In The Year Of Our Lord 2018: Year In Review

For the last time, this is a review of the events and people in Roselle Park who helped shape the borough’s 117th year of existence in 2018. Both the well-known and perhaps unknown, here we go:


10. Take The Stage & Play Yer Guitar
On the summer solstice this year, Roselle Park for the first time took to the stage as part of the worldwide event Make Music Day. With years – sometimes decades – of practice dedication mastering their instruments and playing in front of live audiences, musicians gathered and shared their love of music with passersby and residents in the borough.

A few weeks earlier the call had gone out for musicians of all skill levels to sign up. Professional bands, accomplished songwriters, and up-and-coming artists all submitted their musical resumes. An impressive list of applicants took to the stage.

Among them was Rob Domanski. He loves music.

In the age of technology where a lot is available through a computer or tablet or phone screen, Rob taught himself the age-old craftsmanship of playing the guitar solely through YouTube videos. Day after day he watched and practiced.

Then came the opportunity to play in front of people when he heard about Make Music Day. He saw a chance to play in front of an audience. Frightening? A bit, but he still went on and played.

He went and did it.

He did not tell himself ‘I can do it next year’ or wait till he got it perfect. He got it done.

Just like Roselle Park’s Make Music Day. The small town in New Jersey saw the chance to join a worldwide event and took it. Get the word out, get people involved, and do it.

And that is really what matters – to just do something, see the opportunity and take it.

Keep practicing, keep playing, and keep doing it.


9. Finally, Enough With The Crap (Hopefully)
In May of this year, Resolution 156-18 put an end to a very little known secret among members of the governing body – a big paycheck for attending anything from none to ten (10) meetings a year. Up until then, any member of mayor & council who would be appointed as the borough’s representative to the Joint Meeting of Essex & Union Counties (JMEUC) was paid over $6,000 a year even if they did not attend any of the sewage authority’s once-a-month meetings. As one of an 11-member board, the JMEUC met to vote on how to spend taxpayers’ dollars on municipalities’ sewer systems – basically crap. This was no different than what is done on other boards the councilmembers take part in, but this one got paid more than half a councilmember’s annual salary. And for a number of years during then-Mayor Joseph DeIorio’s administration, those councilmembers appointed just happened to be running for election. The talk was that the money was basically a campaign slush fund.

Third Ward Councilman William Fahoury, this year’s appointee, donated his JMEUC salary to Roselle Park charities.

Then came Resolution 156-18. It permanently removed the salary from the appointee and instead applied the salary amount equivalent to 11 months as a credit to Roselle Park’s assessment, which it pays to the JMEUC.So, starting this year, instead of having around $6,400 go towards an election campaign fund or other personal use by an elected official, it went back to the residents of the borough.

The only way it can go back to the way things were would require a rescinding of that resolution.

Roselle Park taxpayers should keep aware that such a thing never happens because that would mean that a governing body decided that it cared more about themselves more than the people they represent.


8. The Sound Of Silence
The First Amendment: the right of the people peaceably to assemble.

On the morning of March 14th, a group of around 100 high school students along with teachers and administrators did just that. They took part in a nationwide walkout to remember the 17 students and faculty members who were shot and killed a month earlier at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

At 10 o’clock in the morning, the group stood quietly as the names of the 17 victims were read every 60 seconds by the six female student organizers of the event.

After 17 moments of silence, the students quietly returned to the building and their classes.

Among the accolades and criticism, members of the student body took time to not only exercise their First Amendment rights but to pay their respects to other high school students, who were killed in yet another mass shooting.


7. Victory M
Although it happened during the first month of 2018, this entry into stories of the years was over 80 years in the making. The Roselle Park High School wrestling team achieved its 1,000 dual meet win.

To put how significant an accomplishment that is in context, only three other high schools have ever been recognized for having done that in American history. That averages one win a month since 1936 when RPHS included wrestling in its sports program. Eight coaches throughout the program’s history trained and led RPHS grapplers.

On January 19th, the Roselle Park Panthers faced the Scotch Plains Raiders in a meet that was originally supposed to take place at Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School. In an honorable show of sportsmanship, the Raiders accommodated the Panthers to allow for an at-the-time possible 1,000th win at home.

