Boro residents receive

home inspection reports

Towne Lake project

in Sayreville

still on hold

By Jennifer micale

SAYREVILLE — Unlike a previous meeting on the issue, those gathered to hear about the Towne Lake development were relatively quiet on Feb. 29.

Work stopped on the 260-home development in October, after a bout of tremors allegedly shook and damaged homes on Hillside Avenue and North Edward Street. The tremors, described by some residents as "mini-earthquakes," were caused by a method of ground preparation called compaction.

After closing down the project, borough officials required the developer, the Highland Park-based Kaplan and Associates, to conduct geotechnical testing on the site. Around Thanksgiving, residents affected by the procedure had their homes inspected by a company hired by Kaplan. At an informational meeting last month, however, residents criticized the developer for not issuing the inspection reports on time.

Despite the previous delays, residents indicated that they had at last received their inspection reports by last week’s meeting and few had any major disagreements. Builder Michael Kaplan said that he would personally visit the homes addressed in the report to address residents’ questions and determine how any damage would be repaired.

"So far, from the report it doesn’t look like anything major," he noted. "We’ll look into it on an individual basis."

According to Kaplan, either his firm or a subcontractor would perform the repair work, with no invoices sent to the residents in question. Indoor corrective work should be completed in three to four weeks, while exterior repairs may take a little longer, depending on the weather.

"It should all be done by mid-April," he added.

Borough Engineer David Samuel of CME Associates added that Kaplan may consider additional landscaping in some upland areas, which have been experiencing heavy winds since the original trees were removed.

The developer also noted that the necessary field tests have been completed, although they ran a week behind due to weather conditions. By the middle or end of March he should have the results of the geotechnical study and the recommendations therein, he said.

One method of ground preparation seems particularly promising to the developer. Called a wick drainage system, it would eliminate the compaction responsible for the tremors. According to Samuel, this system involves drilling holes through the hard layers of clay, then inserting a mechanism or membrane to draw water from the holes. The fluid would then be drained away via a layer of free-draining soil on top.

Residents, however, would still face the compaction techniques common to sites under development. These would include rollers to flatten the soil, he said. Nevertheless, this would not resemble the previous compaction work performed by Constructors Inc. of Red Bank. This method, called hydrodynamic soil compacting, involved 16- and 10-ton cranes dropping a large metal plate from either 44 or 70 feet.

North Edwards resident Andrew Lytkowski knows full well the impact behind the other compaction technique, which allegedly damaged the central fireplace in his home. Before joining the meeting, he spent the day researching the issue at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, finding out about the soil composition and Newton’s Law.

Noting that a falling body accelerates at 32 feet per second, "46 million foot pounds of force were applied to the ground," he said. He also questioned whether the contractor tested the composition of the soil, which is mostly clay in that area.

"They would have known that they can’t compact clay. Clay is a solid mass and when you drop a mass on a mass the pressure has to go somewhere," he asserted.

According to Lytkowski, Kaplan’s inspectors did visit his home, taking pictures of the ceiling and cracks. However, he added that he was still upset over the fate of his fireplace, which may require a structural engineer to fix. If not corrected, the 22-ton fireplace may pose a liability should he choose to sell his house.

"I called masonry contractors and they laughed at me," he maintained. "They said I needed a structural engineer."

Residents also asked questions about the lake at the site, around which the 260 homes will be built. While work was performed at the edges of the lake to give a safe slope entry, the lake itself will remain at the size specified in the plans, Samuel said. The lake’s upkeep would fall under the purview of the development’s future homeowners association, not the borough, officials said.

"The borough would have to accept it and the borough isn’t accepting lakes at the moment," Mayor Kennedy O’Brien said. "But it works both ways. None of us can go down and enjoy the lake without the association’s permission."

If residents have any serious disputes with the report or the work, they would go through the borough attorney, who would attempt to intervene and arbitrate, borough officials said. O’Brien emphasized that residents with any concerns should feel free to contact the governing body at any time.

"We’re here to get the thing done. The minute there’s any conflict or disagreement or question, let’s deal with it," he asserted.

The next informational meeting on the subject is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. May 2 in Borough Hall. A meeting may be held prior to that date to review Kaplan’s plans for ground preparation. Until the proposed method is reviewed, there will be no building on the site, Samuel said.

Benefit performance

set for Cancer Society

The American Cancer Society (ACS) will benefit from the box office sales of a special March 11 performance of Godspell presented by the Sayreville Main Street Theatre Company. The event will take place at 3 p.m. at the Step-Inn Ballroom, MacArthur Avenue, Sayreville.

