Three vie for unexpired seat

A Republican, Democrat and Independent want the two-year term vacated by Peter Buchsbaum, who left in June to become a Superior Court judge.

By: Linda Seida
   WEST AMWELL — A Republican, a Democrat and an Independent are vying for the two-year unexpired term vacated by Peter Buchsbaum, a Democrat who resigned in June to become a Superior Court judge.
   Also in the Nov. 2 election, Republican Mayor Gary Bleacher is running unopposed for a third term of three years on the Township Committee.
   For the remainder of Mr. Buchsbaum’s unexpired term, Republican Thomas J. Molnar is squaring off against Democrat Ron Shapella and Independent Harold "Hal" Shute.
   Mr. Shapella, 51, was appointed to the Township Committee to take Mr. Buchsbaum’s place and is trying to retain the seat in the coming election. He is a public relations consultant and has worked for more than 25 years in public communications in journalism, public relations and governmental affairs.
   He is a member of the Environmental Commission, which he formerly chaired, and the Recycling Committee. He formerly was a member of the Planning Board and the Open Space Committee.
   Mr. Shute, 49, is self-employed as an investor and money manager. Previously, he worked as a design engineer and manager in the aerospace industry. He is chairman of the township’s Open Space Committee and a former member of the Board of Adjustment. He also is a member of the Planning Board as well as the Agricultural Advisory and State Plan Cross Acceptance Committees. He is liaison to the county Agriculture Development Board.
   Mr. Molnar, 53, has been a teacher for 32 years and now works at the Burlington County Institute of Technology. He is chairman of the Parks and Recreation Committee and the County Fair Committee. He also is president of the South Hunterdon Regional High School Booster Club and serves as assistant coach of a South County soccer team.
   If elected, Mr. Molnar said he would battle the threat of development and the related threat of the introduction of public sewers to the township.
   "With regard to future housing developments, I believe that we must, as a township, not allow the transfer of development rights (TDRs)," he said. "By preventing TDRs, we will maintain our rural character through the township.
   "With regard to the sewer issue, I believe that we must fight to keep the sewers out of the township. Prior to moving to West Amwell, I lived in a community in an adjoining county, which permitted sewers to be added, and the impact was huge. Development is taking over the community. The impact of sewers affects the roads, water, schools and municipal services, which results in higher taxes."
   Mr. Molnar said he also would fight to preserve open space.
   "I believe that we need to continue our open space, Green Acres and farmland preservation programs and expand upon the programs when possible since there are rumors that the state may impose a cap on the amount of preserved land a municipality can have," he said. "West Amwell is such a beautiful community, and we need to work hard to maintain that beauty."
   He said he believes he can bring "a sense of balance" and "professionalism" to the Township Committee.
   "I believe that I am the only candidate with children in the school system, and I believe that I am the only candidate qualified to be the liaison to the school system," he said. "Since I have not been a member of the panning or zoning boards, I have not developed any biases toward township development policy and can think independent concerning future decisions regarding planning and zoning issues. As a result of my background in industrial education, I have a vast amount of knowledge regarding public works, recreation and infrastructure issues and can provide guidance to the Township Committee regarding future decisions in these areas.
   "My temperament is mild, and I am very even balanced, and I would provide a sense of added professionalism to the Township Committee. I am very hard-working and would give more than 100 percent of my time and effort if elected."
   Mr. Shute said he believes development pressure is among the top issues faced by West Amwell as well as holding the line on property taxes.
   "Development pressure will increase as available land in the area becomes more scarce due to downzoning, local preservation and possibly the Highlands Act," he said. "Property taxes are reaching critical levels for some residents, especially seniors, with some actually having to move from the area as a result. New investment in our schools, which may be needed as a result of recent and future development, would worsen this condition.
   "There is a lack of reasonably priced housing for current residents looking to downsize within the township, especially seniors."
   His plan to combat these problems includes a continuation of the open space program with a concentration on preserving developable farms.
   "Also, the township should consider a modest, well-planned and appropriately located age-restricted community," Mr. Shute said. "This would provide our senior citizens with the opportunity to downsize into a smaller low maintenance home and also lower their property tax bills. These communities provide positive cash flow to the township and especially the schools, which will help with everyone’s property taxes. If properly planned, we could also preserve additional farmland at no cost to the township by transferring building rights from farms to the planned community."
   He said he believes his experience in the township would be an asset in accomplishing these goals.
   "My work on the Open Space Committee, where I have served since its inception in 1999, zoning and planning boards has exposed me to many of the functions of municipal government," he said. "I have been very active on these boards and committees and have a track record of real accomplishments to show for it. In particular, my work in open space has been instrumental in the preservation of over 3,700 acres in the last four years."
