27 July 2008

A Wonderful Gift

All too often, our loved ones are taken from us before we are ready. Sometimes, tragically, they are taken before they are ready.

It is in these times that we ask ourselves "why?" Even the most religious among us, those with deep-rooted faith, will want to know how God could possibly have a plan that calls for the tragic death of a young man, the despair of a family, the tears of all who knew him.

There are few words of comfort, except perhaps these. Before we can lose someone dear, we must have someone dear. God's plan is not to take someone from us, but to give someone to us - perhaps for just a while. The quantity of time we have with the ones we love is not nearly as important as the quality of time we have with them.

This then must be His plan, to give us someone who will touch us, enrich us, love us.

That's a wonderful gift!

26 July 2008

COAH Reprieve

The Hillsborough Township Committee, sounding a little like the Chairmen of the Board, asked for just a little more time to submit a new plan for round three of the Council on Affordable Housing. Superior Court Judge Allison Accurso granted that request yesterday, giving Hillsborough until December 31 to submit its plan.

In this case, a little more time amounts to just about two and a half months. I am sure the time is needed, and that our advisors will use every minute to come up with something by the end of the year - but it won't be enough.

COAH is broken. Given a thousand years and the best brains in the affordable housing business - and it IS a business - Hillsborough would still be unable to come up with a plan that makes any sense out of the brainless Round Three rules.

There's surely no love growing between the Hillsborough Township Committee and Governor Corzine on this one!

25 July 2008

CSC Anniversary

Do you remember where you were one year ago today - July 25, 2007? I was with a handful of fellow residents in the multi-purpose room of the Hillsborough municipal building. We were expecting to witness the culminating vote of Hillsborough's first Charter Study Commission. We were not disappointed.

The five CSC members - Chris Jensen, Glenn van Lier, George Ostergren, Gloria McCauley, and Bill Page (named to the commission after the death of original member George Fenwick) - had recently completed a study on forms of municipal government available under New Jersey's Faulkner Act, as well as a study of our current Township Committee form of government.

For eight months they interviewed experts and current and former members of the various allowable forms - Mayor Council, Mayor Council Administrator, and Council Manager - sifted evidence, and had some lively discussion along the way.

For all of the politics involved, there was also history being made. If the CSC voted to recommend a change, it would be just the third time in Hillsborough's 236 year history that voters would have the chance to opt for a new form of government.

Still, it wasn't exactly "edge of your seat" theater. You could tell by the make-up of the CSC that the recommendation would be for Mayor Council - just like you could tell by the make-up of the audience that night that the recommendation would fail at the polls in November.

What do you think? Did the voters make the right decision? If we had voted to change to Mayor Council, we would be in the midst of an exciting election campaign right now to seat our first directly elected mayor and five council members.

I must admit, it would be pretty exciting.

As we grow - add a train station, a Main Street shopping district, maybe even a 1500 unit retirement complex! - Hillsborough will undoubtedly become larger and more complex.

But that's o.k., I hear they have a form of government perfect for that!

24 July 2008

Ready to Roll?

According to the State of New Jersey, the Route 206 bypass project is "on track". On track? What does that mean - construction ready to start this year? O.K., how about 2009? No? Would you believe 2010? That's what they would like you to believe.

And you may as well forget about Brown Avenue to Old Somerville Road. That is where the REAL traffic is - and it will only get worse if the bypass is built. Yet no one is talking about that very expensive project (streams to bridge, railroad bridges to be rebuilt), because it is too expensive to even TALK about.

Are you still a believer?

Take a look at this map from 1968.

1968 NJ Highway map showing planned I95 route through Somerset County

That's 40 years folks, and still no relief. Want to go for another 40?

23 July 2008

Fireman's Fair, Revisited

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of the local fireman's fair held each summer by the Adelphia Fire Company in Howell, New Jersey. As a little kid this is where I rode my first Ferris Wheel, devoured my first cotton candy, and tossed my first quarter onto a slippery plate.

Hamburgers, hot dogs, clams on the half-shell - it was ALL good! Even a great place to take a date on a hot teenage summer night! I couldn't imagine a summer without the fireman's fair.

Local residents will be creating some memories of their own now that the Rotary Club of Hillsborough has stepped up and taken over Hillsborough's traditional summer fair. After the property adjacent to the Route 206 Firehouse was bought by the state last year as part of the Route 206 bypass project, the Fire Company decided to give up the fair.

There is no doubt that running the fair the last few years has been HARD WORK - perhaps for diminishing returns Apparently, losing the venue was what pushed the firemen to end their involvement.

With a new larger piece of land at Lowe's, better parking, and all the same fun (minus the beer tent!), the Rotary Club has every chance to make this year's fair the best ever.

If the weather cooperates, I'll see you there on Friday night. And if I appear to be daydreaming, don't bother me!

22 July 2008

Peace and Quiet? Soon, Soon

All they want is a little peace and quiet - is that too much to ask? I am speaking of course about those residents who live in the vicinity of the Norfolk Southern Rail Line near the Beekman Lane, Auten Road, Valley Road, and Roycefield Road grade crossings. Blaring horns, which are sounded several times as the train crosses each of these proximate roads, have proven to be almost unbearable.

