Recent Headline ItemsTop

 

INDEX
15 May 2007: N.J. justices reject Korean congregation's appeal
11 May 2007: Four homes among winners in Historic Preservation Commendation Awards
13 April 2007: Northvale, Rockleigh sign service agreement
19 February 2007: Law gives congregations a potent weapon against towns
January 31, 2007: Church fight: Freedom to pray vs. freedom from traffic jams
23 September 2006: Off-duty [Palasades] firefighter catches heat for 'help'
30 September 2006: N.J. high court to hear case on building church
10 August 2006: Op-Ed: Problems with third try to build juvenile jail [...in Teterboro]
18 July 2006: Teterboro site eyed for juvenile jail
30 March 2006: Rockleigh's budget holds line on taxes
21 Mar 2006: Rockleigh brings on new hands for a range of official duties
17 Mar 2006: Search for youth center widens
8 Jan 2006: One Square Mile, One Simmering Issue
22 Dec 2005: Op-Ed: Look no further [...than Paramus]
23 Nov 2005: Detention center draws protest
6 Nov 2005: Your Views (Letter to the Editor)
27 Oct 2005: Youth-lockup foes close ranks
19 Oct 2005: Officials balk at "jail" site
13 Oct 2005: Op-Ed: No Jail in Rockleigh
12 Oct 2005:  Three towns join to fight juvenile jail
30 Sep 2005: Youth center adopts inmate cap.  Rockleigh mayor vows to fight plan for new site
September 26, 2005: State Steps In - Editorial
2 Mar 2005: Rockleigh - No need for school ballots in Rockleigh  

 

 

 

The Record

Tuesday, May 15, 2007
 

N.J. justices reject Korean congregation's appeal

A Korean congregation's five-year quest to build a new church in Rockleigh has hit a dead end in the state Supreme Court.

The court dismissed a bid by St. Joseph Korean Catholic Church to overturn an appeals court's ruling that the town had a right to deny a variance needed for the project.

David Watkins, the attorney representing the church, said he would proceed by pursuing the case in federal court.

"Basically, they were unable to render a decision," he said of the Supreme Court. "I would have preferred them to decide, even if they decided against my client. It's unfair to the residents of New Jersey."

Rockleigh Mayor Nick Langella welcomed the high court's ruling.

"I wish the Korean church all the luck in the world," he said. "The court voted in favor of the town and that's the way it's going to stand. Maybe they could get a church where it's more convenient for them. There's not many Catholic Koreans in Rockleigh."

In 2002, the congregation sought to build a 24,000-square-foot church on Paris Avenue in Rockleigh's tiny business district. Plans called for a two-story building with a 570-seat sanctuary, a chapel, 17 classrooms, residences, a library and a kitchen.

The Planning Board rejected the application, arguing that it was the wrong use in the wrong location.

The church sued and won in state Superior Court, but the Appellate Division sided with Rockleigh last May, leading to the appeal that has now been dismissed by the high court.

Some observers had said the court's ruling could affect similar disputes in other communities, but attorneys involved in the case maintained the judge's ruling is isolated to this unique conflict.

Jack Hall, Rockleigh's borough attorney, said he didn't think the case would have any wider implications on religious land use or any constitutional issue.

"This is a unique situation," Hall said. "Rockleigh is a town of 600 acres, half of which is a golf course and county-owned property and green acres. There's very little property development. There's no way the church, if granted a variance, could expand to provide for all of its parishioners. The law has not changed because of the Rockleigh case."

The Korean congregation was established nearly two decades ago with a handful of Korean-Americans. The group has grown to nearly 700 worshipers and meets in space rented from St. Joseph Catholic Church in Demarest.

St. Joseph Korean Catholic Church purchased the 5-acre property on Paris Avenue hoping to gain permission to build on the vacant site, which had been zoned for an office building. But the Planning Board was concerned that there would be no room for the church to expand to accommodate the growing congregation.

"The proposed building was already too small for their congregation," said Kenneth Dolecki, attorney for the Planning Board. "It would have caused problems for church seating, traffic and parking.

"They wanted to put it in an area that wasn't zoned for churches. This was the buffer zone between business and residential zone."

Although several residents came to Planning Board meetings to speak out against the construction, there was no organized opposition to the church in town, borough officials said.

"Obviously, I'm glad that it's over," Dolecki said. "It was a long drawn-out situation for both sides."

Copyright 2007 North Jersey Media Group Inc.

 

The Record

Friday, May 11, 2007
 

Four homes among winners in Historic Preservation Commendation Awards

Bergen County presented the 25th annual Historic Preservation Commendation Awards on Thursday. Four restored homes were among the winners.

The James C. Blauvelt House and Carriage House, 290 Durie Ave., Closter

Year constructed: 1872  Owners: Andrew and Janet Lukach...

The Sylvan Building, also known as The Kurgan-Bergen Building, 41-45 Park Ave., Rutherford

Year constructed: 1901  Owners: Peter Garabedian and Gene Rochat...

King Jellison House, 330 Engle St., Tenafly

Year constructed: 1873  Owners: Karen and Michael Neus...

John A. Haring House and Barn, 5 Piermont Road, Rockleigh

Year constructed: 1755  Owner: Douglas Johnsen Sr.

History: An early 19th-century example of Dutch colonial architecture. It is one of just five New World Dutch barns in Bergen County. The home had been owned by the Haring family, original Rockleigh settlers, for 164 years. Johnsen, Rockleigh's borough historian, and his friend John McMorris began restoring the barn in 2001. Working nearly every day since then, they raised the barn off the ground, replaced most of the timber and redid much of the masonry.

Copyright 2007 North Jersey Media Group Inc.

 

The Record

Friday, April 13, 2007
 

Northvale, Rockleigh sign service agreement

Northvale's Department of Public Works will provide Rockleigh with several additional services under a one-year $20,000 inter-local agreement.

In addition to the fee, Rockleigh will pay for any overtime and materials. Rockleigh also will donate $15,000 to Northvale's ambulance corps.

Northvale will also be allowed to store its trucks in Rockleigh's three-bay garage.

This is a separate agreement from existing contracts for snow plowing and policing, which have been in existence for the past several years, local officials said.

Under the new DPW agreement, Northvale will be responsible for several tasks, including maintaining tree limbs, repairing and replacing street signs, filling potholes and cutting grass at three locations around Rockleigh.

"It's a win-win all around," said Northvale Mayor John Hogan. "We are documenting our shared services with Rockleigh and it will help us qualify for more state grants in the future. Also, it's only for a year, so if we feel it needs adjusting, we will do that next year."

Rockleigh Councilman James Pontone was equally enthusiastic. "We're excited about doing more shared services that the governor has outlined as one of his big goals."

Copyright 2007 North Jersey Media Group Inc.

 

The Record

Monday, February 19, 2007
 

Law gives congregations a potent weapon against towns

The tiny borough of Rockleigh is waging a battle that many larger communities have lost: It's trying to block a religious congregation's building plans.

The dispute has reached the state's highest court, where a ruling could have ramifications far beyond the borough's borders.

Indeed, a Korean Catholic congregation's case against Rockleigh highlights a growing conflict between two cherished American principles: the right of communities to control their growth versus the free exercise of religion.

