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Stormwater flows directly into our rivers, lakes, streams and the ocean or into a stormwater system through a storm drain.
Storm drains are frequently located in parking lots and along the curbs of roadways. The grate that prevents larger objects from flowing into the storm sewer system is called a catch basin. Once below ground, the stormwater flows through pipes, which lead to an outfall where the stormwater usually enters a stream, river or lake.
In some areas, the outfall may lead to a stormwater management basin. These basins control the flow and improve the quality of stormwater, depending on how they are designed. They can also recharge groundwater systems.
In some urban areas of the state, the stormwater and sanitary sewer systems may be combined. Here both stormwater and sewage from households and businesses travel together in the same pipes and are treated at sewage treatment plants except during heavy rains. During these occasions, both the stormwater and untreated sewage exceed the capacity of the treatment plant, and this overflow is directed into local waterways.
Urbanization and increasing commercial and residential development have a great impact on local water resources. More impervious surfaces (roads, rooftops, parking lots and other hard surfaces that do not allow stormwater to soak into the ground) increase the rate of stormwater runoff. This means a greater volume of water carrying pollution into surface waters and less water soaking into the ground.
These contaminants include:
Less water soaking into the ground also lowers ground water levels, which can dry up streams and hurt stream ecosystems, and can reduce the supply of well water.
Stormwater also erodes stream banks. This in turn degrades habitat for plant and animal life that depend on clear water. Sediment in water clogs the gills of fish and blocks light needed for subsurface plants.
The sediment can also fill in stream channels, lakes and reservoirs, covering the bottom and negatively affecting flow, plants and aquatic life.
There are inexpensive ways to control excess runoff created by patios, driveways, sidewalks and roofs. Whatever the soil drainage condition in your neighborhood, landscaping and careful grading of your property’s surface area can be used to control runoff, reduce its speed and increase the time over which it is released. For example, land immediately adjacent to your house needs to have a downhill slope so that water does not seep through the foundation. Once the water has been carried 10 feet from the house, the surface should be graded so that runoff is released gradually.
Surface runoff can be decreased and ground water infiltration increased by following these suggestions:
Berms and swales are slight elevations and depressions in the surface that provide channels along which water will flow. If you have a wet area, you may be able to move the basin to a less used area of the yard - around shrubs or trees, for example - by installing a swale to carry the water across the yard. Be advised that most activities performed in regulated wetlands require a permit.
Contact the Department of Environmental Protection Land Use Regulation for information at 609-292-0060. Plant trees and shrubs that thrive in wet soils in the new wet area.
One method of reducing stormwater runoff is to minimize the amount of impervious surfaces such as concrete sidewalks and asphalt driveways. Impervious surfaces do not allow runoff to seep into the ground. Use pervious surfaces instead. A paving surface that allows water to soak in may seem impossible, but there are many materials that provide the durability of concrete while allowing rainwater to filter down into the ground.
If you are planning a new patio, walkway or driveway, there are several attractive alternatives to concrete. Some examples of these needs are:
These types of materials can be used wherever natural soil drainage is good and there are no problems with either bedrock near the surface or seasonal high water table. Significant strides have also been made in the last few decades in developing porous asphalt pavement. This material is similar to conventional asphalt in durability, but it contains a much smaller percentage of very fine particles. As a result, the asphalt allows water to soak through into the soil below.
Planting trees is one way to protect land and local streams from the damage caused by excessive runoff and erosion. Trees have long been appreciated for their beauty, but their help in minimizing erosion is not as well known. Landscaping by planting shrubs, trees and ground covers has definite environmental benefits and enhances the appearance and value of property. Realtors suggest that mature trees increase the value of homes as well as the speed of sale.
Plants and trees can create outdoor rooms where you and your family can work and play. Well-planned landscaping can reduce heating and cooling costs for your house by as much as 30%. New shrubs and trees may attract birds and wildlife. Trees, shrubs and ground cover also require less maintenance than grass. Because trees and shrubs require less fertilizer and fewer herbicides than grass, the chances of polluting streams is minimized.
Another possibility is landscaping for wildlife. By selecting appropriate plants, landscaping can both reduce water pollution and serve wildlife. Four basic elements are needed for wildlife: food, water, shelter and space.
