Year in Review 2015: Top Stories in Scotch Plains & Fanwood

Looking back at the top stories of 2015 Credits:
Al Mirabella became Scotch Plains Township Manager on Jan. 1, 2015. Credits: John Mooney
Representatives from SPF sports leagues led a petition that ultimately forced an ordinance abolishing the Scotch Plains Recreation Commission to be rescinded.
Amid allegatios that she and her husband asked Habitat for Humanity to build an upgraded shore house, Linda Stender's long career as an elected official came to a close in 2015. Credits: John Mooney
Attorney Marc Rogoff interrogates Lorie Kiedaisch, project engineer for Wawa before the Scotch Plains Zoning Board of Appeals. Credits: John Mooney
A&P in Fanwood closed in 2015. Credits: John Mooney
Lukoil fire. Credits: John Mooney
Election Night in Fanwood. Credits: John Mooney
Mayor Kevin Glover and Township Manager Al Mirabella cut the ribbon to officially open the restored Shady Rest clubhouse. Credits: John Mooney
Downtown Scotch Plains was flooded in August. Credits: Sean Conklin
Scotch Plains police officer Brian Cheney delivered another baby in 2015. Credits: John Mooney
Scotch Plains Police Chief Brian Mahoney will retire in 2016. Credits: John Mooney
NJ Transit expanded its "one-seat rides" to New York City. Credits: John Mooney
Scotch Plains and Fanwood police officers began wearing body cameras. Credits: John Mooney
Former Mayor Mauro Checchio passed away at age 90 in 2015.   Credits: John Mooney
Assemblyman Jerry Green, Scotch Plains Mayor Kevin Glover, and the late Rev. Kelmo Porter at the 2015 Mayor's Gala. Credits: John Mooney
Former Memorial Day Parade grand marshal Don Wussler, a Korean War veteran and community volunteer, died in late December. Credits: John Mooney

SCOTCH PLAINS-FANWOOD, NJ – For neighbors in Scotch Plains and Fanwood, it may be difficult to remember all that happened in 2015. As the year concludes, TAPintoSPF takes a moment to revisit the biggest stories that made headlines.

Breaking News:
In August, the northern part of Scotch Plains looked like a river after three hours of torrential rain. The resulting floods caused a wall at the Weldon Quarry to collapse and forced motorists on Route 22 to abandon their vehicles. Fortunately, no one was injured.

In April, firefighters from Westfield, Linden, Plainfield, and Roselle assisted Scotch Plains and Fanwood departments to extinguish a fire at the Lukoil on North Avenue. While smoke billowed into the sky and police diverted traffic elsewhere, the fire never reached the fuel pumps and nobody was injured.

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Just before the holidays, a slew of unarmed bank robberies ended in Scotch Plains after a suspect fled from the TD Bank on Park Avenue toward townhouses behind Route 22. Police were on high alert after TD locations in Green Brook and Bridgewater were swindled in similar fashion. When a Subway employee identified the suspect, Scotch Plains police nabbed 21-year-old Andrew Miller inside the restaurant less than a mile away from his home.

In July, residents living near North Avenue banded together to distribute signage and voice their disapproval to township officials regarding a proposed apartment complex. Following testimony and public comments, the Scotch Plains Zoning Board of Adjustment unanimously voted against a required variance, disallowing the construction.

In April, the Scotch Plains Zoning Board held its first public hearing for a proposed 5,500-square-foot Wawa gas station/convenience store on Route 22 near Glenside and Mountain Avenue. The application requires a variance to allow the construction to take place in a residential neighborhood, summoning a wave of public disapproval. As time progressed, Wawa's engineers have revised initial plans to the site as they seek the board’s approval. Neighborhood opposition continues to challenge the project. The matter has been presented at five meetings, with the next scheduled for Feb. 4, 2016.

After significant repairs and the replacement of its damaged roof, The Shady Rest clubhouse reopened in October.

On Jan. 1, 2015, Scotch Plains welcomed a new Town Manager in Al Mirabella. The Democrat replaced Jerry Giaimis and promised to work hard in a bipartisan way and to get things done for the good of the community.

On March 17, the Scotch Plains Town Council passed an ordinance to abolish the longstanding Recreation Commission with a 4-1 vote. Shortly thereafter, a petition was circulated by sports league representatives in protest of the ordinance, which was rescinded by a coucil vote taken in May.

In 2015, Linda Stender's long career in public service ended as the 22nd District Assemblywoman came under fire for seeking assistance from Habitat Humanity to rebuild and upgrade her shore house. After opting not seek re-election, she was in the center of another political controversy when she proxied her vote to State Senator Nick Scutari of Linden. In a closed meeting at Giovanna's Restaurant in Plainfield, Democratic party leaders gave the nomination to former Rahway Mayor Jim Kennedy in a 4-3 vote over Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr, Stender's former protege. Kennedy and running mate Jerry Green won election to the NJ Assembly in November. Meanwhile, Stender remains in a $90,000 job as the deputy director of the Union County Improvement Authority.

Colleen Mahr ran unopposed for re-election as Fanwood mayor and won an unprecedented fourth term. Jack Molenaar won re-election, and Erin McElroy Barker won her first political race for Fanwood Borough Council. Al Mirabella won reelection to this Union County Freeholder position in November.

Following a nationwide scrutiny of law enforcement, Fanwood and Scotch Plains police departments launched a pilot program requiring officers to adorn body-worn video cameras this fall. 

Both Fanwood and Scotch Plains police departments helped welcome new citizens to the community this year. Officers Kathy Case and Kevin Stromber responded to a 911 call from Michaela Nicholas in August, and with little prior experience, successfully helped deliver a baby girl in Fanwood (the second born in the borough in two years). In November, SPPD officer Brian Cheney, with help from officer James Richie, helped deliver a baby inside a Scotch Plains home, bringing his career total to seven while on duty.

After serving for 28 years on the force, Scotch Plains Police Chief Brian Mahoney notified the Township in October that he will retire in March 2016. Mahoney was promoted to captain in 2004 and assumed the role of police chief in 2005.

After decades of operation in the community, the Fanwood A&P shut its doors on Nov. 17 following the company’s bankruptcy. While stores in Clark, New Providence, and Kenilworth have sold to Acme, the Fanwood location remains up for sale.

Former partners Brian Walter and Sean Flannery battled over ownership of the now-closed Oh' Brian's Pourhouse, while Sun Tavern has yet to reopen. Despite not having an operating bar/restaurant, strangely Fanwood was ranked the 94th drunkest town in New Jersey by website Meanwhile, development continued in downtown, and the "railroad village" concept helped bring evening NJ Transit one-seat service to Fanwood on Jan. 12, 2015.

In downtown Scotch Plains, several new businesses opened on Park Avenue, including Froyo World, Sparkle Floors and Carpets, Salon Four, and Southgate Restaurant. The Scotch Plains Farmers Market arguably had its most successful season ever and in 2016, the Township Council will look to hire a professional planner to continue the development of downtown Scotch Plains.

Remembering Those We Lost:
Among the notable local community members we lost in 2015 were former Mayor Mauro Checchio, Father Jack Kennedy, Reverend Kelmo C. Porter, Jr., and Don Wussler, a Korean War veteran and former grand marshal of the Scotch Plains-Fanwood Memorial Day Parade.

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