METUCHEN — Enhancing the downtown, maintaining the character of the neighborhoods, increasing pedestrian safety and expanding park and recreation spaces top the agenda for newly appointed Mayor Jonathan Busch.
On New Year’s Day, Busch addressed the crowd, which included many dignitaries, family members, friends and residents, who came to the Borough Council’s reorganization meeting held at Borough Hall.
“Metuchen is surrounded by its bustling suburbs at the center of the northeast corridor, but yet maintains the charm of yesteryear,” he said.
Busch noted that former Mayor Peter Cammarano described the spirit of Metuchen best in a newspaper article in September.
“Mayor Cammarano explained that Metuchen is still a kind of place if you do something wrong your mother finds out about it,” he said.
Busch said in Metuchen faces are familiar, neighbors are your friends and local restaurants can remember how one takes their coffee.
“People choose to live in Metuchen because they want to be part of the community that makes them feel welcome and valued, but perhaps most important people live here because they feel their involvement and input matter,” he said. “We may differ sometimes in our beliefs, perspectives and political affiliations, but every member of this special donut hole loves Metuchen and wants to see it thrive and prosper.”
Busch said it is important to govern in a careful, responsible and deliberative way in order to protect the essential character of the borough.
“As mayor and council members of a small town it is incumbent upon all of us to be open, clear and transparent in our communication by increasing the ways that residents can provide input,” he said.
Starting this week, Busch said he will hold office hours for the public to offer advice, express views, complain or just talk.
“Over the course of the next couple months, council members will also hold hours at food/coffee establishments throughout the borough,” he said adding that dates and times will be posted on the borough’s website and social media.
In the months to come, the borough’s website will be revamped to become more resident friendly and borough officials will utilize social media outlets to improve communication.
Busch said he looks forward to moving Metuchen forward with the support of the hardworking borough officials and tireless volunteers.
“During my time as a resident, I have learned this is a town of teamwork, a place where true magnificence is measured by the sum of all of our parts,” he said. “We know we have a lot of work to do, but rest assured this will be done together as we continue to work on behalf of the brainy borough.”
Soon the borough will be hiring a professional grant/researcher writer, who will search for any and all additional funding opportunities, Busch said. Borough officials will also continue to pursue the goal of building a much needed new firehouse.
Enhancing the downtown
“The borough has made tremendous strides towards the improvement of the downtown,” Busch said. “Many groups worked hard to establish a more welcoming, walkable and inclusive community, one that engages public art, entertainment and recreational activities throughout the year.”
Busch said the borough is actively pursuing other ways to ensure a viable downtown.
The new plaza, which saw a New Year’s Eve celebration on Dec. 31, will serve as an expansive space for all sorts of events including the farmer’s market, a place to showcase local businesses, the starting point for the annual Metuchen baseball/softball parades, and an outdoor space for concerts and other outdoor performing arts.
“We are actively seeking opportunities for expanding performing arts programming in the borough,” Busch said. “To do this an indoor performing arts space will be required. We hope to secure a downtown location in the borough for the local theater concerts and other events in the future.”
Busch said the increasingly vibrant and attractive nature of the downtown area has enticed a number of brand new businesses joining many beloved businesses that continue to be the bedrock of the borough’s small business community.
The mayor said steps are being taken to invest in the infrastructure of the downtown.
This includes using a transit village grant awarded last year to replace deteriorated sidewalks on Main Street between Route 27 and Woodbridge Avenue, expected to be completed by next fall. The Parking Authority will order new parking meters for the downtown that will accept debit and credit cards and by the end of spring, the borough expects new signage to be implemented through the wayfinding and signage program directing drivers and pedestrians to key destinations throughout the borough.
“We’re also looking at ways to brighten our downtown as we explore new ways to make Metuchen more walkable and sustainable,” he said. “Finally, the borough is looking at locations for on street handicap parking spaces throughout the borough.”
Maintaining character of neighborhoods
Busch said as Metuchen moves forward, it’s more important than ever that borough officials do everything they can to maintain the essential qualities and character of the borough’s neighborhoods.
“We can do this by updating the historic preservation element of the borough’s master plan,” he said. “This update will allow the borough’s Historic Preservation committee to identify and inventory the historic districts and structure throughout Metuchen and make a variety of recommendations based upon its findings.”
Busch said the historic preservation committee has already received a grant from Middlesex County and with a match from the borough; the committee will soon begin to start work on the update.
Additionally, Busch said as Metuchen ages and regenerates, there has been an increase in redevelopment and remodeling throughout the borough.
“While we appreciate the opportunity that these new homes provide for our families, we must also ensure that all structures are designed to complement the nature of our surrounding neighborhoods,” he said. “In this regard, we will work to ensure that developer agreements are used as partners rather than adversaries and understand that we respect [that developers] will design structures as consistent with the character of each respective neighborhood.”
Increasing pedestrian safety
Busch said after years of talking about increased pedestrian and bike safety in the borough, borough officials are finally beginning to make significant strides.
For example, in direct response to the hard work of the members of the Traffic and Transportation Committee, the borough will be re-striping crosswalks on Grove Avenue near Metuchen High School with signage and bump outs to make it safer for the students to cross, the mayor said.
This summer, through a federal Safe Routes to School grant, flashing crosswalks will be installed at five locations in the borough — Grove Avenue and Christol Street, Main and High streets, Main Street and Brunswick Avenue, Central Avenue and Liberty Street, and Route 27 and Oak Avenue.
The New Jersey Department of Transportation will be placing sharrows — shared line markings on the shoulder of motor vehicle lanes that indicate that the roads need to be shared by vehicles and bicyclists — as part of the Route 27 repaving project.
Sharrows will also be added to the recently paved Amboy Avenue.
“This work will hopefully be completed by spring and now bicyclists will be able to safely ride up and down two of the most significant arteries in the borough to and from the [Middlesex Geenway] and wherever else they may be going,” Busch said.
The mayor said the borough is also working towards being the first municipality in New Jersey to have a dockless bike share program at no cost to the borough.
“Under the program users will download an app that shows the location of each bike in the system … after choosing the nearest bicycle the user can ride wherever they are going in the borough,” he said.
Expanding park and recreation space
Busch said borough officials hope to use the same successful partnership with Middlesex County that helped improve Oakland Park with improving other parks in the borough.
“Oakland Park is now one of the most attractive play places in all of Middlesex County and is completely handicapped accessible,” he said. “This is in large part due to the assistance of our Middlesex County freeholders to improve the parks and recreation of the borough. Under the terms of the grant, the county will pay for half of the improvements and the next coming year the borough hopes to use the same partnership to improve Kentor Park.”
Borough officials expect to go out to bid in May with construction commencing over the summer and the new and improved Kentor Park to be ready sometime in the fall.
Busch said more residents are discovering using the Greenway, which has become the borough’s and the county’s top recreational asset.
The Middlesex County Greenway is a 3.5 mile rail trail that runs through Metuchen, Edison and Woodbridge.
“The borough continues to work with Middlesex County, the Greenway Coalition, National Parks Service and Rutgers Landscape Department to look for ways to expand the Greenway across Route 27 towards the Dismal Swamp,” he said.