And in North Jersey, that conflict has sparked battles in several towns, including Clifton, Wayne, Hackensack, Haworth and Englewood. In the Morris County community of Rockaway Township, years of fighting are drawing to a close as the Planning Board last week signed off on a proposal to build one of the largest churches in the state.

Religious groups say the problem is simple: a subtle form of discrimination aimed at keeping out tax-exempt congregations.

"We left Europe for religious freedom, and now we have zoning ordinances that prevent the ability to practice your faith," said David C. Watkins, a lawyer for the church in the Rockleigh case. "It's more sophisticated, but it's still discrimination."

But town officials and residents involved in disputes say the problem isn't religion but traffic, parking and the prospect of an intrusive new development in already packed towns. In Clifton and Haworth, for example, religious congregations want to build churches alongside single-family homes in residential neighborhoods.

In the Rockleigh case, St. Joseph's Korean Catholic Church is seeking to build a 24,000-square-foot church on a vacant Paris Avenue lot -- a site once slated for an office building that the town had approved.

"We simply think it's the wrong use in the wrong location," said Kenneth C. Dolecki, the Planning Board attorney. "The negative impact outweighed the benefits of a house of worship."

The church sued and won in state Superior Court. But the Appellate Division sided with Rockleigh. A decision by the state Supreme Court is expected in 60 to 90 days.

The case is drawing attention because the church's lawsuit is based in part on a controversial and relatively recent federal law. The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 gives religious groups a powerful legal weapon.

The act says government agencies cannot pass land-use regulations that impose a burden on the free exercise of religion. Congregations that sue under the act can recoup their attorney fees at the expense of the governments they sue.

The law is making itself known in town after town nationwide.

In North Jersey, Hackensack had to pay nearly $30,000 to cover the legal bills of New Hope Baptist Church after a state judge reversed the city's denial of a church addition.

Englewood is facing a lawsuit, accusing it of depriving a synagogue of its religious rights because officials limited the use of a tent on the congregation's parking lot.

In Rockaway Township, the Planning Board was served with a lawsuit before it even voted on Christ Church's plan for a megachurch. "This law gives a house of worship more rights than any other type of developer," Mayor Lou Sceusi said. "And in some cases, they are using the law as a hammer."

But the pastor of Christ Church said Rockaway was trying to thwart the project early on, threatening to take the land through eminent domain. The Rev. David Ireland said that religious communities need the backing of a tough law to ensure a level playing field.

"We had no other recourse," Ireland said in a statement.

Beyond the public disputes about religion and land use, however, there's a demographic reality that, in New Jersey, is spawning new congregations. Growing up alongside venerable Protestant and Catholic congregations are rapidly expanding communities of Orthodox Jews, Muslims, Korean Christians and a diverse array of evangelical Protestant groups.

In Teaneck, for example, the township has received two proposals in the last two weeks from synagogues that want to expand.

The church in the Rockleigh dispute began nearly two decades ago with a handful of Korean-Americans. The congregation now has 650 to 700 parishioners and rents space from a Demarest parish.

But that growth scares Rockleigh. Town officials said the church would be at capacity before it even opened.

"I'm afraid it would be a white elephant," Rockleigh Mayor Nicholas Langella said. "What happens if they decide to move out after a few years? Are they going to lease it to someone?"

Rockleigh, a wealthy community of horse farms and historic Dutch Colonial homes, hasn't had much experience with religious groups. There isn't a single freestanding house of worship in the borough's one square mile.

The borough allows them only in one zone -- a district in which every square inch of land is owned by government agencies.

A pastor for St. Joseph's said parishioners are taking it in stride. With its numbers burgeoning, he said the parish has time on its side.

"People don't see it as something that can break our backs or really make us," said the Rev. Jungsoo Kim. "They see it as just part of the process.

"Our parish is stronger than a lot of religious communities today, and people are grateful for that."

* * *

Copyright 2007 North Jersey Media Group Inc.

 

The Record

Wednesday, January 31, 2007
 

Church fight: Freedom to pray vs. freedom from traffic jams

Is it a case of stifling religious freedom or is it all about preventing traffic snarls?

Lawyers for the Rockleigh Planning Board and St. Joseph's Korean Catholic Church appeared before the state Supreme Court on Tuesday to continue a four-year-old legal battle over the proposed construction of a 20,000-square-foot church.

The court did not make a ruling. Chief Justice James Zazzali said the court reserved decision, offering no time frame for when a ruling would be made.

Church officials sought the court's higher authority after an appeals court ruled last year that the borough had the right to deny a zoning variance for the new church building.

"Who controls the freedom of religion in the borough of Rockleigh?" David Watkins, the church's attorney, said during a hearing before the court's seven justices. "The answer is the borough of Rockleigh."

But local officials defended the decision, saying the church's proposed location was the problem, not their desire to worship.

"The Planning Board had a number of reasons why this was not an appropriate use for this site," Planning Board Attorney Kenneth Dolecki told the justices.

The controversy began in 2003 when officials of St. Joseph's bought a 5-acre tract of land on Paris Avenue in Rockleigh's northwest section. The church, which meets in Demarest, sought approval for a special-use variance to build on a vacant site in a business zone, where municipal code prohibits houses of worship.

The Planning Board opted to deny the church's application in 2004, citing the structure's size and location as the main reasons. The borough raised concerns that the 300-seat church would not be able to accommodate the congregation's 400-member families and possible expansion.

The church planned its new building on the site where a proposed office building had previously been approved. Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto challenged the town's attorneys, saying that he thought a church would cause less traffic than an office building, which is open Monday through Friday rather than weekends.

"It strikes me that their use is less intensive than the one that was approved," Rivera-Soto said regarding the church. Borough Attorney William Northgrave later explained that it wasn't the intensity itself that was the problem, but rather the "time of the intensity." He explained that the church planned to hold special events during the week in the evenings.

"It's a fact of life that people come home from work and they don't want to be bothered by traffic," Northgrave said.

The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case after the Appellate Division ruling overturned a lower court's ruling in 2004. A Superior Court judge ruled that the Planning Board had denied the church's constitutional rights.

Copyright 2007 North Jersey Media Group Inc.

 

The Record

Saturday, September 30, 2006
 

N.J. high court to hear case on building church

ROCKLEIGH -- The state Supreme Court will hear a case pitting the borough against a congregation that wants to build a 20,000-square-foot church in town.

The state's highest court agreed to hear the case after an appellate panel ruled in May that the borough was right in denying a zoning variance for the church. The panel had overruled a Superior Court judge who ruled in favor of the church two years ago.

No date has been set for the case.

Lawyers for the church and the borough failed to return phone calls Friday afternoon.

The conflict started more than three years ago when St. Joseph Korean Catholic Church bought a five-acre property on Paris Avenue. The church applied for a variance to build in a business zone.

The Planning Board denied the application in 2004, arguing that the church was not large enough to handle its congregation, which worships in Demarest. An attorney for the church said the board acted arbitrarily because the upscale borough of 400 residents did not want a church within its borders.

Churches often have an advantage when it comes to planning boards.

They do not need variances to build in residential areas. The federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act prohibits governments from changing zoning laws in a way that could impose a "substantial burden" on houses of worship.

St. Joseph's has tried for years to find a home, including a shuttered school in Harrington Park, a shopping center in Closter and an out-of-business restaurant in Old Tappan.