The specifics depend on whether you are trying to attract a variety of wildlife or a certain species, such as butterflies or hummingbirds. For more information, contact:Department of Environmental Protection Division of Fish, Game and WildlifeCN 400Trenton, NJ 08625-0400
An environmentally sensitive landscape reduces the erosive force of rainwater runoff and increases the value of your home. By planting trees, shrubs and ground cover, you encourage excess rainwater to filter slowly into the soil instead of flowing directly into storm drains or nearby streams. Choosing trees and plants that are appropriate for your soil and growing conditions will ensure that you will have a beautiful yard.
For more information on landscaping, visit Clear Water New Jersey chapter on Lawn and Garden Care.
By following these few simple guidelines, you can make your home more attractive and help prevent erosion:
There’s no specific requirement for how often you need to sweep up. Most people clear their drain about twice a month, but be sure to check the drain before and after big rain storms to avoid flooding, during leaf collection season, and when snow begins to melt.
A rake, broom, dust pan and bucket/pail should be all you need in terms of equipment. In the event you are interested in adopting a storm drain on a busy street, it is advised that you wear bright clothing or reflectors. Be aware that leaves, if water logged, can be heavy enough to break a rake!
Some sorting is involved. Cans, bottles, appropriate plastic should be cleaned and recycled. Compostable material like leaves and gumballs can be composted. Other debris like animal waste, plastics or other debris should go in the garbage.
Adopt-a-Drain is meant to be a safe, family activity, however you must be 14 or older to work on clean-up and must be an adult to sign the waiver. Please take a moment to review our tips on how to clear your drain and stay safe while doing it at the New Jersey Adopt-a-Drain website.
You must be an adult to adopt a drain and sign the liability waiver. However, young people 14 years of age or older may work on clean-up with parental consent.
While we ask you to commit to clearing your adopted drain for at least one year, we will assume you are continuing to participate in the program until you notify us otherwise. You can discontinue your participation at any time by logging in to your account and unadopting your drain, or by sending us an email. We’ll be happy to help.
In order to help us track the positive impact of Adopt-a-Drain on our watersheds, we are asking you to roughly calculate the amount of debris you collect when you clean your drain(s). You will do this online when you log into your account, choose to "Track Impact" and then "Add a Cleaning." You can report the estimate in pounds or gallons; our online calculator will translate gallons into pounds for most types of debris-remember, we just need a rough estimate!
If you find that the record-keeping is getting in the way of the cleaning, don’t sweat it! It’s much more important that you do the clean-up. Please report in the Adopt-a-Drain tool at least quarterly so we can collect some data and know that you’re taking care of your drain.
Safety first! Never do anything to put yourself at risk. At no time should you clean inside the drain. If you feel your drain needs extra cleaning (i.e. chronic flooding or blockage), please contact the Westfield Department of Public Works Resident Hotline 908-789-4100 - Option 4 to report a street drainage problem, and a Public Works employee will be assigned to address the issue.
For sanitary sewer back-ups at any time, and emergencies occurring nights or weekends, please call the Police Department at 908-789-4000.
We’re so glad you asked! There are several ways you can help us promote the program and the importance of storm-water management.
Don’t hesitate to contact us. Please email us!
Municipal Animal Control services provide the following services:
Just seeing a fox, or even possibly a coyote, is not by itself cause for concern. Over the past few years these animal populations have grown and can be found throughout New Jersey. It is important to remember that both fox and coyote have adapted to live quite well in the suburbs and even alongside humans. It is also important to remember that these animals are normally not aggressive.
There are things that residents can do to make their property less appealing to these animals.
No. The idea that raccoons are completely nocturnal is inaccurate. Raccoons often look for food during the day, especially during the fall and spring.
Any time an animal appears sick, aggressive or injured residents should call the local Police Department who will contact Animal Control. If an animal has not moved from certain location or has been circling an area for a while Animal Control should also be contacted.
After an encounter with aggressive or possibly rabid animal residents should immediately notify the Police. If possible, try to keep an eye on the animal so the police know where to find it when they arrive.
Yes, unfortunately, there is still rabies in New Jersey. You can protect your pets and your family by ensuring that all dogs and cats, even those that never go outdoors, are licensed with the Town and currently vaccinated against rabies.
Licensing your pets is not only the law but it is also a way of protecting your pet against rabies. You can license your pet by contacting the Town Clerk’s Office at 908-789-4030.
Bats can sometimes carry the rabies virus. Anytime a bat is found in a living space Animal Control or the Police should be called. If possible, bat should be collected for rabies testing so do not let it out the window or cause injury to its head. It is also important to remember to cap your chimney appropriately.