A discounted admission ticket will be sold only through the ACS. Tickets cost $15 and include show, dessert and beverage.

For more information and to reserve, call Bill Delaney at the ACS, (732) 828-1800, Ext. 197.

Twp. considers selling

O&Y site back to county

By Jennifer micale

OLD BRIDGE — While an age-restricted housing development is no longer on the horizon, the future of one township-owned property is still uncertain.

At Monday night’s meeting, Township Council members considered a resolution asking county officials whether they were interested in repurchasing the 345-acre Olympia and Young (O&Y) property west of Englishtown Road. Named for the now-bankrupt developers who planned to construct 10,000 residential units between Routes 9 and 18, the township purchased its portion from the county in 1997 for approximately $1 million. The county still owns the bulk of the property, however, and plans to leave it as undeveloped parkland.

Township officials initially hoped to sell their newly acquired parcel to a developer for age-restricted housing. However, residents opposed any development at the site during a public meeting held last summer.

Without any consensus on the issue, Mayor Barbara Cannon recommended that the township sell the property back for inclusion in the county’s open space plan. Otherwise, the township must begin paying off the debt service, she explained.

Chief Financial Officer Himanshu Shah concurred, noting that the township pays 5 percent interest on the purchase each year. Unless returned to the county, payments on the principal would be included in the year 2001 budget.

"If we are not going to do anything with it, it is not prudent to continue interest payments on this property," he explained.

However, several council members were unwilling to contact the county before considering other options. Noting that the township may need the land in the future for recreational facilities or a school, Councilman Edward Testino said he would like to see a Recreational Needs Assessment completed before any decision to sell the parcel.

"Once we sell it to the county, the township has no jurisdiction over this property," he maintained, adding that the township could consider retaining a portion of the land and selling the rest back.

Noting that council members do not want to see a residential development at the site, Councilman Lawrence Redmond suggested that future recreational facilities may be an option, provided by a private entity.

"I just think that we have land that we could make some money on if we just played our cards right," he explained.

Councilman Roman Sohor, on the other hand, disagreed, noting that the property contains wetland areas near Matchaponix Creek. The nonwetland areas are irregularly shaped, making construction difficult and possibly harmful to the wetland areas, he said

Sohor also noted that the developers of Woodhaven have made open space commitments and will provide the township with property for a school. The developer has also made overtures toward the creation of a south Old Bridge branch of the library, he said.

According to Councilman Joseph Hoff, the property would be used for active or passive recreation if sold back to Middlesex County.

"The county has great bonding privileges. They can do more than we could ever do with it," he explained. "I’ve never seen the county put up six gas stations or a bowling alley."

While council President Dennis Maher said that the resolution was intended solely to gauge the county’s interest, several council members disagreed. By contacting the county about the matter, it may imply a more definite proposal than the council intends.

"That would be the wrong signal to send them," Testino maintained.

Council members voted 5 to 3 against the resolution at this point, saying that they would look into the issue further.

Counties join in rally for funding

By daniel walsh

EAST BRUNSWICK — Residents from Middlesex, Union, and Somerset counties called for state tax reform during a rally last week at the Vocational and Technical High School in East Brunswick.

The New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA) led residents in calling for a $1 billion statewide decrease in property taxes that would be matched dollar for dollar by an increase in state income taxes.

The proposal, which has been endorsed by the NJSBA’s membership, would provide property tax relief for 92 percent of taxpayers, according to NJSBA studies.

The plan would essentially change how school taxes are raised by shifting much of the burden to funds raised by income taxes.

"It’s really a fundamental change in school funding," said Charles Reilly, the president of the NJSBA. "Senior citizens out there want to support schools, but can’t because of limited incomes."

Judith Peoples, the NJSBA’s senior associate director for Government Relations, said that the rebalancing of state revenue would have no impact on local school budgets. Rather, it is a rebalancing of funding sources, not a tax increase.

"Right now, 60 percent of school funding comes from property taxes, while 40 percent comes from the state," Peoples said. "We want to rebalance that to about 50-50."

The logic behind the plan is to place the tax burden upon those who can pay and essentially tax the rich.

"Ninety-two percent of property and income taxpayers will come out ahead or even," Peoples said. "This will tax the highest 8 percent more."

Peoples contrasted the plan with Gov. Christine Whitman’s tax rebate plan by referring to it as a temporary solution. In times of economic downturn, the state Legislature can reduce or eliminate the rebate, Peoples said.

