The Town Council meeting on June 24 began with a very special ceremony. Three veterans of World War II, all participants in the 1944 Normandy invasion on D-Day, were presented with distinguished service medals from the county to commemorate their service 70 years ago this month.
John Cingirre graduated from high school in Secaucus in June of 1943 and immediately enlisted in the Army, along with his entire graduating class. A year later, at the age of 18, he landed on Omaha Beach in the fourth wave with the 29th Infantry Division.
Anthony Mongelli was a radio operator in the signal corps and part of the amphibious assault troops. After the Normandy invasion, was on his way to the South Pacific for another tour of duty when the war ended.
Tony Argenziano was a sergeant in the army, landing on Utah Beach. He was captured in August 1944 and held as a prisoner of war, afterward spending two years in a hospital recovering from his injuries.
Earlier this year the three honorees were brought to a commemorative baseball game at Yankee Stadium, where they were introduced on the field.
“I got to meet some of the players. It was unbelievable,” said Argenziano, a lifelong resident of Hudson County. “That was the second best thing that’s happened in my life. First was that I attended the inauguration of Ronald Reagan. And that’s something you don’t get to do very often.”
Rebuild by Design update
Among the many other topics covered at the council meeting was an update on Secaucus’ status in the Rebuild by Design competition. Rebuild by Design was a competition initiated by President Obama to create solutions to weather-related problems in the Tri-State area. Secaucus was theoretically part of a proposal called New Meadowlands that was approved to receive $150 million in federal funding, but as it turns out, Secaucus was left out of the funding award.
“Unfortunately [Secaucus is only] in the second phase of the project,” said Mayor Michael Gonnelli. The bulk of the funding will go to Carlsdadt, Moonachie, Little Ferry, South Hackensack, and Teterboro. “But we have been speaking to the people in Washington about the Secaucus proposal.”
Representatives from Washington will visit Secaucus during the third week in July to review the projects the town has already put in place to protect against future flooding.
“We haven’t stopped doing flood control work since Hurricane Sandy. We didn’t wait for the federal government or others to bail us out,” said Gonnelli. “We’ve been allocating money since the day after the storm and we’ve done quite a few projects in town. So I think when they come out here they’re going to be really surprised at the amount of work we’ve already accomplished. I think that we will be successful very shortly in being able to tap into some of that money, at least for planning and design.”
On a related note, the consent agenda at the meeting included an addition to the budget of $35,000 for the Meadowlands Commission to offset the cost of a concrete storm barrier similar to a highway divider. It will be built near the high school, where strong effects were felt from Hurricane Sandy.
Councilman Robert Costantino reported on a number of financial issues related to the town.
Secaucus recently rolled over $9.6 million of debt in bond anticipation notes. Instead of the 1 percent interest that was previously being paid, the new interest rate is just over 0.3 percent, representing a significant savings for the town.
Xchange has begun building their next phase of condos by the train station and provided the town with a check for $1.4 million in impact fees.
Another source of income is parking lot taxes, which increased from $701,000 in 2011 to $821,000 in 2012 to $899,000 in 2013. As of May 31 this year the town had collected $416,000.
Hotel tax revenues are also proceeding on pace. In 2011 the town collected $1.8 million in hotel taxes; in 2012 it was a little over $2 million; and in 2013 it was $2.2 million. So far in 2014 the amount collected is about $740,000, with Costantino projecting the numbers will increase over the summer months to top $2 million by year end.
Mayor Gonnelli announced that Secaucus was awarded a community block grant of $180,000 to redo the bathrooms at the Elms senior center residence. In addition, he said, “We received $225,000 through the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to do some work down at the Coast Guard. There’s going to be some dredging done, some clean-up, some restoration along the waterway. That’s where our fireboat is and the Coast Guard auxiliary is.”
Recently, a problem was encountered when a jet ski overturned in the water and the fireboat couldn’t get out because it was stuck in the mud during low tide.
Councilwoman Susan Pirro reported that “The County Office of Emergency Management donated a new $100,000 portable generator which can be used anywhere in town when we need it during outages.”
News about town
The town extended a conditional offer of employment to five new police officers, according to Councilman Gary Jeffas. If the applicants pass their medical examinations, they will attend police academy beginning in late July and hit the streets around Christmastime.
A traffic light is being installed on Wood Avenue and Meadowlands Parkway, the site of several accidents, said Councilman James Clancy.
Two locations in town will require residential parking permits in the future. Castle Road and Paterson Plank Road from Cedar Ave. to County Ave. are both currently being used by nonresident commuters to avoid paying for the train station parking lot. Going forward, those locations will be available for resident parking only.
Councilman Mark Dehnert reported that pool membership for the year currently stands at 376 families and 552 total members. A pool coupon is available on the bottom of the July town calendar, noted Gonnelli. “It’s one day free admission for you and your family to go up and check out the pool and hopefully join it.”
“Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center will be hosting a prescreening event in Harmon Cove at the clubhouse parking lot on Saturday, July 19 from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m.,” said Councilwoman Pirro. “It’s not just for Harmon Cove residents. Anyone from town is welcome to come by and have your glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol screenings done.”
Councilman William McKeever reported that the Port Authority had extended an invitation to residents to attend a community roundtable meeting. “The purpose is to develop meaningful dialogue between Newark Liberty International Airport and surrounding communities,” he said. “That meeting’s going to be held on Monday, June 30 at 6 p.m.”
The meeting concluded with an animated discussion of the recent application by a developer for a variance to the zoning code for a proposed building at 34 Meadowlands Parkway. A public hearing was held on June 3 to discuss the proposed variances to the height and parking requirements.
Parking in particular is of concern to local residents, who already see congestion in the area. They are opposed to the reduction from the 130 spaces required by the Meadowlands Commission to the 97 proposed by the developer.
Gonnelli noted that the developer agreed to widen 10th Street to allow for 20 more parking spots, and to make numerous other improvements based upon requests from the town.
“The site is zoned Neighborhood Commercial,” said Gonnelli. “Neighborhood Commercial allows both commercial and residential, and the density is much higher. We’ve had people come into that site that wanted to put restaurants, fast food chains, banks, Walgreens, all things that are 24-hours in a residential neighborhood. We don’t want that.”
Instead he said the current developer worked with the town to design a residential building with 65 units, making a number of key concessions.
“The developer could have put more units on the site. The developer could have built two feet off the property line on the site, like you’ll see on County Avenue,” said Gonnelli. “The developer agreed to move the property line back 18 feet, put a landscape buffer and berm. The developer agreed to redo both intersections at 10th and Front and 10th and Center. The developer agreed to address the flood control.”
“This developer also agreed that 60 percent of the units would be studios and one-bedrooms. Why is that? No cars, no kids,” said Gonnelli. “If we can negotiate with someone to get what’s best for the community, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Art Schwartz may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.