Christine McGrath, 2023 Town Council Candidate

Christine McGrath, Line 2A


Q: How can a small, independent town remain a small independent town in the face of rising costs and state mandates?

Christine McGrath: That’s a really great question. And it’s one that I get a lot from residents, they really care about keeping Verona, Verona, that small town. My point of view is that we need to make sure that our business corridor is fully working for us. So in the face of rising costs, we want to make sure that we’re getting that full value from the properties along Bloomfield Avenue and Pompton. And for Verona that means taking a look at our zoning, and in light of our Master Plan just being completely completed, this is the perfect time to do so. If we love to improve our zoning and modernize it to what investors are looking for, we can be able to improve our downtown businesses, and improve the look and feel of our downtown but still retain that small town character and I think that’s essential.

Q: How do we get through the next round of state-mandated affordable housing without the cost and confusion of the last round?

Christine McGrath: I really am glad you asked this question because this is really the crux of what the council needs to be working on, especially in the next two years. So first of all, the main thing is that we have to center on our values that we want to maintain, and we want to prevent the overburdening of our school district. The way we do that is by looking at our zoning, and determine where we are most vulnerable to developers coming in as intervenors. And where do we actually want to generate future opportunities? When I talk to residents, there are a lot of residents whose children are no longer in the school district, who are just starting in retirement and they would like to downsize but stay in town. We don’t even have a lot of housing options for them to stay within their social networks and in our great community, using our community center, our library and our pool. So I think we need to marry the mandates from the state of New Jersey with our desire to not overburden our school district. We need to look at opportunities to maybe incentivize projects that meet our needs, and develop the housing that we actually do need for our residents. I think there is a way of turning what is a mandate and flipping it into an opportunity for Verona.

Q: The next Council must update the Zoning Code to be consistent with the new Master Plan. Which aspects of the commercial zone should it focus on, and which aspects of the residential zones?

Christine McGrath: I actually believe most of the focus should be on the commercial zone. Luckily, the Master Plan was developed by our planning board to be incredibly flexible. There are elements of our Zoning Code that just don’t make sense anymore. There’s one line in particular about the fact that the uses within commercial buildings have to be evenly distributed. Developers don’t want to even operate within that constraint. In fact, when the Council recently rezoned that section of Bloomfield Avenue between Montrose and South Prospect, that was one of the aspects of the zoning code that we removed. There’s other aspects of the Master Plan that were really wonderful, that we need to look into in terms of parking requirements, and creating safe walking and bike routes in town, but I think most of the zoning changes from the Master Plan need to be focused on that commercial zone on Bloomfield Avenue and Pompton. I would foresee minimal if any changes being made on the residential side.

Explain this to voters a little bit more. A potentially new Bloomfield Avenue – Pompton zone could have one layer of ground floor retail, but maybe three or four stories of residential above, is that what we’re looking at?

Christine McGrath: Well, I don’t know if we were anywhere close to making that sort of decision or if we even want to change our height requirement. Right now we’re at three stories and I’m not sure if one’s up down across all of Bloomfield Avenue would make sense but we do need to make very targeted changes to our existing zones. We’ll look at whether or not we could facilitate having retail on the bottom and apartments above. In terms of what that looks like for the density and the height, that’s where we’re still going to need to get some residents in club before any changes are made because again, residents are very clear they want to maintain that small town feel. We need to be very careful when we start talking about height and density.


Q. Downtown redevelopment is on your agenda. What best practice have you found in another town that Verona should adopt, and why?

Christine McGrath: That’s a really good question. I would actually rely on us hiring some planners to show us examples of those best practices from other communities to help us move forward. We haven’t done that analysis yet. I know that when I’ve spoken to residents, they have looked at some of the redevelopment in Caldwell in particular as good examples, and some of the redevelopment in Montclair as bad examples. I think what’s important is that we do look outside our immediate Essex County area to what some towns have done, and then get a lot of resident input. We are going to have to fully tackle our downtown and to make it work for us which residents really want. We’re going to have to look at not just the zoning, which we’ve already talked about, but parking and parking requirements and how to modernize our parking. We need to look at signage that the town puts up for safety on Bloomfield Avenue. Safety on pedestrian safety and biking safety was something big that came up in the master plan. That’s going to require county partnerships as well so this is going to be a multifaceted approach. I’m really looking forward for the council to devote some significant time to tackling this in the next few years should I be reelected.

