BRIDGEWATER, NJ - A coalition of local residents has told the Bridgewater Township Council to expect pushback regarding what they believe is excessive urbanization and overdevelopment in town.
Coalition member Inderpreet Banga said that his initial perception when he moved to Bridgewater five years ago was that the mayor, the council and the planning and zoning boards worked for the residents.
“There’s more development than ever perceived,” he said, and added that the local political situation is also deteriorating. “Perception has become reality, of overdevelopment without public input.”
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Banga spoke of the Bridgewater Members United group, which is one part of the coalition, and said that several such groups have banded together to target issues detrimental to Bridgewater, both in the present and the future. He said that the much bandied about phrase “quality of life” has become an empty tagline, and that there needs to be a halt to ever-increasing traffic and chaotic urbanization, and a reform of the planning board, whose members are appointed by the mayor and are not necessarily protecting the residents.
Resident Jeff Foose said he is a member of the Foothill Civic Association, which has worked with local World War II hero Bob Vaucher, and which is also a member of the coalition. Local resident Andrew Leven said he is pinch-hitting for two other group members of the coalition, the Number 18 Homes and the Charlotte Drive Defenders.
Andy Fresco, who has lived in Bridgewater for 40 years, appeared at the podium for Preserve Bridgewater, and said the coalition has the ability to reach some 5,000 local voters.
“It’s no longer a joke,” said Fresco, who added that the quality of life in town has deteriorated. “It’s a major catastrophe in the community.”
Resident John Kulak said he sympathizes with the coalition regarding local urbanization and overdevelopment, and that he’d like to have the ear of the council, as neighborhoods are seemingly pitted against one another regarding individual projects that might be allowed or denied in one neighborhood but not another.
He also said that P.I.L.O.T. programs, or Payment In Lieu Of Taxes, are developers’ tools that do not provide funding for already-overcrowded local schools.
“I think the council should take action and make PILOTs an exception,” he said.
Vaucher, 100 years old, and a veteran of over 100 combat missions as a U.S. bomber pilot in World War II, spoke of how he helped save 78 acres of the township from overdevelopment decades ago, land which the town had wanted to sell to a developer at the time,
Asked about his intent for the property back then, Vaucher said he had replied that “someday we may need a high school in the center of town.”
That land eventually became the current home of Bridgewater-Raritan High School.
Vaucher also said he had been pushing for development restrictions since his first day in Bridgewater, more than 70 years ago, and he pointed out the intense traffic that exists on Foothill Road these days.
“It’s taking my life getting out of my driveway,” said Vaucher, of what had morphed from a simple street into a high-speed thoroughfare.
Councilman Filipe Pedroso said that he applauded the efforts of the coalition, and that he was also supportive of them. He said their issues were also important to hims, who had served a decade on the town’s zoning board prior to his council election, and added it sometimes takes a little bit to get people motivated.
“I’m pleased with your efforts, and I hope you keep them up,” he said.
Pedroso commented that the township and its way of life are “under attack,” that the planning board needs to be changed as it approves nearly all applications that come before it and that he doesn’t think Mayor Dan Hayes has the best interests of the township at heart.
Councilwoman Christine Henderson Rose lamented what had happened to local cooperation, and was dismayed that members of the community were so openly hostile to one another. She said she herself has been blocked from trying to help in some instances, and that some groups are not welcoming to all.
Rose suggested that if those five groups are serious, they should “embrace anyone and everyone, and provide them with a forum for frank discussion.”
Council president Matthew Moench, who is running against Hayes for the mayor’s seat this year, said there is a lot of bi-partisanship going on. Rose said the government is supposed to do the people’s work, while Pedroso countered that problems occur because there is no leadership at the top.
The council will hold its next meeting Monday at 7:30 p.m. at 100 Commons Way, when it is expected to take action on a number of resolutions. Chief among those may be three separate resolutions asking Hayes, planning board chairman Ron Charles and planning board member Debra Albanese to recuse themselves from participating in and voting on the Center of Excellence application that is now before the planning board, due to perceived conflicts of interest.