Copyright 2006 North Jersey Media Group Inc.

 

The Record

Saturday, September 23, 2006
 

Off-duty [Palasades] firefighter catches heat for 'help'

An off-duty New York City firefighter who police say had too much to drink allegedly stole a firetruck and drove it to a burning building in Closter with the intention of helping battle the blaze.

Raymond Oprey, 33, of Palisades, N.Y., was responding Thursday to an 11:06 p.m. fire at Closter Commons -- to which he was not called -- when he swiped a pumper truck from the Rockleigh Fire Department, police said.

He drove the vehicle to the fire about 3 miles away, making several radio transmissions en route, saying, "I'm on the way," and "I have the 'agua,' [water]" said Northvale Police Capt. Vincent St. Angelo.

Oprey pulled into the parking lot at Closter Commons by driving "erratically" over a lawn. He then walked to the emergency command post and asked if anyone needed help, officials said.

"His behavior was quite calm and described as kind of happy-go-lucky," said Sgt. James Winters of the Closter Police Department. "He was there to help out."

Officials had noticed the suspicious vehicle as soon as Oprey pulled into the lot, and they were already discussing the matter at the command post when he came over, Winters said.

"Right away, he was detained by the Police Department until we could investigate, and then he was placed under arrest," Winters said.

Oprey refused a Breathalyzer test. He was charged with DWI and three other minor motor vehicle charges in Closter, Winters said. No one was injured as a result of his actions, police said.

Oprey then was taken to the Northvale police station, where he was charged with burglary to the firehouse and unlawful taking of the firetruck. Northvale provides police services for Rockleigh, said Police Chief Bruce Tietjen.

Oprey was detained until 6 a.m. Friday, when he was released on a $25,000 bond. If convicted, he faces three to five years in jail and up to $15,000 in fine for the burglary and unlawful-taking charges.

Oprey did not respond to calls seeking comment, and no one answered the phone at his home, which is less than a mile from the Rockleigh Firehouse.

One neighbor, John Albin, said Oprey is a "great kid" and a "funny guy," who had spent time at Ground Zero after the Sept. 11 attacks.

"He should be presumed innocent until proven guilty," Albin said. "I'm sure he was trying to help out like most firefighters do."

Farrell Sklerov, a spokesman for the Fire Department of New York, said Oprey has been a full-time paid firefighter for three years, assigned to Ladder 50 in the Bronx. The New Jersey incident is under investigation, and it could result in "a range of consequences," he said, declining to elaborate.

Local officials are still investigating how Oprey took the firetruck in Rockleigh.

At the time of the Closter fire, a mutual aid call was out for fire departments in Demarest, Norwood, Northvale and Cresskill. Rockleigh was not called, so there was no activity at that firehouse, Tietjen said.

Usually, the firehouses are kept locked. However, the truck inside the building is left unlocked with the keys inside -- "for time-saving purposes, so [firefighters] can just jump in the truck and take off when they need to," Tietjen said.

"We're not sure if the [building]'s door was left ajar or if it was left unlocked," he said. "The only thing I can say for sure is that there were no signs of forced entry."

Oprey was immediately noticed at the Closter fire scene because most of the firefighters in the towns are acquainted with each other from frequent mutual aid emergencies, Winters said.

"Right away, everyone was asking, 'Does anyone know this guy?' and no one had ever met him or recognized him," Winters said. "We work very closely in this area. ... we almost know every firefighter by sight."

The incident did not distract from the actual fire, which engulfed three of the 15 stores in the plaza and spread to their roofs, Winters said. No one was injured, and the fire was reported under control at about 12:15 a.m. Friday.

The fire is under investigation by the Closter Fire Prevention Bureau.

"It seems as though it was accidental. We believe there was some sort of work going on," said Winters, who is also the town's emergency management coordinator.

Staff writer Jason Tsai contributed to this article

Copyright 2006 North Jersey Media Group Inc.

 

The Record

Thursday, August 10, 2006

 

Problems with third try to build juvenile jail

IF Bergen County can acquire an industrial site in Teterboro -- and if the site's environmental problems can be solved -- we will finally get a new and desperately needed juvenile detention center. Maybe.

This is the third time in less than two years that the county has happily announced a new plan, only to have problems arise. First it was angry residents in Paramus, and then angry residents and wetlands in Rockleigh that made the county back down and look elsewhere.

Now it's pollution. The warehouse sits on thousands of gallons of fuel oil, and a cleanup already underway is expected to take several more years.

Did the county know about the Teterboro site's oil-soaked history before deciding on it? A spokesman for County Executive Dennis McNerney says they knew "some of it." He also says experts will be hired shortly to do an assessment of what needs to be done to make the site safe for the center's occupants.

The Teterboro site has its advantages, primarily because it's so close to the courthouse in Hackensack. It's also vacant and available immediately, if the owners agree to sell.

But it's not as ideal as county officials said it was just a few weeks ago. The pollution -- groundwater and soil contamination from 50 years as the site of a machine shop -- could throw a monkey wrench into the county's plan.

For example, the industrial cleanup plan approved in 2000 by the state Department of Environmental Protection did not include the possibility of residential use. Now there are questions of whether a stricter plan would be required and of who would pay for any additional cleanup -- the original polluter or the county.

And how long would a more stringent clean-up take? Time is of the essence, since the current juvenile detention center in Paramus is a firetrap and a disgrace.

Had Mr. McNerney's first plan gone through -- to build on county property a few blocks from the present site in Paramus -- he would now be getting ready to celebrate the opening of a state-of-the-art center, one that would have been far safer and more secure. He should have stood his ground instead of caving in to pressure from a misinformed group of residents.

Instead, we are facing the likelihood of waiting at least another two years, and that's if the county can acquire the Teterboro site soon and if a cleanup adequate for residential use is feasible.

Both of those are big "ifs."

Copyright 2006 North Jersey Media Group Inc.

 

The Record

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

 

Teterboro site eyed for juvenile jail

After more than two years and two false starts, Bergen County officials think they have found a perfect spot to build a new juvenile detention center: a vacant warehouse in Teterboro.

They said Monday they are eyeing a 108,000-square-foot former party supplies warehouse at 200 North St., in an industrial neighborhood.

The two previous attempts to place the facility -- in Paramus and Rockleigh -- were abandoned after fierce neighborhood opposition.

"We found the site that makes sense and meets everybody's needs," County Administrator Timothy Dacey said of the new location.

The county has twice offered to buy the warehouse, which has been on the block since early this year, each time offering to pay the asking price with a single check, Dacey said.

The seller, a company that moved across the street, rejected both offers -- $8.6 million and $8.8 million -- Dacey said.

The county would like to continue negotiating, he said, but if those talks fail, county officials, who are under state pressure to build a new center, would invoke eminent domain and condemn the property.

The Board of Freeholders will weigh a resolution Wednesday that would allow the county to condemn the site.

"The building is for sale," Dacey said. "The building is empty. We're not displacing a business. We offered the asking price twice."

He said the location is ideally suited for the new juvenile detention center, which would be built to hold as many as 32 juveniles.

"It's close to Route 80 for police to bring kids there," Dacey said. "It's within minutes of the courthouse. It's within minutes of the hospital."

It also happens to be in a borough with about 40 registered voters.

Teterboro officials say they will oppose the plan.

