WESTFIELD – The Ward 1 council candidates squared off last week in a debate marked primarily by some disagreements over the proposed mixed-use development at the former Lord & Taylor site and new parking facilities at the train station parking lots. The debate was sponsored by The Westfield Leader and moderated by Lead Reporter Katie Moen.
Republican Amanda Como is challenging Democrat Emily Root, who was appointed to the council following the resignation of Councilman Jim Boyes in April. The winner of the upcoming election will serve out the remaining year of Mr. Boyes’s unexpired term.
Ms. Root was generally supportive of the proposal by HBC|Streetworks Development to build a 731,000-sq. ft. complex at the Lord & Taylor site that will include offices and 239 apartments along with green space and a connection to the train station, where the firm will build two new parking facilities. She noted that the firm has emphasized that the initial proposal is “just the beginning. This is our town and we have the opportunity to tell [the developer] what we like and dislike” about the project.
She said she is pleased that the project provides housing for people 55 and older, “giving people the opportunity to stay in Westfield” without adding to the school population. She also said the project will bring office workers to the downtown to support businesses and restaurants. Ms. Root said her “number one job” is to make sure the project “makes financial senses and doesn’t put taxpayers at risk.”
Ms. Como, who ran against Councilwoman Linda Habgood last year, said she was glad that Westfield has had a “long-standing relationship” with HBC|Streetworks, adding that the proposed project’s aesthetics are “beautiful” and that she thinks the preview center on Elm Street will be helpful to answer residents’ questions. She did say, though,
that redeveloping the Lord & Taylor property will “forever change the landscape of our town,” noting that planned buildings are “large” and that “we will be giving up parking spaces.”
She also was not supportive of the PILOT (Payment-in-Lieu-of- Taxes) arrangement that town officials say will result in $200 million in tax revenue to the town over the next 39 years, with Ms. Como criticizing the loss of tax dollars to the school system.
The two candidates also disagreed somewhat when asked about artificial turf fields, specifically the controversial proposal at Edison Middle School. “I do not love the Edison
field project in current form,” Ms. Como said, calling it “a bit much for one location” and worrying that the school and the surrounding neighborhood will “bear the brunt of additional traffic” during games and events there. She thought the public should be able to vote on “such a monumental decision.” Turf is “really not my first choice,” she said, adding that she prefers grass fields before being compelled to switch to turf.
Ms. Root said there is “no perfect solution, noting that the need for more fields is not a new one. “For 20 years, we’ve kicked this can down the road.” While the arguments for grass fields are “compelling,” she said that, due to various limitations, “grass fields do not provide the use that we need in our town.”
The recent rash of car thefts and burglaries was also addressed at last Wednesday’s debate, with Ms. Como saying it was important for residents to lock their cars and doors to their homes because “crime still is happening.” She called for more of a police presence in neighborhoods, saying that “anything that will deter trespassing and theft is a good thing.”
Ms. Root praised the police department and said that “we’re extremely fortunate to live in one of the safest communities in New Jersey.” She noted that after 28 stolen cars in 2021, through mid-October, there have been just 14 incidents this year.
Both candidates also addressed the matter of speeding cars in Ward 1, with Ms. Root saying it’s the issue she hears about most from residents. She said five new radar boxes have been installed on Dudley, Euclid and Lawrence Avenues and Clark Street and those devices also collect data that helps police enforce speeding laws. Ms. Como thought it would be helpful to motorists if those radar boxes also displayed the speed limits so that passing cars were aware of them. She pointed to the reputation of Boulevard in Kenilworth, where most drivers have long been well-aware of heavy police enforcement of the 25 mile-per-hour limit on that thoroughfare.
When asked about the historic preservation law enacted two years ago, Ms. Root said she was “all for them” because they “prevent further teardowns of historical homes. She said she was “so thrilled that this town supports historic preservation” without any intention of involuntarily designating private homes. Ms. Como said she was “glad that Westfield takes pride in our historic structures because it adds to the character and charm of our town.” She also said she was glad that “homeowners still do have autonomy and that their houses will not be designated without their permission.”
Do you like this page?