Summit Police Department and Department of Community Services installed three four-way stops, at the intersections of Prospect and Tulip streets, Ashland Road and Tulip Street, and Ashland Road and Maple Street at the end of summer.

Union County Paratransit increased passenger transportation for its residents. Union County residents who qualify for paratransit services can now make reservations for the following kinds of trips: Route 22 shuttle bus, medical, shopping, employment, education or training, prescription pickups, and other essential services.

Union County announced in November that nine county facilities will now offer designated parking spaces for military veterans. The parking spaces will feature signage noting their veteran designation and may be used by any veteran with a car displaying a special placard provided by the Office of the Union County Prosecutor.

In November, Gov. Phil Murphy announced $161.25 million in municipal aid grants from the state Department of Transportation. Berkeley Heights won an award of $345,000 for roadway preservation for various streets. Clark won an award of $265,000 for roadway preservation for Lincoln Boulevard and Lupine Way. Cranford won an award of $415,000 for roadway preservation for Burnside Avenue. Elizabeth won an award of $435,000 and urban allotment of $275,287, making a total award of $710,287, for bikeways for the Elizabeth River Trail Phase 5 Extension and traffic signal replacement at Clifton Street and Cole Place. Fanwood won an award of $400,000 for roadway preservation for Gere Place and Morse Avenue. Garwood won an award of $395,000 for roadway preservation for various streets. Hillside won an award of $248,000 and urban allotment of $102,856, making a total award of $350,856, for roadway preservation for Hillside Avenue. Kenilworth won an award of $415,000 for roadway preservation for various streets. Linden won an award of $420,000 for roadway preservation for various streets. Mountainside won an award of $400,000 for roadway preservation for Mill Lane and Rutgers Road. New Providence won an award of $395,000 for roadway preservation for various streets. Plainfield won an award of $430,000 and urban allotment of $133,576, making a total award of $563,576, for roadway preservation for Phase 1 of East Third Street improvements. Rahway won an award of $385,000 and urban allotment of $34,214, making a total award of $419,214, for roadway preservation for various streets. Roselle won an award of $415,000 and urban allotment of $74,533, making a total award of $489,533, for roadway preservation for various streets. Roselle Park won an award of $415,000 for roadway preservation for various streets. Scotch Plains won an award of $300,542 for roadway preservation for Phase 1 of Jerusalem Road improvements. Springfield won an award of $400,000 for roadway preservation for Mount View Road. Summit won an award of $395,000 for roadway preservation for the Park Avenue Improvement Project. Union won an award of $410,000 for roadway preservation for Phase 1 of Lehigh Avenue improvements. Westfield won awards of $285,000 and $120,000 for roadway preservation for Prospect Street and Willow Grove Road, respectively.

Going green, staying green

The Summit Environmental Commission’s Passaic River Reforestation Project received $2,371.60 from Sustainable Jersey in February to plant 200 trees.

Beechwood School in Mountainside received a $2,000 grant in April from Sustainable Jersey for a water bottle refilling station.

In May, Cranford and Fanwood each won $2,000 grants from Sustainable Jersey. Cranford won $2,000 for a project to “live green” without single-use plastics. In 2019, the township passed a single-use plastics ban; this grant was used by the Green Team to publicize the ban and educate residents about recycling. Fanwood’s Green Team used the money to expand and improve the borough’s Green Team presence and outreach.

Union County’s Adopt-a-Park program continued making new friends, such as with Summit’s Traverson family, which donated annual flowers, soil and mulch, and maintains a cement planter in Briant Park in Springfield.

