Candidates divided on environmental issues

Republican Toby Rich and Democrat William Corboy are vying for the lone three-year term on the West Amwell Township Committee.

By: Linda Seida
   WEST AMWELL — Two candidates are running for one three-year term on the Township Committee in an election year defined by several environmental issues that could have far-reaching consequences on future development in West Amwell.
   Republican Toby Rich and Democrat William Corboy will go face to face Nov. 2 in a question-and-answer session at the West Amwell firehouse on Mount Airy Village Road at 7 p.m. The public will have the opportunity to submit written questions for the candidates. A representative from the League of Women Voters will moderate.
   Mr. Rich, 47, who defeated incumbent Mayor Thomas Molnar in the GOP primary for the opportunity to run for the seat, is vice president of the Silvi Group Companies, based in Fairless Hills, Pa. He majored in political science while attending Cameron University in Lawton, Okla.
   Mr. Corboy, 65, is the retired chief of information systems for New Jersey’s Division of Medical Assistance and Health Services. He served three years on the township’s Planning Board, three years on the township’s Industrial Commission and nine years on the West Amwell Elementary School Board of Education. He received a bachelor’s degree in math education from Glassboro State College, now Rowan University.
   The candidates were asked by The Beacon to give their views major issues now facing West Amwell. These include a number of new environmental protection ordinances, the possibility of a public sewer system and the transfer of development rights or TDR. Each candidate was given the opportunity to rebut his opponent’s comments.
   One major issue facing West Amwell is the preservation of the environment versus the rights of property owners as well as the potential for development. In recent years, officials have approved a number of environmentally friendly ordinances that have had strong support from some residents.
   But others in the community decried the new regulations, saying the ordinances undermined the rights of property owners.
   In 2004, a new Master Plan was adopted along with a more protective zoning ordinance. In 2005, a stream corridor ordinance was passed that established the size of stream buffers. This year, a reserve septic ordinance was passed that requires new development to hold a second septic area in reserve in case the original area fails.
   Also, a woodland protection ordinance and a soil removal ordinance, designed to keep the township’s soil in the township, are under consideration.
   Mr. Rich said he is "uncomfortable" with the new regulations while Mr. Corboy said he supports them.
   "I prefer to limit development through preservation, not regulation," Mr. Rich said. "I am uncomfortable when laws are passed that erode an individual’s liberty and property rights. Also, when it comes to deep-pocket builders, aggressive regulation usually leads to aggressive litigation, and we’ve had more than enough of that in this township.
   "Ultimately, enforcing all of these restrictions will cost the taxpayers money. I am trying to save the taxpayers money. I understand what the current committee is trying to do, but I would prefer a more proactive approach.
   "That said, the revised storm water management plan was mandated by the state. We had no choice in the matter. I would be reluctant to repeal the ordinances just passed, but I would monitor them at regular intervals to ensure they have the stated intent of affecting only large-scale developers and not ordinary citizens."
   Mr. Corboy said, "West Amwell is better off for these measures that have been passed over the last few years. Yes, I do support them as needed protections for the quality of life everyone enjoys in West Amwell.
   "Before 2003, when my opponent will be interested to know West Amwell actually got its ‘fresh start,’ our town was very vulnerable to development that has ruined so many other towns in New Jersey. That year, West Amwell adopted a new Master Plan for the township, and it set the stage for changing the way planning is done here. Now we are better prepared to prevent the kind of development we don’t want.
   "I support them and will not seek to have them watered down, so to speak," Mr. Corboy said. "The state recently said that the minimum zoning in West Amwell should be one unit for every 4 acres. Four acres is the minimum zone under our zoning ordinance so I think our zoning ordinance stands the test of time.
   "Our stream corridor ordinance sets the minimum 75-foot buffer for everyone currently living in West Amwell and a small number of undeveloped lots under 6 acres. The buffers increase to a maximum of 150 feet as the potential impacts increase from future subdivisions. It is a very good ordinance.
