Council honors 2 who recently died
HAMMONTON—Mayor Stephen DiDonato opened the regular meeting of town council, held on August 23 in town hall, with two moments of silence.
The first was for former councilman Paul Esposito.
“I served with him—along with Tom [Gribbin] and Sam [Rodio], and I think Steven [Furgione] was here—great guy. We lost him way too young,” DiDonato said.
Later in the meeting, Councilman Tom Gribbin shared his thoughts about Esposito.
“He was a very close friend of me and my family. Paul served on council for a number of years, and I know that it was an honor for him to serve the town, his hometown; he grew up and spent his whole life here. It was an honor for me to ask him to run for council, and Paul took great pride in representing the residents of the town of Hammonton. He did an excellent job as a councilman. He was a great man, a good family man, and I know that my thoughts and prayers are with his wife Susan and his daughter Devon, who is very close to my wife Sara and I. I know that anyone who knew Paul knew what a good man he was, and he will be missed,” Gribbin said.
The second moment of silence was for Robert Frankenfield.
“He was the chairman of the zoning board for years. He passed and was buried today,” DiDonato said.
Before resuming the regular order of business, Councilman Jonathan Oliva held a small presentation.
“In the audience we have a tremendous group of student athletes. Joining us tonight are the 2021 South Jersey Group 3 Champion Hammonton High School Varsity Softball team,” Oliva said.
Oliva gave a brief overview of the team’s season, noting that it “could have shaken out a couple different ways.”
“With a very young team and a challenging schedule—and rigorous COVID guidelines and policies—there were a lot of possible outcomes, but that didn’t stop this team from coming out of the gate strong, with two hard-fought wins to start the season, followed by six more wins where they scored double-digit runs and held their opponents with three or less runs. They started their season hot with a 16-0 win streak, and that record ultimately set them up as the No. 2 seed in the South Jersey Group 3 tournament,” Oliva said.
Oliva said that, at the championship game held on June 12, Hammonton was matched with the No. 1 seed, Central Regional High School.
“They pulled away a victory with one run at the top of the seventh inning to beat home team Central Regional one to nothing. That game capped what was an incredible season, and saw Hammonton capture a South Jersey Group 3 title. Also, that was on their way to a 20-2 overall record, a 13-1 Cape Atlantic record and a 12-0 perfect division record. This team worked really hard this year to achieve something special, and their accolades have brought a lot of pride to their school, to them, their parents, their program and, most certainly, this community,” Oliva said.
Oliva then called up Coach Eric Shulman and several staff and team members who were in attendance and presented them with a proclamation stating that “the town of Hammonton values hard work, dedication and sportsmanship.”
“Be it resolved that the mayor and council of the town of Hammonton, county of Atlantic, in the state of New Jersey, do hereby recognize and express their congratulations to the Hammonton High School Varsity Softball team,” the proclamation stated.
In another sports-related matter, during his report, Town Solicitor Michael Malinsky discussed a lease for the Boyer Avenue Recreation Complex.
“If council is so inclined, I need a motion to authorize the mayor to execute the lease for the Boyer Avenue Athletic Fields pending the final approval of the agreement—we’ve all seen a draft—but pending the final approval of the agreement by Chairman Furgione, by Mayor DiDonato and also by myself,” Malinsky said.
Councilman Steven Furgione made the motion, which Gribbin seconded.
“This will give us the ability to negotiate with an entity to convert one of the existing soccer fields at Boyer Avenue into a synthetic turf surface. We have a little bit more to do before we formally present it, but it gives us the ability to finalize negotiations and present a complete plan here for September.
Furgione said that the plan was to “have an agreement adopted this September.”
“The idea would be, 12 months from now, to have construction in place to be ready for next September. I should also say that this would give us the ability—and I don’t know if we need to put this as a separate motion—but we’re going to need to reach out to Green Acres. Green Acres funded the soccer fields, so we have to get their permission, and probably going to need to get permission from Pinelands,” Furgione said.
Malinsky said that such approval would not be the responsibility of the town.
“That would be on the tenant. We’ll assist, but that’s on the tenant to get those applications. They’re doing the improvement,” Malinsky said.
The motion was carried unanimously.
Malinsky also asked for a first reading of Ordinance No. 014-2021, an Ordinance to Amend Chapter 211, Article IV of the General Ordinances of the Town of Hammonton.
“This is an ordinance in which mayor and council are eliminating the current section of the ordinance that deals with the registration regarding properties of individuals that don’t pay their mortgage payment in which there’s foreclosure or lis pendens filed,” Malinsky said.
The reading passed unanimously, with Councilman Joseph Giralo abstaining.
“The next action item is a resolution approving or authorizing the mayor to execute the second addendum to the lease with the Noyes Museum of Art of Stockton University, who currently leases our third floor, to allow them to continue that lease,” Malinsky said.
The resolution was approved unanimously.
Councilman William Olivo updated council on several events during the Business and Industry Committee report.
Olivo said that Third Thursday in September will be “Fiesta,” and that Cruisin’ MainStreet will be held on September 17.
