Council withdraws conservation ordinance

Photo by Daniel Jackovino
Assistant borough engineer Michael Zichelli speaks to residents about watering lawns at the council meeting Monday, Dec. 9.

GLEN RIDGE, NJ — The Glen Ridge Borough Council withdrew the second reading of an amendment to its landscape watering conservation ordinance Monday, Dec. 9, after a small group of residents complained that it was too restrictive.

Had it been adopted, the amendment would have imposed time limits on watering lawns, depending on the method of irrigation, and limit the days watering could take place according to residents’ house numbers.

The amendment would also have required professional managers of residential irrigation systems to complete coursework and register with the borough, and also for managers of residential systems utilizing a high-tech SMART water sensor, capable of measuring water depletion, to be certified. Exemptions from the restrictions include the Glen Ridge Country Club, newly sodded lawns and vegetable gardens. The current watering ordinance has no restrictions unless a water shortage is announced by the borough.

Michael Zichelli, assistant borough engineer, explained the virtues of SMART irrigation controllers to the residents prior to the public hearing. Zichelli said the SMART controllers are capable of responding to local weather forecasts, and had cut irrigation costs at Hurrell Field by 48 percent.

“Not only are we saving money, but they are more convenient,” he said of the controllers.
The obsolete rain sensors being used at Carteret Park would begin irrigation even in the pouring rain, Zichelli said, causing the borough to update to the SMART controllers.

One resident said that he lived next to the country club, which runs its sprinklers all the time, and complained about being restricted to watering his own lawns two days a week for three hours each day, saying this would be inadequate.

“I don’t have trees that give shade to the property,” he said. “I don’t want to use the water, but I don’t want to lose my lawn.”
Another resident said the amendment was “Big Brother-ish,” saying, “It reads that the residents are not good stewards of their property.”
Still another speaker asked the council what problem it was trying to solve.

“We’re not in a draught,” he said. “If we had one, there are restrictions.”
The next speaker had already had addressed the council, but had more to say.

“What comes after this?” he asked. “It’s a slippery slope. What’s next? Showering? Washing clothes?”
Councilwoman Ann Marie Morrow said water consumption in Glen Ridge is 50 percent greater than the state average. And Councilman Peter Hughes said the borough had spent millions to repair the underground water system.

“We see we’re using less water, but still our average is more than the state average,” he said. “At least we’ve started a dialogue. We’ll take a step back and create a committee. We spend a lot of money to keep our town pretty. We’re not about government overreach, especially on our own property.”

But even after Hughes said the council would remove the amendment from further consideration that night, residents continued to speak out against it.

“Sprinkler systems are expensive to install,” a resident said. “The less wealthy have to use a hose. There’s a higher burden for people without underground sprinklers.”

This resident continues by saying the times water can be done, according to the amendment, might not be convenient for people.
“Watering overnight will create fungus,” he said. “Also, Jewish people may not be able to water on Saturday.”
Another resident objected to the provision that if he should purchase a SMART irrigation controller, it had to be registered with the borough.

“Why should I have to register an appliance?” he asked. “Maybe if it was a particle generator.”
He was all for water conservation, he said, but the proposed amendment was creating community divisiveness.
Hughes said compliance would be voluntary.

“A major exception is the country club,” he said. “I’m guessing they are not using captured water.”
In a telephone interview the day following the council meeting, Hughes said he thought the amendment was premature.
“The public reaction was such that it had to be better thought through and have more public outreach,” he said.

He said he thought the council would start soliciting more input in the near future, but was not sure if a new amendment would be ready by the summer.

“There was a common theme,” Hughes said of the residents who spoke out. “They were for conservation. They just took issue with the way it was proposed.”