MONTVILLE, NJ - Tom Mazzaccaro has recently retired after 24 years of service as the director of the Montville Township Department of Public Works and Water and Sewer, but his involvement with Montville Township goes back 42 years to when he and his family moved to the township from Rutherford in January, 1973.
Being a hunter and owner of English setters, he wanted to move to a place where there was open space for him to train his hunting dogs, and he wanted his children to grow up in a community with more open space.
Robert “Doc” Purnell was a member of the Jaycees in Rutherford along with Mazzaccaro and had recently moved to Montville. He invited Mazzaccaro to look into moving to Montville. And that’s all it took. Doc Purnell went on to serve 24 years on the Montville Township Committee.
Tom remembers Montville Township as being “mostly farms and wooded areas west of Changebridge Road and north of Horseneck Road. The Community Park was a working dairy farm run by the Sisco family. The high school had just been completed, and Campagna condominiums were non-existent. There were no apartments or condos in the entire township. The Trinity Baptist Church on Changebridge Road was a horse farm, and there was only one traffic light in Pine Brook. It was really a lovely, scenic, and peaceful place.”
Mazzaccaro’s favorite memory of Montville Township is its people. “Many of the people moving into Montville at that time were close in age. There was a lot of camaraderie among the families, and we had many family picnics. It was not hard to get together, and these friends still are my friends today,” said Mazzaccaro.
Coming from a poor coal mining town in Pennsylvania, Mazzaccaro’s family moved to Newark, where his parents were looking for a better environment to raise their family. From Newark, they moved to Jersey City, and then they finally settled in Rutherford. Mazzaccaro went to five different elementary schools as a child. He said, “It wasn’t easy.”
After graduating from St. Mary’s High School in Rutherford, he went into the Navy for four and a half years. His years in the Navy included the time of the Cuban missile crisis and the beginning of the Vietnam War. Mazzaccaro did not go overseas, but was assigned to a submarine tender on the east coast. A submarine tender is a type of ship that supplies and supports submarines. They carry food, fuel, torpedoes, and other supplies to replenish the needs of the submarines. They are also equipped with workshops for submarine maintenance. He described the times as “tough.”
When Mazzaccaro was in the Navy and home on leave, he met his wife Barbara at a party in 1961, and they were married in 1963. They have three sons and a foster daughter, all Montville High School graduates. Tom, Jr. lives in town and is president of the Montville Township Library Board of Trustees. Michael is a manager of a food market in West New York, Richard is a Pediatric Hospitalist at Lehigh Valley Hospital in PA and Alexandra runs her business in Anguilla from her home in VA. The Mazzaccaro’s have seven grandchildren ranging in ages from 18 months to 22 years.
After the Navy, Mazzaccaro worked during the day in private industry for an aerospace company and went to school at night getting his degree in Industrial Management from Fairleigh Dickinson University. He worked for 25 years at an aerospace company producing proprietary pressure indicators for military use and acoustic emissions metal fatigue electronic instrumentation. He served as president for 12 of those years.
One of the most influential people in his life was former Montville Mayor Fred Eckhardt. “He was just really the spirit of Montville,” said Mazzaccaro. “Fred was mayor for 25 years and became one of my closest friends,” he added.
Mazzaccaro was appointed to the Planning Board by Eckhardt in 1974, and in 1975 he was elected chairman; he also became chairman of the 1975 & 1985 Master Plan Committees. He remained chairman of the Planning Board from 1975 to 1990. “This time period was extremely crucial to the development of Montville,” Mazzaccaro said.
In 1975, the Planning Board had two major issues. One was the new Mount Laurel Supreme Court decision that required municipalities to provide a variety of available housing for all income levels. The courts wanted to see zoning for apartments, condos, two-family homes, and even trailer parks in the mix. At the time, Montville had only single family housing. The other issue was that the township was constructing its first municipal well, and the road infrastructure was totally inadequate for industrial development. Some 1,800 acres of industrial zoned land was rezoned for residential use.
During this time, a Citizen’s Master Plan Committee was appointed to advise the Planning Board and the Township Committee on the development of a new master plan. The Citizen’s Master Plan Committee proposed 2,000 apartments and condos along the west side of Changebridge Road from what is now the municipal building to Stiles Lane. “Needless to say, it was rejected,” Mazzaccaro added. The Planning Board attempted to comply with the court mandate by zoning for the Changebridge condos at Rt. 202, the age restricted condos at Campagna, and 50 two-family housing units where the Meadows condos are now located. This master plan was adopted, and for 10 years, the township abided by this plan.
