The Hilton Neighborhood Association sponsored a Candidates Forum on Thursday, at the DeHart Center. The three Democratic candidates (Jerry Ryan, Nancy Adams and Greg Lembrich) running in the June 2 primary election to determine which two will appear on the ticket in November, responded to a number of prepared questions as well as questions from the audience.
The candidates agreed on several issues, including support for expansion of the Maplewood Memorial Library and keeping open the Hilton Library; exploring merging Maplewood’s Fire Department with South Orange; and the need to find a different solution for animal control in the township.
The most pronounced differences were in the area of township development and specifically, the Post Office redevelopment project. Lembrich has made his opposition to the latter a key part of his platform. However, he stated in his opening comments, “This election isn’t just about a Post Office.”
Ryan and Lembrich strongly disagreed on how and whether PILOTs impact the school system, with Lembrich alleging that such tax abatements “deprive…the schools of a substantial additional source of revenue.” Ryan countered that was “a myth” and that PILOTs do not “take one cent away from the schools.”
“My opponent is factually wrong,” said Ryan.
This is the second debate the Democratic candidates have engaged in; the first was a Senior Services Candidate Forum.
Read our synopsis of the debate and watch the video, taped by VillageGreenNJ.com on behalf of SOMaTV, below.
There has been significant development in Maplewood recently. Some future plans include opening a WAWA on Jacoby and Springfield Avenue and adding mixed-use buildings along Springfield Avenue. Do you think all this development is a plus or minus for the Township, and is there a tipping point for too much development?
Lembrich said there was a tipping point and that he was concerned about the impact of development on the school system. Adams said she fully supported active mixed-use redevelopment, and that such redevelopment was especially needed on Springfield Avenue to make that area “vibrant and vital.” Scale, style and use are major considerations, she said.
Development “doesn’t just happen willy-nilly,” said Ryan, who noted there was a process of soliciting public input, as well as reviewing the Master Plan every five years. Most development in the town had been for the good, he said, such as the former Universal Chain property that were abandoned brownfields, which were developed into Maplewood Crossing.
Former Post Office Property
Inform us about your ideas for the former Post Office property in Maplewood Village.
Adams said that the township should have done an adaptive reuse study on the Post Office site, although she doesn’t know that she necessarily would have supported that as a proposal. Ryan said the current proposal has a smaller footprint than before and improves the connection to the other side of town. It is important to make sure the building is “in keeping with the character of the community,” said Ryan.
Lembrich said if the township had sought enough public input, there wouldn’t be the current level of opposition to the project. He urged the TC to take a second look at the current proposal.
Maplewood Memorial Library
The Library Board of Trustees is planning for the future by investigating the possibility of renovating and/or expanding the Main Library. What do you think is the responsibility of the municipal government in contributing to this effort. Are you committed to keeping the Hilton Library open?
The three candidates fully supported the possible expansion of the Main Library, and strongly opposed the closing of Hilton branch.
With the possibility of a new discussion about merging fire departments, what priority do you place on keeping open Fire Station #2 on Boyden Avenue?
Lembrich said he would support merging with South Orange as long as there was no compromise to health and safety. Ryan said merging was a good idea, “a little complicated” but doable. All were strongly opposed to closing Fire Station #2.
Adams suggested exploring other options for shared services, such as merging the recreation departments and First Aid squads.
Are you in favor of continuing the contract with the Newark Associated Humane Society for our Animal Control services?
“No,” said Ryan, who noted that he voted against the contract in the first place. He said the only good thing about the contract is “that we can get out of it” as soon as South Orange puts together a plan for shared services. Adams said talks with South Orange should begin sooner rather than later. Lembrich agreed with Ryan that the contract was a “necessary evil” and said he would prioritize working with South Orange.
In response to a question from an audience member regarding the proposed Wawa Food Market and gas station on Springfield Avenue between Jacoby Street and Chancellor Avenue, Adams said she would oppose the town allowing Wawa to operate their gas pumps 24 hours/day (which is currently not allowed in the township), as it would have a negative effect on the surrounding neighborhood.
Ryan said he would need to give the issue more thought, after a resolution was drafted and the TC heard public input. He would not vote for the resolution if he thought it would be bad for the township.
Lembrich said he would need to hear how the community feels, but that his understanding was this might be a “deal breaker” for Wawa.