Summit Council Approves $400,000 Toward Glendale Road Home Purchase for Group Home
Wednesday, October 2, 2013 • 8:41am
SUMMIT, NJ - The Summit Common Council on Tuesday approved the expenditure of $400,000 from the city's affordable housing trust fund for the purchase of a single-family ranch home at 43 Glendale Road. Our House, Inc., which already operates several group homes in the city, plans to convert the residential dwelling into a four-unit group home for disabled adults.
The $400,000 from the Summit trust fund will go towards the total $550,000 purchase and renovation price for the home.
Council buildings and grounds chairman Gregory Drummond, who introduced the resolution approving allocation of the funds, said the four units would go towards the city's affordable housing obligation under the state Fair Housing Law administered by the council on affordable housing.
The project will go forward with or without the expenditure of the Summit Trust Fund dollars, but the approval of the expenditure was delayed for the council meeting of two weeks ago because a few of the governing body members questioned whether federal fair housing regulations forbade Our House to detail its plans for the group home with neighbors of the 43 Glendale Road property.
Councilmen also noted if the trust fund does not expend all the funds it currently has in its till the state may decide to take those funds from Summit for its own use.
Outlining Summit's long history of providing for affordable housing, Councilman Thomas Getzendanner said on Tuesday that nearly 300 families in the city are living in affordable units provided by a number of groups. He added that these units were funded by private developers in Summit from around 1966 until 2001, when the affordable housing council (COAH) began mandating quotas for development of the units in communities thought to be lacking in the housing.
Getzendanner added, however, that he wished Our House would explain its intentions more fully to its future neighbors even though it was not obligated to do so under the Health Insurance Privacy and Portability Act (HIPPA).
Councilman Albert Dill, Jr., however, read a letter from the state department of human services, which is involved in regulation of affordable housing, which said that those proposing group homes were not obligated to discuss plans for the homes with the potential neighbors of the homes.
Councilman Robert Rubino replied that just because Our House was not obligated to discuss its plans did not mean that it was forbidden from doing so.
Mayor Ellen Dickson added that a more extensive disclosure might be helpful to avoid some of the negative feelings that came from neighbors of the group home built on Morris Avenue a few years ago by Morris County Habitat for Humanity.
Dickson said neighbors and officials were under the impression that home would be built on the site of a former automobile repair shop until it was disclosed much later in the process that a single-family home in fairly good condition would be demolished to make way for the habitat home.
However, Our House Executive Director Peter Wisniewski told the mayor that his organization's agreement with the state prohibited changing the proposed location of its group home.
One resident of the area, however, Suraj Alva of 41 Glendale Ave., who is a physician, said he believed HIPPA was limited to personal health insurance information disclosures and did not govern disclosure of activities in a group home.
He added he and a number of his neighbors felt the home would have a negative impact on their property values.
Two other residents of the area expressed concerns for the safety of their children playing on the street because of the increased traffic the group home would bring.
Wisniewski noted that Our House opened a home on Pine Way, thought to be one of the wealthiest streets in New Providence, and the neighbors there were so impressed with the residents of the group home that they presented them with a Good Neighbor Award.
Summit resident Michael Vernotico of 30 Blackburn Road, the Democrat Second Ward council candidate who served on the board of an advocacy group for the disabled and has been active in Trycan since its inception, said he was dismayed about the comments about the proposal at the last council meeting.
Vernotico added that once the council determined that the Our House proposal qualified for COAH requirements the expenditure should have been approved.
He also said since Our House is “an outstanding organization providing a valuable service” and they require no variances asking if the neighbors had been notified and statements that “everyone should drive by the neighborhood” were not only irrelevant “but are at the very least, extremely insensitive and at the worst suggest a prejudice against the disabled.”
The candidate added that he had spent three years during his previous term on the governing body getting the court master to approved housing for disabled veterans as a means of meeting the city's COAH requirements and the court master did so.
“The need for this type of housing continues to grow as the world continues to war,” he concluded.
On another matter, the council approved $118,250 to help fund a stabilization project for three city homes on the banks of the Salt Brook under a federal grant program.
Under the program, the city will sponsor the project so the three homeowners can qualify for the federal grant of $110,000. The city will be reimbursed that amount from the federal government about a year after the project is completed. It will provide the remainder of the expenditure for engineering services and will later assess the homeowners for their share of that cost.
Summit City Engineer Aaron Schrager said although the Salt Brook runs through private properties it carries a great deal of runoff from a small parcel of city-owned land and from county-owned property and property from other neighboring communities. He said it has been on a list of city sites thought to be in need of erosion control work for a number of years.
The engineer said he would make sure that the city funds invested in the project were protected.
Karen Higgins of 19 Sunset Drive, one of the affected property owners, said now that the city has been notified by a federal report of the danger of doing nothing about the problem it could face liability if it does nothing and further damage results.
Schrager also noted that the grant applied for could not be used for any of the 40 other homes in the area because the other properties, unlike those covered by the grant, did not suffer damage from Superstorm Sandy last year.
On another matter, Council President Richard Madden announced that he, Dickson and city business administrator Christopher Cotter would meet on Wednesday with Merck officials to decide what joint steps the city could take with Merck & Co. Inc. to deal with Tuesday's announcement that the pharmaceutical firm would not move its headquarters to Summit and would be selling its campus in the city.
Republican Council candidates Sandra Lizza and Michael McTernan both praised the council and the city's board of education for their fiscal responsibility and they added that the city's control of taxes and spending would help it in dealing with the results of the Merck decision.
In another action, the mayor declared Oct. 6-12 as Fire Prevention Week in the city. Fire subcode official Joseph Moschello announced the fire department would hold an open house on Saturday, Oct. 12 from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. They both noted the theme of Fire Prevention Week is preventing kitchen fires, and particularly emphasized that children should be kept a great distance from heating and cooking areas in kitchens.