   He added, "I have been in the township substantially longer than either of my opponents, which I believe is important since members of the Township Committee should represent the residents and not make decisions based solely on our personal judgment and prejudices. Also, as an Independent, I can and will make appointments to our boards and committees based solely on qualifications and not political affiliation."
   Mr. Shapella said his conversations with residents lead him to view development and education as two of the top issues facing township government.
   "As I talk to people throughout West Amwell, one of the most important concerns is whether the township is going to be able to keep its rural community character in the future," he said. "Most people I talk to want limited residential development in West Amwell, and where development takes place, most people want it to proceed slowly.
   "I want to make sure West Amwell plans carefully for future development. I want to make sure we plan effectively for the future we want because if we don’t do it, then the developers will (do) it for us.
   "Education is the other concern I hear most. I believe the top elected leaders in West Amwell should help promote an environment of educational excellence, and that is what I want to do on the Township Committee. I want to help promote a positive message about our schools. Our schools accomplish a great deal with limited facilities and resources. They are training the next generation of productive citizens, and all of us have a stake in making sure those facilities and resources are sufficient.
   "Also, teachers, principals and superintendents don’t come before Township Committee very often, but when they do I believe they should feel welcome."
   Mr. Shapella said he’s the best candidate for committeeman because he has "a great deal of experience working on the land use planning issues that are the chief concern of people in West Amwell."
   He added, "I worked to make the Master Plan a better blueprint for how we want our town to look in the future. I also know that our work has just begun in planning for the future in West Amwell.
   "I recognize that we have made a good start toward planning for the future, and that we need to do more. I want to continue upholding agriculture as the centerpiece of our community character. I also want to make sure we do what we can to preserve the high-quality environment that is so important to our quality of life. I want to protect what we have because, as we have learned over the years, it is much easier — and cheaper — to preserve a high-quality environment than to try to restore it after it is lost."
   Mayor Gary Bleacher, 52, is running unopposed for re-election to a three-year term.
   He is an operations manager at Fort Dodge Animal Health in Princeton and has been operating his own farm in the township since 1980. Two of his six years on the Township Committee were spent as mayor. He served on the Board of Adjustment from 1984 until 1998.
   He said, "I have always been and will continue to be a strong advocate of our township, working to preserve its character and to keep it free from overburdening bureaucracy and ordinances, to keep it affordable for its residents and to champion the rights of individuals.
   "At the onset of my first term, I initiated the Open Space Program, which has since preserved approximately 3,500 acres of farmland and open space and, if elected, will continue to keep this program active.
   "I have often been called ‘extreme’ in my defense of our town’s self-direction and in my caution when offered ‘help’ by ‘outsiders,’ but I believe that extremism in defense of our independence and self-determination is no vice."
   Mayor Bleacher said he believes the top issues facing the township include maintaining West Amwell’s sovereignty and control of its future as well as protecting the rights of residents; encouraging creative thinking on boards and committees to plan for the future growth of the township; and formulating a workable budget in light of the 2.5 percent cap instituted by the state on municipal governments for the upcoming fiscal year.
   "The future growth of West Amwell is an issue that has been in the forefront of township concerns for many years, and West Amwell has always been able to deal with this issue self-reliantly," he said. "Currently, there is an aggressive assault upon that independence and on the rights of our citizens that is being carried out by the State of New Jersey, Hunterdon County, various neighboring coalitions and, in some instances, by our own residents.
   "I have always been a strong advocate of our independence and of individual rights and firmly believe that the best solutions to West Amwell problems are best found within West Amwell. When it comes to deciding the future of West Amwell, I will continue to opt for what’s best for the town and its residents and favor the truth over any political or philosophical ideology or agenda."
   He continued, "We need to include the school boards when discussing our future growth and get regular input from them on problems they experience or foresee. We need to develop a TDR plan; we may be able to preserve more of our town without incurring more costs to the taxpayers if this can be accomplished.
   "We need to plan an age-restricted community in our town. This will allow many of our older residents to afford to live where their friends and family live and to continue to contribute to the community."
   "For the year 2005, the state of New Jersey has imposed a 2.5 percent cap on municipal budgets, and developing a municipal budget is always a difficult task to accomplish. We must balance the need of the town and its residents with the needs of our employees and departments and, in turn, balance these with the available funds and current tax rate. We will have to grapple with the difficulties this cap may impose on the plans and goals the township wishes to accomplish in 2005."