"The town is not in favor of it, obviously," said Paul Busch, Teterboro's municipal manager.

"I can't imagine them putting a juvenile detention center there," he added. "It simply doesn't make good planning sense."

Robert Kossar, the agent representing the property owner, declined to comment Monday.

Brian Hague, a county spokesman, said: "We want to work with the mayor and council in Teterboro to address any of their concerns."

The announcement marks the latest and, officials hope, final attempt to replace the current center in Paramus, which has so much physical decay that state officials, in an evaluation last year, described it as a tragedy waiting to happen.

The state is not forcing the county to close the Paramus facility yet, but should it decide to close the building, the county may lose all say on where to put a new center, Hague said.

Because Paramus has been home to the detention center for more than 30 years, officials had hoped to relocate it within the borough to a $10 million building on county-owned land next to Bergen Regional Medical Center.

But neighbors launched an aggressive campaign against the relocation, contending that inmates would escape, roam the area and endanger the safety of their children.

Officials then suggested building on a county-owned parcel in Rockleigh, in the northernmost part of the county, but met equally adamant opposition.

When sensitive wetlands were found within the Rockleigh site, it was eliminated from consideration.

Since then, officials have been quietly searching for a three- to four-acre site, preferably in a relatively desolate location.

"People think there are empty warehouses in Bergen County," Dacey said. "There aren't."

The Teterboro site would be unobtrusive, he said, in that only half of the warehouse would be used for the juvenile detention center. The other half would be used for another future county purpose.

The front of the warehouse would look the same, Dacey said. Juveniles who were escorted into the facility would enter at the rear.

Dacey said the juvenile center would produce far less activity than an active warehouse: "We're going to have 32 residents who don't drive," he said. "A staff of 30, maybe, and an occasional police officer going in and out."

Copyright 2006 North Jersey Media Group Inc.

 

 

The Record

Thursday, March 30, 2006

 

Rockleigh's budget holds line on taxes

ROCKLEIGH -- Borough officials are boasting that the 2006 proposed municipal budget shows a decrease in spending. The proposed spending plan is $1,404,000, or $7,573 less than last year's $1,411,573 budget. "Basically, taxpayers will pay what they paid last year," said Mayor Nick Langella.

This year's proposed municipal tax rate of 29 cents is roughly the same as last year's rate after the figures were adjusted for a revaluation, borough CFO Anne Murphy said. The owner of a home assessed at the borough average of $2.1 million would pay about $6,090 in municipal taxes.

Final approval of the budget is scheduled for April 11 and is expected to be unanimous, Langella said. At Borough Hall, the mood was euphoric. "Our taxes went down, na na na na na," sang an official. "The mayor and council worked hard to keep this from going up," said the borough clerk. Langella shrugged. "I just cut the fat off. There's no fat left in Rockleigh." The proposed budget includes $130,000 for salaries for the borough's eight employees, and $738,000 for other operating expenses.

As for what he would advise other mayors and councils who will turn green with envy when they hear Rockleigh's good news, Langella cautioned: "You don't give each department what they ask for, you give them what they need. I went line by line and gave each department what they needed. I took crumbs off each department's cake." "Maybe if the state would do that, they'd be in better shape, too."

Copyright 2006 North Jersey Media Group Inc.

 

 

The Record

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

 

Rockleigh brings on new hands for a range of official duties

ROCKLEIGH -- Visitors to Borough Hall will see a new clerk at the desk. Bill McGuire, the former deputy clerk, has taken over the position from Lou Anne Horsey, who retired after 22 years.

"She did a good job. We're sorry that she left, but she wanted to retire," said Mayor Nick Langella about Horsey, whose last day was Jan. 31. "But Bill will do a great job."

McGuire began serving on Feb. 1. The council officially appointed him on Feb. 8 and gave him a three-year contract. His salary is about $23,000, officials said.

McGuire has served as Rockleigh's deputy clerk and construction official for the past few years and has served as the fire official in Rockleigh and Norwood.

So far, he is happy in his new role. "I'm enjoying it. It's a great town to work in. There's nice people here and a small-town atmosphere," he said. "Everyone is helpful. That makes it easier for me to learn the job."

A new deputy clerk was brought on board to help him with his duties. Marcella Giampiccolo started on Feb. 1 with a one-year-contract. She will earn about $20,000 in the post, officials said.

Although Rockleigh is a tiny hamlet with about 300 residents, McGuire pointed out that there's much work to be done. "Everything that has to be done in every other town has to be done here, too," he said.

But McGuire has a bit more. Because Rockleigh is so small, he wears many hats. He serves as the town's zoning official and registrar. "Between the two of us, we handle pretty much everything," he said about Giampiccolo. "It's more efficient that way.

Copyright 2006 North Jersey Media Group Inc.

 

The Record

Friday, March 17, 2006

 

Search for youth center widens

Hackensack - Bergen County officials have expanded their search for a new juvenile detention center to 10 industrial sites after a bidding war broke out on a warehouse they were interested in.

County Administrator Timothy Dacey said Thursday that the warehouse in the county's southeastern corner was still in play but may end up being too expensive.

"We're still looking for a fair market price," said Dacey, who declined to say what that price might be. Last month a county spokesman said it would cost around $18 million to buy the property and renovate it.

Dacey said that of the 10 sites the county is concentrating on, three are in southeastern Bergen. All are occupied.

Dacey and other officials would not say what towns the sites are in.

"Obviously it is a difficult decision on where you would place this," Dacey said. "Judging from the past, it would stir up some residents a bit."

Indeed, the search for a place to put a center has become an odyssey of sorts.

Last year a group of Paramus residents protested when the county sought to build a $10 million facility near the current one on the grounds of Bergen Regional Medical Center. The county called off the plan and began looking instead at other county-owned property.

They set their sights on a 40-acre county plot in Rockleigh, but that plan fell apart two months ago when a report said that the presence of wetlands would force the center to be built next to houses. The plan generated much opposition from Rockleigh and surrounding towns.

Dacey said all 10 sites were in industrial areas far from homes. All have either a warehouse or other large building that can be converted to a detention center to hold no more than 32 youths at a time.

The current center is deteriorating and needs to be replaced soon, recent state reports said.

The county meets each month with state regulators and sends reports to them daily on the number of juveniles housed, Dacey said.

Copyright 2006 North Jersey Media Group Inc.

 

The New York Times

8 January 2006

 

New Jersey Weekly Desk; SECT14NJ

One Square Mile, One Simmering Issue

By JOHN HOLL

ROCKLEIGH -- THIS one-square-mile borough in upper Bergen County -- peaceful, obscure and nearly impossible to reach -- does not have a traffic light let alone a police force. The business district consists of a lone gas station without a convenience store.

Yet Rockleigh, largely an enclave of million-dollar houses and yards measured by the acre, may be the next home of the county's youth detention center, and the approximately 600 residents of what has been designated a National Historic District are not at all pleased.

Last October, Bergen County Executive Dennis McNerney commissioned a feasibility study of a section of county-owned land here as the possible site of a 32-bed detention center to replace the current facility in Paramus, which is almost 60 years old and in disrepair.

''This is really not a case of 'not in my backyard,' '' said Mayor Nick Langella. ''I refuse to say build it in Paramus or build it in Hackensack or Oshkosh. I'm just saying, as a resident, it is not fair to the residents up here.''