“The rain date will be the following day, which will be on Saturday. We also have the Town Wide Yard Sale on Saturday, September 18; that’s from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Recycling Central will be at the carnival grounds from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. on that Saturday, as well. There’s also the Fall Festival at Blueberry Crossing on September 25 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.,” Olivo said.
Olivo said that there are several ribbon-cutting ceremonies planned for September.
“On September 11, at 11 a.m., it’s Gio’s Steaks Food Truck; it’s going to be on Passmore Avenue. On September 16, at 5:30 p.m., there’s going to be a ribbon-cutting for Taffeta Salon and Spa, which is 219 Bellevue Ave.,” Olivo said.
Discussing economic growth, Olivo said that there “continues to be a very large interest by investors and business owners in locating and expanding in the town of Hammonton.”
“Town officials and volunteers have been working with current owners of the former Whitehall Research and Development office area, which is the corner of Grand and Ninth. The 100,000-square-foot office space is almost entirely vacant. Thankfully, several companies are considering purchasing the property or investing in it,” Olivo said.
Olivo discussed work at other properties throughout town.
“The former Capital Bank—or Empire Bank or Superior Mortgage—on Bellevue Avenue has been purchased by a financial servicing company that plans to bring dozens of jobs to Hammonton. They are planning improvements to the building, and we are looking forward to the company’s formal name soon. On the White Horse Pike, the New Standard Senior Living at the old Econo Lodge is nearing completion. They’re going to have a grand opening at the end of September, with a ribbon-cutting,” Olivo said.
Olivo also noted the potential of hotel space coming to Hammonton.
“The boutique hotel that was approved years ago at Kathedral, at the former rectory at St. Martin’s, is being completed and will open before the end of this year. It’ll bring much-needed hotel rooms to our town for our residents, for friends and family when they visit, and also for weddings, festivals and special events that are held where tourists want to enjoy overnight stays—especially if they’re coming to town for the restaurants and the other venues we have in town,” Olivo said.
Olivo amended his statement, though, speaking with The Gazette after the meeting. Olivo said that he “might have jumped the gun a little bit on this.”
“I thought everything was in place, but my understanding for me to correct is the fact that they hope to get everything going within the next couple of months, and open by the end of the year. What I said was absolutely incorrect, because I thought they had everything in place and they actually started it and were going to open by the end of the year. Hopefully, everything is going to get done and they’re going to be done by the end of the year. That’s my understanding, not that they have the approval and everything was done, so I stand corrected,” Olivo said.
Olivo then informed council of an upcoming craft beer and Halloween-themed event called “Witchcraft” at Paradise Lakes Campground on October 16.
“It’s the same company that runs the A.C. Beer and Music Festival, the Downbeach Seafood Festival in Ventnor and other large events. It will draw thousands of people to the town, and we’re working with Chief [Kevin] Friel and other town officials to make sure everything looks fine,” Olivo said.
During the second public comment portion, Mark Santora of 385 Old Forks Rd. addressed council regarding the rebroadcast of council meetings.
“Over the years, wasn’t the town council meeting aired several times a month? I believe it was, on Channel 9. I think it used to come on on Monday nights at the regular time, and I think it even came on during the day sometimes,” Santora said.
Santora said that age is a factor in his inquiry.
“I’ll be 65 in two months. A lot of seniors, they’re not going to go to a computer, and if they’re busy on the Monday night where the meeting falls or something, they might want to tune in and watch it. I wonder if there’s any way that we could get a schedule as to putting it on Channel 9 and as to when it could be aired. This way, if somebody wants to tune into it—they’re not computer-savvy, or they just want to sit in their reclining chair and watch—it’s there,” Santora said.
DiDonato asked if Santora was certain the meetings were not broadcast each Monday, and Zuber said that the rebroadcast is available on livestream. Malinsky commented further.
“I think what he’s talking about is not just every Monday; having it multiple times during the week. Is that correct?” Malinsky said.
Santora said that he did not believe that the meetings were broadcast every Monday.
“I tuned in a couple Mondays at 7 p.m. trying to get it, and it just did not have it,” Santora said.
Zuber reiterated that it was on livestream and on the town’s website.
“A lot of seniors aren’t going to go to livestream,” Santora replied.
Gribbin said that the matter could be discussed in the next committee meeting.
“I agree. I believe there was three periods; 11 a.m., 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. used to be the times on Mondays ... the same schedule would fall for planning/zoning board on Wednesdays and board of education on Thursdays. We’ll revisit that issue at our next Administration Committee meeting,” Gribbin said.
Peter Beninate, of 5 Lahn Ln., then addressed council.
“The street sign at Lahn Lane and Old Forks Road has been down for over six months. My wife has called the highway department and never got a response. We’re a senior-citizen group; can we get that put up?” Beninate said.
Rodio responded to Beninate.
“I’ll make that phone call first thing in the morning, sir, and I’m sorry for that inconvenience. That shouldn’t have took place over six months. I will make sure that that gets corrected, though, tomorrow morning ... it may not go up tomorrow if we have to order something,” Rodio said.
The next meeting of town council will be held on September 27 at 7 p.m.