More than 100 residents and several concerned business owners packed the Neptune City Community to voice their opinions about Neptune City's proposed redevelopment plan for the east side of town.
The idea for the project first surfaced 10 years ago when then Mayor Robert Deeves brought the idea to the land use board.
"This is a venue that we've been thinking about for a long, long time," said the former mayor who currently sits on the land use board. "We have always looked for what will better the community as a whole." Monday's meeting was the first step in hearing the concerns of those businesses and residents that may be affected by the plans.
While many residents disagreed with the proposal, others saluted the board for consideration of cleaning up the neighborhood.
"I live on Holly Street with my family," explained Maura Fitzsimmons who resides in the area of redevelopment. "When I walk out of my front door, I get to look at oil tanks and an old ice house. This is not a pretty sight and I don't want my kids to have to look at this either."
But Phillip Salamone whose elderly parents reside on Midland Street in the heart of the project, tearfully asked the land use board members to consider his parents' ages and their health.
"My parents are 83 and 94. How am I going to tell them that they have to leave the house they've lived in for the past 64 years?" asked Salamone.
Mayor Tom Arnone said the borough is committed to Salamone's parents' needs.
"I know that your parents have lived here for a long time," said the mayor. " But this is just a proposed redevelopment and we are taking everyone's concerns seriously."
The borough hired real estate consulting firm David Critelli & Associates to present preliminary ideas on the proposal."Tonight's presentation is meant to inform and relay background information on the proposal," explained Critelli. The Bridgewater consulant displayed photos of the redevelopment properties throughout the two hour meeting. But Park Steel employee Joe Maleani was not impressed with the plans and asked why the town was now in the business of moving jobs out of the borough.
"When did the economy get so bad that you now resort to drive jobs out of here," asked Maleani.
But while many residents and business owners voiced their concerns in opposition, Dr. Guy Rando, a dentist with a sole practice on Steiner Avenue, also under consideration for redevelopemnt asked if his property could be considered exempt.
"My practice has been at the same location since 1958 and I took over the business in 1992," explained Dr. Rando. "I treat many Neptune City residents, borough employees, police officers and many senior citizens who walk to my office for treatment. I respectfully ask the land use board to consider exempting my practice from this redevelopment project."
Arnone repeated his commitment to listen to all residents and stressed no decisions were being made.
Midwood Street resident Corlies Chong, who also has a home in the proposed redevelopment area said that for once he sees a light at the end of the tunnel to clean up his neigborhood.
"I want to know how many business owners in this area actually live in an area similar to the one I live in," said Chong. "I urge the board to move forward to clean up this area of our town."
Evergreen Avenue resident Beth Stauch echoed Chong's sentiments. "I live on the cusp of the project and there are way too many undesirable people living in this area. Something has to be done to make this area safer," said Stauch. But Neptune resident Jack Zega who attended the meeting for the concern of his friends who live in the area said, "Is this really right?" he asked the members of the board. "I've driven down Steiner Avenue and it is fine," to which Mayor Arnone reacted by stating, "Mr. Zega, driving down Steiner and living on Steiner Avenue are two different things at eleven o'clock at night," to which a thunderous applause was given.
According to borough attorney Barbara Birdsall, the next step will be to present the evening's concerns of the residents to the borough council.
"Let me reinforce that no decision will be made by any member of this board tonight," said Birdsall. " We are here only to gather information and report it to the council. No action will be taken tonight." Mayor Arnone said that Monday's meeting was just the first step in the long-term project. "We are here to listen to you , the residents and business owners," said Arnone. "We value everyone's opinion and thank everyone for coming out tonight. It shows great support for our one-square mile town and pride in ownership of homes and businesses."
Minutes from the meeting will be made public in borough hall. Future meetings will be announced at upcoming mayor and council meetings.