Borough Council Meeting 5-22: Moms Demand Action and Save the Drew Forest

This was a packed meeting, with supporters of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, Friends of the Drew Forest, and the swearing in of John Forte to a temporary Council seat. The Madison Rotary was also recognized for 100 years of serving our community. Read more below on the exciting vote to apply for a Morris County Open Space grant and why there is still a long road ahead to preserve the Drew Forest.

Watch the meeting hereView PresentationsSee past meeting recaps
View Agendas hereView Ordinances hereView Resolutions here

Mayor’s Update

  • The Mayor began by remembering those we lost including Francis Stricchiola who joined the Madison Police Department in 1956 and who had the training range named after him. Beloved Madisonians Anna Louise Fuschetti and Bernadine Barilla were also remembered fondly.
  • John Forte was sworn in (0:12) to fill the open seat (read about it in the Eagle) and will serve until the November General election. He will be busy from the start after being assigned to various roles including liaison to the Historic Preservation Commission, the joint meeting of the finance/personnel committee, joint municipal court and municipal audit committee. He was also named chair of the council’s finance chair and vice chair of public works and engineering.
Photo Courtesy of the Madison Eagle
  • The Mayor shared that Council President John Hoover attended the May 13 Elks 100th anniversary dinner.
  • Madison Rotary was recognized (0:17) on its 100th anniversary of serving Madison with a proclamation. Joining the ceremony were Rotary President Doug Willis, former mayor Woody Kerkeslager and others Rotarians in attendance. They were presented with a flag that had been flown over the Capitol in honor of the anniversary and the huge impact this organization has had, from the End Hunger events and coat drives, to the Madison High School Impact Club and countless other efforts. As the Mayor put it, the “Who’s who” list of Madison is full of Rotary members. In true fashion, Doug Willis announced that they are donating 100 trees to help replace the many Ash trees lost in Madison.
  • Mom’s Demand Action (0:24) was also recognized with a proclamation declaring the Council’s support for their Wear Orange action June 2-4 for national gun violence awareness day. The Mayor, if you listen to the video, shared many sad and horrific statistics about the reality of gun violence, including that it’s the leading cause of death among children and teens. He noted that we shouldn’t have to have a proclamation like this and hopes won’t have to in the future.

Save the Drew Forest

  • This was the main event in the meeting with an overflow crowd of about 80 supporters in attendance, as covered in the Madison Eagle. This article from 2021 provides important background on the threat to this vital ecosystem as Drew University seeks to sell the land to a developer due to its financial challenges.
  • The Borough is attempting to pull together funding from various federal, state, and local sources to purchase the land from Drew and preserve it as open space. In order to do that, Drew University needs to engage in this and ultimately approve a conservation sale, but they have been silent since an April meeting. One step in that process is for the Borough to submit an application for an open space grant from Morris County. While the Council ultimately voted unanimously to authorize the application, the Mayor noted this was just one step in the process and there is a long road ahead.
  • Barbara Davis, VP of Programs for the Land Conservancy of New Jersey spoke (0:50) about how the Land Conservancy has worked for 20 years with Madison to create and support the Open Space Trust Fund which has delivered millions in funding from the state and county level to purchase land which totals more than 62 acres of open space. This includes the MRC, Bayley Ellard, and would help fund efforts to save the Drew Forest. Ms. Davis said she was at the meeting to show support for the application to the Morris County Open Space Trust Fund Grant. She highlighted the importance of the Drew Forest to secure the health and resiliency of the ecosystem and residents. She noted it was urgent that Drew leadership steps up to come to an agreement for the land purchase to preserve it.
  • The hearing on the proposed grant application then opened for comments. The room was packed with supporters, but a handful spoke on their behalf to cover the key points:
    • Speakers thanked the Mayor and Council for their leadership and hard work to make this happen. Friends of the Drew Forest leaders said they were thrilled to see the Council pass this resolution and mentioned all the support from other municipalities, environmental commissions and environmental groups.  They also thanked their volunteers who over the last two years have consistently shown up to meetings to comment and recognized the 15k names on a petition to save the forest.
    • Others spoke about what the forest means to all of us. That this is about future generations and how much it means to preserve this for them. Another speaker said its sad that Drew used to call itself the “University in the Forest,  but all that is at risk now. Finally, Christine Clarke (environmental advocate and NJ Senate candidate) spoke to thank the Mayor and Council for what they are doing and the legacy they are preserving.
  • The Mayor and Council members then spoke about their views on this effort:
    • The Mayor talked about how much the support means from the community and noted this wouldn’t have been possible without the Open Space Fund being in place years ago. He also pointed out that much work is still to be done to make this happen.
    • Rachel Ehrlich noted the sense of urgency and that mass extinction is underway now and we have to preserve whatever we can. She called on Drew leadership to step up and come to the table.
    • Eric Range mentioned plentiful water is not a given and we are already worrying about how deeply we need to drill to serve the residents of Madison.
    • John Forte noted that the volunteers working to hard on this are amazing. He said we are stewards of what we have been given and it would be a shame if we lost the Drew Forest on our watch.
    • Bob Landrigan urged us to come together to “do it for kids” and John Hoover reflected that there is not much that is more important to focus on right now.

Committee Reports Highlights

  • Community Affairs
    • Farmers Market opens May 25 for its 31st season at Dodge field from 1 to 6 pm through November.
    • Sat Oct 7th will be Bottle Hill Day.
    • Fire extinguisher inspection to take place June 13. The fee for extinguisher tagging is $20, Chamber members will pay a discounted rate of $15, a substantial savings from the $85 on-site inspection charge.
    • Summer Concert Series kicks off with an impressive lineup of events starting June 30th.
  • Public works and Engineering
    • Memorial Park trail reconstruction started May 22 and will take about 8 weeks. New surfacing and new boardwalks over wet areas.
    • Public Works department reports a noticeable reduction in plastic bag waste, following the ban, which means it’s working.
    • New sign installed at Whitey Vitale field which is LED and climate-friendly.
  • Utilities
    • Squirrels have caused several outages recently, which crews responded to quickly.
    • Central Ave Girl Scouts troop sent thank you notes to the Electric Utility and boxes of cookies, which were much appreciated.
  • Public safety
    • Police Accreditation is underway over the last year to ensure the department is following best practices. This is a voluntary program that strengthens the effectiveness of our police department.
    • Central Ave School fire alarm failed over the weekend and parts were not available. There was no school today as a result, but it is now resolved.
  • Communications and petitions
    • 25 emails from residents were received in support of the open space resolution to save the Drew Forest.

Other business:

  • Ordinances for hearing were read and voted on with no comments.
  • Ordinances 30. 31, 32 were voted on and adopted.
  • New ordinances were introduced for first reading.
  • Consent agenda resolutions approved.
  • Appointment announcements were made for the Planning Board and Zoning Board.

Next Council meeting is June 5