Board approves church expansion despite protests

Staff Writer

Staff Writer

METUCHEN — A local church that wants to expand its facilities got the blessing of borough officials last week.

Despite relentless opposition from Rose Street residents over the course of the hearings on the application, the Metuchen’s Zoning Board unanimously granted the Metuchen Assembly of God Inc., 130 Whitman Ave., variances to expand their 20-year-old combined church, day care and elementary school into a more contemporary and spacious facility on Thursday.

The applicant, who will return to the Zoning Board next month for site plan approval on the application, proposes to remove the existing freestanding day care facility, relocate the modular classroom building to the rear of the 2.8-acre property, and construct a 165-by-82-foot, two-story addition to the north side of the school building. The expanded facility will include a gymnasium and four new classrooms, an expanded 112-space parking lot, and an outdoor recreation area.

The Rev. Donald McFarren and his wife, Cynthia, the principals in Metuchen Assembly of God Inc., testified that the expansion was necessary to meet the school and day care’s high student demand.

If site plan approval is granted, the facility could accommodate a roughly 25 percent increase in student and day care enrollment.

Thursday marked McFarren’s the 11th appearance before the Zoning Board this year. Due to the size of the expan­sion, the board rejected his pre­vious application several months ago. The current application is a scaled down ver­sion of the original plan.

"All they want to do is teach, all they want to do is help children," the appli­cant’s attorney, George Otlowski Jr., of Stark & Stark, Princeton, told the board. "I don’t think we should have to compro­mise anymore."

But a slew of roughly 25 residents, who have seen the church expand its fa­cility several times in the past two decades, said enough is enough.

"In all these years, I have never
op­posed the church. But I see no reason for the expansion other than the fact that the applicant has a simple desire to expand," said Pat O’Neil of Rose Street.

"Not only are parents going to drop their kids off, driving over 25 mph down Rose Street, I’m worried about the first aid squad getting through the street. … Also, there are kids who live in the neighborhood who bike and walk to the pool. I’m concerned about the safety in the neighborhood," another Rose Street resident, Sarah Arnhardt, said.

Heightened noise, inadequate buffers, carbon monoxide, flooding, suburban sprawl and homeowners’ rights were also on the residents’ roster of concerns.

In rebuttal to the concerns, licensed planner Peter Steck, Maplewood, told the board that the proposed area, which is bordered by Route 287, is already very noisy.

"Being that this is a church, this
ap­plication automatically meets positive cri­teria," Steck said. "Nobody will have a view of the whole composition. … If this application is dismissed, you could get a row of single-family homes instead."

Greg McFarren, the applicants’ son and the church’s assistant pastor, told the residents to get used to development.

"Metuchen is a fastly growing commu­nity," he said. "Development and progress is happening, and any progress comes with a price at any time," he said. "This application is not extraordinary, and I caution you to be understanding."

As the board reached its verdict, Cynthia McFarren let out a sigh of relief.

"That’s one step in the right direction," she said. "We are very thankful."

However, area residents, hoping to appeal the board’s decision, said McFar­ren’s relief might only be

Somerset Valley Bank robbed

EDISON— Authorities are investigating a robbery at Somerset Valley Bank.

The bank on Oak Tree Road was robbed at 9:15 a.m. Oct. 9, said Stephen Kodak, special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Newark.

According to Kodak, a man described as black, in his early 20s, about 5 feet 10 inches tall, and wearing black clothing, entered the bank, jumped over the counter and took an undisclosed amount of money from the cash drawers.

The man then ran from the bank in an unknown direction, Kodak said.

"No one was injured; no weapon was shown," Kodak said.

Only one customer was in the bank at the time of the robbery, he said.

The FBI is working jointly with the Edison Police Department to investigate the case, he said.

— Maura Dowgin

Robbery attempt ends in stabbing

Staff Writer

Staff Writer

EDISON — A 28-year-old township man was injured when an attempted robbery took a turn for the worse.

The man was assaulted on Oct. 6 at 11:30 p.m. by three men at the rear of the Metroplex Complex near Blueberry Court, according to police

The victim, who lives in the apartment complex on Blueberry Court, reported being attacked by a white man and two black men, said officer Robert Dudash, Edison police spokesman.

The men punched him and stabbed him in the lower back "with some kind of edged weapon," Dudash said.

Police are not sure what type of weapon was used during the attack, Dudash said.

The men then tried to reach into the victim’s pockets for a wallet, but left before they could take it, fleeing in the direction of Blueberry Court, he said.

There were no witnesses to the incident.

The victim was conscious when the Edison First Aid Squad brought him to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, New Brunswick, for injuries that were not life threatening, Dudash said.