Major Decisions, 3-point Decisions, Fall wins, and one pin were part of that evening’s victory.

After the meet was over, the stands emptied as well-wishers, friends, family members, former coaches, former wrestlers, among others congratulated the team. There were photographs, pats on the back, hugs, a banner, a plaque, and even balloons that graced the gymnasium floor with the Roselle Park Panthers at the center of it all.

Still, the team knew it was just a moment, knowing that the most important win is the next one.


6. Call Number 025 ROT
In a small town, a library is more important than one in a huge metropolitan city.

This year, one resident in her will, showed how important she held the Roselle Park Veterans Memorial Library (RPVML) by giving an original amount of $352,848.59 to the Athenaeum. That was later increased to more than half-a-million dollars; $524,862.27 to be exact.Ms. Roth passed away in 2016 at the age of 90. The original bequeathing was announced early this year and increased after a court portioned funds that were supposed to be donated to the Roselle Park First Aid Squad to the RPVML.

But since the Roselle Park First Aid Squad was removed as Roselle Park’s first responder in August of last year, it was deemed a non-operational organization. So 65% of that amount was given to the library.

Where that money is spent is not yet decided but the library board did pass a resolution that funds would be used for a capital improvement project and not for operating costs. That will be decided on next year and will include a survey to ask for input from the residents.

In Roselle Park, the library has become one of the jewels of the borough. Its grounds were renovated to be transformed from what used to be an unremarkable lawn to a beautiful memorial and path that include stanchions to commemorate the armed forces, a Purple Heart Monument, and the Doughboy statue. Now a resident has shown financially how much the library is valued for the benefit of everyone


5. The Dollars & Cents & Sense & Politics Of Government
At the start of this year, a proposal made by former-Mayor and current Council-At-Large Joseph DeIorio to have a more informed governing body when it came to mayoral appointments that required council approval was put into place.Interviewing.Past practice, including when Councilman DeIorio was Mayor for 16 years, was to have the mayor provide the borough clerk with a list of names to put on the agenda for the reorganization meeting. It was during this first meeting that many members of council would see the name of a firm or individual or company that would be appointed for a professional service. These names would be voted on by council to perform duties of affordable housing attorney, auditor, bond counsel, borough attorney, engineer, labor attorney, licensed site remediation professional (LSRP), municipal prosecutor, public defender, redevelopment counsel, and risk manager/insurance broker.

To be clear, bids for the professional services were available to all members of the governing body before the reorganization meeting and it was – and still remains – their responsibility to review all bids. But Councilman DeIorio thought individual sessions with those who bid to work for the municipality would benefit everyone involved. It would allow for an open exchange of questions, concerns, and ideas among the governing body.

At first, then-Mayor Carl Hokanson was against the idea but postponed the appointments until the sessions took place. During those interviews which also served as negotiation sessions, Mayor Hokanson saw their benefit. Instead of coming to the table at the first meeting of the year when the recommendations were on the agenda, the closed session meetings (which are allowed by law) had members of the governing body ask questions that engaged all elected officials so everyone could become informed. In the end, the mayor made his appointments and council approved them – each knowing the decision they made collectively was the most informed.

At the end of this year, the interview/negotiation sessions happened once again. Mayor-elect Joseph Signorello notified members of council that “to be clear there will be no negotiations on my appointments”. He reiterated that council has the power to accept or reject any of his recommendations allowed by law and that members would be “more than welcome to vote no”.Mayor-elect Signorello added that he did not “want to set false expectations that council will have appointment power outside of what already lies with them (President, Class III MLUB, Diversity, and Rec Comm)”. He was reminded that the interview/negotiations were not an attempt to remove mayoral power in making recommendations but to simply allow council as well as the mayor to be better informed on those who asked to represent the municipality in 2019.

The practice is a good one and should make a more informed governing body who can, at any time, fully explain why a certain person or law firm or company was working on behalf of the borough.


4. For The Love Of The Palette & The Staff
A really important issue that impacts elementary school students’ instruction time has, at this time, the possibility of a beneficial outcome for elementary school students. In 2017, there was a lessening of classroom instruction for art and music due to a clause of the 2015-2018 Collection Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the Roselle Park Education Association (RPEA) and the Roselle Park Board Of Education (BOE) that had not been adhered to/noticed until the start of the 2017-18 school year. Enforcing this clause of seven preparation periods from five had an impact on time for art and music.