   "The stormwater ordinance, which was required by the federal and state governments, adheres closely to the state and county models and also reflects specific conditions here in West Amwell. The soil removal ordinance, again, is going to prevent something from happening here in West Amwell that has hurt so many other towns where developers have profited at the expense of local natural resources. That’s a good ordinance," Mr. Corboy said.
   "The reserve septic ordinance will protect public health and property values long into the future as failing septic systems become more easily repaired and replaced. We are doing the right things in West Amwell."
   According to Mr. Rich, the regulations could devalue land that property owners might consider for open space preservation.
   He said, "I believe we should identify the landowners whose properties are the most appealing to builders, those on the verge of changing ownership or those under financial distress. Working hand in hand with the state, county and our own open space program, we should aggressively resume purchasing their building rights. We should give the owners of these properties a fair price for not developing their land instead of devaluing their land through regulations so that it is less appealing to developers.
   "So many farmers bank on being able to sell a portion of their land to a prospector as their retirement package," Mr. Rich said. "They normally don’t have a 401(k). We can afford them the opportunity of acquiring this nest egg, without actually having to sell any of their land.
   "The end result? The land is permanently preserved," Mr. Rich said. "For the record, there have been no new commitments to our township’s open space program since early 2004. I will make sure this program is restored to its former success ratio.
   "To date, almost 30 percent of the total land in the township has been preserved as open space. We can add significantly to that number if we make it a priority once again."
   Mr. Corboy disagreed, both with Mr. Rich’s opinion and his figures.
   He said, "I regularly attend municipal meetings so I know, for example, that about 250 acres have been added to the township’s open space inventory during 2006. This includes both municipal acquisitions and direct acquisitions by the state through the Green Acres program. The township also signed a new preservation contract in early October.
   "My opponent’s company, Silvi Concrete, seems to be holding off on a deal with Green Acres pending the result of the election. That is over 200 acres of valuable land, which remains vulnerable to development until such time as my opponent’s company actually follows through and signs a contract with Green Acres."
   "Everyone is for open space, but we can’t buy it all. That’s why it’s important that the township plan effectively for any development, which may occur. The recent ordinances are targeted predominantly at future subdivisions, not ordinary citizens. They will protect the quality of life the average citizen in West Amwell enjoys from the impacts of future development.
   "The stream corridor ordinance, for example, will help reduce the impact on neighbors downstream of new development from flooding as well as protect their water supply. I am distressed to see Mr. Rich admit he would consider rolling back these protections, reluctantly or not."
   Sewers were another issue addressed by the candidates.
   Mr. Rich said he is not in favor of sewers coming to the township, but Mr. Corboy alleges his opponent has not previously gone on the record as opposing them.
   Mr. Rich said, "I am against anything that promotes large-scale development in our township. We can’t stop it all, but we can limit it. Sewers and wastewater treatment facilities for new development must not be allowed."
   Mr. Corboy, too, said he does not sewers coming to West Amwell.
   "I am the only candidate in this election who is on the record opposing sewers and community wastewater systems in West Amwell," Mr. Corboy said. "As has happened in so many other towns, they will lead only to development on a scale that only a very few in West Amwell want. I think it’s telling that my opponent won’t go on the record on this vital issue for the people of West Amwell."
   Mr. Rich responded, "I’m sorry my opponent feels the need to constantly be mean-spirited. He has been using scare tactics and throwing accusations at me since the campaign began without citing a single shred of evidence. It’s sad and reflects badly on the township.
   "Here are the facts. Prior to the general (election), I had to run against the incumbent in the primary. During that time, I sent out hundreds of mailings and talked to hundreds of people. My position on sewers and wastewater systems is crystal clear to the people that voted for me. They know that I am dead set against them. My last mailing clearly stated that."
