WEST ORANGE, NJ – There were two issues brought up at the West Orange Town Council meeting on Tuesday night and neither were listed for discussion on the agenda. Both were brought up among heated debate between the public and the council.
The issue of re-development plans in the downtown area was first brought to the council’s attention by resident Earl Turner who claimed that he made a request to see the plans last May. He claimed that he was promised by the council to see the plans as soon as they were made available, but that has yet to happen.
Re-development has been of hot debate for the past three years when in the summer of 2009 the council had approved projects costing upwards of $250 million to add more housing and businesses along Main Street. Back then, residents had complained that this would increase taxes among the community, while decreasing property values.
However, recently there are new re-development plans. Councilman Victor Cirilo informed Turner and other residents that the council had just received these new documentations this morning.
“I think it is unfair that you all are coming up here and saying that there should be some presentation of these plans. Once we have all had a chance to review them, I know myself as a council member representing my community, that I will speak of them. I hope residents will offer their opinions as well,” Cirilo said at the meeting.
Many other residents complained that the council has known of these plans for some time and have not kept the public informed on the issue. Several cited that they believe the council will just sign documentations approving these re-development plans without getting the insight of the public.
Council President Patty Spango and other council members stressed several times that there is a long process that must take place before a re-development ordinance is developed and passed. There must be two readings of the ordinance at two separate meetings, with an opportunity for public comment on both, before the documents are approved for the project to be financed.
Since this issue is of such importance and hot debate, the council plans to have even more public hearings for residents to voice their opinions on re-development. West Orange Business Administrator Jack Sayers announced that there will be a public hearing Wednesday, Feb. 15 at 8 p.m. at Edison Junior High School.
“Transparency is very important in this issue. We want the trust of the people, but we can’t just expect it. We need to earn it,” Councilman John Krakoviak stressed. “Just passing resolutions and ordinances isn’t enough.”
There were also a few concerns among residents that a robocall was put out recently that only informed some residents that there were plans in the first place to have such a meeting. Sayers clarified that this call only went out to a specific area from Washington Street to Park Avenue between both sides of Main Street because those residents had previously voiced concerns about the redevelopment plans.
Earlier during the public comments portion of the meeting, Essex County liaison Anthony Puglisi talked about the deer management program that is currently taking place at the South Mountain Reservation and the Eagle Rock Reservation, which are partly in West Orange and the Hilltop Reservation in Verona. All of these areas are closed during the times of the hunt.
Puglisi reported that the program has been reduced from ten days of hunting to five days of hunting this year. The program is meant to control the deer population in the area to provide for the safety and wellbeing of the residents and aspects of wildlife. It will conclude on Feb. 23.
There was an issue this year when recently a deer was shot in the leg by a hunter, but was not deceased. There has been a search for the animal over the past few days, but as far as the county knows, it has not been killed, according to Puglisi who reported that this was the first time this has happened since the deer control program had begun five years ago.
Council members expressed that they want to know the status of the injured animal and when and if it becomes deceased as soon as that information is made available to Puglisi.
A few members of the public voiced opinions citing that the deer control program is not safe for residents or environmental savvy.
Resident Carol Rivielle mentioned that hunters in the past have not followed the New Jersey administrative code which governs the rules for the programs practices. She cited documentation from a few years ago in which hunters have shot at deer from over the mandated 40 yard distance, with the greatest distance coming from 100 yards.
Rivielle also said that Puglisi’s information about the fact that only one wounded deer had escaped without being deceased since the program started was inaccurate. She said that there were “several incidences” in which deer have been wounded without being deceased since the program’s existence.
“You, as a council, need to take this program more seriously. This does not lie on the county’s shoulders. It is your responsibility because this is taking place in your town,” Rivielle said.
In other news, Councilman Krakoviak announced that he has developed a business-liaison committee as part of the Downtown West Orange alliance in order to help and improve local businesses and their interactions throughout the town. The committee’s first meeting will take place tomorrow at 6:30 p.m. in room 109 of the West Orange Township Hall building.