Pastor on roadwork
Speaks to council about hardships to church
HAMMONTON—The Rev. Tiffany Bruno Travia, the pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Hammonton, spoke about the hardships placed on her congregation because of the ongoing roadwork on School House Lane at the October 24 meeting of town council.
Travia, who began her pastorship on July 1, said that the church received a letter on August 15 from Think Pavers Hardscaping LLC that work was due to commence.
“That was our first—and only—warning that this work was going to begin. The letter stated that they would do their best to minimize any inconvenience associated with this work,” Travia said.
Travia said that the letter also advised that cars be removed from the roadway between 6:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.
“Given this, we were under the impression that the roadway would be passable—and, we were also under the impression that, given that school was starting in two weeks, that maybe this would be a two to four week job,” Travia said.
Travia acknowledged that the project had setbacks, but after more than two months, she said that there is still no definitive end in sight.
Travia said that the church—like St. Joseph Academy and Hammonton Baptist Church—was flooded and damaged.
“However, unlike St. Joe, I have had to jump through hoops to be seen or heard about these issues,” Travia said.
Travia said that she was informed by representatives of Adams, Rehmann and Heggan Associates (ARH) that any repair bills would be paid.
“After a $7,000-plus bill from Servpro, issues getting Servpro out of our driveway—because the road is not passable—I have not received a call back. I have called ARH no less than six times, left voicemails where I have been consistently kind, trying very hard not to lose my blessed Christian witness over all this roadwork,” Travia said.
The church, Travia said, also has drywall and new moulding that needs to be replaced.
“This could be, easily, another $5,000 to $6,000-plus, but we’ve held off on these repairs until I can hear back from, really, anybody at this point to know that it will be paid for, because I’m trying to be a good steward of the funds that come in,” Travia said.
Additionally, Travia said that the church building does not have parking, and congregants have traditionally parked along School House Lane.
“After two-plus years of COVID, we were finally finding some normalcy. Now, one month into my time there, I’ve had to offer weekly apologies for inconveniences that I did not cause—nor do I have any ability to change at this point,” Travia said.
Travia said that several of her parishioners have had close calls with oncoming traffic while crossing Bellevue Avenue.
“One was even berated this Sunday by someone driving past, and she was in the crosswalk. I have parishioners with medical issues, disabilities and some that are of a certain age that are now being forced because, quite frankly, it is simply unsafe for them to attend,” Travia said.
For those who do attend, Travia said, they must navigate a pothole in the crosswalk on School House Lane, as well as storm grates that have been left open. Additionally, the church’s driveway is being used for construction storage, Travia said.
“We aren’t getting our daily mail. We don’t get deliveries when we need to get them. Our trash is not being picked up, due to all this construction. I pray—often—that no one dies suddenly, because I have no idea how we would do a funeral in our building, as there is no way to put a hearse into the driveway,” Travia said.
Travia said that she is disappointed that the needs of the church were not considered when the project began, nor now, during the advent of the holiday season.
“For the past 12 years, we would have typically served 200-plus members of this community with a Thanksgiving dinner, and now I can’t even plan for it. I don’t even know if it will be possible. Advent will soon be upon us, and that is the busiest, most well-attended time of year. We can’t plan for that, either,” Travia said.
Travia also expressed disappointment that no town officials contacted the church before or during construction. Travia, a graduate of Hammonton High School, said that it was a source of pride for her to return as an adult and serve the community.
“Now, here I am, thinking that I thought you all were on the same page as I am: happy to serve this community, and yet, now I’m starting to wonder. I pray that you all prove me wrong,” Travia said.
Mayor Stephen DiDonato said that he learned from talks with Town Engineer Mark Herrmann that the water main has been installed from Bellevue Avenue to the bend in School House Lane.
“Maybe we can get the concrete contractor to start back at Bellevue Avenue in front of the church? Start getting the concrete in as soon as possible,” DiDonato said.
“We’ll do what we can,” he said.
DiDonato said that he did not know exactly what happened to the building in regards to water in the basement. Travia said that it was the same reason that St. Joseph Academy flooded.
“When the roadwork stopped for that period of time, we had everything back up through our basement,” Travia said.
DiDonato asked Herrmann for an explanation, which Herrmann provided.
“This was from the day we had the real bad storm, and we had all the water rush the manhole with the lid popped off. That was when the church, the school—also the Baptist church—all had issues with the amount of water that was going through the pipe—and through Bellevue’s pipe,” Herrmann said.
Herrmann said that the head of the water flowed up through the church’s toilets in the basement.
“So it was sewage water, not stormwater,” DiDonato said.
Herrmann replied in the negative.
“It was stormwater. Above the church is the school, and there’s one house. There wasn’t much sewage. It was all from the stormwater,” Herrmann said.
Herrmann acknowledged that the water was “dirty.”
“It wasn’t clean,” Herrmann said.