No. Westfield has several local ordinances that prohibit the feeding of wild animals. These local laws include the feeding of stray cats. Additionally, New Jersey law states that anytime a resident feeds a stray cat, they become the legal owner of that cat or cats.
Commercial labs are offering COVID-19 testing to individuals who meet certain criteria. These tests must be ordered and specimens collected by health care providers in their offices. Testing is not available at individual lab offices (i.e., local LabCorp or Quest labs).
Do not go to a commercial lab and ask to be tested for COVID-19. Work with your health care provider to coordinate testing. All costs and fees associated with commercial laboratories is the responsibility of the patient.
Not everyone who has a mild illness needs to be tested, and it may take several days to get test results. Most important thing is to stay home if you are ill. You do not need approval from public health officials to be tested by a commercial laboratory.
Contact your health care provider to coordinate testing. You cannot walk into a commercial lab, such as LabCorp or Quest and get tested on-site. You must have your health care provider order the test from the commercial lab and take specimens in his office.
Since your health care provider is collecting and submitting the specimen, you should check with them.
No, being the contact of someone who has close contact with a person who has COVID-19 does not warrant testing. For example, you have a coworker whose family member is a confirmed case. You would not need to be tested. Despite coming into contact with the coworker, you did not have close contact with the person who actually has COVID-19. What you can do it monitor yourself for symptoms and practice good hand hygiene.
If you notice that you have symptoms and feel that you need to be medically evaluated, contact your health care provider and stay home/do not go to public gatherings, work/school.
A close contact is defined as:
If conference organizers/event planners were notified that an individual who attended the event are ill/symptomatic, they should notify attendees who were close contacts with the ill person (or organizers may notify the local health department who will then notify attendees). A close contact is someone who was in close proximity of the ill individuals (6 feet), for a prolonged period of time. This may include sitting and dining at a shared booth/table or had direct contact with infectious secretions of an ill person (e.g., being coughed on).
If a person who was at a large gathering/event begins to show symptoms, they should self-monitor themselves for symptoms for 14 days and contact their healthcare provider. If you notice that you have symptoms and feel that you need to be medically evaluated, contact your health care provider and stay home/do not go to public gatherings, work/school.
Can this event be postponed? If not, urge anyone who is sick or anyone at high-risk not to attend. Persons at high-risk for severe COVID-19 illness include people over the age of 60, people with underlying health 14 conditions such as heart disease, lung disease or diabetes, people with diabetes and women who are pregnant.
Try to find ways to give people more physical space so they aren’t in close contact as much as possible. Encourage attendees to maintain health habits, such as frequent hand washing. Clean surfaces with standard cleaners.
If you are notified that an attendee is a confirmed case of COVID-19, you may be asked to provide information (name and contact information) of all who attended the event to the state/local health department so other attendees can be advised of the situation and can monitor themselves for symptoms.
The decision to close a school is made at the local level and is made jointly between the school district and the local health department. The call center does not receive information regarding school closures.
Any questions regarding school closures, or concerns about potential exposures within your child’s school should be directed to either the school administration or the local health department.
If you are told to self-monitor by public health staff, you should follow their recommendation. Self-monitoring is a strategy to reduce the spread of the virus.
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On February 5, 2021, the Town of Westfield received a letter from AT&T asking the Town to consider allowing a cell tower to be erected in Westfield near the railroad tracks adjacent to Houlihan/Sid Fay fields. AT&T advised that the cellular network coverage in the area is inadequate, and that certain public safety benefits would result from improved coverage as well. Because we think this is an opportunity to improve safety while improving the facilities without cost to the Town, the Town Council is contemplating the following next steps:
o Bringing on a consultant, at no cost to the Town, who has expertise in negotiating cell tower agreements to assist in crafting the RFP.
o Based on the recommendation of the consultant, issuing an RFP to wireless providers to see which can offer the best solution for Westfield.
In return for allowing a wireless provider to install a cell tower adjacent to the railroad tracks near Houlihan/Sid Fay fields, the Town would require the wireless provider to pay for the proposed Houlihan/Sid Fay improvements recommended in the Strategic Parks Plan. This would include covering the costs and overseeing the completion of expanded parking and new bathrooms.
Wireless providers cited a need to improve service in the south east section of town, specifically Lamberts Mill to Willow Grove Road and Clifton Street, inclusive of Tamaques and Jefferson Elementary Schools. These areas have been identified by at least one major carrier as having wireless service gaps, specifically in the interiors of homes and buildings, which has been confirmed by residents and our first responders, who would benefit from the improved reliability of our emergency response network that boosting coverage would enable.