To Mr. Langella, the argument is simple: building a detention center in his relatively anonymous town would be an economic and logistical nightmare.

For one thing, he said, moving the center here -- about 30 minutes from its current site in Paramus -- would be more time-consuming for officers to transport inmates to and from the county courthouse in Hackensack.

''I'm not going to put Rockleigh against any other town,'' Mr. Langella said of the detention center, ''but it does not belong in the northern valley up here.''

Trying to lower the temperature a bit, Mr. McNerney said that results of the study being conducted by a private consulting firm were expected to be released in the next several days and that until everyone had a chance to review the findings ''it is way too early for them to get all jazzed up.''

''If this was a baseball game, we're not even up to bat in the first inning yet,'' Mr. McNerney said. ''Let's wait and see what the experts have to say.''

The site being considered in Rockleigh for the $10 million detention center is on 49 acres of county-owned property that once served as a Catholic orphanage and now houses, among other things, a nursing home, a vocational school, a center for people with autism and a rehabilitation work program for former convicts.

Brian Hague, a spokesman for Mr. McNerney, said that the land was ideal for the detention center and that the county already owned it, which would spare the cost of buying a privately owned parcel -- as much as $8 million to $10 million.

As of last Wednesday, there were 14 inmates at the 38-bed center in Paramus, a two-story building that was intended as a hospital for patients with special needs when it opened in 1957, although it was also used to house some detained youths at that time.

Last year, the State Juvenile Justice Commission issued a report saying the current detention center was antiquated, and that among other things, the rooms needed to be larger and have electrified locks on the doors. ''We can only do those things by building a new center," Mr. Hague said.

In addition to those problems, Mr. McNerney said, ''There are fire hazards in there, and the fire department has expressed serious concerns.''

Originally, the county had planned to build a new detention center on land used for leaf mulching near the existing center in Paramus, but residents and town officials there balked, so county officials began looking for an alternative location.

''We need this built,'' Mr. McNerney said. ''No one is rushing to say 'build this in our town,' so we are doing what is necessary and looking at options.''

The detention center houses youths 13 to 18 years old who are charged with such offenses as burglary, aggravated assault and the possession or use of drugs. Those deemed by a judge to pose a greater risk to themselves or others are housed at the Bergen County Jail in Hackensack.

Mr. McNerney said the majority of the youths detained at the center spend an average of 31 days there, after which most are either released in the custody of their parents or placed in a drug treatment program.

''There are no convicted murderers in there,'' he said.

Those assurances from Mr. McNerney are providing little comfort to residents here as well as in neighboring Northvale and Norwood. Even the local police officials in those two towns are quick to point out problems with placing the center on what is currently a vacant grassy lot on Piermont Road.

''There are no highways, no direct access to get up here,'' said Bruce Tietjen, chief of the Northvale Police Department, whose 15-member police force patrols Rockleigh, ''and that makes it hard for other emergency workers to get up here and for visitors, too.''

In addition, there are no trains and only a New Jersey Transit bus line that stops in Northvale, more than a mile from the proposed site.

Logistics aside, Chief Tietjen said he had security concerns.

''If something happens over there and my officers have to respond,'' he said, ''that leaves other areas of town not being covered and that's not a good thing.''

Sitting in his kitchen on Paris Road, 64-year-old Gaetano Formoso looked out a large window to the site of the proposed detention center, which was visible just beyond a wooded area.

''It's possible that one of them might escape, and then you don't know what would happen if they get into the neighborhood,'' said Mr. Formoso, who lives with his wife in a large Dutch Colonial house. ''Let them build it someplace else.''

Just over the state line, in Orangetown, N.Y., Thom Kleiner, the town supervisor, shared those concerns.

''We are certainly with our neighbors on security issues, because they won't respect state borders if they get out,'' Mr. Kleiner said.

Minimizing such concerns, Mr. Hague said that since 1972, when the hospital was completely converted to a detention center, only 5 of the more than 17,500 youths detained at the Paramus center have fled, and ''in not one of those occurrences has a resident had contact with a juvenile detainee.''

In addition, he said that guards and county police officers would be on duty at the center around the clock.

''If the report says that the Rockleigh site is not feasible, we'll go from there,'' Mr. Hague said. ''Everyone is just jumping the gun.''

For now, residents have started a Web site -- www.stopnorthernvalleyjail.com -- that urges people who oppose the center to contact elected officials like Mr. McNerney and to attend county freeholder meetings this month to ask that ''county officials place this facility where it best serves the interests of all the residents of Bergen County.''

In front of most of the lavish houses that make up much of Rockleigh, placards advertising the Web site were visible on snow-covered lawns. Mayor Langella has gone one step further, hanging a large banner on a wooden fence in front of his house and another at a gas station he owns in Norwood.

In an op-ed article that appeared recently in The Record, Kevin M. Ryan, the state's child advocate, said the bickering about building the proposed detention center was detracting from the main issues.

''No matter where the county decides to locate a new detention center, we implore everyone not to give into fear and misunderstanding,'' Mr. Ryan wrote with Lawrence Murphy, chairman of the Bergen County Youth Services Commission. ''As the debate unfolds, we urge all sides to resist the base temptation to vilify errant teens as little monsters. No goodwill can come of that lie. It is long past time to rescue our kids from this mythology and demand the construction of a safe, state-of-the-art facility as soon as possible.''

Copyright 2006 New York Times Company

 

The Record

Thursday, December 22, 2005

 

Look no further

[...than Paramus]

THE latest word from Bergen County officials is that they have authorized a feasibility study to see whether Rockleigh is a suitable site for a new juvenile detention center. The results are expected next month.

Rockleigh is dead-set against building the center there. And while opponents are wrong that the center would pose a grave danger to the community, they are right that a much more central and less remote site can be found.

We believe that site is in Paramus. We suggest tearing down the existing outdated and dangerous center and building a new one from scratch on the same site.

County officials acknowledge they must do something soon. The current center is a disgrace. It is a dilapidated firetrap that was recently almost closed by the state. The Office of the New Jersey Child Advocate is pressuring the county to replace it as quickly as possible.

In an opinion piece that appeared in The Record last Sunday, state Child Advocate Kevin Ryan and Brother Lawrence Murphy, chairman of the Bergen County Youth Services Commission, called replacing the center "one of the county's most pressing public concerns."

But nothing is happening. It has been almost a year since the designation of another nearby site on county land in Paramus caused an uproar among some residents. County Executive Dennis McNerney backed down and said he would look elsewhere.

That was a big mistake. And it's very likely that the county will be forced to back down in Rockleigh as well, since Mr. McNerney has said he doesn't want to be a "bad neighbor" and impose a center on a community that doesn't want it.

Well, what community in Bergen County does want a juvenile detention center? And what community in Bergen County will Mr. McNerney stand up to?

This isn't a time to take the least offensive path. This is a time for leadership. The McNerney administration's obligation isn't to be neighborly. Its obligation is to provide a safe, clean and decent place for teenagers who are in the county's custody. Sometimes leadership requires doing unpopular things.

The county doesn't offer a good reason why it can't build on the existing site. In fact, a site selection report prepared for the county two years ago said the current site is large enough to build a new center first before tearing down the old one, meaning nothing would be disrupted during construction.

