To the Editor:

We are living in extraordinary times. Social distancing and bare shelves at Shop Rite have become the new normal. Our schools are closed indefinitely and parents have to figure out the impossible balance between work, becoming a teacher to their kids, and ensuring that their family has the necessities to remain home and safe. New Jersey courts, and most other state courts are effectively closed, with all deadlines having been stayed. Churches and synagogues will be locked on Easter Sunday and Passover. Nothing in the world right now is functioning normally.

There is one exception, apparently - Mayor Kelly’s wildly unpopular affordable housing agenda. On March 12, he ignored directives from our President and our Governor, and forced anyone who opposed his plan to develop a high-density Affordable Housing complex on the sensitive steep slope property adjacent to the Passaic River surrounded by single-family homes, to attend a jam-packed public meeting.  This was even against the advice of Health Care Professional Lucille Plantemoli from the Board of Health, who stepped up to the microphone at that meeting and reminded them. Now, we are told, via a recent notice that many have likely missed, that the Planning Board meeting scheduled for Monday (April 6), which includes on the agenda consideration of, and potentially “formal action” on, the planned development on River Road, will go forward by “Zoom” teleconference.

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It is unconscionable that, in these unprecedented times, when all of our friends and neighbors are overwhelmed with ensuring that their families stay safe and healthy, our local government should seek to forever change the landscape of our community and, worse yet, force some of us, including those least able to harness the technology and WiFi bandwidth to participate in a Zoom teleconference, to worry about the Township infringing on their property rights.  Holding a meeting in this manner does not satisfy the public access requirements and unfairly disadvantages members of the community that don’t have access to the technology and are incapable of voicing their comments and opposition. Of course, Mayor Kelly is aware of all of this. He actually appears comfortable taking advantage of this crisis to advance the interests of out-of-town housing activists and developers while people are literally being ordered by the government to stay home. A true leader would immediately bar this meeting from taking place.

Mayor Kelly always justifies his need to rush approval of his ill-conceived affordable housing plans based on purported “pressure” from “Court mandated timelines.”   There are effectively NO court deadlines in New Jersey right now, and there probably won’t be for many months to come.  There is a global crisis happening and the health and safety of our residents is far too important. Planning Board approval of long-range affordable housing plan is hardly an emergent matter. If ever there was a time to “pump the breaks” on this fundamental change to our town, it would be now, when, New Jersey and, at last count, at least 42 other states are under Governor-mandated stay-at-home orders.  

Yet Mayor Kelly continues to demonstrate his poor leadership and decision-making ability.   For politicians like him, pushing an unpopular agenda through with as little protest as possible is always favorable because, in their view, the ends always justify the means.  Mayor Kelly wants that affordable housing built, and global pandemic or not, he’s intent to get it. This can’t be allowed to happen without full and open commentary from all of our citizens. The Planning Board meeting scheduled for April 6, 2020, and all other action related to the proposed River Road development, needs to be adjourned indefinitely. 

It’s time for our leaders to act sensibly, and for the citizens of Chatham Township to consider new leaders. 

Mark Hamilton and Ashley Felice

Candidates for Township Committee