Orange hosts annual Coffee and Conversations event for residents

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ORANGE, NJ — Orange Councilwoman Adrienne Wooten hosted the city’s annual Coffee and Conversations event at the Four City Brewing Co. on South Essex Avenue on Saturday, Jan. 7. During the event, residents were able to address city officials with any concerns that they have regarding their city and its current state. Topics such as parking, trash, walkability, job training programs, small businesses, and renovation projects for parks and the downtown area were discussed. Mayor Dwayne D. Warren and business administrator Christopher Hartwyk were able to hear directly from their constituents and talk about their plans to improve the city.

“This initiative started for the purpose of community engagement; it’s all about the people,” Wooten told the Record-Transcript. “We receive a lot of calls and text messages — this is an easier way to hear directly from the residents.”

A significant portion of the conversation concerned parking, such as how incoming commuters affect parking space for residents and whether business owners should have designated parking.

“Parking for commuters will be separately accommodated for (so) as to avoid taking up space for residents and business owners,” Warren said at the event.

“Orange has created a parking authority; we are now looking to create a completely automated parking system, using license plates to make designated spots easier (to implement),” Hartwyk said at the event. “We are some time away from that goal; we need to hire an executive director. There are parts and special materials necessary for that process, as well as staff.”

Residents also voiced concerns about walkability, with residents saying Orange lacks walkable spaces and destinations.

“$1.2 million has been proposed for a project between Orange and NJ Transit that would enhance walkability for students and bike riders,” Warren said at the event.

Residents at the event then shifted the conversation to vocation and job training programs. Many residents expressed that they have started small businesses in the past year, as the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic began to wane. As the pandemic has been less of a concern and more residents are outside and working, some residents have expressed concern about the lack of job training programs and alternative vocational trade programs in and around the city.

“We are hoping that the Orange City Council has a plan in place to develop more workforce and business development. Not just for training, but to unionize workplaces if necessary and for travel to certain places for work,” Orange resident Dwayne Wilkins said at the event.

This concern was shared by other residents as well. Many residents stepped forward to discuss local businesses they have started in the city, for photography, aviation and cheerleading.

The topic of police and the protection of small businesses also came up during the event.

“The Orange police will put forward a presentation to business owners in the first week of February to discuss how best to protect and keep your business environments clean,” Warren said. “We will also increase the staff of the bike unit that we have in Orange to improve patrol of business and commercial spaces.”

“Additionally, the city has hired seven new special police officers for the city,” Hartwyk said.

One of the final discussions at the event was about renovations to the city. Hartwyk discussed plans to redo the Orange downtown area, as well as Military Park.

“There was a budget proposed to renovate Main Street at $4.5 million. That project has seen bids as high as $9 million,” Hartwyk said. “That project will move forward in the first quarter of 2023. There is also a proposed $1.8 million project to renovate Military Park that will be happening in the spring.”

Photos by Javon Ross