Retired Edison police officer indicted on theft charges

EDISON — A grand jury in Middlesex County has indicted a retired Edison police captain on charges of illegally using sick leave to collect about $38,000 from the township while working at another job.

Natale A. Fresco, 60, of Edison was charged with two counts of second-degree official misconduct, one count of third-degree theft and one count of third-degree theft by deception, according to a statement prepared by Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew C. Carey.

The indictment was handed up in New Brunswick following a presentation to the grand jury by Middlesex County Assistant Prosecutor Christine D’Elia on Dec. 18.

The charges were filed after an investigation determined that Fresco was employed as security director at the Menlo Park Mall between July 15 and Sept. 30 and collected sick pay from the township during that time.

The investigation by Detective Nicholas Chiorello of the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office determined that Fresco, known as “Andy,” collected about $38,000 before retiring on Oct. 1, Carey said.

Fresco, who worked as a police officer for 36 years, earned $189,000 annually from the township and was being paid $65,000 per year as the mall security director, according to Carey.

Anyone with information is asked to call Chiorello at 732-745-3300.

Dushahra festival aims to promote Indian culture

Oct. 18 event to feature
music, dancing, food,
crafts and fireworks

Staff Writer

Oct. 18 event to feature
music, dancing, food,
crafts and fireworks
Staff Writer

Gov. James McGreevey offers his best wishes for the success of the Dushahra Festival 2003 to members of the organizing committee.Gov. James McGreevey offers his best wishes for the success of the Dushahra Festival 2003 to members of the organizing committee.

Cultural programs, music and dancing, actors in colorful costumes, Indian food and fireworks are all part of one of India’s most important festivals. That festival, the fifth Dushahra Festival 2003, is coming to Freehold Township on Saturday, Oct. 18 from noon to 8 p.m. The event, a celebration of the victory of good over evil, will be held at East Freehold Park on Kozloski Road.

Dushahra is one of the significant Hindu festivals, celebrated with much exultation throughout India, said Mangal Gupta, founding chairman of the event. "This occasion marks the triumph of Lord Ram, the incarnation of God on earth, over the demon king Ravan, or good over evil."

According to Gupta, he started the event after hearing from many Hindus living in America that they had never been to a Dushahra festival and their children had never even heard of it. The goal is to pass on Indian cultural heritage to future generations and to introduce other cultures to wonderful Indian traditions, he added.

Gupta said that one woman told him that she had been in the United States for 20 years, and her children, who were 7 and 10, had never seen the "Ramayana," the epic story of Ram and Ravan enacted by a cast of 50 actors in colorful costumes in a performance that usually lasts two hours.

The most important part of the festival is the burning in effigy of Ravan. Gupta said that one of the reasons why this may be the largest Dushahra festival in the country is because of the difficulty in constructing the effigy, which is 25 feet tall and made of bamboo covered with paper and cloth. The effigy is imported from India.

"This is the only festival being done on such a large scale, replete with dazzling fireworks. I’m getting calls from Chicago and California that they want to do it there."

Although it is not celebrated that widely in the United States, it is a festival that is celebrated all over India, north to south, east to west, Gupta said. "The schools are closed for 10 days," he noted.

He explained that "the man who does the fireworks lights the effigy. There are fire marshals present just in case, but we’ve never had a problem. In India they make it so nice. When they light it, the head goes separate from the body. I don’t know how they set it up to make that happen.

"For the children, it is fantastic. The theme is that evil is always defeated in the end. It gives the message that you should always try to be good. That is the message that children learn. Ravan dies in the end."

Gupta called it a guiding-light kind of story.

This is the third year that the festival is being held at East Freehold Park in Monmouth County. For the first two years, it was held in East Brunswick.

When Gupta first organized the festival, Middlesex County had the largest Indian population in the state with one of the highest concentrations in the Iselin section of Woodbridge. In fact, Iselin is sometimes referred to as Little India, Gupta said.

But the move to Freehold Township hasn’t hurt attendance. People come from all over, Gupta said, adding, last year, an estimated 10,000 people attended the event, including a number of state and local dignitaries.

This year, the special guest will be Lord Swraj Paul of the United Kingdom. According to Gupta, he is a lord of the House of Commons and a business ambassador of the British government. He travels worldwide with delegations to various counties, Gupta said.

"He immigrated to England a long time [ago]. He is going to inaugurate the festival with the lighting of the deepak, the inaugural lamp."

In addition to the Ram Leela performance of the battle between good and evil and dazzling fireworks at sundown, there will be a food and crafts fair, as well as rides and games, all part of a celebration of the best of Indian heritage and tradition.