This year during negotiations for the 2018-2021 CBA, prep periods were part of the talks. In the end, neither of the parties could reach an agreement on the number of prep periods and the total time to be allotted for them.

Just recently, this morning, as a matter of fact, the RPEA president stated that the teachers’ union would be open to discussing the matter as a sidebar agreement which would not open up the CBA again for negotiation but allow for the possibility of changing prep periods.

This positive development will require input and attention from elementary school parents to give their children as well-rounded an education as possible next year.


3. The Development Of Development
Development was a major highlight of Mayor Carl Hokanson’s administration. For good or bad, Mayor Hokanson in his four years in office has created more discussion on and opportunities for residential development than any mayor in the last 50 years – including Joseph DeIorio.This year saw Mimi’s Pizzeria & Italian Ice get approved for development and closed up to return in the near future as a 14-condominium development. The pizzeria will return as part of the development.

Hunter property along West Webster Avenue at Locust Street started the process of having a hearing before the Municipal Land Use Board (MLUB) to have a redevelopment plan approved for its site. But the cogs of government bureaucracy slowed development on the Hunter property to a stop at the end of this year. As part of the process, the MLUB reviews the redevelopment plan and sends its recommendations to the governing body who then reviews them and votes on approving the redevelopment plan. This important step for the Hunter property – which was scheduled to be completed by the end of this year – will possibly have to start all over again in 2019 due to the fact that mayor & council was not clear about the recommendations of the MLUB. The reason this happened was due to Council-At-Large Joseph DeIorio, who was the council liaison for the land use board, not being present at that crucial meeting because it was the Monday before election day.

Not having him present created a vacuum in having someone being able to explain what the MLUB’s concerns were. This delayed the approval of the plan till December and this delay pushed the redevelopment plan to next year since an ordinance is required to formally adopt the redevelopment plan.

Now, a developer who thought they had an administration friendly to development now will have to go before a new administration – that of Mayor Joseph Signorello III – who ran a campaign opposing and cautious of the current state of residential development in Roselle Park.

And then there is the Ryan property along West Lincoln Avenue between Chestnut Street and Locust Street next to the NJ Transit train station. This long-talked-about area is stalled to even be designated as an area in need of redevelopment until, at least, February. This is due to one property – the only property not owned by the Ryan family – which is in the middle of the area. The homeowners of that property do not want to be considered as part of the area in need of redevelopment. The MLUB adjourned the matter until February to have the hearing so the homeowners in opposition of the designation can provide testimony as to why they should not be included in the area. It also serves as a time in which perhaps both parties can negotiate among themselves to reach a mutually beneficial resolution.

Finally, there is Fernmoor Homes, a developer whose amendment to an existing redeveloper’s agreement was approved unanimously by council for the property locally known as the Romerovski property. Originally, Roselle Park VP LLC was a partnership between AvalonBay Communities and Israel Braunstein, the owner of the property at 430 West Westfield Avenue by the train overpass. The amended redeveloper’s agreement officially removed AvalonBay Communities as a member of the limited liability company and was replaced by Fernmoor Homes. In 2009 after the municipality reached a settlement with the developer to stop a builder’s remedy lawsuit brought by Roselle Park VP LLC. The new amendment agreement proposed a 218-residential unit apartment complex with 33 of them being affordable housing units. This is down from the original AvalonBay Communities proposal of 249 apartments. The absence of commercial space is still part of the project; it will only be apartments. The amended redeveloper’s agreement extends the deadline for construction to begin by two years – from December 31, 2018, to December 31, 2020.

All these developments are something that residents should keep informing themselves on because it will shape development throughout the borough.


2. Meridia
Meridia the one word that could represent development as a whole in Roselle Park. Meridia is the name of one approved and another proposed project managed by parent company Capodagli Property Company (CPC).

Currently, there is one site at 610 West Westfield Avenue in the area of the old Domani’s/Yesterdays restaurant and surrounding lots that is being constructed. It is a 212-apartment complex two-building residential complex. There is 5,000 sq. ft. of commercial space on the ground floor; although unnamed the developer has stated they would want one or more restaurants, as of yet, none has been publicly named. That project will have PILOT, or Payment In Lieu of Taxes.