Based on network monitoring of AT&T's existing network, there currently exists coverage deficiency in the area surrounding Jefferson Elementary School, including areas of West Grove Street, Clifton Street, Summit Avenue, Montauk Drive, Dunham Avenue, Carleton Road, Mohawk Trail, Oneida Drive, North Cottage Place, Tice Place as well residential homes throughout this area.
The proposal would ask that the wireless provider pay for and implement the Park Improvement Recommendations from the Strategic Parks Plan as follows:
• Add site and security lighting
• Add accessible walkways to all features
• Expand the parking lot and add a second entrance
• Add security cameras to improve safety and deter vandalism
• Add a restroom building with storage
• Add support amenities including a drinking fountain with bottle filler, Wi-Fi hotspots, trees, landscaping, site furnishings, and entrance signage
The shortage of parking on busy days requires people to park their cars on Rahway Ave, forcing families to walk on the side of this busy road to get to the entrance. The lack of bathroom facilities has also forced residents to use the provided port-o-john on site or cross Rahway Ave to seek out restrooms at St. Helen’s Church.
The expanded parking offers a second entrance and potentially up to 77 new spaces.
The wireless provider would bear the full costs of the improvements. The concession arrangement would then also require that, after a grace period commercially commensurate with the cost of the improvements installed, the wireless company would also pay the Town an annual lease payment at a rate to be negotiated for the remainder of the long-term lease period.
We would propose that the cell tower be located adjacent to the parking lot, with the specific location to be determined by the outcome of the negotiation process with any participating provider.
These improvements could be made eventually at taxpayer expense, but due to budget limitations and competing priorities identified in the Strategic Parks Plan, including the current initiative to advance the Edison School Athletic Complex, it could be many years before they would come to fruition.
If we choose not to move forward, the providers may consider going to an alternate site on private property, either in Westfield or directly across the tracks in Clark. This would improve the coverage BUT eliminate Westfield from being able to reap any of the investment or revenue benefits. It could lead to a “Garwood ShopRite” scenario in which we didn’t allow the store to be located in Westfield due to traffic concerns, so it was moved mere feet over the border into Garwood. We got stuck with the traffic and reaped no tax benefit. We anticipate that a future cell tower in the Houlihan/Sid Fay vicinity is inevitable. This proposal is an attempt to proactively maximize the benefits to the community.
• At the recommendation of the Code Review and Property Committee, the Town will issue an RFP to bring on a consultant, at no cost, to advise the Council on negotiations with interested wireless providers.
• After work with the consultant is sufficiently advanced, the Council will determine whether or not to issue an RFP out to cellular service providers.
• If an RFP is issued, all provider responses will be thoroughly evaluated by the consultant and the Town Council prior to any decision on whether or not to move forward.
• No contract will ultimately be awarded unless it is recommended by the consultant, passes muster with the Town governing body, and adequately addresses questions or concerns from neighbors, parents and the sports leagues.
A Reexamination Report is a reassessment of a municipality’s current Master Plan.
The New Jersey Municipal Land Use Law (MLUL) requires that each municipality reexamine its Master Plan and development regulations at least every 10 years. Specifically, the MLUL states: The governing body shall, at least every ten years, provide for a general reexamination of its Master Plan and development regulations by the Planning Board, which shall prepare and adopt by resolution a report on the findings of such reexamination, a copy of which report and resolution shall be sent to the County Planning Board. A notice that the report and resolution have been prepared shall be sent to the municipal clerk of each adjoining municipality.
The governing body shall, at least every ten years, provide for a general reexamination of its Master Plan and development regulations by the Planning Board, which shall prepare and adopt by resolution a report on the findings of such reexamination, a copy of which report and resolution shall be sent to the County Planning Board. A notice that the report and resolution have been prepared shall be sent to the municipal clerk of each adjoining municipality.
The Reexamination Report reviews the adopted elements of the current adopted Master Plan, completed in 2002, and amended in subsequent years. The Master Plan addressed the following topics:
In addition to the required Reexamination Report, we are undertaking a qualitative assessment of parking in the Downtown area of Westfield, and hosting a number of community engagement events where residents, business owners, and other interested people have the opportunity to participate in the planning process.
It is expected the reexamination will be adopted by the Planning Board by the end of 2019.
You can provide valuable insight into the reexamination report by completing the survey questions on the Master Plan Reexamination page and participating in upcoming community workshops. And help spread the word by sharing on social media and telling your friends and family about what we are doing!