Dushahra Festival

October 18

noon Festival opens

1:00 p.m. Welcome and cultural program

(organized by Uma Swaminathan and Sanjay Khanna)

5:00 p.m. Ram Leela Part I

(directed by Padma Khanna and Jagdish Sidana of Indianica)

6:00 p.m. Inauguration, lighting of the lamps, introduction

of committee members and honoring dignitaries

6:30 p.m. Ram Leela Part II

(directed by Padma Khanna and Jagdish Sidana of Indianica)

7:30 p.m. Walk to Ravan effigy & fireworks site

7:45 p.m. Burning of Ravan effigy

8:00 p.m. Fireworks display

Officials hope to redevelop Ford site

Edison plant is
scheduled for shutdown in February

Staff Writer

Edison plant is
scheduled for shutdown in February
Staff Writer

JEFF GRANIT staff The Ford Motor Co. announced it will be closing the Edison assembly plant on Route 1 on Feb. 27.JEFF GRANIT staff The Ford Motor Co. announced it will be closing the Edison assembly plant on Route 1 on Feb. 27.

EDISON— Up to 900 workers could lose their jobs or be forced to transfer out of state when the Ford Motor Co. plant shuts its doors next year.

"Employees have been notified that Feb. 27 is the last work day," said Kathleen Hamilton, a Ford company spokeswoman.

There are about 800 hourly and 100 salaried workers currently employed at the Edison site, located on 102 acres at 939 Route 1 south, Hamilton said.

"While [the closing of the plant] is unwelcome news, the good news is that Ford has worked with the UAW (Unified Auto Workers) to address employee concerns and provide employee assistance programs, benefits and early retirement options," Mayor George Spadoro said in a statement issued Oct. 2.

Ford is looking to sell the 102 acres where the plant currently sits, Hamilton said.

"Marketing and environmental studies are under way and we are working with the township of Edison to find a use that fits in with the township’s master plan and its concerns about such things as traffic congestion and land use," she said.

The site offers a "unique redevelopment opportunity" for the township, Spadoro said.

"My office has been made aware by Ford that they have seen an active interest in the marketing of this property for redevelopment," Spadoro said.

"Indeed, I believe, based on our conversations with Ford, our own research and the plant’s location, this site, when it is redeveloped, will generate even greater tax revenue for Edison than we currently collect from Ford," he said.

Spadoro said he hopes for the redevelopment plan to be started in 2004.

"We are making every effort to find jobs for all employees who choose to transfer. Some will retire and some will want to stay in the area for family or other reasons, and we hope that employers in the area will consider these highly motivated and trained people," Hamilton said.

The company hopes most of the employees choose to transfer to other plants, she said.

Employees who want to be transferred to other Ford plants will be put on a preferred hiring list. As jobs become available around the country, the former employees of the plant will have preferential treatment, said Jim Shaw, president of the United Auto Workers Local 980 chapter. "As positions become available, they will be able to go to different locations," Shaw said.

Ford also will hold a job fair later this year to introduce the workers to the community, Hamilton said.

One shift was eliminated in 2002, Hamilton said. The loss of the shift eliminated about 700 jobs from the Edison plant.

"Even though we lost a shift, we didn’t have anyone at laid off," Shaw said. Everyone was either transferred or retired.

There are many reasons why Ford has decided to shut down the plant, Hamilton said.

"Worldwide overcapacity in the auto industry and a particular decline in the small truck market" are just two reasons for the closing, she said.

"This closing is part of Ford Motor Co.’s revitalization, in which we pledged to eliminate 1 million units of capacity and improve our financial picture," Hamilton said.

The plant has been operating since 1948. Last year it produced 172,390 cars.

Since 1991, the plant has produced Ford Ranger pickup trucks. In the past, the plant has made Lincoln/Mercury, Falcons, Comets, Mustangs, Pintos, Bobcats, and Escorts.

"The Ford Ranger will continue to be assembled at Ford’s Twin Cities assembly plant in St. Paul, Minn.," Hamilton said.

According to Shaw, the mood at the plant is down.

"It’s a traumatic thing," he said. "People are down about it, but they continue to make good Ford products."

Increased truck noise irks Edison residents

Officials hope measures
will reduce impact
on Silverlake Avenue

Staff Writer

Increased truck noise
irks Edison residents
Officials hope measures
will reduce impact
on Silverlake Avenue
Staff Writer

EDISON — Changes that officials hope will help offset an increase in truck traffic on Silverlake Avenue are on the horizon.

On Thursday, the Township Council introduced an ordinance to reduce the speed limit for trucks weighing more than 4 tons to 15 mph on Silverlake and Glendale avenues.

Ordinances that would restrict access to these streets between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. are also being discussed, said Louis Rainone, township attorney.

Once these ordinances gain approval from the council, they will be sent to the state Department of Transportation for review.