   In a rebuttal, Mr. Corboy said, "My opponent seems to call anyone who disagrees with him ‘mean-spirited.’ During the primary, he also said Mayor Tom Molnar was mean-spirited. In spite of whether you’re Republican or Democrat, or where you stand on the issues, I think just about anyone who knows Tom knows he’s a good man.
   "And that raises another question. If my opponent really wants to protect the environment and our quality of life in West Amwell, why did he challenge an incumbent who has been protecting those values? My opponent has refused to state clearly that he is against both sewers and community wastewater systems. That’s an important distinction between us."
   Also of concern to residents is the issue of transfer of development rights.
   Specifically, the Township Committee and the Planning Board have discussed using TDR as a planning tool to create a development receiving area in the township. Officials decided not to pursue this because there was no suitable receiving area for growth because most of the township is environmentally sensitive and because there was no area with infrastructure such as sewers available.
   While TDR could result in the preservation of some land, it could also result in the more development in another area of the township.
   The candidates were asked: Would you reverse the policy of recent years and seek to implement TDR? If so, where would you locate the receiving area?
   Mr. Corboy said, "The township is about to take action that will close the door on TDR, and I think that’s a good idea. The township has looked at TDR and decided it’s not for us.
   "West Amwell doesn’t need TDR," Mr. Corboy said. "It will open the door to development that in all likelihood would not have taken place because of constraints present on the land where the rights originated. We don’t need to make it easier in West Amwell for large-scale development to take place. It will increase costs and taxes for municipal services and schools. It will radically change our community with more traffic and other impacts. It’s something that West Amwell simply doesn’t need."
   Mr. Rich said, "I thought the issue concerning TDRs had been addressed long ago. There is no suitable receiving area in the township. If West Amwell struck an agreement with another municipality or county government for them to act as a sending area for us, I would be for it. Otherwise, I am not."
   When given the opportunity to choose an issue the candidates felt should be addressed, but which had not been asked about, Mr. Rich said property taxes should be discussed.
   "This is an area where my business experience will pay dividends to the township if I am elected," Mr. Rich said. "I am already working on ideas to reduce our government spending without cutting services and increasing our revenue without raising taxes. It is very important to keep West Amwell affordable, especially for those who have been here their entire lives and have kept this township such a great place to live and raise a family."
   Among some of his suggestions for holding the line on property taxes are leasing equipment rights, sharing services for a charge and combining the township’s purchasing power with neighboring townships.
   But Mr. Corboy said it would take more than just business experience to run a municipality like West Amwell.
   "Everyone is for low taxes," Mr. Corboy said. "But there is a big difference between business and government. Small towns especially must deal with onerous state mandates and constraints. Also, we have to be careful when chasing ratable that we keep in mind the new affordable housing obligations imposed by the state.
   "And the property tax situation is not going to improve by bashing our public schools," Mr. Corboy said. "As we learned earlier this year when the defeated elementary school budget came before the Township Committee, there was next to nothing to cut. The fundamental problem is in Trenton, where we are getting little more than a third of the education funding that the state should be giving us."
   When given the opportunity to address an issue not asked about, Mr. Corboy said, "It has been a great honor running in this election. This is a great country. And West Amwell is a great town because of the people, many of whom are my friends over the last 40 years.
   "Our local public schools make West Amwell a great place. The teachers and principals do a great job against great odds, and I commend them for that. It’s also a great place because we have been able to prevent the kind of development that has taken place elsewhere.
   "Things haven’t changed so much over the years when you stop and think about it," Mr. Corboy said. "I want to keep it that way as much as possible, not rush to make sure West Amwell changes as quickly as it can.
   "That’s why my opponent’s campaign concerns me. He says very little, but you can judge him by the company he keeps. In this case, it’s the crowd that supports him behind the scenes, who have consistently opposed what the township has done to protect our quality of life and public health.
   "On the other hand, I have been very up front about what I believe in," Mr. Corboy said. "You don’t have to guess. And for that reason there is a clear choice in this election. I face opposition in this election that is determined to roll back these protections, eroding the quality of life we all enjoy."