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Town Council: Marijuana, Open Space, Affordable Housing

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Bob Dickison (second from right) was honored for his decades of service on the Shade Tree Commission.

The Verona Town Council had a wide-ranging meeting on Monday, February 11, that included a preliminary discussion of the impact of marijuana legalization and the next steps for properties that could be sites for affordable housing. The Council also discussed the impact of the higher state minimum wage on Verona and a potential referendum to create an open space trust fund, and approved a 20% increase in Verona’s sewer rates, the first increase in 17 years.

Mayor Ryan told the Council that he had gotten some insight on the potential impact of marijuana legalization on Verona at with New Jersey Conference of Mayor’s Winter Summit last week. “We will be able to opt in or opt out in terms of having facilities here,” Ryan said. “We can pass local regulations in terms of where the facilities are, [such as] distances to schools and houses of worship.” If marijuana were to be legalized, Ryan added, Verona would have 180 days to act on local legislation; if Verona were to pass ordinance in advance of state approval it would be voided. 

Township Manager Matthew Cavallo said that, after discussions with Verona’s business community, parking meter rates were being adjusted from 25 cents for 30 minutes to 25 cents for 40 minutes, and that the meters would be effect from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., instead of 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Later in the meeting, Cavallo added that Verona’s meters would begin working with the ParkMobile app on February 19. Cavallo also noted that the Fairview Avenue well should be back online soon; Verona has been paying $1,800 a day to the Passaic Valley Water Commission for water service while the well was down for repairs.

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Mayor Ryan said that he and other mayors in the 11th congressional district had met on Monday morning with Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ11) to discuss some of the recent flooding in the district. He said the mayors urged Rep. Sherrill to not commission another Army Corps of Engineers survey because the mayors know what needs to be addressed in our watershed. “Give it [the money] to us so we can fix the problems,” Ryan said he told Rep. Sherrill. 

The Council then turned to the three reviews recently undertaken by the the Planning Board to determine if certain properties met the criteria for an area in need of redevelopment. The Council tabled further action on the Spectrum360 property, which the Planning Board decided did not qualify as an area in need of redevelopment, but asked for the creation of redevelopment plans for 885 Bloomfield Avenue and the properties surrounding the former Cameco property, which did. The Council later agreed to put all public documents concerning the Spectrum360 property on the town website for area residents to review.

The Council also floated the prospect of a municipal referendum this November to decide if Verona should create an open space trust fund. The fund could be used to purchase open space and to do improvements on existing open space, like Verona’s turf fields, both municipal and school. The turf Centennial Field is nearing the end of its useful life, and replacing it, the Council said, could cost as much as $500,000. The open space trust fund would be funded through an annual levy, which Cavallo said would not exceed 2 cents per $100 of assessed value. Verona is one of only three municipalities in Essex County that does not now have an open space trust fund; Cavallo gave examples of the rates charged in other towns, many of which are more than what Verona is contemplating.

The meeting also recognized Bob Dickison for 45 of service to the Verona Shade Tree Commission, including serving as the commission’s chairman from 1985 to the present. “I really don’t think we’ll see the likes of his service again,” said Mayor Ryan. Dickison cautioned the Council against doing anything to harm Verona’s trees. “Don’t be cutting the budget on the tree side,” he said.

You can watch the meeting in full below:

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Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citranohttps://myveronanj.com
Virginia Citrano grew up in Verona. She moved away to write and edit for The Wall Street Journal’s European edition, Institutional Investor, Crain’s New York Business and Forbes.com. Since returning to Verona, she has volunteered for school, civic and religious groups, served nine years on the Verona Environmental Commission and is now part of Sustainable Verona. She co-founded MyVeronaNJ in 2009. You can reach Virginia at [email protected]

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