By Jay Cook
MIDDLETOWN–With a full slate of opponents this year, the incumbent Republicans in Middletown Township, Mayor Gerry Scharfenberger and Committeeman Kevin Settembrino, look to stay on the course they have charted. Challenging them for seats on the Township Committee are Democrats Ralph Borgess and Mary Jo Fabiano, along with third-party candidate Brian Largey, an independent running under the party name “Stop the Bull.”
Outside of the mayor’s office, Scharfenberger is the director of the Office for Planning Advocacy for the state, and Settembrino is the owner of Settembrino Architects, a Red Bank-based architectural firm.
The hot-topic of redevelopment in Middletown is one that has inundated township meetings this past year. Scharfenberger acknowledged the issue, and noted future plans for areas around Route 36.
“We just completed the Route 36 Corridor Study to help revitalize Route 36 from Sandy Hook up to the Keansburg border,” he said.
Scharfenberger said new industries and businesses will soon make their way to an area in need of help.
Another facet of redevelopment in town that has stirred controversy in the Chapel Hill and Kings Highway sections is the large “Village 35” project.
While the mayor said he was not at liberty to speak on the issue, as it is in front of the planning board, he did divulge Middletown’s thinking towards similar issues.
“We would like to see existing (property) utilized before creating new (property),” Scharfenberger said. “That’s our philosophy on development.”
Settembrino said the biggest issue facing the township is the proposed Monmouth County Reliability Project (MCRP) along the North Jersey Coast Line railroad. The railroad is operated by the state transportation agency, NJ Transit.
“Number one is the JCP&L project that the Township Committee is fighting to eliminate, to be placed underground,” he said. “I testified before the NJ Transit board, asking them to deny easement for these monster power lines.”
A concern with the power lines is a loss of property value. “When property values go down, taxes go up,” Settembrino said. “It’s a pretty simple formula.”
He formerly ran for a seat on the Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders in 2013 as an independent candidate.
Among the different topics being discussed during this election season, the most important to Largey is the possible construction of “Village 35.”
“It seems that the politicians listen to the big developers here in town, and the character of the township is changing drastically, and not for the better,” he said
The Democrats, who campaign with the slogan “Make Middletown Super,” aim to improve five aspects of Middletown life.
Borgess, a 37-year old from the Port Monmouth section, owns a small business called Borgess Home Inspections, while working as an occupational health and safety manager for the consulting firm Haztek Safety Management.
He moved from Kearny to Middletown in 2010. After suffering the effects of Super Storm Sandy, his main goal, if elected, would be to bring displaced Middletown residents home.
“I saw the Bayshore side of town being neglected,” Borgess said. “Up to today, we still have a lot of people that are out of their homes who haven’t recovered fully.”
Fabiano, 56, and from the Harmony area of Middletown, has been teaching both 2nd and 3rd grades in Keansburg since 1984.
Her career in that school system has led to involvement within the Keansburg Education Association, where she currently serves as the president.
With an extensive background in dealing with school life, Fabiano believes that the MCRP will threaten school-age children in Middletown.
“I have to say safety in the community is very important,” she said. “Number one is the JCP&L Project – that’s a huge concern – schools along the path, residences along the path. Middletown needs to work collaboratively with other towns to fight this proposed project.”
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