WESTFIELD — It was a busy year for the Town of Westfield, which saw heated debates erupt over redevelopment, turf fields, local representation and the future of the community. Here’s a look at some of the highlights:
Redevelopment and One Westfield Place
After many months of presentations, public meetings and highlycharged debates, the Westfield Council gave its final nod of approval to the One Westfield Place redevelopment project in February of this year.
The mixed-use complex, slated for construction at the former Lord & Taylor building site and across several municipally-owned properties along the railway line, will include 138 residential apartments and 16 town homes for the 55-plus community; 69 traditional and loft-style apartments; more than 300,000 square feet of office space; 25,000 square feet of retail space; and two public parking garages.
According to information provided by the town, HBC|Streetworks intends to purchase several parcels of town property (including the North and South Avenue train station parking lots) for a total of $11.1 million ($2.2 million for North Avenue and $8.9 million for South) in order to complete the project.
The finalized redevelopment agreement includes a 30-year, longterm tax abatement that is predicted to generate over $200 million in revenue for the community. In the meantime, however, the town council has agreed to go out to bond for up to $57 million that will used to fund numerous capital-improvement projects, including new green spaces and updates to the town’s traffic patterns and streetscapes, in conjunction with the project.
Work is expected to begin on the first phase of the project within the coming months.
A non-profit organization comprised of Westfield residents concerned with overdevelopment filed suit against the town in March for its decision to move the project forward, citing “arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable” behavior on behalf of the council.
That same organization, Westfield Advocates For Responsible Development, filed a similar suit against the town, its planning board and redeveloper James Ward last year in re- gards to the Sophia, another mixeduse residential complex that is scheduled to be built at the corner of Prospect Street and Ferris Place.
A New Jersey state Superior Court judge sided with the town in the Sophia case earlier this month.
A third redevelopment plan, this one pertaining to the community’s American Legion Hall, also was approved by the council this year.
“The plan proposes repurposing the existingAmerican Legion Building to include 22 housing units strictly for atrisk veterans, a rental banquet hall, and facilities for the veterans,” Mayor Shelley Brindle said after voting to approve the project back in August. “Once it’s up and running, a full-time VA’s assistant will be on site to help veterans with job placement, résumé writing and counseling services.”
In May, the Westfield Town Council voted to go out to bond for $11.8 million to install new athletic fields (some of which would have been fitted with synthetic turf), an improved drainage and storm-water-mitigation system, stadium lighting and a new bathroom facility behind Edison Intermediate School. The project has been a source of major debate within the community for the past several years. Supporters, including a large number of current high-school students, approached the council earlier in the year to thank the governing body for addressing the lack of usable fields within the town. Opponents, meanwhile, cited numerous concerns related to neighborhood impact, health and safety and potential environmental challenges associated with synthetic turf.
After a petition from the citizenry, the bond ordinance was ultimately put to a public referendum, the town’s first in more than 25 years, and was voted down in November by a margin of 1,318 votes.
Representatives from both the town council and the local board of education have said that the fields will still need to be addressed, but no definitive suggestions have come forth as of yet.
Westfield Board of Education
The Westfield Board of Education saw its first off-season election in more than a decade in 2023, which resulted in a strong voter turnout.
Residents, who also were tasked with weighing in on district spending as part of the election, voted to approve this year’s$112,832,744districtbudgetwith a wide margin of support.
Incumbents Kent Diamond and Brendan Galligan — along with newcomer Charles Gelinas — were elected to new, three-year terms on the board. According to official election results, 4,019 voters, roughly 5 percent of the town’s registered voters, turned out to the polls.
In April of this year, resident Stephanie Siegel filed a complaint with the New Jersey School Ethics Commission against board member Sahar Aziz for allegedly using her personal social-media accounts to propagate anti-Semitic ideologies. Ms. Aziz, a professor at Rutgers University, refuted the claims in a motion to dismiss.
The commission ruled in Ms. Aziz’s favorearlierthismonth,notingthatwhile her comments may have been “controversial and likely perceived as offensive and hurtful to members of the District’s Jewish community as well as to the Jewish community as a whole,” her actions did not relate to the business of the board or its operations.
InAugust, meanwhile, board member Brendan Galligan made a motion to start the process of removing Ms. Aziz from her elected position after she violated one of the board’s preexisting policies about meeting attendance. The board later voted to rescind the motion.
Mr. Galligan then filed his own ethics complaint against Ms. Aziz, claiming that she had unlawfully directed a district-funded attorney to launch a retaliatory investigation against the superintendent of schools and several other members of the board in pursuit of her own legal interests.
Mr. Galligan’s complaint is still under review.
Westfield Republicans swept this year’s municipal election, garnering enough voter support to take all three open seats on the town council.
In Ward 1, Republican newcomer Todd Saunders defeated Democratic incumbent Emily Root, 1,508 to 1,388. Voters in Ward 2 elected Michael Armento (who garnered 1,352 votes) to serve as their new representative over Democratic challenger Erika Vargas-Garrison, who finished out the evening with 1,130 votes. In Ward 3, where the margin was slightly narrower than in other wards, Michal Domogala defeated Dawn Alicia Nichol-Manning, 1,308 to 1,220. Finally, in Ward 4, Republican challenger David Kiefer beat out Democratic incumbent Scott Katz by a vote of 1,434 to 1,293.
The new council members will be officially sworn in during the town’s annual reorganization meeting, scheduled to be held on Tuesday, January 2.