MAPLEWOOD, NJ — With little more than a month to go until Election Day, Maplewood residents had a chance to get to know the three candidates running for the two open seats on the Maplewood Township Committee at a debate hosted by the Hilton Neighborhood Association at the Maplewood Senior Center on Sept. 27. Nancy Adams and Greg Lembrich, both Democratic incumbents, and independent challenger Ileana Castillo told residents what their plans are, if elected in November, and answered questions about topics including redevelopment and the environment.
Adams is running for a second term on the committee and has lived in Maplewood since 1989. A co-founder of the College Hill Neighborhood Association and the Springfield Avenue Partnership, she has been on the Maplewood Planning Board for the last 12 years. Lembrich is also seeking his second term on the committee, and has lived in Maplewood for 12 years. He has served on the Public Safety Committee and worked to create the Community Board on Police, in addition to advocating for the creation of the traffic safety unit of the Maplewood Police Department.
Castillo has two daughters who attend Tuscan Elementary School and has been involved with the Maplewood Civic Association in addition to school fundraisers. She said at the debate that she wants to contribute new ideas to the committee and to the town.
“One of the reasons I wanted to run for Township Committee is because I have the passion and the willingness to help the community,” Castillo said. “I just want to answer to the residents. I will be your voice even if I don’t agree with it. That’s my duty, to respond to you and go to meetings and work with you.”
Recycling was the subject of much of the discussion, with several residents asking about single-use plastic shopping bags and the changes in recyclable materials being collected in Maplewood. In August, Maplewood released new recycling guidelines to better comply with current standards for conservation.
Adams said that she supports eschewing plastic shopping bags for bags and containers that can be reused and then recycled.
“I’m a proponent of reusing and trying as best we can to not buy single-use products, not use shopping bags, not use plastics that can’t get recycled,” Adams said at the debate, adding that recycling and garbage collection prices have gone up. “The biggest problem right now is contamination. So if people are recycling things that are no longer accepted or people are recycling plastic bags, they’ll no longer be taken. We’re trying really hard to educate the community because it was just going to be a hit for us as far as our budget goes.”
The question of charging for single-use plastic shopping bags was raised, as well. In early September, the Township Committee voted down a proposed ordinance that would compel Maplewood businesses to charge customers for each single-use bag.
Castillo said she wouldn’t support a single-use bag fee for local businesses, arguing that an extra cost to consumers would be a burden.
“I don’t agree with charging for bags,” she said. “I think already the residents have so many burdens with taxes and everything, why add one more? I think we should ban them and use the reusable bags, but not pay for the plastic bags.”
Adams said that having to pay for plastic bags would be a deterrent for many people and would encourage them to invest in reusable bags.
“I’ve seen it work in other counties and other communities in the country, mostly in encouraging people to just either not take a bag or to use a reusable bag,” she said. “And while we are talking about banning the single-use plastic checkout bags, I happen to be in favor of a small surcharge because I don’t see it as a burden for people. It’s not something that’s absolutely necessary that you should be charged for.”
Lembrich also addressed the changes he would like to see in takeout containers in local restaurants, saying plastic containers are more likely to be reused and should be encouraged because cardboard containers cannot be recycled when they get dirty.
“Styrofoam is not recyclable and usually the cardboard, although it starts recyclable, it gets food all over and it gets dirty, and then it’s not recyclable,” he said at the debate. “It’s certainly going to be a transition and a learning curve for us and for our local business, including our restaurants. We have to figure out what is the best way to serve what customers need, because we’re not looking to put our business at a competitive disadvantage against surrounding communities. But we also want their business and their takeout containers to be sustainable. And I think giving them something that they can reuse or recycle is probably better than giving them something that they are almost certainly not going to reuse and recycle.”
Development was the other topic that received much discussion at the debate, with the candidates sharing different opinions on the subject. Castillo said she thinks Maplewood has reached saturation with new projects, and should stop redeveloping for now in order to come up with a vision for new development projects going forward.
“I think we have to stop momentarily and take a close look at what’s really going on,” Castillo said. “I think we have to approach it better to see what we’re hoping for in the future, not building just to build. I would like to sit down and take a look and see what our vision is with that before we start popping up more buildings. I would want to hold it for a while.”
Adams said the township had a vision for the development of Maplewood Village, but when new businesses open and new projects are built, the town only has so much control. She said that when an area is zoned for a specific use, the town isn’t able to have input.
“We talk long and hard about any project that comes before us,” Adams said. “We talk to developers coming in — whether it’s for somebody who wants to put a subdivision on a lot to multifamily houses next to each other to a large redevelopment projects. It’s not something that we take lightly at all. So we try to be proactive with what we permit and what we are talking about with the developer or with the property owner to see what can best be built there as opposed to not being involved at all. So it’s a constant conversation and it can come up at any time.”
Lembrich said he thinks Maplewood has enough redevelopment in the Hilton neighborhood — where the debate took place — especially with housing and apartment building projects. He does, however, support more housing for senior citizens that would allow residents to remain in Maplewood.
“We’ve seen a lot of growth in the last couple of years, some pretty big facilities that have gone up,” Lembrich said. “What I am excited about potentially coming to this area is a proposed facility on Boyden Avenue that would provide senior housing and assisted living and adult care facilities. A substantial portion of that would be available to Medicare. I think that’s great because we want seniors to be able to, if they can’t remain in their homes, to be able to relocate to suitable housing within Maplewood, particularly affordable housing, and that they be able to continue to stay in and enjoy as seniors the community that they’ve lived in.”