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John Mele
Guest Column
Upper Freehold mayor explains his position on bypass

Your Turn John Mele Guest Column Upper Freehold mayor explains his position on bypass

John Mele
Guest Column
Upper Freehold mayor explains his position on bypass

I would like to thank the Examiner for giving me the opportunity to further explain my position on the westerly bypass as a follow-up to the story on this subject which was published in the Jan. 29 Examiner. I believe it is important for all the residents of Upper Freehold Township to have full understanding of the history regarding this subject and to understand what my comments are based on.

I had the pleasure of serving this community, on the Planning Board, during the final years of the approval process for the Hovnanian project. I do want to emphasize the word "years." The process for this approval was not an easy one for anyone who participated, at the Township Committee, the Planning Board and for a large number of residents of Upper Freehold, Allentown and Hamilton, as well as the applicant who participated in the public hearing process.

During the approval process for the Hovnanian project, they were one of three developers required to prepare as part of their approval a regional traffic study. This was at the request of the township, Allentown Borough and Washington Township due to the impact of the three developments. Both Mercer and Monmouth county agencies determined the parameters of the study insuring, along with each municipality, that the study/report met with the regional issues and traffic impacts in this area. The developers were required to pay for the study, and the study was required to be accepted and approved by all parties during the process. During the public hearing process, a great number of questions regarding the study were asked and addressed by the applicant and accepted by all parties.

The results of the study by the developers, Hovnanian in particular, resulted in not only dedicating to the county the easement and provide financial contribution for the construction of the westerly bypass. The project approval also required the construction of a recreational component by UFT, as required within the developer’s property. All of this was a condition to be met by the developer. I, along with many UFT board members, sat through hours and hours of testimony from residents who were concerned over traffic, environmental, and overall project impact to the area as well as the township, along with many who wished to stop this project altogether. The decision was to allow the project to move forward with all conditions being met. The project was deemed in compliance with the master plan and township ordinances at that time.

For general information, the developers required other conditions during this approval. The traffic study also required that if and when the developer who builds on Breza Road be required to reconstruct and re-align the roadway. This is a very important fact to keep in mind because sooner or later the area will be developed.

The Township Committee then negotiated with Hovnanian, allowing the developer to transfer ownership of the land that is now the new Regional School fields to the township. The township then transferred ownership of the property to the school. They were also required during these negotiations to take the monies assessed for the development of the recreational area within their project and provide in-kind services, purchase of equipment and participate in the development of the township’s Byron Johnson Park.

This property owned by the Monmouth County Park System and was part of a land swap with Monmouth County for property owned by the township deep in Clayton Park. The Township Committee at the time felt that by having Hovnanian put the money into the township park would speed its completion.

The development of that township park was reviewed and approved during the public hearing process that is required, by the township. The location of the bypass was detailed in the planning of both parks. I do recall discussions regarding the bypass and the park development during those public hearings. It was determined that all issues were supported properly, all concerns were addressed, because as we know, the project for the development of both parks moved forward. That decision led to our first annual and very successful community day in Upper Freehold Township.

I find it interesting that my comments regarding the bypass is a surprise, due to the fact that I was involved along with many others through this entire process. As a township leader, I have to represent the entire township residents both present and past, when making a decision. A leader of a community is responsible for all of the past, present and future residents of the township. I feel that we have a responsibility to support the past decisions of our committee and the residents who participated and went through the public hearing process.

Now, do things change? Do new issues come to light that we, the Township Committee, need to consider? Of course. That is why making a decision on this project needs to be based on a change in the facts and/or the ability not to construct the project safely, etc. I’ve supported this Township Committee and our residents on every letter that has gone out with safety issue or safety concerns or request for information.

As officials of the township, it is important that each of us makes decisions based on all the information received, and that we believe in these decisions. We all have a deep respect for the past and present residents of the township, and our responsibility in the decisions we make are for those residents. 

John Mele is the mayor of Upper Freehold