The plan drew support from county school board leaders and others of the crowd of about 40 people who attended the presentation.

"We all have a concern about property taxes because of those groups of senior citizens who regularly come out to defeat school budgets," said Lorraine Aklonis, the Union County SBA president.

State Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-19) said that he understood the logic behind the plan, but felt that many politicians would be hesitant to support it.

"You’re up against some difficult arguments," Vitale told the assembled residents. "The last time we did something like that, in 1991, the Democrats got kicked out of office. It’s a very sensitive issue. It’s a very difficult argument to make, and it’s going to be difficult to get the Legislature and leaders of both parties to embrace this."

Just the same, Vitale said that he understood and agreed with the motivation to push for such a plan, but he was not sure whether or not he would support it.

"I’m willing to engage the dialogue," Vitale said. "We need comprehensive reform. I’m certainly supportive of that issue. I’m just not sure that’s how we’re going to do it."

Juried arts/craft show scheduled in Cranbury

The Cranbury Education Foundation, in cooperation with the Cranbury Arts Council, will hold a juried craft show from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on March 11 and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on March 12 at Cranbury School, Main Street.

Artisans from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York and Maryland will display and sell clothing, jewelry, pottery, home furnishings, toys and folk art and more.

Admission is $4 for adults, $1 for children. There will be a supervised children’s center and prize drawings. Lunch and refreshments will be served. Proceeds will be used to renovate a classroom for use as a community room. For more information, call (609) 395-1700, ext. 411.

O.B. to pursue litigation over channels

Cable firm wants to move them farther down the lineup


n Monday, Old Bridge Township Council members weren’t willing to negotiate behind closed doors. Instead, they are willing to take their grievances to a court of law.

Early this year, council members approved an ordinance renewing the cable provider’s municipal franchise, which expired in November. In the past, council members and residents alike have expressed dissatisfaction with the company’s services, alleging that they are owed both additional service and past franchise fees. While the council made a move to deny the franchise last year, it was not voted upon.

If a community denies a franchise renewal, the issue would come before the Office of Administrative Law for review. According to the state Board of Public Utilities, which oversees New Jersey’s cable industry, no denials have yet been upheld.

When Cablevision representatives attended Monday night’s council meeting, they fully expected to negotiate with officials during executive session. Because the matter involves potential litigation, a closed session would be permitted, explained Township Attorney William Ruggierio. After discovering the fate of the township’s two municipal access channels, however, the council voted against going into the closed negotiations.

"They’ve been doing unspeakable things to the residents of this town," Councilman Roman Sohor said. "I definitely object to any behind-closed-doors discussion with these people."

"What needs to be said here needs to be said out in the open," added Councilman Reginald Butler.

Council members expressed concern over the future location of the township’s two access channels, 6 and 34, which serve the township and the Board of Education, respectively. As of March 28, Cablevision wishes to move the channels into the 70-range. According to Cablevision Vice President Tom Wolfsohn, the move would allow the provider to group similar channels, a service requested by its customers.

However, township officials allege that the channels would become inaccessible to many residents if the move was enacted. Owners of older television sets, which are not cable ready, and those without cable boxes would be unable to reach the needed range. These sets can only reach channel 62 at most, said Mayor Barbara Cannon, who added that her own television is able to reach the 70-range.

"We’re second class citizens on your cable network," Councilman Edward Testino alleged, adding that the company asked a paying channel, 41, for a move, but not the township.

According to Wolfsohn, the cable company is required by federal law to provide the access channels. While uncertain as to how access would be provided, he said that his company fully intended to comply.

"Everyone will continue to be able to see them. I’m not sure what the technological solution is; it’s being worked on right now," he explained.

Councilwoman Georgette Marinaccio suggested that the cable company back up its promise with a guarantee: free cable boxes to those residents who are unable to reach the channels. Council members ultimately decided to pursue litigation, enjoining Cablevision from relocating the channels. According to Sohor, the township may be joined in its efforts by other municipalities.

The effort may also resurrect the ordinance to deny the franchise, which officials plan to introduce Monday.

Sohor also brought up past dissatisfaction with the company, noting that the township did not receive bulk franchise fees and a list of residents who were not serviced by Cablevision, as requested this summer. Residents of the township’s Genoa section receive their service from the Monmouth County system instead, with community programming from Aberdeen rather than Old Bridge.

Wolfsohn, however, denied allegations that he or his company broke any promises.

"I’ve been here two times. Everything I’ve been asked of [during] those two times, I’ve delivered," he asserted, adding that he regretted the township’s decision not to negotiate.