The county received a donation of 600 arborvitae trees from Christmas Tree Shops in June. Trees were set to be planted in various areas, including Conant Park in Hillside, Wheeler Park in Linden, Echo Lake Park in Mountainside, Green Brook Park in Plainfield and Rahway River Park in Rahway. The arborvitae tree keeps its foliage year-round. Arborvitae trees also provide a nesting space for birds, as well as a food source through seeds for animals such as rabbits, birds, squirrels and deer.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection awarded $55,955.58 in annual Clean Communities grants in June to Union County to help remove litter to beautify neighborhoods, improve water quality and enhance quality of life. Grants were also awarded to Union County municipalities as follows: $25,436.33 to Berkeley Heights, $28,268.86 to Clark, $41,787.93 to Cranford, $166,629.84 to Elizabeth, $12,819.14 to Fanwood, $8,359.64 to Garwood, $31,869.38 to Hillside, $14,332.34 to Kenilworth, $68,906.64 to Linden, $14,455.85 to Mountainside, $23,822.20 to New Providence, $70,288.19 to Plainfield, $47,846 to Rahway, $33,047.67 to Roselle, $20,947.97 to Roselle Park, $44,134.88 to Scotch Plains, $29,544.54 to Springfield, $39,752.48 to Summit, $88,155.10 to Union Township, $55,028.77 to Westfield and $4,000 to Winfield.

The Summit Division of Public Works, along with Union County, announced its plan to plant 250 new trees in locations throughout Summit in 2020 and into 2021. A significant number of these trees were provided by the county to help increase tree canopy coverage in Summit and to help Summit to reach its goal of planting more than 1,000 trees citywide over the next four years.

Funded through a Clean Communities grant, the Community Clean Team, comprising paid teenagers, was roaming the town this summer keeping it clean.

The borough of Roselle’s Neighborhood Preservation Program distributed box planters along Chestnut Street in front of local restaurants the morning of Aug. 27. The planter boxes serve as an added boundary for restaurants to allow outside dining, making beautiful and inviting settings for both customers and passersby.

In the fall, 14 municipalities were awarded matching grants for planting new trees through the Greening Union County program. They were: Berkeley Heights, $2,000; Cranford, $4,500; Elizabeth, $19,000; Garwood, $5,000; Linden, $10,000; New Providence, $2,500; Rahway, $4,500; Roselle, $5,000; Roselle Park, $10,000; Scotch Plains, $3.750; Springfield, $6,000; Summit, $10,000; Union, $10,000; and Westfield, $10,000.

Cranford’s first electric-car charging station was installed in the parking garage and is now ready for use. The station was purchased and installed thanks to a $6,000 grant and approximately $9,000 from the township.

Safety first

The Union Emergency Medical Unit completed a purchase of a gently used ambulance from the Summit Volunteer Ambulance Squad in June. The 2006 Braun slope-side, long-body ambulance had fewer than 50,000 miles and 6,200 hours on it, and had reliably served the city of Summit until it was replaced. In the fall, the membership of Union Emergency Medical Unit approved the purchase of the ambulance and three Ferno 35x stretchers for $15,000. Kenny Barbera of Union Collision donated labor and materials to repaint the ambulance in Union’s colors.

In an effort to modernize the look of the Roselle Park Police Department, Chief Daniel J. McCaffery announced changes to the uniforms worn by the agency’s patrol officers in September. The new uniform comes after more than 30 years with the same style. The new look is aimed to reduce injuries to officers, and the modern material keeps officers comfortable in all climates.

The Summit Volunteer First Aid Squad received a $20,000 Grant in September from the Summit Foundation to help fund the purchase of new computers that will be used to complete electronic call reports and other required documentation after squad members respond to 9-1-1 calls. The new computers replace outdated equipment and will enable crews to write the comprehensive reports required by each call more efficiently. The Summit Foundation also helped the squad to defray significant COVID-19 expenses with a grant of $3,900 for the purchase of an ultraviolet light to decontaminate ambulances and equipment after crews return from calls.

Age of the machine

Due to COVID-19, a lot of events and services moved online. Municipal governments and boards of education had to begin meeting virtually. School districts had to adjust to educating students through laptops. The public libraries had to meet growing demands for reading materials entirely through the internet. Arts organizations began streaming performances. The online infrastructure throughout the county grew exponentially this year, meeting many challenges head on.

Additionally, as of June 1, job seekers in Union County can use the new Union County Works website at ucajc.org to find job openings, job training and education opportunities; help with creating resumes; and more. Union County Works is a project of Union County’s American Job Center. The launch of the new online platform made the American Job Center the first in the state to offer a virtual one-stop employment service to its residents.

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