When NJ Transit drastically reduces Midtown Direct rail service on the Morris & Essex Line next month for track repairs, Greater Morristown commuters will have another option.
Skedaddle, a crowd-sourcing service for charter buses, will provide buses from the Morristown train station to 7th Avenue at 31st Street in New York from July 10 through Sept. 1, 2017, and longer if needed, company officials told the town council on Tuesday.
The plans topped an extraordinarily busy agenda that also saw…
- The council re-impose controversial alcohol curfews on the Revolution Bar.
- Introduction of an ordinance to create a municipal I.D. card for immigrants, youths, seniors and anyone else lacking documentation.
- Mayoral candidates joust over a resolution supporting the Paris climate accord.
- Audience passions over a proposed ban of pet shop sales of dogs and cats escalate into heated words outside the packed council chamber.
- Town officials vow to create standard road race routes, to avoid complaints like those Mayor Tim Dougherty said he’s hearing from residents who worry about road closures from the re-routed Verizon Corporate Class 5K race on July 13.
- Presentations by the Morris Tourism Bureau and the Morristown Festival of Books.
‘SMOOTH AND SEAMLESS’
The charter buses will depart at 7 am, 7:30 am and 8 am, and return at 5:30 pm, 6 pm and 7 pm. Fees will be $17.50 each way. The train usually costs $14 each way, though NJ Transit is promising heavily discounted fares while Amtrak upgrades its infrastructure.
Riders will make their bus reservations and ticket purchases on Skedaddle’s website or mobile app.
“It’s a smooth and seamless experience for our riders,” said Lindsay Dougherty, marketing manager for the Boston company, and no relation of the Mayor. She said her parents live in Morristown and alerted her to the impending rail crunch.
Riders can add routes to Skedaddle, which will procure restroom- and Wi-Fi equipped buses capable of carrying between 14 and 57 passengers, said Skedaddle’s operations director, Hayden Broberg. Unlike airlines, Skedaddle does not over-book, she told the council.
Of 227 people who responded to a town survey last week, 95 percent favored the charter buses, and 75 percent were willing to pay a small premium for the convenience, said town Administrator Jillian Barrick.
The survey was in English, which bothered resident Carlos Sotelo, who requested Spanish versions of future announcements. The Mayor agreed, and said he would explore technical methods, such as Google Translate, to provide multi-lingual versions–possibly including Russian, for senior citizens–of town documents online.
BACK TO COURT?
The council voted 5-0 (Michelle Dupree Harris and Hiliari Davis were absent) to renew the liquor license shared by Jimmy Cavanaugh’s Iron Bar and Revolution beer hall.
But there was a catch: Once again, the council stipulated that Revolution alcohol sales must end by 11:30 pm on Fridays and Saturdays, and by 11 pm on other nights.
Cavanaugh’s lawyer, Robert C. Williams, cited violation-free records for both establishments and pledged to appeal the curfews to the state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control for a fourth time if the council did not eliminate them.
“There is no logic to these restrictions,” Williams said.
However, Council President Stefan Armington said he favored keeping them until a judge issues her ruling from April hearings in Newark.
At that proceeding, Police Chief Pete Demnitz testified that he could find no reason for the curfews, according to Williams. The ABC previously granted stays of the town conditions, enabling Revolution, which opened last October on South Street, to serve alcohol until the town-wide last call of 2 a.m.
The council imposed curfews as a condition of the Iron Bar’s expanded liquor license after residents complained about drunken patrons spilling out of downtown bars into their neighborhoods.
A second license expansion request from Cavanaugh, to create a Mexican restaurant next to Revolution, was denied by the council in February. Cavanaugh is challenging that decision, too.
THE FUR FLIES
The council was poised to adopt a measure banning pet shops from selling puppies and kittens, an issue that has been drawing large numbers of animal rights supporters and pet store defenders to town hall.
But Councilwoman Alison Deeb, a volunteer puppy-raiser for The Seeing Eye Inc., persuaded Council President Stefan Armington to table the vote so she could clarify some definitions in the ordinance.
That did not stop partisans in the audience from continuing their debate in the town hall lobby. Jeff Morton, owner of the Shake-A-Paw store in Union, told town officials he wanted to file a complaint against a woman he accused of threatening him.
Morristown has no pet stores. But council members followed East Hanover’s battle to close a Route 10 shop, Just Pups, in the face of numerous alleged violations of consumer rights and animal welfare regulations.
