To the Editor:

I’m not a doctor and I’m not an attorney. I’m nothing more than a mom that is doing her best to homeschool her three children and keep them happy and safe during this unprecedented and scary time. And I will openly admit, there are some things, aside from wearing sweatpants day in and day out, that I am truly enjoying about being home with my children all day. One of those things is the opportunity to share with them some of my favorite childhood movies, toys, and books. Just yesterday, my seven-year-old read to me my all-time favorite book, The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton.

As we were snuggled together reading the book as part of my daughter’s ELA assignment, I started to think about the little house, set atop a hill, surrounded by beautiful trees and flowers and fields, and realized how lucky we are, in Chatham, to live in an equally beautiful town. And as anyone who has read this book knows, what happens next is just so sad. Before you know it, the perfect little house is devastated by the gross overdevelopment occurring directly adjacent to its property lines.

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Fast forward a few hours, and I’m sitting in my family room, turned to Comcast Channel 29, watching the Chatham Township Committee Meeting, trying my best to understand what those attending the meeting from a remote location or calling into the meeting are saying. A meeting that our Governor has declared should contain business essential to the operation of the Township only yet lasted well over five hours. Apparently, Chatham Township has a lot of essential business to discuss. And that essential business is the Township Committee’s plans to forever alter the landscape of River Road, not unlike what happens to the little house.

A day after the meeting, and the questions below are still running through my mind.

1. Why is it appropriate for our Deputy Mayor to use the word “deforestation” when describing the work the utility company is doing to trim trees and ensure the continuation of power to our homes and businesses, a truly “essential” service, yet the same word doesn’t apply to the Committee’s plans to bulldoze two lots on River Road and build high-density, all affordable housing in the middle of a residential neighborhood, surrounded by protected wildlife?
2. Why did Mayor Kelly struggle to answer the question when asked why the property on Gibbons Place was “last on the list” when considering locations for the group homes? Could it be that the property on Gibbons Place has a steep slope, as the Township Engineer indicated, much like the property on River Road where Mayor Kelly and the Committee intend to build affordable housing, directly bordering the property of single- family homes?
3. Why was it acceptable to Mayor Kelly to state, when asked during a previous meeting about relocating the police department to the municipal building and building additional affordable housing at the police department site (a site already zoned for affordable housing that doesn’t border single-family homes and within walking distance to shopping, etc.) that one of the reasons the option was not being pursued was because it “was not well received by the majority of the people that spoke out about it,” yet he and the Committee continue to host meetings and move forward with a plan that has not been well received by the majority of the people that have spoken out about it and may not be able to fairly participate and share their concerns via the virtual platform?
4. Why, despite the fact Judge Gaus himself has stated that the “Implementation and Compliance Schedule may be subject to modification to address this health and public safety crisis” does Mayor Kelly repeatedly fail to answer the simple yes or no question as to whether he and the Deputy Mayor have directed Albert Cruz to ask Judge Gaus for a modification to the schedule so that the Township can focus on addressing the health and public safety crisis?
5. Why, when a concerned resident calls in and suggests that perhaps there is an opportunity for our Township to identify mutually beneficial business opportunities with local business and property owners does the Deputy Mayor misconstrue perhaps the most intelligent comment of the night and falsely suggest that the resident is encouraging the Township take advantage of small businesses?

As I mentioned at the beginning of this letter, I am not a doctor nor an attorney. But I understand that we are all dealing with an unprecedented situation and until there is a vaccine, protecting our own health and that of friends, family and neighbors has to be our number one priority. Surely, this is why Governor Murphy stated that Township Meetings should be conducted for “essential” business only. And this is why Judge Gaus recognized there may be a need to modify the affordable housing implementation schedule. Hosting a Township Committee Meeting, in which a non-essential topic is discussed for over five hours in an enclosed space, between members of different households, goes against everything we are trying to do to beat this virus and get back to life as we know it. And it’s just fantastic to hear that at least one of the committee members, Deputy Mayor Ness, is not on lockdown and is going about her business and picking things up from local businesses. Apparently, the stay at home order doesn’t apply to her.

Why the committee feels the need to continue to push this agenda, to dance around simple yes or no questions, leads me to ask the same question I’ve asked since November 2019. What is in it for you, Mayor Kelly and Deputy Mayor Ness, that so motivates you to risk the lives of our citizens and destroy our neighborhoods?

Fortunately, for my beloved little house, there is a happy ending. The house is rescued from the overdevelopment surrounding it and moved to a new plot of land surrounded by beautiful trees and flowers and fields. We can’t pick up and move the houses from the neighborhoods our Township Committee is intent on destroying, but we can move our Township Committee members out of the seats they occupy, starting with Mayor Kelly this year.

Erin Burgo

Chatham Township