MORRIS COUNTY — Six Mayors, a Deputy Mayor and a State Assemblyman met on Wednesday, July 17 over coffee to talk about their towns’ mutual concerns for the eastern region of Morris County.
Hosted by Hanover Township Mayor Ron Francioli, the meeting was attended by Assemblyman Anthony M. Bucco, 25 District, as well as Mayor Joe Pannullo of East Hanover, Mayor Mark Taylor of Florham Park, Mayor Jason Karr of Morris Plains, Mayor Tom Andes of Denville, Mayor Bruce Harris of Chatham Borough, and Hanover’s Deputy Mayor, John Ferramosca. Mayor Jeffrey Grayzel of Morris Township supported the initiative and wanted to join the group, but had scheduling conflicts.
The two-hour chat focused on strengthening communications among the towns to stay informed on collective growth and change in the region. The towns attending expressed serious concerns about the potential impacts of the Fair Share Housing court-approved settlements and the impending demands upon their respective municipal services and infrastructures. “We have no regional information that would aid us in planning the needs of our communities,” stated Francioli. “We’re all flying blind.”
Mayor Andes of Denville, who also serves as Chairman of the Morris County League of Municipalities, a much broader group, agrees. “Towns are reluctant to share economic data and growth strategies,” noted Andes.
Fundamental impacts such as traffic, stormwater management and environmental concerns segued to other discussions. South Eastern Morris County communities over the last 10 years have seen expansion and growth in corporate and residential zones through redevelopment. Hanover has repurposed many areas for such corporate neighbors as Bayer, MetLife, and Barclays Bank. The resulting growth has not only added to its ratable base, but has also remediated many environmentally impacted properties and undertaken costly road improvements at the developer’s expense. Other Mayors have experienced the same.
The courts have not considered the infrastructure improvements that will be needed to support Fair Share Housing obligations. Towns will have to find the means to finance necessary upgrades for roads, public safety, and schools.
Most Mayors at the chat were reluctant at first to share their community’s development strategies based on concerns their neighboring communities might object. Despite that initial hesitation, as discussion progressed and attending Mayors shared development information focusing on the Countywide Fair Share Housing obligations, the chat portrayed a regional picture.
With that regional picture in mind, Mayor Harris underscored the need for county involvement for the group to be able to make any progress on these regional planning issues. Assemblyman Bucco agreed to seek the assistance of the Morris County Freeholders by asking them to collect information on the housing obligations from all towns in the county and begin to plan ways to address future needs. When the Mayors “chat” again soon at another host town location, they will also invite representatives of County government to join them. “Future meetings of the group must include representatives of County government,” Harris emphasized.
Assemblyman Bucco commended the Mayors from the municipalities that participated in the discussion. “This is exactly the forward thinking approach that will lead to better planning and cooperation between all levels of government,” Bucco noted.