SCOTCH PLAINS — The township’s downtown redevelopment efforts took some steps forward in 2023 while township voters resoundingly overturned a bond ordinance to fund the installation of artificial turf at the Brookside Park baseball field.
The new year got underway with council members Elizabeth Stamler, Roshan White and Matthew Adams starting new four-year terms after winning re-election in November 2022, which kept the five-member governing body under unanimous Democratic control. Councilwoman Ellen Zimmerman was selected to serve as deputy mayor for 2023.
Two years after severing its relationship with the original redevelopers, the township council in June named Fairfield-based Woodmont Properties LLC as the conditional redeveloper of the nine acres of public properties in the downtown business district. Since the summer, the parties have been working on finalizing a redevelopment agreement for the properties — which encompass the municipal building on Park Avenue and the library on BartleAvenue along with their adjacent parking lots as well as the municipal parking lot between BartleAvenue and Westfield Avenue and the rescue squad property across from the library—along with the financing mechanisms for Woodmont’s purchase of those properties.
The downtown plan also calls for the township’s first responders to be relocated to a new headquarters on Plainfield Avenue, across from the public works department. In October, State Senator Nicholas Scutari (D22) presented the council with a $1million check that will be earmarked towards construction of the new complex.
Meanwhile, a host of private developments were approved and/or started on Park Avenue, East Second Street, Front Street and Grand Street, and a new gasoline station and QuickChek convenience store opened in late October at the corner of Terrill Road and East Second Street. The demolition of the former Snuffy’s building on Park Avenue is expected early in the new year, with the property set to be redeveloped into a Lidl grocery store, retail space and commuter parking lot. The first certificates of occupancy were issued in January for the Glenside development at the former Bowcraft Amusement Park.
With the backing of the recreation commission, and support from the youth baseball and soccer leagues, the township council in April approved a $3.8-million bond ordinance to finance various upgrades to Brookside Park, including the installation of artificial turf at the baseball field. A group of neighborhood residents — Friends of Brookside Park — opposed to the turf plan got more than the required number of signatures on a petition calling for a referendum on the turf bond to be included on the November ballot.
The neighbors’ concerns focused mostly on the impact of the turf on the park’s environment, specifically the many cubic yards of rubber chips that would be used as an underlay for the turf and how much would eventually run off into the brook that runs along the park’s southern and eastern edges. The sports leagues said a turf field would expand the use of the playing field. In November, township voters repealed the bond ordinance by a nearly three-to-one margin.
After eight years of relatively flat budgets, municipal budget expenditures in 2023 rose due to a $400,000 increase in contributions to the state pension plan, a 9-percent increase in health-insurance premiums, inflationrelated boosts in fuel and utility costs, higher police salaries, increased costs at the public works department and $500,000 in start-up expenditures from the fire department’s new ambulance service, which became operational in September. The $30.2 million in expenditures resulted in an average increase in the municipal portion of property-tax bills of about $85 per household.
In June, the council awarded a twoyear recycling collection contract to Grand Sanitation Service, which had been collecting recycling items since early March after it was awarded an emergency contract in the wake of a contractual dispute with the prior firm that led to a lapse in pickups on both sides of town in late March. Many residents were unaware of the problem and had placed their recycling out for a Monday or Tuesday pickup that never materialized. Windy conditions on those days led to boxes and other paper products being blown into the streets along with cans, bottles and other plastic materials from knocked-over recycling bins, creating messy conditions throughout the township.
In July, the township council approved the issuance of a cannabis retail license — the municipality’s first — to A21 Wellness Dispensary LLC, which in October opened its doors at 2507 Route 22 on the site formerly occupied by a martial arts and boxing academy next to the former Bowcraft Amusement Park site.
Police Chief Ted Conley retired in January after more than six years on the job and was succeeded by Jeffrey Briel. Sergeant Jerry Brown and Sergeant Shawn Johnson also retired early in the year. Captain Al Sellinger was promoted to deputy police chief and Lieutenant David Smith was promoted to captain. In November, drivers cheered as two access routes from Route 22 into Scotch Plains — on Park Avenue and on Glenside Avenue — were repaved by the state after years of increasingly treacherous, pothole-laden conditions at both intersections.
The township this year bade farewell to two prominent Scotch Plainsers — former municipal judge and township attorney Brian Levine, who died in April, and lifelong township resident Elmer “Pete” Terry, who died in September and was remembered for his deep knowledge of township history and his involvement in preserving and publicizing that history.