The issue of preserving Open Space in Cedar Grove is a matter that concerns me greatly. Ever since being appointed to the Council in July, 2016, I have made this issue a priority. Unfortunately, people wish to politicize this issue and spread misinformation throughout the community. In this Candidate Statement, I will explore the facts and myths as they currently exist and discuss my plan to protect and preserve the Newark Reservoir Property.
FACT #1: Open space in Cedar Grove is dwindling.
The approximately 44 acres of open space that sits across Ridge Road from the Newark Reservoir and abuts the neighborhood known as Ridgewood Acres is the largest tract of open space remaining in Cedar Grove. Aside from this land, there are only a few small pockets of open space left undeveloped in town.
FACT #2: The aforementioned 44 acre tract is NOT PROTECTED LAND
Despite what may have been said about this property, it is not currently protected from being developed. At any time a land developer can purchase the property from the City of Newark and develop that property as they see fit. This is why my proposal to purchase the land from the City of Newark is the ONLY actionable plan that has been put forth by anybody and I have the full support and backing of the Town Council. As part of that plan, once the property is owned by Cedar Grove, we can sell the development rights to the Green Acres Trust fund, ensuring that the property remain undeveloped in perpetuity.
FACT #3: Purchasing 44 acres of undeveloped land will not be cheap.
As part of my proposal, I have asked the Governing Body to explore the issue of Green Acres funding to use to purchase the land (or to at least offset part of the purchase price). As a Councilman, with the best interests of the residents in mind, I do not want to have to ask my fellow Councilmen to raise taxes to purchase this property. So, if Green Acres money is not enough, or not available, I have proposed using a portion of PILOT monies that will be available from the new Hilltop development. The Township will be able to retain 95% of all tax monies raised from Hilltop for 30 years. By contrast, the Township only retains 24% of all tax monies raised. The rest goes to the Board of Education and to the County of Essex.
Much has been said about using PILOT monies to improve infrastructure. I totally agree. But what better infrastructure can we invest in then preserving the last bastion of open space in town. There will be enough PILOT monies to support our schools and investigate and expand traffic patterns. We have already expanded the police force and we are getting a new firehouse and fire truck in the South End. Surely, we can assign some PILOT monies toward preserving open space in town. It also will make something good happen from something that is so unwanted and unpopular as Hilltop is.
MYTH #1: Having immunity from a Builder’s Remedy Lawsuit Does not mean that the land is protected!!
Having immunity from a Builder’s Remedy Lawsuit means that we are immune from a Bulider’s Remedy Lawsuit. Plain and simple. A builder cannot force Cedar Grove, by way of lawsuit, to permit said Builder to build affordable housing units on that property, the way that the builder did in the Hilltop matter.
This immunity extends until our affordable housing obligation is determined by a court, which should be in June, 2017. Thereafter, any and all immunity expires.
MYTH #2: Bulldozers are not on their way up to the top of the Glen to start building!
I am a resident of Ridgewood Acres. I talk to my neighbors frequently and spend a lot of time in my neighborhood talking to folks. People have been misinformed by candidates and their surrogates campaigning in the neighborhood. I frequently hear disturbing things, people trying to use the politics of fear, to influence people's votes. I am embarrassed that people in power (or wanting to be in power) continually knock on doors and tell the residents these lies!
What I have proposed, and the Governing Body has supported unanimously, will protect against this ever happening. Have no fear and do not be fooled. There are currently no plans for the development of this property and, with the support of a unanimous Town Council, I am working on a plan to prevent the possibility of this ever happening.
MYTH #3: Preservation of Open Space is a political issue, arising only in election season.
Preservation of Open Space is a quality of life issue, not a political one. I have been working on this issue since joining the council and will continue to support my plan of action for as long as I remain your Councilman. This is not an issue for Election Day, it is an issue for Every Day.
For a candidate to come to a meeting, or write a post on social media, insinuating that the issue of Open Space is being politicized, then that candidate is uninformed and needs to take a step back and become more informed on the issue.
I have been out in front of this issue since joining the Council and will continue to be in front of this issue. I have an actionable plan that I have shared with my fellow Councilmen and that has earned their full, unanimous support.
Councilman Joseph Cicala was appointed to the Cedar Grove Township Council in July, 2016. He ran for, and won that seat, an unexpired term in November, 2016. He is now running to maintain his current seat on the Council for a full term. Please support Councilman Cicala on May 9th by voting Cicala (1A), Peterson (3A) and Vargo (4A).
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