In 1985, while Mazzaccaro was still chairman of the Planning Board, a new master plan was commissioned because of Mount Laurel 2, “which went way beyond the Mount Laurel 1 decision,” explained Mazzaccaro. It required municipalities such as Montville to provide low and moderate income affordable housing by way of what is called the Builder’s Remedy. This required 22 percent of all new residential and rehabilitated structures to be sold at a fixed, very low market rate.
A new court case ensued against Montville Township by three separate groups. There was a settlement that resulted in the development of Longview, Rachel Gardens, Chase of Montville, Meadows, Hunting Hills, and Jade Mountain. The settlement also resulted in Montville being allowed to provide only 20 percent low and moderate units, a certain number of units allocated to senior citizens, and finally, Montville residents would have preference for the low and moderate units for a certain period of time. “Many local residents availed themselves of this feature,” said Mazzaccaro. After reviewing 26 potential sites, the Planning Board settled on seven sites that were distributed somewhat evenly in each section of the township with proximity to water and sewer utilities.
“While many of our local leaders were not in favor of the court settlement, it was eventually adopted into law. There are still varying opinions as to whether the projects were good for Montville Township. The fact is the residents of the affordable housing zones have been good for the community, and Montville Township still has consistently been independently voted as one of the nation’s best places to live,” said Mazzaccaro.
The water and sewer utilities also were important elements in changing the face of Montville Township. Prior to 1974, the township had many small public and private potable wells located mostly in Pine Brook. The public sanitary sewers were constructed primarily for the Rt. 46 corridor and the rapidly developing homes in Pine Brook.
In 1965, the Township Committee formed the Municipal Utilities Authority (MUA) to advance the construction of the water and sewer systems and in later years, Mazzaccaro became involved in the MUA.
After his children were grown and he was looking for a change, Mazzaccaro became involved with a large real estate company, but it was bad timing. The real estate market plummeted. During this time, the MUA, which was a separate entity from township government, was in need of an infrastructure overhaul and a plan for the future. In 1990, Mayor Richard Stern, who was involved in the MUA and knew Mazzaccaro from the Planning Board, asked him if he would be interested in the task since Mazzaccaro was familiar with Montville and had experience in planning and organization from his aerospace company job. Mazzaccaro took the challenge and eventually became the executive director of the MUA, which later became the Montville Township Water and Sewer Department.
By 2005, he assumed the responsibility of both the Department of Public Works and the Water and Sewer staffs. As director, he was responsible for carrying out the policies, rules, and regulations of the township. His job included overseeing 25 water and sewer utility stations, utility billing, township roads, parks, athletic fields, traffic lights, project planning, budgets, and personnel. He said, “I am very proud of building a state of the art water and sewer department.”
In 1995, Mazzaccaro was elected to the Montville Township Board of Education (BOE) and was elected as president of the Board in 1996. He served three years. He subsequently served as chairman of the $17 million BOE School Construction Citizen’s Advisory Committee. He was involved in the planning and building expansion of five elementary schools and Lazar Middle School. He was proud to say that “the construction was within budget and on time.”
As a member of the Montville Open Space Committee, he helped acquire over 3,000 acres of preserved open space. He said that this accounts for 24 percent of the township land. “I think the preserved open space is impressive and adds to the value of existing properties,” he stated.
In retirement, he is spending more time in Anguilla in the Caribbean, where he owns a home. He loves to fish, spear fish, and sail. At home, he enjoys having breakfast with many of his friends and lunch with his grandchildren who frequently text him in the morning to make sure he is available for lunch.
When asked what people do not readily know about him, he said that people probably do not know that he likes to target shoot.
He is most proud of winning the Citizen of the Year and the Humanitarian of the Year Awards in 1987 and 1986.
His list of volunteer activities for Montville Township is impressive. He has been a coach, a teacher of religious education, a charter member of the Montville Kiwanis club, member of “Turf the Valley” Committee, whose efforts resulted in the turf field at the high school today, co-chair of Save Turkey Mountain, president of the Republican Club, member of Montville Township Relay for Life, chairman and member of the July 4th Committee for 30 years, to name only a few.
Mazzaccaro has spent his entire life devoted to his family and his community. Even though he is retired, he is still working to make Montville one of best places to live in the United States.