Pfefferkorn loses, new school wins in 2004

$6M Little League lawsuit reaches into sixth year


Staff Writer

MILLSTONE — Last year was a contentious year in this community, and the eye of the storm seemed to be the Township Committee.

Republican Nancy Grbelja was selected mayor by the Township Committee during its organizational meeting in January.

Grbelja is the first woman to serve on the governing body. Her selection, while historic, created a major rift in the GOP, according to fellow committeeman John Pfefferkorn. Many believed that Pfefferkorn would get the position, but he was selected deputy mayor instead.

“Because of the antics that have taken place in the last week, friendships have been destroyed,” Pfefferkorn said at the time.

The party’s rift widened as Pfefferkorn was removed as deputy mayor six days later and replaced by GOP Committeeman Elias Abilheira.

Pfefferkorn eventually left his party to run for re-election as an independent.

During the rest of the year, committee meetings would often become heated with Pfefferkorn questioning statements made by his former political allies Grbelja and Abilheira.

A uniformed state trooper is now in attendance at Township Committee meetings, especially when there is a controversial topic on the agenda.

Democrat David Lee dropped out of what was a three-way race for the one committee seat. Lee said that he was leaving the race to devote more time to his family’s farm.

In November, Pfefferkorn decisively lost his bid to Republican challenger Robert Kinsey by a vote of 2,542 to 2,021 and attributed his defeat partly to the contentious national election, which saw a larger than normal voter turnout.

The local election proved to be just as vigorously fought as the presidential race between incumbent George W. Bush and Democratic challenger John Kerry. Bush won the township by a 2-1 margin although the state and 15 electoral votes would be counted for Kerry.

According to the township clerk’s office, 70 percent of the 6,603 registered voters turned up at the polls on Nov. 2.

The campaign between Kinsey and Pfefferkorn included a controversial debate on Oct. 21. Pfefferkorn scheduled another debate on Oct. 14, but Kinsey’s camp never agreed to the date. The men did face each other during the Oct. 21 debate, which was also the first live event broadcast on the township’s local cable television channel.

During the debate, Kinsey and Pfefferkorn sparred on several issues, with future development dominating the majority of the discussion.

Grbelja said earlier this year that she hopes the newly formed township economic development council will be able to come up with ways of enticing clean ratables, such as office complexes, to the township. Senior citizen housing is not the answer, according to Grbelja.

“It’s not really going to bring in the ratables we need,” she said then. “Our environment cannot stand it. It would increase the need for a police force. It’s not a feasible or realistic goal for us to pursue.”

Some of the more controversial issues the committee dealt with included “pay-to-play” reform, a new ordinance limiting the use of all-terrain vehicles, and the budget.

After a great deal of sniping and arguing, township committee members voted 4-1 to adopt the $6.4 million budget, which raised the municipal tax rate to 7 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.

A stringent pay-to-play ordinance failed by a 3-2 vote earlier this year, with Committeemen Chet Halka, William Nurko and John Pfefferkorn voting against it. The issue is expected to return for more discussion next year.

After receiving a myriad of complaints about ATV users, Millstone officials tried to introduce an ordinance that spelled out where the vehicles can and cannot be ridden.

The proposed ordinance limited the operation of the vehicles to private property that is at least 6 acres, and riders must have the property owner or occupant’s permission.

The controversy escalated, pitting neighbor against neighbor in some cases, Grbelja said.

“I have had people in the community who are so upset and so stressed out that I hope they don’t resort to violence,” the mayor stated.

It was standing room only when the Township Committee voted 4-0, with one abstention, by Mayor Grbelja, to defeat the ordinance.

The room erupted in applause every time someone disapproved of the ordinance, and those who did speak in favor of it were met with jeers and snide remarks.

Many residents said that they felt the ordinance violated their property rights.

The meeting ended with officials asking ATV riders to police their own activities, but the complaints continued through the warm weather.

Planning and zoning board

merger nixed

At the Jan. 28 Planning Board meeting, Planning Board members sparred over a controversial proposal to merge the Planning and Zoning boards.

Board member and former mayor Evan Maltz said that combining the two would eliminate the township’s “checks and balances system.”

Township Committeeman and board member Elias Abilheira said the proposed ordinance would allow the Planning Board to assume the Zoning Board’s powers and add two more alternates to the Planning Board.

At a Township Committee meeting the following week, the vote was 3-2 against the proposed ordinance, which would have eliminated the Board of Adjustment and added more members to a “unified” Planning Board that would have heard both Planning Board and Zoning Board cases.

