By Chris Rotolo |
TINTON FALLS – Approximately 120 concerned citizens filled the municipal courtroom where County Freeholder Director Thomas A. Arnone and Deputy Director Lillian G. Burry, as well as county engineer Joseph M. Ettore, led a conversation last week with residents about concept plans for improving two dangerous intersections along County Road 13A (Sycamore Avenue) at Hope Road and Hance Avenue.
The controversy over these intersections has lasted for more than a decade, with conversations heating up over the past four months after the county presented a pair of “feasible concepts” to combat the safety concerns surrounding this stretch of roadway, both of which involve the seizure of resident property.
The issue is primarily with the Hance Avenue intersection, at which a county traffic study revealed a frequency of accidents that was four times greater than the state average.
Members of the citizens group Save Tinton Falls said they felt as if Borough Council president Gary Baldwin and deputy council president John Manginelli were not acting in the best interests of their electorate when the council members met with county freeholders earlier this summer.
“We felt very much like we’d been abandoned. We don’t think that anybody was really listening to our concerns,” Deborah McNally, a vocal leader of Save Tinton Falls, said during the public comment section of the meeting Aug. 1. “We really appreciate you meeting with us. It really goes a long way, because it shows a commitment to working with us.”
On June 26 Manginelli appeared in front of the Freeholders and referred to McNally and her peers as “the opposition.” A video of the meeting was shared on the group’s Facebook page.
“For the last 10 years Joe Ettore has come to us and offered solutions. And there’s a group of people who have said no. The opposition is gaining a great deal of momentum,” Manginelli said.
Manginelli’s statement followed another made by Baldwin June 14, in which the Borough Council president encouraged the board to “take” residential land, widen the disputed section of Hance Avenue and erect a traffic light rather than waiting for the borough to grant the county permission to begin the project.
“Don’t rely on us to do it for you, because we just can’t,” Baldwin said, referring to the public outcry against the proposed concept that has tied the hands of the council.
The less radical of the two “feasible concepts” calls for the seizure of residential land along Sycamore Avenue, land Manginelli said is right-of-way during his address to the Freeholders.
“That’s a fact that never gets published. And I know it’s of no comfort to (the residents). I don’t like to see anyone lose property. But I ask that the Freeholders do the right thing. And don’t let all this criticism, that is unfounded, affect your decision, which is the right thing to do.”
According to Arnone, no decision has been made, a point he and Ettore stressed to the audience Wednesday.
“There’s no trucks coming out tomorrow, digging up the road, acquiring property, expanding the road, and putting up traffic lights. None of that is coming from the Freeholders,” Arnone said. “Tonight we’re looking for input. We’re all stakeholders, we all live in Monmouth County, but this is truly your home. We want to listen. And this is not going to be the last meeting we will have. We will be back. And we’ll continue the process.”
Wednesday’s proceedings were not the first time the Freeholders met with residents that week, as the day prior two resident groups traveled to county Borough’s Hall of Records in Freehold to speak with the Freeholders for more than two hours.
Residents like Peter Karavites believe the acquisition of land and the expansion of residential roadways is not the answer to this safety issue, but rather the enforcement of weight limits and the lowering of speed limits could be the remedy.
“This is not about six homeowners who might get their property taken. We have over a thousand people on a petition against this concept plan and we’ve always said ‘make (the roadway) safer, not bigger.’ Our families, our neighborhood and our way of life is in your hands,” Karavites said Wednesday.
On July 18 local authorities placed an LED sign on Sycamore Avenue, alerting drivers about the 4-ton weight limit on Hope Road. However, lowering the speed limit on the county road is a process that would need state approval.
Though three Borough Council members were in attendance Aug. 1, some noted that neither Baldwin nor Manginelli were on hand, a situation Karavites said might have been for the best.
“They’re not getting it. This is not about five houses. This is about north Tinton Falls. They both live in guarded communities. They don’t understand the community we have,” Karavites said of Tinton Falls government leaders.
“They outright lied to us. They don’t represent the citizens anymore. So maybe they shouldn’t have been here. They might have caused a disturbance.”
Following a scheduled Borough Council meeting held Aug. 7, Baldwin addressed Karavites’ comment stating, “It’s not that I don’t represent this group of people, it’s that I may not represent exactly what they want right now. Nobody on this council solely represents this group. We have an entire town to look after. We have to consider what’s best for the greater good of our community.”
“The fact is there is a major safety issue at that intersection,” Baldwin added. “I’ve personally been involved with this matter for 11 years, and nothing has been done. Accidents are still happening. We can’t wait anymore. Someone is going to get to seriously injured or worse. People have already been seriously injured.”
“This is an issue with a county road and we need them to act before something terrible happens. I don’t want to see any of our residents lose property, but they have to realize, people driving through that intersection have already lost property; they’ve lost vehicles, personal belongings, and suffered injury. And the potential is there for someone to lose their life. Something needs to be done, and it needs to be done sooner rather than later,” Baldwin said.
This article was first published in the August 9-16, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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