The other proposed project named Meridia Park Square is in the midst of negotiations for a 370 to 380 residential unit complex at the former site of Sullivan Chevrolet located right in the middle of Roselle Park on Westfield Avenue at the intersection of Chestnut Street.

It was hoped by CPC to have the redeveloper’s agreement, which details the specifics of what will be built on the location, approved this year.

The election of Mayor Joseph Signorello III has those in favor of the Sullivan Meridia project concerned. During the campaign, then-mayoral candidate Signorello stated, “I don’t think the first Meridia development was a good deal and I don’t think the proposed second Meridia is a good deal either. I’ve told Mike Lapolla this, and I’ve stated it on record numerous times. It’s too many apartments.”

But there is uneasiness from some that instead of putting a pause to the development at the Sullivan property, the new mayor might approve it. In his comment, incoming Mayor Signorello referred to Michael Lapolla, who was a consultant – some would say a lobbyist – for the first Meridia project. Mayor Signorello accepted a campaign contribution during the election. In addition to that, Mayor Signorello, as of December 31, 2018, has recommended Kevin Kolbeck to be appointed to the Municipal Land Use Board (MLUB), a board that would deal with developers, including Meridia.

During the groundbreaking for the first Meridia project, Michael Lapolla told a story of how Meridia came to Roselle Park. He knew George Capodagli, the owner and CEO of CPC, who was looking for a town that would welcome development. Mr. Lapolla remarked, “It all started with a leaky sink.”He then went on to say he called his friend, Kevin Kolbeck, who was also his plumber to fix the sink. Mr. Lapolla clarified, “My friend first and my plumber second.”He talked with Kevin about CPC and Mr. Kolbeck introduced Michael to then-Mayor Carl Hokanson, who turned out to be a strong supporter of Meridia development.

Now, the new mayor who said he that he did not think he did not think the proposed Sullivan Meridia project was a good deal accepted a campaign contribution from a consultant for the parent company of Meridia and looks to appoint the person who introduced the developer to Roselle Park.

There are those who support the current proposed development at the Sullivan property of up to 380 apartments and those who do not. The majority of the current governing body wants to address affordable housing as part of the project while there are those who have said they do not want it, even going so far as saying they do not want ‘those kinds of people’ in the borough. Based on the average income for people who can qualify for affordable housing, a large number of Roselle Park residents could easily fall under the economic level of ‘those kinds of people’.

Either way, how the development at Sullivan will be the most important impact on how Roselle Park will look and be perceived as for decades to come. If the new administration keeps to its platform of being against the currently proposed project it will allow residents to help shape what should go there by basically going back to the beginning. If the incoming mayor and councilman approve or push for the development in its current form, they will have to explain why they contradicted one of the reasons people elected them into office.


1. Niah Travers
The 18-year-old has had a notable year of being involved and being part of a community without wanting the spotlight or kudos. Niah, (pronounced NEE-uh) was one of the leaders of the student walkout (#8) earlier this year. In helping organize and take part, she helped students know that they had a voice – even if it was one communicated through silence.

She took part as a panelist for the mayoral debate this year. In asking questions of those vying to become the head of the borough, Niah showed that the youth of Roselle Park have a voice that should be heard.

She signed up to join the United States Army to serve her country. She is back from boot camp but will return on January 3, 2019. She will be working on moving into her job in the legal field in Virginia for about seven months. From there, she plans to attend Rowan University in September of 2019.

Niah, along with her family, moved to the borough about six years ago. Since that time she has become involved little by little in the place that she calls home. This year was a milestone with student activism, graduation, taking part in a debate, and joining the Army. In fact, she left for boot camp a couple of days right after she took part in the debate.

Niah is much like the numerous other residents who I have had the absolute pleasure of knowing throughout the years. They selflessly give of themselves without wanting fanfare or accolades. Niah and many other residents do things because they understand it is a privilege to help others, not a self-serving entitlement.

Niah is the person of the year. She is a person who displays the qualities that show the best of what residents of a one-square-mile town can do.

Niah standing to the right of her mother Shante
(click to view full-size photograph)