By Jay Cook |
HIGHLANDS – With the five-year anniversary of Super Storm Sandy around the corner, each candidate running in this year’s election said it’s time for Highlands to step forward in the post-Sandy rebuild. Opening lines of communication between the borough and its residents was also brought up by each candidate. Highlands operates a non-partisan government and has two open seats this year as council members Doug Card and Rebecca Kane-Wells are not seeking re-election. The two open seats on the Borough Council come with a full, three-year term. All five candidates have been invited to attend a debate night on Friday, Oct. 20, at 8 p.m. at the Robert D. Wilson Community Center, 22 Snug Harbor Ave. It will be moderated by former Highlands resident Muriel J. Smith.
Qualifications: Highlands Councilman from 2006 to 2009; Highlands Mayor from 2010 to 2016; member of Highlands Land Use Board
Profession: Real Estate Agent with Burke & Manna, Sea Bright; Title Agent with Two Rivers Title, Little Silver
Campaign Slogan: Leadership, Experience, and Integrity Mean Something
Nolan, the only resident running in this election with elected political office experience, said it’s the clear-cut reason why he should return to the council.
“Yes, that means I have a record you can pick at,” Nolan said, “but also I’m not going to need on-the-job training.”
The former mayor didn’t seek re-election to respect term limits. He said it gave him the opportunity to step back and refocus on his positions.
Nolan said, if elected, he’ll focus on funding the school system, infrastructure, and the police department. Those three entities are the pillars of the Highlands community, he said.
One of this election’s hot topics – infrastructure – was discussed heavily this summer when fecal matter was draining into the stormwater sewer system. It was polluting Highlands’ two public beaches.
Nolan said during his time on the borough council, pre-Hurricane Irene, the council approved a bond for an infrastructure reconstruction project. It entailed installing a pump station on Snug Harbor Avenue, as well as creating more floodline piping through town. He said it is ready to go, and would advocate for starting that project.
Nolan also said he’s a parent to a child currently in the Highlands school system. He said that alone means he has an investment in what the school system is doing, and how much funding it could need.
“You also want to make sure you have a good product,” he said. “The kids who we’re sending there are our future leaders.”
Talk about having Sea Bright students leave Shore Regional and attend Henry Hudson Regional have resurfaced, Nolan said, and he would be receptive to that plan “if it doesn’t water down the product.”
“If we have the capacity, I’m all for it,” he said.
Qualifications: Member of Highlands Land Use Board; Former chair, vice chair, member of Highlands/Atlantic Highlands Sewer Authority
Profession: Owner of ShoreGrafx, Highlands
Campaign Slogan: Levelheaded Leadership
Braswell, running for office the first time with running mate Rosemary Ryan, said improving the underground infrastructure would be his top priority if elected.
The Army Corps of Engineers presented a plan to Highlands in April which called for building a flood wall along much of the borough’s bayshore frontage to protect from Sandy-caliber storms. Braswell said he was against the plan because homeowners would still need flood insurance and basic roadway flooding wouldn’t cease.
As a small business owner with an office on Bay Avenue, he said the perpetual fear of flooding is a real concern.
“It’s been overlooked way too long in Highlands, and it’s going to catch up to us,” Braswell said. “It has already in some respects.”
With experience on the expired Highlands/Atlantic Highlands Sewer Authority, Braswell believes he can open talks with neighboring towns and the state to reduce the amount of stormwater draining downhill along Route 36.
“We just can’t handle it anymore,” he said, bluntly. “We can’t attract new businesses.”
It’s a Catch-22, Braswell continued, as the borough will have to pay to fix flooding issues and, until it happens, tax revenue from new businesses will be dormant. He said finding that balance is key.
Fixing the flooding is “just the willpower to go through and find a way to do it without impacting our taxes a great deal,” he said.
His wife, Carla Cefalo Braswell, is president of the Highlands Business Partnership. Braswell wants to strengthen the relationship between local businesses and the governing body.
Qualifications: Member of Highlands Land Use Board; member of Highlands Business Partnership; former president of Henry Hudson Regional Board of Education
Profession: Paralegal with Law Office of Toby Grabelle, Shrewsbury
Campaign Slogan: Levelheaded Leadership
Also running in her first political election, Ryan said her presence on the council with Braswell will allow for an efficient government, where more can be done than what is currently happening.