Last month, Joel Trella, former Bergen County sheriff and retired county police chief, wrote in a letter to The Record that a new center should be built on the current site, since "all the logistics and services of the county police and sheriff's departments to the center would be affected by a move elsewhere." He wrote that a move to Rockleigh "makes no logistical sense at all."

County officials say that if Rockleigh falls through, they may have to buy new property, which might cost $8 million or $10 million, and then try to win over that community to support a detention center.

But that would cost a lot more money than needs to be spent. A fine center can be built on the current site for about $10 million to $12 million. Why almost double the cost by buying new land?

How would Mr. McNerney defend that expenditure to taxpayers?

Copyright 2005 North Jersey Media Group Inc.

 

The Record

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

 

Detention center draws protest

About 150 Northern Valley residents voiced their opposition during a Bergen County freeholders meeting Tuesday to the placement of a county juvenile detention center in Rockleigh.

Residents, along with the mayors of Rockleigh, Norwood and Northvale, told the board at its biweekly meeting that they feared inmates escaping and endangering citizens, and they said the location was inadequate because of the lack of social services in the area.

County officials insisted that the Rockleigh location is not a done deal, although they paid an engineering firm $25,000 this month to conduct a feasibility study of the 40-acre site off Piermont Road.

"Nothing is set in stone with this," Brian Hague, a county spokesman, said before the meeting. "There are a lot of rumors out there about how much it's going to cost, how many beds are going to be there. We don't know. We just commissioned a study."

The fact that the county owns the land makes it one of the most desirable locations, Hague said.

But residents, many of whom came on chartered buses, said the cost of transporting the juveniles to the northeastern corner of the county would eventually outweigh those savings.

They said it would take more than 30 minutes to transport ailing juveniles to Bergen Regional Medical Center in Paramus and 45 minutes to an hour to transport them to court hearings in Hackensack. County officials said they are considering having a courtroom built in the facility.

Residents also said inmates' families would have trouble visiting because of a lack of public transportation.

"It's the worst place in the world to put these kids," Northvale Mayor John Rooney told the board. "The biggest disservice to them is to put them in Rockleigh. It has no facilities up there. There shouldn't even be a feasibility study. It's not feasible."

The current center in Paramus is deteriorating rapidly, recent state reports show.

In February the county abandoned a proposal to build a new $10 million facility in Paramus after people there complained.

On Tuesday night residents presented the freeholders with about 650 signatures on a petition taken from a Web site opponents set up: stopnorthernvalleyjail.com.

When Freeholder Valerie Huttle said the center would not be a jail, the crowd booed. Many shouted in unison: "It is a jail!"

Huttle later said she was "unconvinced" that Rockleigh is a good site.

Norwood resident Demetrios Milliaressis suggested that the center be placed in Hackensack because county services are located there.

"There are buildings that have been abandoned here [in Hackensack] for years that could be made use of," he said in an interview. "That centralizes your officers, your medical staff and your support staff in one area."

Freeholder Tomas Padilla, a Hackensack police officer, said he opposes building a center in the county seat, because it is already home to several county agencies, the jail and the county homeless shelter.

The feasibility study by Maser Consulting P.A. of Red Bank will examine sewer, traffic and drainage effects. It is expected to be completed early next year, Hague said.

Copyright 2005 North Jersey Media Group Inc.

 

The Record

Sunday, November 6, 2005

 

Your Views

Locating a juvenile detention center in Rockleigh would be the height of inept planning.

Rockleigh does not have a police department, an ambulance corps, local support services, medical services, public transportation for use by the visiting families of inmates, or a court house or sewers. Without those services, what kind of detention center would it be?

The site is also troubling because of its location next to a nursing home. Its elderly patients don't need this additional stress in their lives.

The juvenile detention center should be located on River Street in Hackensack next to the Bergen County Jail. All the services Rockleigh lacks are in Hackensack, the county seat.

Barry Scott
Norwood

Copyright 2005 North Jersey Media Group Inc.

[Top of page]

 

Northern Valley                  
SUBURBANITE

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

 

Officials balk at "jail" site
Claim juvenile detention center would be a potential danger

The mayors of Rockleigh, Norwood and Northvale are setting up a united resistance to the Bergen County Freeholders' plan to move the county juvenile detention center from Paramus to Rockleigh.
   On Oct. 26 at 7:30p.m. the three mayors will hold a town meeting to discuss the issue at the Jewish Home for the Ages in Rockleigh, which is adjacent to the site of the proposed detention center.
  "The juveniles in this institution have been convicted of crimes that include rape, murder and armed robbery." said Norwood Mayor Michael Kaplan at an Oct 12 Mayor and Council meeting.
  "Unless we alert the people to the potential danger it will become a done deal." Kaplan added, noting that the county had originally planned to relocate the center to another area of Paramus until residents objected.
  "Paramus residents raised concerns similar to the ones that we are raising." said Kaplan.
  "It is not a not-in-my-backyard issue,: he added. "We are talking about juvenile offenders who need to go to the Hackensack Court House. It takes a long time to get there from Rockleigh on any of the major highways," he said.
   The detention center is proposed for a county owned site occupied by several county buildings. The center would be built from scratch rather than relocating into one of the existing buildings.

"They listened to Paramus residents only when they took the steps that we are now talking about taking," Kaplan said. "If we don't take these steps it will be here before we know it."
   Freeholder James Carroll said that the freeholders have yet to vote on the proposal. Carroll said that the county is under court orders to vacate the Paramus facility, which is located on East Ridgewood Avenue just east of Bergen Regional Medical Center.
  "I is an antiquated building. We have a large tract in Rockleigh, We are trying to do what is most effective for the people of Bergen County." said Carroll, who is also mayor of Demarest.
   Carroll said that he didn't know when the last escape occurred from the Paramus facility, but that there had been none during his tenure as freeholder.
  "It will be very safe. Everybody likes to call it a 'jail' because they should are alarmists. But the truth is they should just say 'I don't want it in my backyard'."
  The council approved a resolution introduced by Kaplan protesting the Rockleigh location for the detention center and urging the county to outsource the incarceration of juveniles or construct a juvenile detention center in a non-residential area.
   But Councilman Thomas Brizzolara, who abstained from the voting on the resolution, questioned why it was introduced without prior discussion.

"A few months ago we told the county that we didn't want the inmate labor program and then we reversed ourselves. There was fear that these people were going to endanger the community," said Brizzolara. "Is there any record of crime or danger from the facility where it is located now?" he asked.
   In an interview, Brizzloara said he opposed moving the detention center to Rockleigh but had abstained from voting because there was no opportunity to discuss the resolution.
   Rockleigh Mayor Nicholas Langella urged area residents to attend the town meeting. "Rockleigh is the north easternmost town in Bergen County. It is no place for a jail." Langella said, asserting that "jail" was the correct word for the facility.
   Rockleigh has had problems with Touchstone, a count faility for wayward children located on the same county tract and with some visitors to residents who had sometimes damaged borough property, he said.
  "If they had a cat by the tail in Paramus, they have a tiger by the toe in Rockleigh," Langella said. "This is a jail for juveniules who are going to be bussed to Hackensack," he added. "If they need an ambulance or police or fire service, it will stress out services. They say that they will have the Bergen County Police, but Rockleigh and Northvale would be the first responders.