More than 100 towns statewide have adopted some form of this ordinance, which aims to shut down so-called puppy- and kitten mills that breed animals under cruel conditions for commercial resale.
The Humane Society of the United States estimates 10,000 puppy mills in the U.S. annually produce more than 2.4 million puppies–often crammed into cages, with poor diets, scarce veterinary care and no documentation.
PARIS ON THE WHIPPANY?
Mayor Dougherty and his rival in this fall’s election, Councilwoman Alison Deeb, traded words over a resolution expressing the town’s support of the Paris climate accord.
The Mayor has joined nearly 300 U.S. mayors who have agreed to press for climate-friendly policies at the local level, in the wake of President Trump’s pullout from the 195-nation 2015 agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
“This has a purely grandstanding, showboating nature,” said Deeb, who cast the lone vote against the resolution.
Questioning why the town invoked Paris, Deeb said she was more concerned about the environmental impact of cars idling in Morristown traffic, and of dirty piles of plowed snow melting into the Whippany River.
Dougherty shot back: “It’s an anti-Trump resolution,” later adding: “The Paris agreement is not about Paris. It was just where they met.”
Councilman Bob Iannaccone, in the Republican council minority with Deeb, voted for the resolution.
“I think it’s the right thing to do,” Iannaccone said. “This is about what we are going to do locally, because something is missing elsewhere.”
MUNICIPAL I.D. CARDS
A program to create municipal I.D. cards was introduced by unanimous vote, and will get a public hearing on July 11.
The model ordinance was furnished by the local advocacy group Wind of the Spirit, and the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, said Brian Lozano of Wind of the Spirit.
Via email, Lozano explained that the program–which would create cards for residents who request them–will help undocumented immigrants who have no official identification or proof of residency.
Other “marginalized communities” will benefit too, Lozano said, citing senior citizens who no longer have a driver’s license, kids too young for a driver’s license, former prisoners, and the homeless.
ROAD RACE RAGE?
Town officials said they plan to meet with road race organizers, clergy, and the Morristown Parking Authority to devise standard race routes to minimize disruptions for residents.
Residents in the vicinity of Maple Avenue and DeHart and Market streets have raised concerns that a new route for the annual Verizon Corporate Classic 5K might block access to their homes on July 13, 2017, the Mayor said.
He directed Administrator Jillian Barrick to meet with police to review proposed road closures for that race, which this year starts and finishes on Maple Avenue between Oak and DeHart streets and traverses parts of Morris Township.
Councilman Bob Iannaccone, whose First Ward includes parts of the route, is spearheading a meeting next week to discuss standardization of routes. Assumption Church on Maple Avenue has expressed concerns about other races conflicting with church services.
The Verizon race, which marks its 12th year next month, has started from Morristown High School or Headquarters Plaza in prior years.
But construction projects–bleachers at the high school, and Pioneer Park at Headquarters Plaza–prompted a re-routing of this year’s Corporate Classic, Barrick said.
While a looped course has minimized disruptions for residents in the past, this year’s course doubles back on itself along Mount Kemble Avenue, which could mean longer road closures, the administrator explained.
TOURISM AND BOOK FESTS
Morristown is the centerpiece of a Morris County promotional blitz that includes ads on New York public radio, Leslie Bensley, executive director of the county tourism bureau, told the council.
One theme, A Match Made in Morristown, taps the popularity of Broadway’s Hamilton by highlighting the local courtship of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton and Betsey Schuyler.
Children will get increasing attention at the Morristown Festival of Books, which celebrates its fourth season on Oct. 13-14.
Children’s authors will visit the Goryeb Children’s Hospital — a sponsor this year– to meet kids unable to attend, festival board member Alice Lloyd told the council.
The festival also is partnering with the Morris Educational Foundation to provide bilingual books for pupils in grades K-2.
Presentations by best-selling children’s authors were a big hit at last year’s book fest. Councilwoman Alison Deeb suggested adding a literacy program that encourages kids to read to their dogs. She dubbed it Books and Woofs.
Organizers hope the book festival puts Morristown on the cultural map just as similar events have done for Savannah, GA, and Tucson, AZ, Lloyd said.
The nonprofit festival has grown from 60 volunteers and 2,000 visitors in 2014 to 300 volunteers and 6,500 guests last year, she said. More than 40 top authors are scheduled to give free talks in October, she said.