“It came up through toilets, where sewage goes,” Travia said.
Councilman Jonathan Oliva asked for clarification.
“So stormwater infiltrated the sewer, and then it came up, but, either way, it’s coming from the sewer line,” Oliva said.
Councilman Steven Furgione inquired further.
“That’s when the contractor left the open hole?” Furgione said.
Herrmann said that it was.
“The casting on the manhole was not secure, and when all the water came that one day it rushed into the unsecured manhole,” Herrmann said.
DiDonato asked if the contractor has agreed to pay the bills for the church, and Herrmann said they have.
“I’ve sent everything over to them. At that point, it’s their responsibility—and I’ve been on them to address it,” Herrmann said.
“What we’re going to do is, we’re going to hold up the contractor’s money until such time as he allocates money to pay for these damages. Right, we can do that?” DiDonato said.
Town solicitor Michael Malinsky affirmed that assertion.
Councilman William Olivo inquired further.
“We have not communicated back with them at all?” Olivo said.
Herrmann said that he never received six messages.
“I’ve only gotten one,” Herrmann said.
Travia said she left several messages for Herrmann.
“The last time I called, it went right to your voicemail,” Travia said.
Travia then called back and spoke with a secretary who said she would send an email to Herrmann on the matter. Herrmann replied.
“I apologize for that. I only received—we talked one time, and the second time I got a note that you had called, and I immediately called the contractor and said, ‘Where are we with this?’ I’ll check tomorrow, but, like I said, I’ve only spoken to you once; as for the other times, I did not get any message, or I would have called you back—or I would have come out to the church,” Herrmann said.
Malinsky asked Herrmann when the next payment was due to be approved by council, and Herrmann replied that it was on bill list for that night’s agenda. Furgione offered a suggestion.
“Why don’t we make a motion to approve, contingent on them squaring up these bills?
Because this is going to have to go to their insurance company, I would assume, right?”
Herrmann replied that that was correct.
“Unless they’re going to write a check for it,” Herrmann said.
Malinsky then confirmed that the payment on the bill list was not the final payment to the contractor.
“I just want to make sure that we have another payment to withhold,” Malinsky said.
DiDonato suggested paying the contractor for the work they have done to date.
“We still have enough money—plenty of money—to solve this problem,” DiDonato said.
DiDonato reiterated that the contractor should agree to start concrete work immediately, starting at Bellevue Avenue.
“Once they get to the bend, on both sides, they should have to DGA [dense graded
aggregate] that section, past their driveway,” DiDonato said.
The hope, DiDonato said, is that the driveway will be usable by mid-November.
“I wish I could say, and wave a magic wand and say we’re going to solve this problem, but the concrete alone, to get to the bend, is probably going to take five to seven workdays; maybe 10. Then, the DGA to get to the corner is probably going to take another two or three. You’re looking—if we hustled, and really hustle hard—you’re looking at three weeks from today,”
Furgione asked what materials the contractor has left in the church’s parking lot, and Travia replied.
“There’s pipes. There was a bulldozer there today. There’s been all sorts of things,” Travia said.
“That’s private property. That’s got to go,” Furgione said.
Furgione then asked if the church could perhaps use the parking lot belonging to Cappuccio & Zaorski, and Travia said that that’s where parishioners currently park. Furgione continued.
“Why don’t we have an officer? We will escort people back and forth,” Furgione said.
Travia said that happened for one Sunday.
“They came at what they thought would be convenient for us; again, nobody asked what would be convenient for us. They showed up at quarter-of, before service started. They came when they thought service ended. They were incorrect. They stood out there for 15 minutes.
They crossed maybe one person, and then they never came again,” Travia said.
Travia then provided all Sunday service times for council to consider. Later in the meeting,
DiDonato read from a text message he received from Hammonton Police Chief Kevin Friel on the topic.
“I authorized overtime, if need be, from 8:15 to 12:15 and have one officer for four hours there every Sunday until this is resolved,” DiDonato read.
DiDonato reiterated the proposed construction time frame.
“If we get two dry weeks, hoping by the 14th or 15th of November you are able to access that driveway. I need you to understand this: that’s best-case scenario, with weather on our side,” DiDonato said.
Later in the meeting, DiDonato consulted the weather app on his smartphone.
“We’re going to have a dry week. He should be able to clean that up a little bit so they can access it this Sunday, that parking lot. He should be able to grade that enough with a backhoe,” DiDonato said.
Olivo again addressed Herrmann, noting that “communication is everything.”
“Can we make sure she’s aware of what’s going on, whether you update her every three days—or whatever it may be—but please make sure you get in touch with her and let her know what you find out of what’s going to happen over the next couple of days,” Olivo said.
Herrmann said that he would.
“I want to publicly apologize to yourself and your congregation. I am sorry—very, very sorry—that you have experienced this, and had this nightmare on your hands. I truly do apologize,” DiDonato said.