[Top of page]

 

The Press~Journal

Thursday, October 13, 2005

OPINION: No Jail in Rockleigh

 

 

Not in my backyard (NIMBY) is a sentiment that while not always specifically made known is a strong and consistent point of view among voters, homeowners, and just plain of residents of our local towns.
NIMBY is a popular point of view that while not always logical for the common good, must be considered by any astute politician when new plans are necessary for a less than attractive facility.
Such a facility is Bergen County's Juvenile Detention Center, which has been located in Paramus near the Bergen County Medical Center (formerly Bergen Pines) for more than 30 years.
Both facilities are in the middle of a residential area and while tolerated, no one in Paramus wants to see either of them expanded, particularly the detention center.
Mow dealing with NIMBY can often have political considerations.
Paramus, like the county government, is controlled by the Democrats, but the town without a downtown, which spreads over the crossroads of this county - Routes 4 and 17 - is not solidly Democrat. The mayor is a democrat and the council is divided between four Democrats and Two Republicans.
If the Democrat dominated freeholders voted to expand and improve the detention center, this could give the Democrat Republicans the issue to expand their control of the Paramus government in the next election.

So the Democrats at the county level have taken the overcrowded and rundown 41-bed detention center and placed a cap on it's population and have begin to plan for a new detention center, not in another town where Democrats could lose and election, but in Rockleigh, in the heart of what's left of the Republican stronghold of Bergen County.
Republican mayor Nicholas Langella doesn't like the idea, but there may not be much he can do about it.
Poor little Rockleigh with few registered voters (less than 100 votes were cast in the last election), and most being Republican, doesn't have any pull with the Democrats.
So despite whatever hackles are raised Rockleigh might be stuck. That's too bad.
There are a number of reasons that Rockleigh is a bad choice. It's a small residential town of upscale homes and golf courses. From the most cursory examination it is obvious that any sort of detention center is incompatible with existing zoning of this municipality.
The detention center is after all a jail, a special kind of jail that holds troubled law-breaking juveniles. Frequently these young people come from dysfunctional homes. But they do have families. And family members should have access to their incarcerated relatives. The central location in Paramus is far better for access than the proposed site at the extreme northeastern corner of Bergen County, which has little public transportation or significant highways.
If it is desirable to move the facility out of Paramus, Hackensack would be a far more sensible location or perhaps Teterboro.
The freeholders need to give this matter far more consideration. And that starts with admitting that Rockleigh is a bad idea.

Copyright 2005  Bergen News.

 

 

The Press~Journal

Thursday, October 13, 2005

OPINION: No Jail in Rockleigh

 

 

Not in my backyard (NIMBY) is a sentiment that while not always specifically made known is a strong and consistent point of view among voters, homeowners, and just plain of residents of our local towns.
NIMBY is a popular point of view that while not always logical for the common good, must be considered by any astute politician when new plans are necessary for a less than attractive facility.
Such a facility is Bergen County's Juvenile Detention Center, which has been located in Paramus near the Bergen County Medical Center (formerly Bergen Pines) for more than 30 years.
Both facilities are in the middle of a residential area and while tolerated, no one in Paramus wants to see either of them expanded, particularly the detention center.
Mow dealing with NIMBY can often have political considerations.
Paramus, like the county government, is controlled by the Democrats, but the town without a downtown, which spreads over the crossroads of this county - Routes 4 and 17 - is not solidly Democrat. The mayor is a democrat and the council is divided between four Democrats and Two Republicans.
If the Democrat dominated freeholders voted to expand and improve the detention center, this could give the Democrat Republicans the issue to expand their control of the Paramus government in the next election.

So the Democrats at the county level have taken the overcrowded and rundown 41-bed detention center and placed a cap on it's population and have begin to plan for a new detention center, not in another town where Democrats could lose and election, but in Rockleigh, in the heart of what's left of the Republican stronghold of Bergen County.
Republican mayor Nicholas Langella doesn't like the idea, but there may not be much he can do about it.
Poor little Rockleigh with few registered voters (less than 100 votes were cast in the last election), and most being Republican, doesn't have any pull with the Democrats.
So despite whatever hackles are raised Rockleigh might be stuck. That's too bad.
There are a number of reasons that Rockleigh is a bad choice. It's a small residential town of upscale homes and golf courses. From the most cursory examination it is obvious that any sort of detention center is incompatible with existing zoning of this municipality.
The detention center is after all a jail, a special kind of jail that holds troubled law-breaking juveniles. Frequently these young people come from dysfunctional homes. But they do have families. And family members should have access to their incarcerated relatives. The central location in Paramus is far better for access than the proposed site at the extreme northeastern corner of Bergen County, which has little public transportation or significant highways.
If it is desirable to move the facility out of Paramus, Hackensack would be a far more sensible location or perhaps Teterboro.
The freeholders need to give this matter far more consideration. And that starts with admitting that Rockleigh is a bad idea.

Copyright 2005  Bergen News.

[Top of page]

The Record

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Three towns join to fight juvenile jail

Residents and local officials have been sweating over Bergen County's plans to build a juvenile detention center in Rockleigh.

Now the worry has spread across the border.

Northvale Mayor John Rooney has suggested that an attorney be hired to fight the plan. And Norwood Mayor Mike Kaplan hopes to gain council approval to pass a resolution asking the county to consider other alternatives to the Rockleigh site.

The two mayors have joined forces with Rockleigh Mayor Nick Langella to host a town hall meeting where local residents can voice their opposition to the plan and discuss a strategy for fighting the county.

The meeting will take place Oct. 26 at 7:30 p.m. at the Jewish Home at Rockleigh, 10 Link Drive.

"We saw how an organized effort in Paramus was effective with the county," said Kaplan. "I'm hoping that the county is not looking at Rockleigh as an easy Republican target whose feathers they can ruffle more easily than Paramus."

Paramus has been home to the detention center for more than 30 years, but residents objected to a proposal that would have relocated it to a new $10 million building next to Bergen Regional Medical Center. Neighbors launched an opposition campaign against the relocation, fearing that inmates would escape, roam the neighborhoods and endanger the safety of their children.

The three mayors say they are also concerned about safety and a strain on services.

The boroughs rely heavily on one another for mutual aid of emergency services. Northvale, under an interlocal agreement, provides police coverage to Rockleigh. And Norwood is frequently called to backup Northvale. Norwood already receives many calls to the county nursing home in Rockleigh, Kaplan said.

"We want to protect our taxpayers' interests and we are concerned about security," said Kaplan. "This is a residential area; we hope the county will explore non-residential locations for the facility. Perhaps they can outsource to places outside the county."

Building the center in Rockleigh would not even be in the best interest of the detention center residents, Rooney said. Rockleigh, a tiny, remote town in the far northern end of the county does not have easy access to major highways. The detainees, who often must visit the Hackensack courthouse, will have difficulty getting there, he said.

Furthermore, medical treatment would not be readily available, he said. "If there's a medical problem, they will have to travel a long distance to get treatment," Rooney said. "Our ambulance corps is already strained. It's a bad, bad idea. They will be far from their lifeline."

At the meeting, said Rooney, residents and local officials will discuss possible strategies for opposing the county's plan, including litigation.

"It's not just Rockleigh's problem. It's a regional problem," he said. "It's not that we don't want it in our back yard. It's just a bad idea for everyone concerned."