Q: According to the Master Plan, 59% of Verona’s population is 43 years old or older. Your first-term initiatives largely focused on Millennials. Which services and or amenities for older residents would you support if elected for a second term?

Christine McGrath: I’ve been a big supporter of recreation and making sure that our recreation facilities are up to date. One of the big projects that I helped to ensure that proceeded with resident input is the update to the pickleball courts. Pickleball is for sure a multi-generational activity. In addition, I’m a big supporter of the pool and the improvements that we’ve been making there. While our current project is focused on renovating the baby pool, future projects will be focused on appropriate maintenance of the pool lining, but also what else we could do. I like to see us think about how we can make some of those facilities inside the pool more multigenerational. And of course, I’m a big supporter, as you know from my past work, of the Verona Public Library, which serves all ages. A lot of the programming that we’ve been putting in place in town, some of the community events again, for residents of all ages, like our Diwali celebration, our recent Women’s History panel. I don’t really focus on satisfying the needs of one generation versus another. It’s important that we look holistically across the needs for all of our residents including all of our residents who are either living with disabilities or that are more diverse. We can’t forget them in the conversation either.

Q: In 2019 you voted against legislation to restrict the cutting of trees on private property, writing, among other things that “it was going to place too large of a financial burden on residents doing small landscaping projects.” You supported the recent revisions, even though they didn’t change any of the things you had called out as financial burdens, like paying into the tree fund or replacing trees. Why the change of heart?

Christine McGrath: The change was the fact that we actually had data. Most of the residents that were submitting for tree permits are submitting to remove dead or dying trees. Once we had that overwhelming amount of data that showed that most of the trees were dead or dying, we realized that we needed to revise our ordinance in a new way for that reality. Now we did have a little bit of a difference on the Council about whether or not those trees were truly dead or dying. So on the advice of our Administration, I did support revising the tree ordinance so that we would basically be hiring our own expert to evaluate whether the tree was dead or dying or not. When we have actual experience with an ordinance, then it’s a great opportunity to kind of evaluate and look at government. What I did not support in this round of the tree ordinance being revised is the fact that we are not charging any fees for each tree permit. So the municipality is taking on the cost of doing these evaluations for whether or not a tree is dead or dying or alive and is not charged a reasonable fee for that evaluation. I think given the cost constraints that we have on local government, it would have been very reasonable to charge residents a small fee because they were already paying that fee. To tree companies to do the evaluation before we’ve had several general thoughts on trees and in Verona trees are so important for flooding management. I really hope that we can pivot into the future beyond this tree ordinance and really start to get into a culture of encouraging residents to plant trees. We have lost a lot of trees over the years because of their age and because of storm damage. Given the flooding that we do face in our town, it is really important for us to actually move to more of a philosophy of incentivizing residents to plant trees on their private property and fully supporting our shade tree strategy, which frankly has been underfunded in the last few years. So I look forward in the future to talking more about how we’re approaching trees.

I think that actually goes to our volunteers through three of our environmental groups, the Environmental Commission, the Sustainable Verona and the Shade Tree Commission. I think it’s part of their job to help develop a strategy where we can talk to residents about the importance of trees in our community. And I think there are some exciting things planned for each one of these committees going forward where we’re going to focus more on that. In particular, Sustainable Verona is going to be focusing on getting silver certification, and shade trees will be part of that. The Shade Tree Commission has new leadership and new volunteers and they’re really excited to see what they’re going to do in the future. They’re going to be leading residents and communication as well. So it’s gonna be really fun going forward.