UNION, NJ – Township of Union Mayor Suzette Cavadas addressed the Kean University Board of Trustees at their quarterly public meeting on Monday afternoon.
“I’m here today not just representing the governing body of the Township of Union,” said Cavadas, “but on behalf of the 57,000 residents of this town, and more specifically, on behalf of the residents of Woodland Avenue and Lowden Avenue and other surrounding streets who have, time and time again, been discarded and overlooked by Kean University.”
Cavadas’ remarks were in reference to Kean’s plans for new dormitories. Cavadas said that Kean has failed to be good partners with the Township and has overspent and over-built with “no regard to its neighbors”. She said she was hopeful that after the battle for the Merck property came to a close, “you (Kean) would seize the opportunity for outreach, collaboration, and new beginnings.”
“At no time has the Kean administration organized a community meeting or conducted any other outreach to the Township or its residents to address quality of life concerns over this project or any other project,” said Cavadas.
Cavadas said Kean has chosen to partner with a developer with a Triple B minus rating, which according to the Township’s auditor, “will increase project costs by over $15m.” Cavadas said students already pay a $700 fee on top of tuition for debt service. “Will this project increase costs to them?” she asked. She said Kean has a declining student population and asked, “is there a need to build new dormitories at all in a school where most of the students commute?”
“I respectfully ask that this project be grounded until such time that you conduct a community meeting,” continued Cavadas, so that residents of Union can learn about the project and have a dialogue with Kean about its impact.
“I am asking that all relevant information and documentation be provided to the Township within the next two weeks,” said Cavadas, “including drawings, plans, applications, agreements, bond documents and any other documentation concerning the project.” Cavadas asked the Board for a reasonable amount of time for review of the documentation prior to scheduling a community meeting.
Kean University President Dr. Dawood Farahi responded to Cavadas’ remarks by saying that the University has been in contact with the Township about the dorm project for three years. He said there have been several meetings with the Township engineer. “We always have and always try to be as cooperative as we can,” said Farahi. He said the University is “more than happy to sit with you to be sure you have all of the information you need.”
Farahi said the dorm project is essential because there are over 200 students currently living in residential facilities constructed in 1963 and 1965. He said to bring these buildings up to minimum standards with a life expectancy of just 10 years is not financially prudent. Farahi said the University has made adjustments to the plans for the dorm project to ensure it has minimal impact to neighbors. He said plans for the building have moved it more towards the middle of campus, 250 feel away from homes in the area.
Farahi said the dorms “are a good thing”. He said the University is “open for conversation”. “If there’s anything we can do to make the Township happier, we would. I hope with new (Township) leadership we can build a better relationship.”
Farahi said someone from his administration would contact the Township on Tuesday morning to discuss providing any of the information the Township is requesting and that the University can provide. “If there is a group of citizens that want to talk with us, we are more than happy to do the same thing.”
Township attorney Daniel Antonelli commented, “I hope there is a spirit of cooperation here.” He said the residents, especially around the Woodland Avenue area do not have any information about the project, “so the idea of a community meeting would be a good start.” Antonelli said he is hopeful “we can come together and have an intelligent discussion on this project and any future projects.”
Lifelong Union resident and 33-year resident of Woodland Avenue David Arminio addressed the Board with a long list of concerns. “I would like to thank the University for the numerous softballs left on my grass and the bed of my truck,” he said. “I got to keep the softball that broke my daughter’s windshield from a foul ball that came over the net.”
Armino continued, “thank you for the paper cups, the beer containers, and water bottles along the curb. Last week an empty box lay on your property for one week without being picked up.” Armino thanked the Board for the trailers that “rumble down Woodland Avenue into the back entrance to the college, ignoring the sign ‘no trucks allowed’. Thank you for the buses that park on Green Lane where it says ‘no parking’. I especially like when 15 or so buses park on Woodland Avenue on the side that says ‘no parking’, making it almost impossible to drive down the street.”
Arminio said students “risk their very lives” by jay-walking across Green Lane ignoring the traffic signals. He said he has not seen the University’s security forces present during pedestrian rush hour.
Armino thanked the Board for the two building projects that “shall only enhance your reputation.” Arminio said he saw the advertisement for bids for the first time on March 2 for the Liberty Hall Academic Center Construction Project. “The current group that runs Liberty Hall whole-heartedly support your efforts because their very existence depends on their acquiescing to your desires.” Armino said every expert on historical preservation that he has spoken with have “scoffed” at the idea.
“Finally,” said Armino, “I thank you for the dorms that you are planning to build. A seven-story structure should do well to block all the sunlight from the houses on Woodland Avenue. In fact, even as your credit ratings continue to spiral downward, you partner with a non-profit organization.”
“What I do not thank you for is the way you do these things -- the uncaring attitude towards the people of Union," concluded Arminio.