"This is not a two- or three-week process," Rainone said. "It has to go to DOT and come back."

Residents of Silverlake and Glendale avenues have attended township meetings to complain about the increased truck traffic on the residential streets after the Railroad Construction Co., Paterson, opened a warehouse on Glendale Avenue on the Raritan River. The company houses trucks and equipment at the site.

"This morning at 4:13 a.m., 4:23 a.m. and 4:50 a.m. were the first three heavy tractor-trailer trucks going down the street. It’s basically turned this neighborhood upside down," Richard Pastor of Silverlake Avenue said at the meeting.

To combat the problem, the township health department will be enforcing current noise ordinances that restrict loading and unloading of equipment between certain hours and restricts the decibel levels of noise, Rainone said.

The road was not made for truck traffic, and work is already required to fix potholes and bumps, said Jennifer Graci, a resident of Berrue Court.

The township is trying to put Silverlake Road on the list for the next round of road improvements, said Jonathan Capp, business administrator. That list will be completed by the beginning of next year.

According to Graci, trucks come down the road in the early morning and continue throughout the day.

There are three school bus stops on Silverlake Avenue, and parents are worried about the safety of their children, she said.

The Edison Police Department is in the process of conducting traffic surveys to find out the number of vehicles that travel down the road and their average speed, said Police Chief Edward Costello Jr.

"The survey that was done counted both the volume of vehicles and the speed" in a 24-hour time period, Costello said.

The average speed was 25.1 mph with about 2,000 vehicles traveling on Silverlake Avenue, the chief said. The survey did not distinguish between the number of cars and trucks traveling on the road.

Another survey will be done within the next few weeks to ensure the validity of the survey, Costello said.

The council has also proposed that an ordinance be passed to change the notification responsibilit.ies of applicants before the Planning and Zoning boards.

State law requires all residents within 200 feet of an application be notified of an application before the board, Rainone said.

The residents of Silverlake Avenue were not notified when Railroad Construction went before the township because they do not live within 200 feet of the property.

A new township ordinance that would require notification of all residents within 300 feet of an application is being reviewed by the Planning Board and the Zoning Board, Rainone said.

"The extra 100 feet that we’re adding is for informational purposes only. Information is power," Councilman Parag Patel said.

There are few houses within 200 feet of the Railroad Construction warehouse, Pastor said.

More people would have been at the Planning Board public hearing in July had they been notified about the application, he said.

Upcoming events to honor community’s rich heritage

Staff Writer

Staff Writer

EDISON — October is the time for the community to celebrate its rich history.

The Township Council designated October as Edison Heritage Month in 2001, said Ian Durand, executive director of the township Center for Community Renewal.

According to Durand, this month was always special in the township because on Oct. 21, 1879, Thomas Alva Edison perfected the first light bulb that would last more than just a few minutes in his Menlo Park workshop. That day is designated Thomas Edison Day in remembrance of the accomplishment.

Several events are scheduled throughout the course of the month to honor the history and people of the township.

The township celebrated the second annual Multi-Cultural Fair Saturday at Thomas Jefferson Middle School on Division Street.

The fair was "a mix of educational displays, food and entertainment," Durand said.

The fair focused on all of the different ethnic groups in the township. There were educational displays on different cultures, ethnic foods and performances showcasing many types of dance and song from the various cultures.

"We’re really trying to get representatives from the different ethnic groups to come out [to the township events]," Durand said.

On Oct. 18, the third annual Edison History Day will take place at the Historic Stelton Baptist Church on Plainfield Avenue. Artifacts, photographs, maps and documents that span from the pre-Revolutionary War era to the end of the 20th century will be on hand, Durand said.

Members of the Metuchen/Edison Historical Society will also detail the rich history of Edison, he said.

The types of artifacts shown will range from a trunk that someone who fought in the Revolutionary War would have car­ried with him to the roster of the first Edison Fire Company which dates back to 1916, Durand said.

Selections from the Edison Tower Mu­seum, located on Christie Street, will also be available for public review, he said.

At the end of the month, the township will be honoring its namesake with edu­cational school programs on Oct. 21 and 22.

Jack Stanley, director of the Edison Tower Museum, will give presentations at Thomas Jefferson Middle School on Oct. 21 and to John Adams Middle School on Oct. 22 to teach sixth- and seventh-grade students about the inventor.

The sixth- and seventh-graders were chosen for the program because the stu­dents are at "an age where they’re old enough to understand but young enough to still listen," Durand said.

Stanley will go to Herbert Hoover Middle School and Woodrow Wilson Middle School next year, Durand said.

Each year the program will rotate among the four middle schools so that the program will be taught in two schools per year.

"Our intent is to have every public school student in the township know more about their town’s namesake," Du­rand said.