“In the past, there seemed to be some friction on the board, which has hindered progress,” she said, adding “I can be aggressive, but I’m very pleasant to deal with.”
Branching out from Braswell’s position on downtown flooding, Ryan said she plans to spotlight residential code enforcement. Simple things like property maintenance and ensuring homes are safe and attractive to the eye are important. It goes a long way if everyone is responsible for their properties, she said.
“Yes, we want to keep this nice, small town atmosphere,” Ryan said. “But we need improvements.”
Ryan and Braswell said they were on a Land Use Board subcommittee which selected a planner to investigate if Shadow Lawn Trailer Park could be deemed an “area in need of redevelopment.” The 14-acre site has nearly 100 residents leasing trailers, and is the last major developable piece of land in Highlands.
Ryan said she wouldn’t want to see an equivalent to the neighboring EastPointe high-rise development, but said redevelopment could benefit Highlands sooner if shorter tax abatements are provided.
“We would love to see more residents up there,” Ryan said. “I just don’t know how many units.”
With experience on the local Board of Education, Ryan said bringing Sea Bright students to Henry Hudson would be a priority of hers. The high school is “a private school setting in a public school environment,” she said.
Ryan said conversations over recent years have made the school district change for Sea Bright students a reality. Those students would travel less and be closer to home.
“It’s something that I’ve supported from the beginning,” she added.
Qualifications: Member of Highlands Open Space and Recreation Committees; former member of Highlands Land Use Board
Profession: Product Leader for Nielsen Holdings PLC
Campaign Slogan: New Perspective, Fresh Ideas, Real Action
For Greg Wells, his platform is influenced by the words of a mentor – crumbs make cake. Every little thing in town matters to the whole big picture.
“It doesn’t seem like we’re really executing right now,” Wells said, adding he wants “to see if we can actually get some stuff done down here.”
Wells, who lives close to the Seastreak ferry terminal, sees the dearth of parking as a real detriment to the residents in that section. He said investigating a solution is paramount.
“There were times when we thought Seastreak was going to go out of business,” said Wells. “Now that they’re so popular, we have a real parking problem. It’s something that affects all of the people who live down there.”
Regarding downtown flooding, Wells said executing on previously engineered projects is important. Wells also said he wants to create an “engineering project manager” position in Highlands. That person would report to the borough administrator and would be the point-of-contact for any and all infrastructure improvement projects.
“Get a full-time position in town to execute on these large-scale engineering projects,” he said. “Everybody needs to agree there’s too many cooks in the kitchen.”
Wells also had a number of ideas to benefit taxpayers, including executing on shared service agreements with neighboring towns, and improving upon the unique nautical recreation opportunities.
Regarding Shadow Lawn, Wells said his view might be more unique. He is for redeveloping the property, but doesn’t “want to write the developer a blank check.”
He wants to rely on resident surveys done between 2015 and 2016, where over half of Highlands residents said they were comfortable with the property’s current zoning of mid- to high-rise.
“I am for development up there,” Wells said, “but responsibly and with input from the community.”
Qualifications: Highlands Department of Public Works employee of 25 years; former captain of Highlands First Aid Squad.
Campaign Slogan: None
Life-long resident John Coberg, a U.S. Army Vietnam veteran who worked in Highlands for over two decades, said Highlands has struggled to come back after Sandy hit in October 2012.
“I look at what they (Highlands borough council) have done since Sandy ended, and I’ve seen everything concentrated on the main street,” he said. “But if you turn down any one of those side streets, it’s terrible.”
Coberg was critical of the post-Sandy rebuild, citing communities like Sea Bright and Union Beach which have rebuilt in a timelier fashion.
“We’re only a little town, and all that got done was Bay Avenue?” Coberg questioned.
Coberg said, if elected, he would push to get away from the “fighting with one another” he sees happening on the current borough council, and look to open up lines of communication.
Among his different platforms, Coberg said he wants to implement parking meters along Shore Drive for Seastreak commuters who park on the street; not redevelop Shadow Lawn Trailer Park into multi-level housing; and focus on finding state and federal grants to help Highlands.
He is pushing for major beach replenishment from Sandy Hook Bay Marina down to Miller Beach, so residents can benefit in more than one way.
“That’s going to keep the water away and keep the heritage of this town,” he said.
This article was first published in the Oct. 19-26, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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