You might think cake is a celebratory treat but our C.A.K.E. is created by our actions in order to help others.
A slice of C.A.K.E. is a serving of compassion, acceptance, kindness, or empathy which may be served by a friend, family member, or another person whom we do not even know. It can come as an unexpected kind gesture or a sense that another person really understands or cares. It is always possible for us to give or to receive, but there are times it can seem out of reach. How can we make sure everyone feels comfortable serving and receiving a piece of C.A.K.E.?
This could be a thoughtful behavior that makes others feel cared for, noticed, and not so alone in their life’s journey.
For example, a friend who modifies her dog walking schedule so that you could walk together, an isolated family member who trusts you with a sensitive story, a neighbor who asks if you need anything from the grocery store before they head out. A child’s naturally kind gesture - they might drag the recycling buckets back to the house from the street because they feel good about being helpful. Perhaps it is noticing the person who looks different from others, sitting next to them, and saying hello. It might just be smiling at a stranger or standing up for someone who is being bullied. It could be standing against discrimination based on someone’s appearance, mental state, or other quality.
There are times that we would love some C.A.K.E. but are unable to let someone know we need a slice. Perhaps the idea of getting out of bed is a challenge or we don’t want to share our burdens with another person. It may feel difficult to notice or acknowledge the receipt of a slice of C.A.K.E; we just feel too low or alone to know it is sitting there on our table. Sometimes C.A.K.E. truly feels like it isn’t available to us. We can feel trapped in our lives, days when it feels difficult to think beyond our worries and give to others because we are overwhelmed by our mental or physical condition.
Some people would love to offer CAKE to others but feel unsure how. Sharing CAKE with someone would be nice but how does one go about it? By perusing the Westfield Mental Health Website, you will find ideas, articles, and support for your questions and concerns.
Everyone. Westfield Mental Health Council offers resources and support so that everyone can learn how to offer and obtain Compassion, Acceptance, Kindness, and Empathy. Reminders around town will pop up with a CAKE design on a pallet, banner, window clings, or really tiny pieces of cake!
Please email examples of CAKE actions you have noticed. We also seek suggestions of where CAKE might be missing or needed. This is the beginning of a running conversation about people from Westfield making this town a more stigma-free and CAKE-filled community.
When times are difficult, our common human response is not to show a reckless disregard for others but to show compassion. Teaching kids compassion during this pandemic is an opportunity for them to deepen their sense of care. Read Greater Good Magazine.
Accepting people where or who they are, rather than where or who we want them to be, leads to better personal and professional relationships. Read A Conscious Rethink.
When someone expresses their vulnerability, a necessary response of curiosity leads us to empathy, humility, and compassion. Read the Harvard Business Review.
The law is intended to:
The policy behind the OPRA is that government records, with certain exceptions, should be readily accessible to the public for inspection, examination, and copying. While limitations on the public’s right of access should be decided in the public’s favor, a public agency is required to keep a citizen’s personal information from public access when that access would violate the citizen’s reasonable expectation of privacy.
In plain language, a government record is a physical record that has a government purpose and that is held by a public agency. Under Open Public Records Act (OPRA), the "physical record" includes any:
Public agencies include all departments and agencies of state government, including:
OPRA does not cover the state’s judicial branch and municipal courts, which have their own rules. A record held by a public agency has a "government purpose" when it has been "made, maintained, kept on file, or received in the course of official business."
Generally, all government records are accessible to the public except those that fall under the exceptions to public access set forth in Open Public Records Act (OPRA). Examples of public records that are accessible to the public include:
Under Open Public Records Act (OPRA), certain records are exceptions to the public accessibility standards because of the legal principle that citizens have a reasonable expectation of privacy regarding records in possession of a public agency; because of public safety concerns; and because of the need to ensure unfettered debate, discussion, and consideration of issues inside public agencies.
Some exceptions to disclosure include:
For more specific information about exceptions, contact the "records custodian" in the public agency that has the records you want to access or contact the Government Records Council.
Under Open Public Records Act (OPRA), criminal investigative records, in general, are not available to the public. Further, if the person making the request has been convicted of an indictable offense in New Jersey or elsewhere, he or she may not have access to personal information about his or her victim or the victim’s family. To comply with this provision, some agencies have developed records request forms that require the requester to certify that he or she has not been convicted of an indictable offense. (A government record containing such information may only be released subsequently if it is needed in the defense of the requester.)
