Hamilton Street Advisory Board Begins Its Task Of Invigorating Business District

Hamilton Street Advisory Board May Meeting2

Members of the Hamilton Street Advisory Board at its May 2014 meeting.

It still needs one more member to be fully constituted and its budget has not yet been approved, but the newly minted advisory board tasked with helping revitalize the Hamilton Street business district is well into its work.

The body, known as the Hamilton Street Business Advisory Board, has met monthly since the spring. In that time, members have picked a chairman and vice-chairman – Patrick and Michael Gianotto, respectively – and has created a list of advantages of and challenges posed by the district.

The goal is to prioritize actions that can be taken to reverse years of what some consider official neglect and rescue what is essentially the township’s “main street.”

The board has also developed  budget for the rest of the year, which was presented to and introduced by the Township Council at its Aug. 12 meeting. A public hearing and final adoption on the $52,583 spending plan is set for the council’s Sept. 9 meeting.

Steering the board through this are its executive director, township senior zoning officer Vince Dominach; Mark Healy, the township’s planner, and Bob Vornlocker, the township manager. Vornlocker appointed Dominach as the group’s executive director.

Dominach will receive a roughly $10,000 yearly stipend for his role as executive director. The advisory board is the only such body in the township with an executive director, even though the ordinance which created the board makes no direct provision for such a position.

The board acts in an advisory capacity to the Township Council, which earlier this year designated itself as the Hamilton Street Special Improvement District’s “District Management Corporation.” That was done several months after Vornlocker told the council that the previous DMC, known as the Hamilton Street Business and Community Corporation, was not correctly constituted because its members had not held an election in years.

Among the 12 members of the HSBCC were Mayor Brian Levine ( R) and council members James Vassanella (D-Ward 5) and Carl R.A. Wright (D-Ward 5).

Current Advisory Board members Pat Gianotto, Remi Onashile,  James Yeh, Geneva Hall and Vincent Pecce were also on the HSBCC.

Vornlocker said at an early advisory board meeting that the goal is to one day turn over DMC duties to the advisory board.

The ordinance which created the advisory board stipulated that it be comprised of 11 members: four property owners, four business owners, two residents and one at-large person. All slots have been filled except for one resident.

To fund its budget, the advisory board will use money that had been collected through an assessment on property owners whose properties fall within the Hamilton Street business district boundaries: roughly down Hamilton Street from Franklin Boulevard to near the New Brunswick border.

There was some discussion at the July board meeting as to whether that money – thought to be in the bank account of the old HSBCC – could be appropriated by the board because the HSBCC was a legal corporation that had not been officially dissolved.

But Vornlocker said on Aug. 12 that the money that will fund the board, at least for the rest of 2014, was never deposited into the HSBCC account.

Vornlocker said a $75,000 check that had been sent to the HSBCC by the township was returned to the township by former HSBCC executive director Mike Pappas after the council declared the body to be improperly constituted. Vornlocker said the check has been sitting in a safe in the municipal building ever since.

As a result of having that “seed” money, Hamilton Street businesses will not be assessed the usual fee for the rest of the year, according to the proposed budget.

Included in the budget is $5,833 for Dominach, $30,000 for a zoning study and 5-year special improvement district plan, $8,500 for new waste can lids for district businesses and $5,250 for new flags and flag poles to be hung from utility police along Hamilton Street.

The budget also includes $2,000 in outstanding invoices from the HSBCC.

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