Furgione commented about the aforementioned Thanksgiving dinner.
“If we get closer—the 10th or 15th—if you think there’s going to be an issue and you’re not satisfied, we’ve got to have a conversation, if there’s a way we could find an alternate spot to help so you can have Thanksgiving dinner,” Furgione said.
Travia expressed appreciation for the idea, and DiDonato told her to make the appropriate arrangements to feed the 200-plus people.
“We’ll have your road graded so you can get in and out. You have my word on that. You get your donations. You feed your people. We’ll make sure that road is passable—if we have to use the highway department and back-bill the contractor to keep your driveway open,” DiDonato said.
“Thank you. I appreciate that very much,” she said.
DiDonato then asked Public Works Manager Robert Vettese to meet with the church every Friday morning to discuss their needs for the upcoming weekend.
“So we know what we have to do, get some eyes on the situation—the first 200 feet so you have access, starting this Friday, every week, in that parking lot,” DiDonato said.
DiDonato then suggested meeting at the church on October 28 at 9 a.m.
“Let’s have ARH. Let’s have Bobby, the church, the contractor, myself and the chief,” DiDonato said.
Travia was amenable to the meeting, which Oliva said he would also attend. DiDonato continued.
“If we have to do that every Friday, from now until we clean it up; we apologize. We’re issuing a public apology on behalf and council. We apologize. We’re sorry that you’re experiencing that, and we’ll do better,” DiDonato said.
In other business, during his report, Vettese gave an update regarding the proposed West End Avenue area redevelopment project. Vettese said that, in August, there was a resolution passed authorizing the execution of the redevelopment agreement.
That resolution—No. 106-2022, Approving Redevelopment of West End Avenue—was passed at a special meeting of town council on August 8. Neither that resolution nor the redevelopment agreement, which was discussed at that meeting, were on the original meeting agenda as released by the town on August 5. On that agenda, the only reference was listed as “other items of discussion (possible Ordinance or Resolution may be adopted or introduced) – Redevelopment of property Located at Block 2413, lots 13/16 and adjacent properties.”
The full text of that agreement and resolution was not available until the town released an updated agenda at 12:24 p.m. on August 8.
Since that time, Vettese said that town representatives met with the developer—West End Development Associates, LLC—and have worked out additional details, including sanitary sewer, water lines, trees, paving and roadway width.
“That will be all included in the agreement,” Vettese said.
Vettese said that there was a resolution on the agenda related to the agreement. That resolution, No 154-2022, was not in the original agenda released by the town on October 21, and was only released during the meeting.
Councilman Edward Wuillermin commented further, noting that, in additional negotiations with conflict attorney Brian Howell and the developer—and as a result of meetings with the developer’s engineer—there is an agreement in-principle regarding the locations of utilities that would be part of the agreement, once executed.
“An additional builder to that agreement, D.R. Horton, in addition to Ryan Homes, the redeveloper would like to incorporate that into the revised agreement,” Wuillermin said.
The name D.R. Horton did not appear in the text of Resolution No. 154-2022, and was only spoken at the meeting.
Wuillermin said that the developer is also seeking assistance for three trees that will be adversely affected by road widening.
“The town is agreeing in principle to a mill-and-overlay only, not a substantial reconstruction of the road. But, considering the location of the utilities in the front of the townhouses, and the work of the widening of the road, there’s going to be three trees that the redeveloper’s arborist has indicated they would like to see removed,” Wuillermin said.
Wuillermin said that the developer would like some consideration as a cost-share for the removal.
Wuillermin suggested including a limit set on the cost share of $7,500.
“I figure, three trees at $5,000 a piece should more than enough to cover a prospective cost for that. And, I would include that we would require the redeveloper submit the estimated cost of that from a contractor, and that it would be a reasonable estimate for those three trees,” Wuillermin said.
Furgione explained the road-widening.
“We had the fire department out there. They’re making them widen the road on West End; that’ll be on their nickel. We had already agreed to mill and overlay, so you’re going to get a wider road when it’s all done. Again that’s the developer’s issue,” Furgione said.
Furgione also discussed updates to the proposed utilities for the project.
“Instead of running the utilities in the streets on both West End and Washington, they’re going to go on their property so they become private utilities—which is a benefit to the town. We don’t have to maintain them; we don’t touch them,” Furgione said.
Wuillermin noted that all approvals for the project will have to be granted “in regular order.”
“They’ll have to go to the Planning Board. They’ll have to go to the Environmental Commission. These trees that they’re talking about would have to be reviewed by the Environmental Commission, and they would have to get all their permits—as they normally would. We’re just agreeing to the cost-share on that after those approvals are obtained,” Wuillermin said.
The resolution—amended to include the $7,500 cost-sharing—was approved.
The next meeting of town council is scheduled for November 21 at 7 p.m.