Generally, OPRA does not cover private businesses, not-for-profit organizations, or the judicial branch of government.
Under Open Public Records Act (OPRA), citizens who want to obtain public records should contact the "custodian of records" of the public agency that holds the records they want. At the municipal level, that person will be the municipal clerk; at other public agencies, that person will be an official designated by the particular agency or governmental unit.
Yes. Each agency has a records request form to be used to request records under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA). The records request form includes the name, address, and phone number of the requester and space for a brief description of the record sought. A written request provides a paper trail; in the event of a denial, this written record can be very important when making an appeal to the Government Records Council or Superior Court. While anonymous requests may be permitted, the custodian will require a 100% advance payment for any copies that are requested anonymously.
In addition, agencies may release some routinely requested records "informally" by phone, fax, or in person. Such an informal request would not bind the public agency to the time frames provided by OPRA and would not extend certain other rights to the requester, such as the right of appeal to the Government Records Council.
When a request form is submitted, the custodian will determine if prepayment is required.
Under Open Public Records Act (OPRA), the custodian of government records must comply with the request "as soon as possible," but no later than seven business days after the request is received. If the record is in storage or archived (and thus may take longer to retrieve), the custodian will advise the requester of that fact within seven business days and tell the requester when the record will be available. The request form, signed and dated by the custodian, will serve as evidence of the transaction in case the request is denied and the requester decides to appeal that decision.
If a request for a record is denied, there are two avenues of redress. The requester may file a suit in Superior Court or apply to the Government Records Council for relief. For appeals to the Government Records Council, the complaint must be in writing, and it should set forth the facts regarding the circumstances of the request, the specific records asked for, and the denial of access by the records custodian. Appeals in the Superior Court require a $200 filing fee and must follow established court rules. If the denial is found to be unreasonable, either the court or the council can reverse the decision.
However, prior to taking formal action, the requester may want to contact the Government Records Council for advice. Depending on the circumstances, the Council’s staff may be able to intervene and resolve the matter without a formal complaint being filed.
Reasons for denial reside for the most part in the exceptions to disclosure defined in Open Public Records Act (OPRA). Others could be a failure to fill out the records request properly or failure to provide proper identification or failure to meet established deadlines to provide access.
If the requester is willing to pay for it, the agency must, if possible, provide the record in a medium not usually used by the agency. In these cases, the agency may charge, in addition to the actual cost of duplication, a special charge that is reasonable, based on the cost for any extensive use of information technology and/or for the labor cost of personnel providing the service.
Under Open Public Records Act (OPRA), a requester must be given immediate access to budgets, bills, vouchers, and contracts (including collective bargaining agreements and individual employment contracts) that are readily available to the custodian at the time of the request. "Immediate access" means that the custodian must make every effort to provide access as soon as it is requested.
Because of the policy to protect the privacy of individual information on some public records, it may be necessary for the custodian to redact (i.e., edit) certain information from the record. To ensure that the requester does not see information such as social security, credit card, driver’s license, or unlisted telephone numbers, the record shown to the requester must not include that information. For this reason, the requester may receive copies on which information has been blacked out or whited out or copies that use special computer displays or printouts.
Even if the requester wishes only to view a record, possibly for the purpose of copying down information, the custodian will still redact the record before access is allowed. If a requester wants to look at records without receiving copies and personal information must be redacted, there is no charge for the transaction.
The fee for copies of printed government records shall not exceed:
If special equipment is needed to make the copies (e.g., for maps), the requester may be charged the actual cost of duplication. Special charges may also be levied for unusual requests or those that require the direct expenditure of funds by the custodian (e.g., for computerized records) to reproduce the records.
The passage of the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) established the Government Records Council (GRC). Part of the State of New Jersey’s Department of Community Affairs, the GRC is composed of the Commissioners of Community Affairs and Education (or their designees) and three members of the public who are appointed by the Governor with the advice and consent of the Senate. An executive director and professional and clerical staff administer the work of the Council.
Prior to filing a complaint, you may want to contact the GRC to ask for their assistance or inquire about the denial. You can contact the Council on their toll-free helpline, 866-850-0511, by emailing the GRC, or from their website. If you want to file an official complaint with the Council and make use of the formal mediation process, the first step for you (the requester) is to submit a written complaint, alleging that a custodian of a government record has improperly denied you access to a specified record. The complaint form can be obtained from the toll-free number or the website.