Committeeman John Pfefferkorn called the proposed ordinance “nothing more than a power play.”

“It is power,” Pfefferkorn said. “It’s to shut down the Zoning Board because you couldn’t take it over. I will continue to speak up against the atrocities.”

The Planning Board decided to cut its meeting schedule down from two to one meeting a month. Mayor Grbelja, who is also a board member, said that since the township went to 10-acre residential zoning, there was no longer a need for two meetings a month.

Baseball park in Monroe panned

by officials

Millstone officials vowed this year to do anything they can to stop the proposed construction of a 6,000-seat baseball stadium on Route 33 in nearby Monroe Township.

“This is one of the major threats to Millstone,” said resident and former committeeman William Kastning during a meeting. “We need to do everything we can to eliminate the possibility of that [baseball stadium] even being close to our border.”

The Middlesex County Improvement Authority wants to put the stadium on Route 33, between Perrineville Road and Applegarth Road. Millstone would be “sandwiched” between Six Flags Great

Adventure and the new stadium, according to Mayor Grbelja.

“It’s basically going to change our quiet rural roads into a freeway,” she said. “I don’t think that’s what any of the residents in Millstone desire. We would be getting all of the headaches, not any tax revenue.”

Township Committeeman John Pfefferkorn said he didn’t think the ballpark would have that much of an impact on local roads because most people would use Route 33 to get to the ballpark.

“I think there is paranoia, and it’s more political than reality,” he said. “It’s out of our borders, on a four-lane highway fully equipped to handle 1,500 cars going in different directions. It could be far worse if we try to fight something that is a good recreation use. I’ve talked to residents who like the idea.”

Recreation programs

irk some residents

The Millstone-Roosevelt Little League (MRLL) Board of Directors issued a statement recently that the board voted 10-0 to countersue residents of The Meadows housing development, who are currently suing the Little League.

Residents of the Meadows development are suing the builders, real estate agents and township entities involved with putting lights up on the township owned field.

The present suit claims that lighting the field to extend game time for the more than 500 children in the program creates a nuisance to the residents and reduces their quality of life.

The present suit is the third filed since the lights were approved in 1997.

A Superior Court Judge in Freehold dismissed two previous complaints in the matter against the Township Committee and Planning Board for approving the lights.

Several residents on Wagner Farm Lane also complained about recreation activities at the Aug. 4 Millstone Township Committee meeting. The residents complained that they were not told prior to buying their homes about the new recreational facility planned for the property.

Many asked officials to deed-restrict the property to prevent the addition of lights, which they said would further diminish their quality of life.

Deputy Mayor Elias Abilheira said at the meeting that the township should have done more to make sure residents were informed, and that he would support a form of deed restriction.

Jim Kronenthal, the township’s recreation treasurer, objected to residents’ claims that the park activities were too noisy, saying it was not noise, but rather the sound of children playing. He added that there were no current plans to have lights at the park.

The issue of a centralized recreation facility may be addressed by the committee in the new year.

School construction plan passes

Approximately 35 percent of the township’s registered voters turned out to cast their ballots, ultimately passing a $34.5 million building referendum.

The building plan includes the construction of a new middle school, renovations to the current middle school, the redesign of traffic flow, and other safety measures at the elementary school.

Schools superintendent William Setaro said that the middle school is currently way over capacity.

Roughly 850 students are crammed into the district’s 10-year-old middle school, a building the state Department of Education says should hold 324, Setaro said.

“When the bell rings, it’s like a cattle drive,” he said. “If a student happens to drop a book, you don’t dare pick it up. You’ll be trampled by a sea of humanity,” Setaro said.

The district has installed temporary trailer classrooms to deal with the overflow of students.

A week before the March 9 school referendum, the Township Committee settled the eminent domain process it had begun the previous year and came to an agreement with the Waters family and Orleans Builders to purchase 100 acres for the new school.

After months of negotiations, the final purchase price for the farm property was determined. The total price tag is $7 million, but the township will end up paying $4 million to the Waters family and Orleans Developers for the 114-acre site off Baird Road, said Robert L. Heugle, an attorney with Lomurro, Davison, Eastman & Munoz, the township’s legal firm.

The Waters family will retain their 20-acre home site on Baird Road and Orleans will retain certain development rights.

If all goes according to plan, bidding on the new middle school will be done in February and ground should be broken in April. The school should be completed by 2007, though officials say it will still need New Jersey Department of Education (DOE) and construction code approval.