There may be a chill in the brisk autumn weather outside, but at Tuesday night’s meeting, it got rather hot in Council Chambers.
After making numerous impassioned pleas over the months calling for sensible governance and some semblance of basic human decency from the Council, Cortlandt Street resident and formidable community advocate Diane Rothwell unleashed a scathing speech on members of the Belleville Council during the public comments portion of the meeting.
You can’t say you didn’t have this coming, Mayor Kimble and Council. People will only be ignored, dismissed, or sneered at for so long before they finally retaliate.
Here is Ms. Rothwell’s speech to Mayor Kimble and the Council.
Update: This post has gotten already quite a lot of attention very quickly, so I’m providing a video of Ms. Rothwell’s speech here as well. The conviction and courage of her delivery can’t be appreciated unless you hear it for yourself. The written version of her speech can be found below my comments.
Note that at timestamp 7:58 when Mayor Kimble threatens to have Ms. Rothwell removed by Police Chief Minichini for – get this – speaking over her allotted five minutes, he says the following to her:
“Ms. Rothwell, I don’t want to have you removed, but you’ve gotta abide by the law, like everybody else!”
Well, that’s funny Mayor Kimble, because just 26 minutes earlier, you and the Council broke the law.
And not some arbitrary time limit that the Council only applies when it suits them, or when a resident is really kicking their teeth in….but State law.
It is a violation of the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) for a public body to go into executive session without first disclosing to the public, with reasonable specificity, each of the topics the governing body will be discussing in private. A generic explanation such as “litigation” or “personnel matters” does not suffice. We have countless examples on video of the Council violating OPMA, in all different ways.
It was only after a professional open government advocate put the Council on notice about violating this legal requirement, for at least the 10th time on record, that Mayor Kimble sheepishly disclosed the general topics that had been discussed in closed session after the fact.
So the Council breaks the law constantly, but a Belleville resident – a woman who like her neighbors is suffering immensely from their political actions – spends more than 5 minutes pleading with them to stop forcing Cortlandt Street families out of their homes with a ludicrous development scheme deserves to be hauled off by a cop?!
Mayor Kimble, Councilman Longo, Councilman Cozzarelli, and Councilman Rovell – you might want to seriously re-consider your support of this unjustifiable and unconscionable Cortlandt/Terry Street “redevelopment” scheme, before more Belleville residents start to see and truly understand what you’re each doing to these poor families.
And with any luck, that’s going to happen quite soon.
Bravo to Diane Rothwell for having the courage to put the councilmembers in their place, on a great many things.
In case anyone couldn’t make out parts of her speech in the video, here is Ms. Rothwell’s written notes:
I understand that within our town we have a Zoning Board, and they set the ordinances up as to whether an area is residential, commercial and/or industrial? And is it suffice to say that they also set the regulations/codes of buildings and structures in accordance with construction, nature and extent of use, and to the dedication of particular uses designed to serve the general welfare, and to regulate and restrict construction that curtails congestion on our town roads, ensure adequate light and air is available by preventing overcrowding of lands and buildings, and undue concentration of population within our township?
May I ask who is CME Associates? Who would have requested CME to perform a study on Cortlandt Street? When was the study completed? (Aug 21, 2015) Is it reasonable to believe that CME provided a copy of the investigation report to ALL the members of the governing body for review?
As I understand, in their study, the report found that the Cortlandt Street property is currently in accordance to its zoning classification of I-B (Industrial Zone), and that the site is currently developed and suitably used for heavy commercial, industrial uses, with occupied residential properties in fair condition and exhibits only minor lack of maintenance – which was depicted in the photos of the report and those that Mr. Mattingly submitted at a previous council meeting – not that the area is abandoned, dilapidated or obsolescent. In fact, the owner of the property receives rent from the current tenants and pays this township nearly $100,000 in property taxes.
The current zoning ordinance for this area allows a maximum of 3 stories erected and 50% land coverage. To change the zoning to residential, according to township regulations and statutory criteria, the maximum density would be 12 units per acre, with off street parking of 2 spaces per unit and visitor parking of 1 per 2 units.
To pursue the residential development of 115+ units on the Cortlandt St property is not in compliance, as 115 units on barely 2 acres is grossly disproportionate by 400%, and the required 287 spaces will not be met with the 173 spaces provided as per architectural designs submitted by TMR Associates of Rutherford.
At the beginning of the Sept 27th meeting, Sun Finance addressed the town council by thanking you for the invitation to help Belleville residents who are facing foreclosure – wherefore, you, as the governing body have recognized that the residents in our township face desperate financial conditions of affordability or lack of, which is supported by the evidence of 1000+ residences in foreclosure/abandoned and/or for sale. Therefore, I am perplexed by all that I have already stated, as to why this council would advance in the continuation of residential development, not only on Cortlandt St but in our township as a whole, and not seek to secure viable ratables of retail/industrial development as the current market trend supports.
Our town council members need to stop thinking like individualists, with the continuation of pursuing personal ambitions and abetting the behavior of outside developers whose only vested interest is protecting their political contributions, because they, do not live here. As you, the council members prosper, the residents and business owners of this town are left behind to deal with the ruination of a previously vibrant, thriving, copious municipality that Belleville once was. The constant irresponsible spending with 1) excessive creation of town positions, 2) increased employee complement in stout departments, 3) the extravagant salary raises and 4) wanton over-development of residential properties, are depleting the resources of the tax payers in Belleville.
As quoted by Franklin D. Roosevelt, “The cure for what ails us, is LEADERSHIP”. We need leaders to rise up and initiate a proactive movement that benefits a new beginning, a successful future for this community, its people and the children, and not let our past mistakes define us, but motivate us for a change.
I thank 4th Ward Councilman Notari, 1st Ward Councilwoman Burke, and At-Large Councilman Kennedy for having foresight to recognize that this over development of residential property is the wrong strategy for this community and voted against this resolution. I implore the three of you to voice your opinions, for as you support us, we will continue to support you.
The home owners and business owners – the tax payers in Belleville who support this town, NEED A BREAK IN OUR POCKETS, NOT THE DEVELOPERS POCKETS WITH A PILOT PROGRAM OF $100,000 FOR 30 YEARS WITH NO TAX INCREASES WHILE both parents of THE FAMILIES in this town work to STRUGGLE in SUPPORTING THEIR FAMILIES AND THIS MISMANAGED TOWN.
Continued Residential development is NOT right for Belleville. We need Commercial, Industrial/Warehousing Development to stabilize taxes and revitalize Belleville, and if Mayor Kimble, At Large Councilman Longo, Councilman Rovell, and Councilman Cozzarelli decide not to change their stand, we as residents need to vocalize our concerns in the next election of 2018, when Mayor Kimble’s and Councilman Longo’s seats become available.
I guess in the meantime, as a classified minority (I am Alaskan Native), a single mother who worked paycheck to paycheck to raise her children, I will have to take a course in politics and government, so I may challenge for a position on the council, and be a representative of the hard working people of Belleville.
Diane C Rothwell
403 Cortlandt Street
Belleville, NJ 07109