After the Government Records Council (GRC) receives the written complaint, the parties will be offered an opportunity to resolve the dispute through mediation conducted by an impartial mediator. Mediation is an informal, non-adversarial process, which aims to help the parties reach an acceptable, voluntary agreement. If mediation fails to resolve the matter to the mutual satisfaction of the parties, the Council will launch an investigation concerning the issues brought up in the complaint.
The GRC will first ensure that the complaint is a valid one. If it is, the Council will direct the public agency to produce the relevant documents and the reasoning behind the denial. In both mediation and a formal investigation, the GRC will try to handle the complaint as expeditiously as possible and, to that end, will use teleconferencing, faxing of documents, and email. If in-person meetings are necessary, the Council will send representatives to meet the parties at mutually convenient locations.
If the Council cannot make a decision based on the written submissions of the parties, both parties will be notified and a formal hearing will be held. Following that hearing, the Council will reach a determination by a majority vote on whether the record should be made available to the requester. If the Council decides in favor of the requester, and it finds that the custodian "willfully and knowingly" denied access unreasonably under the full circumstances, the custodian can be fined $1,000 for a first offense, $2,500 for a second, and $5,000 for a third if it occurs within 10 years of the first. If the requester wins, he or she may be entitled to a reasonable attorney’s fee.
The Council’s decision may be appealed to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court.
If a requester is denied access to public records, he or she has the option of seeking relief from the Superior Court in the appropriate jurisdiction. Information on this process can be obtained by contacting the Superior Court in the county where the denial took place. If the court determines that access was improperly denied, the court shall order that access be allowed. If the requester wins, he or she may be entitled to a reasonable attorney’s fee.
To get more information contact the Government Records Council:
"Government record" or "record" means any paper, written or printed book, document, drawing, map, plan, photograph, microfilm, data-processed or image-processed document, information stored or maintained electronically or by sound-recording or in a similar device, or any copy thereof, that has been made, maintained or kept on file in the course of his or its official business by any officer, commission, agency, or authority of the state or of any political subdivision thereof, including subordinate boards thereof, or that has been received in the course of his or its official business by any such officer, commission, agency, or authority of the state or of any political subdivision thereof, including subordinate boards thereof. The terms shall not include inter-agency or intra-agency advisory, consultative, or deliberative material.
"Public agency" or "agency" means any of the principal departments in the executive branch of state government, and any division, board, bureau, office, commission, or other instrumentality within or created by such department; the Legislature of the state and any office, board, bureau, or commission within or created by the legislative branch; and "any independent state authority, commission, instrumentality, or agency. The term also means any political subdivision of the state or combination of political subdivisions, and any division, board, bureau, office, commission, or other instrumentality within or created by a political subdivision of the state or combination of political subdivisions, and any independent authority, commission, instrumentality, or agency created by a political subdivision or combination of political subdivisions.
Within New Jersey, all municipalities are required to plan, zone for, and take affirmative steps to provide a realistic opportunity for the development of affordable housing within their borders. This obligation comes from the State Constitution and a series of court decisions, often referred to as the Mount Laurel decisions.
If Westfield does not zone for or provide a realistic opportunity for the construction of low and moderate income housing, it can be subject to lawsuits, called “builders remedy” lawsuits. A builder can come forward, challenge a municipality’s compliance with its obligations to provide low and moderate income housing and then, if the Court agrees with the builder, then the Court gets to decide what type of housing project the builder can build—how large a building, how many units, and how many affordable housing units and where it will be built. The Court has the ability to override any existing zoning. In brief, in such lawsuits, municipalities lose almost all control over the housing development projects.
Very often, affordable housing can be described as “workforce housing,” meaning housing for individuals with earned income that is insufficient to secure quality housing in reasonable proximity to his/her workplace. The law requires that half of all affordable housing units constructed be for moderate income households, or households earning between 50-80% of median household income in the region. The other half of affordable units constructed are split between low income households (defined as those which earn 50% or less of median household income in the region), and very low income households (defined as those which earn 30% or less of median household income in the region).
The table below provides an example of those income thresholds in Westfield. Earned Income limits for Affordable Housing:
Even in luxury rental buildings like 333 Central Avenue, Westfield is meeting portions of its affordable housing obligations. In 333 Central, there are 9 units designated as low and moderate income housing, meaning that 9 units in that building are available at lower rental rates for individuals and families who meet the income requirements set out above. In fact, all affordable housing constructed in Westfield over the past 20 years has been in buildings that are a mixture of market rate and low and moderate income units.