Copyright 2005 North Jersey Media Group Inc.

[Top of page]

The Record

Friday, September 30, 2005

Youth center adopts inmate cap
Rockleigh mayor vows to fight plan for new site

In an effort to address mounting safety concerns, Bergen County's dilapidated detention center in Paramus will begin housing fewer children and teens while officials push to build a new facility in Rockleigh.

The decision to cap the number of youths sent to the 41-bed Paramus site came this week after county officials met with representatives from the state Juvenile Justice Commission and the Office of the Child Advocate.

Howard Beyer, executive director of the JJC, said the cap is a short-term solution while the county works on building a new detention center. Rockleigh, an affluent, one-square-mile hamlet of fewer than 500 people in northern Bergen County, was picked as the next likely site after Paramus residents this year protested plans to rebuild the center in their community.

"The need for a new detention center is still paramount," Beyer said.

Although Paramus has been home to the detention center for more than 30 years, residents objected to a proposal that would have relocated it to a new $10 million building next to Bergen Regional Medical Center. Neighbors feared that inmates would escape, roam the neighborhoods and endanger the safety of their children.

The project is likely to face fierce resistance in Rockleigh if Mayor Nicholas Langella's reaction serves as an accurate reflection of local concerns.

"No way are they coming here," Langella said, adding that his residents would petition and protest. "I dare them to come into Rockleigh."

Langella is concerned over safety issues, saying the borough would not be able to provide proper protection given the community's size. Rockleigh does not have a police department. It is served by neighboring Northvale.

Bergen County Executive Dennis McNerney has said the county would place the detention center within a 40-acre tract it owns in Rockleigh. The land is home to the county's former orphanage and a nursing home.

McNerney has acknowledged that the county could face so-called "NIMBY [not in my back yard] issues" in Rockleigh, and Beyer said local opposition to detention centers is to be expected.

But Bergen County needs a new center, he said. "We were assured in no uncertain terms that a new place will be built," Beyer said.

Built in 1957, the current detention center was intended to serve as the children's wing of the former Bergen Pines County Hospital. The building was converted into a detention center in 1972. Inspectors have found dilapidated conditions for at least a decade.

A May 31 evaluation revealed numerous failings at the center from an out-of-order bathroom that reeked of urine to a layout that hinders prompt evacuations.

During 18 months of fire drills, the report revealed, not once were the building's occupants able to evacuate within two minutes, which is required by the state fire code. On average, the center houses about 20 children and teens who have been arrested and are awaiting court appearances.

The evaluation, which was written by the state Juvenile Justice Commission and forwarded to McNerney, had not been released to the public until The Record obtained a copy of the report two weeks ago.

After learning of the report recently, state Child Advocate Kevin Ryan called for the immediate removal of all youths from the center. Ryan has since approved of the county's short-term plan to limit the number of children housed at the center to allow for more prompt evacuations. Ryan also was satisfied that the JJC has agreed to stop sending youths from outside the county to be housed in Bergen's center, a practice that occurs when other centers in the state are too crowded.

"Sometimes it takes bad news to get people to move and the report shows it's really unsafe for kids," said Jennifer Velez, first assistant child advocate from Ryan's office.

Staff Writer Deena Yellin contributed to this article.

Copyright 2005 North Jersey Media Group Inc.

[Top of page]

The Record

Monday, September 26, 2005

State steps in

THE STATE has finally stepped in to insist that conditions at the Bergen County Juvenile Detention Center must improve. If not, it must be closed.

We could ask what took so long, since the fire and safety hazards at the detention center in Paramus have been known for years. But the important point now is that action will be taken to protect the teenagers who are held there - in abysmal conditions that bring to mind 1950s Mississippi.

Under the state's pressure, the county plans to reduce the number of detainees at any one time so that the center can be evacuated in two minutes, according to state code. That's reasonable - as long as Bergen County teenagers don't end up in facilities halfway across the state.

The Office of the Child Advocate says safety is more important than convenience. That's true, but shifting some teenagers out of the facility will mean that family members (some without cars), attorneys and social workers may travel an hour or more to see the teenagers, who could be held for days or weeks in another county.

What's more, this situation is likely to last for quite a while. Bergen County is not expected to have a new detention center for at least a year and half, by one estimate. The plan is to build on 40 acres of county land in Rockleigh - if Rockleigh agrees.

None of this would be a problem if the county's previous plan - an excellent one to build a new center in Paramus near the current site - had not been abandoned when some local residents protested last winter.

County Executive Dennis McNerney correctly noted that the concerns of the Paramus residents were groundless, but he backed down when he should have pushed ahead with building the new facility there.

Last week, when told of the state Juvenile Justice Commission's concerns about the dangers at the center, he told The Record: "I don't think it's a story."

But it certainly would be a story if teenagers were hurt or killed in a fire they could not escape from. In the event of a fire, each cell would have to be unlocked individually.

The state found the facility, despite a strong counseling and rehabilitation program, "one of the most rundown, inadequate detention centers" in New Jersey.

That's unacceptable anywhere, let alone in a county as wealthy as Bergen. Whose kids are sent there? They could be ours - or yours.

How many parents can say absolutely that their teenager will never get into trouble?

It's in everyone's interest in this county to have a modern, safe and secure juvenile detention center. Now that they're under pressure from the state, Mr. McNerney and his staff should make every effort to see that one is built as soon as possible.

Copyright 2005 North Jersey Media Group Inc.

[Top of page]

The Record

Wednesday, March 2, 2005

 

No need for school ballots in Rockleigh

ROCKLEIGH - Voters will not be trekking to the polls to cast ballots for Board of Education candidates in April.

The five-member board will now be appointed by the mayor.

Rockleigh voters forfeited their right to elect the school board in last year's election.

Two new members - Roseanne Antine and Peter Walsh - were appointed to the board by Mayor Nick Langella last month. They replace elected board members Anna Maria Porto and Cynthia Koeppel, who both resigned over the last year.

The district's last elected term expires in 2007.

Districts have the option of choosing school board members through an election or appointment. Voters must make that decision during an election, according to the state Department of Education.

About 20 districts in the state have appointed boards, said Frank Belluscio, spokesman for the New Jersey School Boards Association in Trenton.

Small towns such as Rockleigh, an elegant town of 300, also tend to have a light voter turnout for school elections.

The borough has only 20 students enrolled in public schools in neighboring towns; 25 attend private schools. Rockleigh's Board of Education pays tuition and bus transportation for its students at the public schools. The board reimburses a portion of transportation expenses for the district's private-school students.

Rockleigh officials said their move was motivated in part by thrift.

"This is going to save several thousand dollars that it would have cost to run an election," said Joan Dunn, who is temporarily serving as board secretary. She plans to resign in June. The mayor is currently interviewing candidates to replace her.

But Langella said the appointed board will be more efficient and offer local leaders the opportunity for more input.

"It will give the council more control over what occurs in our schools," he said. "Things are already working more smoothly. Everybody is happy with it."

Anne Myers, chairwoman of Rockleigh's school board, said only 10 people voted in past elections. Myers predicted there would be minimal impact.

"The reality is that there are so few people here interested in being involved in this board," she said. "The people who are interested will be appointed."

Copyright 2005 North Jersey Media Group Inc.

[Top of page]