CRANBURY, NJ - As we head into the Fourth of July weekend, TV and newspapers all begin to do stories on our founding fathers and their passion and engagement.

Often these stories contrast those attitudes to our society today and the perception that our citizens are largely disengaged.

I wish these journalists had taken a minute to visit Cranbury over the last month because apathy is the last word I would use to describe Cranbury residents and why I am very proud as an elected official to be writing my first column on TAPinto.net.

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As an elected official, I was proud the last few weeks as I saw Cranbury residents become actively engaged in our community and lend voices and opinions to key decisions being made.

In the last month residents have shared their views and concerns with the Township Committee and Zoning Board on matters that impact the town.

The two issues I raise are those of the redevelopment on South Main Street and Old Trenton Road and the alcohol, drug and mental illness rehabilitation center that Alpha Healing proposes to operate in the building now occupied by Staybridge Suites on South River Road.

The South Main Street and Old Trenton Road redevelopment plan is complex, and because it is complex, it lends itself to confusion on process, scale and impact.

At its foundation, by designating the area in need of redevelopment, we are not avoiding Municipal Land Use Law or additional layers of oversight provided by a land use board such as planning or zoning.

To the contrary, oversight is increased because the redevelopment plan will have to be approved by both the Planning Board and the Township Committee.

The process itself began by forming a subcommittee of Township Committee and Planning Board members to review the site, engineering reports, planning reports, and then work on a suitable plan.

The subcommittee’s redevelopment plan proposal, when ready, will then go before the Planning Board for review, a hearing and then a recommendation for approval to the committee.

This has not yet occurred and there will be a public meeting before both bodies when it does.

When the builder is ready to develop the site, they will submit an application and site plan to the planning board.  The review will then follow the normal approval process.

In terms of scale, there is no agreement yet on the density of housing, the scale of the commercial property, or the actual site plan.

All of the actions taken on the approval of both the redevelopment plan and the site plan are conducted in public and will continue to be.

Perhaps, the greatest issue of all concerns the impact to the town and of those concerns the greatest regards our children and the impact on our relationship with Princeton High School.

We are actively engaging the Board of Education to ensure there are no concerns for our school system.

In talks that have occurred to date with the Board of Education, we are confident that the development will not pose a risk to our relationship with Princeton High School.

Three of the committee members, including myself, have young children or a grandchild attending Cranbury School, and thus involving the board and protecting the Princeton relationship is of paramount concern.

As mentioned earlier, the other issue of resident engagement is one that is going before the Zoning Board.

Alpha Healing submitted an application to operate a drug, alcohol and mental illness rehabilitation center in Cranbury using the location now occupied by Staybridge.

This is a matter that falls under the authority of our Zoning Board, and individuals from the committee, as a governing body, cannot take a position on the application or comment at the hearing due to the potential that, if approved, a resident or other party could appeal the decision to the governing body.

However, as residents of Cranbury, all of the committee members are allowed to attend and hear what is being proposed.

In fact, as any resident can appeal (the Zoning Board’S) decision to the Township Committee, I feel I have an obligation to attend, so I can hear the applicant’s, residents’ and board’s comments first hand as opposed to listening to tape or reading a transcript.

In attending the meeting, I saw a large contingent of residents come out to listen to the proposal and ask well thought out questions.

The hearing was not concluded last night, and for those residents who are interested in attending the future hearing, the application will be heard again on Wednesday, Aug. 5 at 7:30 p.m.