With days left before the municipal election, the six council hopefuls detailed some of their ideas to boost Teaneck’s business climate and handle development at a candidate forum this week.
Incumbents Monica Honis, Mohammed Hameeduddin and Barbara Toffler, along with council election newcomers Alexander Rashin, Mark Schwartz and Henry Pruitt, have recently faced questions on how they would spur economic development in a town where residents have voiced concerns about the tax burden and shuttered storefronts.
At the ’s forum Tuesday, Schwartz pointed to the need for increased foot traffic. Schwartz, a planning board member and real estate consultant, said the Cedar Lane and Queen Anne Road business areas could be built up with “light-density” structures to encourage residential development over storefronts.
“We need to talk about abatements with landlords, how to allow them to take their single structures and build up upon them in a light-density situation thereby increasing the foot traffic and bringing the vitality of the district back to where it was decades ago,” he said.
The focus on Cedar Lane and Queen Anne Road was because both districts were mostly set back from residential areas, he said.
Cedar Lane is the only area recognized as a special improvement district, however, the township has made attempts at establishing the districts elsewhere, said Honis. The Teaneck Road district presents unique development challenges because of its length and landlords, she said.
Finding ways to work with the landlords has been a common theme in development talks.
At , Toffler pointed to issues she said businesses have in getting permits from the township.
Any development must be conscious of so-called “NIMBY” concerns from area residents, Toffler said. The Alfred Avenue industrial area, near Route 4, and the American Legion Drive area are ideal places for development, she said.
Toffler, Pruitt and Hameeduddin have largely been in agreement over the concept of senior housing, in some form, on American Legion Drive, near the Stop and Shop.
Hameeduddin repeated his call for the creation of a redevelopment authority, which he noted is different from an economic development corporation. The revenue-generating Glenpointe complex was born out of a redevelopment authority, the mayor said.
Construction should stick to an eight units per acre limit, unless there’s a strong benefit to Teaneck, he said. One such exception could be senior housing.
Toffler, however, disputed if Glenpointe was truly living up to its initial revenue promises.
The councilwoman also advocated for a zero-based budget to manage costs, where every line item would be reviewed.
Rashin dismissed many of the business growth concepts as “peanuts.” Technology, instead, was one way to cut costs and lessen the tax burden on residents.
“I think that, unfortunately, what I heard now I have heard for many years, and I am in Teaneck for 25 years,” he said.
While discussion has focused on Teaneck Road, Cedar Lane and Queen Anne Road, Pruitt noted Teaneck’s business areas are scattered across town.
“I think that the idea of enhancing the business districts is a very, very good one but I think that we should look at the whole town.” Pruitt said.
Tuesday’s forum also brought discussion of ways to improve the sometimes frayed relationship between the town council and school board.
The council’s decision two years ago to slash $6.1 million from the school district’s budget had damaged the ability of the two bodies to work together, Toffler said.
“It would seem to me that if we were really a community we would be able to meet and speak with each other,” Toffler said of the two bodies.
Pruitt, a school board trustee and former board president, said officials from the district and township once met regularly. Those meetings, he said, led to cost-saving programs.
“I think it would be a very good idea for the council and the board of education to periodically meet in public retreat with a facilitator to develop more opportunities for improved collaboration between the two bodies,” Pruitt said.
Hameeduddin, however, said he has a “great working relationship” with the district’s superintendent and school board president. The mayor pointed to his role in handling for days off on two , and his ongoing work on a mentoring program for fourth graders.
Schwartz said the schools and township could collaborate on their facilities and public works departments.
“Our DPW doesn’t have excellent facilities, to put it nicely, and there’s some facilities that they can share with the [Board of Education],” he said.
Rashin dismissed criticism over the council’s budget cutting move, saying the budget was about “perks and salaries” over education. He said taxpayers must demand better collaboration between the board and governing body.
Polls will be open 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. May 8 for the town’s three council seats.