The Fair Share Housing Center (FSHC) is a court-recognized affordable housing advocacy group. FSHC has been heavily involved in monitoring NJ municipalities’ efforts to comply with affordable housing obligations. In Spring 2017, the Town of Westfield and FSHC entered into negotiations to determine an affordable housing strategy for Westfield. Westfield, the FSHC, and a court appointed Special Housing Master identified the most appropriate locations for new housing development, while still maintaining Westfield’s character and agreed to a Settlement Agreement that was approved unanimously by the Mayor and Town Council in April 2017. The Superior Court further approved the Settlement Agreement in October 2017, finding it to be fair and reasonable to low and moderate income households.
There is uncertainty surrounding affordable housing obligations within the State and a risk that inaction on the part of Westfield could result in the Court dictating how we will meet our low and moderate income housing requirements. Recent court decisions have not been favorable to municipalities. By entering into a Settlement Agreement, Westfield gains both finality and certainty in terms of meeting its affordable housing obligation; and effectively eliminates any future costs associated with litigation with the FSHC.
The Settlement Agreement lays out the steps that Westfield will take to meet its affordable housing obligations. Highlights include adopting a modified Master Plan element, called the Housing Element and Fair Share Plan which lays out the Town’s affordable housing strategy consistent with the Settlement Agreement and Court Order. The Housing Element and Fair Share Plan will include the creation of new “overlay zones,” which prescribe where affordable housing may be built in Westfield.
An overlay zone expands the zoning in designated underlying areas and permits an additional use in those areas. In the case of the affordable housing overlay zone districts, a property owner can continue to use the property as currently zoned, or develop the property with multifamily housing which would include an affordable housing component.
Westfield’s overlay zones are located in close proximity to downtown and mass transit--along the North and South Avenue corridors east of Central Avenue; adjacent to the South Avenue traffic circle; on Central Avenue; and, on Ross Place.
Under the Mount Laurel decisions, the Fair Housing Act of 1985, and regulations adopted by COAH, every municipality must satisfy its “rehabilitation” of existing housing obligation, its “prior round” obligation to zone to allow affordable housing, and its “Third Round” affordable housing obligation which is also referred to as the “fair share” obligation.
Westfield will satisfy its “rehabilitation” obligation share by participating in the Union County Home Improvement Program, where income-eligible households may apply for funding from the County housing rehabilitation program.
Westfield has already met its prior round obligation of 139 units from prior years.
The settlement agreement approved by the Court provides that Westfield’s “Third Round” prospective need obligation is 1090 affordable housing units. While that is quite large, the agreement recognizes that the Town is virtually fully developed and therefore unable to meet anywhere near this 1090 unit obligation. As a result, the Town is entitled to a Vacant Land Adjustment which reduces the affordable housing obligation provided through zoning from 1090 units to 62 units. This is referred to as the Town’s Realistic Development Potential (RDP).
The Town has already begun construction or completed new projects to meet this 62 unit RDP, such as 333 Central Ave. and 339 West Broad St. (former car wash).
The remaining issue is what happens with the difference between the Town’s “fair share” or “Third Round” number and its RDP. That difference is referred to as “unmet” need. In the Town’s case, its unmet need is 1028 (1090 – 62 = 1028).
The law provides that the Town must “address” its unmet need and Westfield is doing that by enacting overlay zones to offer the realistic opportunity to produce approximately 100 affordable housing units. This will be done through “inclusionary” zoning in designated areas which requires a developer to allocate between 15% to 20% of housing units as affordable (depending if they are rental or sales units). The remaining 80% to 85% of the units will be market rate units.
Thankfully, through discussion and negotiation of the Settlement Agreement terms, Westfield successfully proved that there was no place in which to build that many affordable housing units. However, the Town did agree to provide an opportunity for new affordable housing development via the establishment of new affordable housing overlay zones. (For comparison, the total number of affordable housing units that could be built in the overlay zones comes to approximately 100 units, which equates to maximum buildout of approximately 690 new units)
Finally, and very importantly, the Town was able to negotiate terms in the Settlement Agreement that do not allow developers to use “unmet need” as a legal basis for requiring the grant of additional re-zonings, variances, or other relief beyond what is specifically now agreed. The Town’s commitment to provide 100 units against the Town’s original unmet need requirement of 1028 has been determined as sufficient by the Court, and this number cannot go up.
There are some plans already underway to develop properties within the overlay zone districts. For example, a developer has come forward t