Help is on the way! Work began today to turn these grade crossings into Federal Railway Administration approved "Quiet Zones". Funds from an off-site developer contribution and Hillsborough's capital budget will be used to upgrade the roads on each side of these four grade crossings - with raised medians and other improvements - that will make it nearly impossible for a car to cross the tracks when the gates are down.

Making it harder for cars to cross the tracks means the trains don't have to blow their horns! Sounds good so far.

As I have written here before, I have mixed feelings about the Quiet Zones. They will certainly solve the problem with the horns - and I know all about that because I am one of those residents that lives near the tracks - but they may push us further away from the more idealistic goal that I favor, which is to eliminate the crossings altogether by creating road overpasses at three of the intersections, and eliminating one. Building the Quiet Zones means we are now decades away from reconsidering any other options.

I felt the same way, and still do, about E-Z Pass. Sure, people love E-Z Pass because it speeds them through the tolls faster. But the institution of E-Z Pass has pushed us farther and farther away from the more idealistic goal of eliminating Parkway Tolls. I don't see how that will ever be accomplished now that we have invested so much in E-Z Pass.

Here's hoping that all the new found peace and quiet in this corner of the township will lead to some serious, creative, long term solutions to our future problems.

19 July 2008

Why I Walk

Today at the Bridgewater Marriott, I attended the first of two "Kick-Off" events for the Central New Jersey "Walk Now For Autism" fundraiser - which will be held October 19 at Mercer County College. This morning's event was designed to start off the fundraising season by providing our team captains across the Central New Jersey area with information and materials needed for a successful campaign. It also allowed people to meet and trade ideas.

As the MC this morning, I necessarily did a lot of speaking - and also contributed to a segment of the program titled "Why I Walk". This is what I said.

When people ask me why I walk to raise money for autism research, I reply with three words – Unknowable, Untreatable, Incurable. It wasn’t too long ago that parents faced with a diagnosis of autism would hear these three words, and despair.

Unknowable, because just a few years ago, parents, pediatricians, and neurologists didn’t know the early signs of autism, couldn’t diagnose autism. Not only was autism not understood, but perhaps it could never be understood. Parents were told that their child would live in a world of his own, one that you could never enter and never know.

Autism Speaks and its predecessor organizations changed all that. Through our awareness efforts, there isn’t a pediatrician in the nation who isn’t aware of the early signs of autism. There isn’t a week where autism isn’t in the news, on the talk shows, or even in the soaps. Today, Autism IS Knowable.

Untreatable. As recently as a decade ago, there were many who still felt that Autism was essentially untreatable. Maybe people with autism could learn, but they could never “improve”. Even behavioral therapies, which we now know are essential, were said to be unproven. At best, they were “worth a shot” – at worst, at least parents felt like they were doing something.

Just recently, scientific research has been able to show not only that Applied Behavioral Analysis works, but also how it works in the brain. We know now that children with autism CAN improve, and will improve. Today, Autism IS Treatable.

There’s just one word left – Incurable. That word is often in the first sentence of any description of autism. Sometimes it’s the second word! – as in “an incurable neurological disorder”.

Research funded by Autism Speaks is working to change that. At the Autism Speaks Annual Conference this past March, I was fascinated by the scientists’ presentations. They are indeed working towards a cure. There’s just one thing they need – money.

I am confident that ongoing research, funded by US, will deliver a cure. One day I will stand before you, and be able to say, Autism IS Curable.

And that’s why I walk.

Please visit http://www.autismspeaks.org/ for more information, and to join our local walk.

18 July 2008

Another View

Does this look more familiar?

View Larger Map

Yesterday's aerial view was taken in 1956 - today's is the most recent Google satellite image.

16 July 2008

Growth Spurts Down South

The folks over at MyCentralJersey.com have created a really cool map to show the population growth in our area from 2000 to 2007. Just click on the colored pushpins for the details.

View Larger Map

Hillsborough is marked with the blue pushpin right near the center of the map, Montgomery is the green pushpin just below.

Municipalities marked in red declined in population. Those marked in yellow grew by 0 percent to 4.99 percent. Blue, 5 percent to 9.99 percent. Green, 10 percent or more. These numbers come from the US Census estimates which came out last week.

Hillsborough experienced 5.36% growth, adding just under 2000 residents between 2000 and 2007. If this trend continues right through the next official census in 2010, we will still have fewer than 40,000 residents to begin the next decade.

The real out-of-control growth in our part of the county is in Montgomery Township - which added 5542 residents over the past seven years, increasing their population by 31.7%! There is no doubt that Montgomery is a desirable place to live, and now they are paying for it - going through the same growing pains that Hillsborough did decades ago.

I'm sure it won't be long before a citizens' group is petitioning Montgomery Township for a new form of government - elected mayor, checks and balances, wards even!

Won't that be interesting!

15 July 2008

Still 23! Still 23!

CNN/MoneyMagazine, say it isn't so! Is it possible that Hillsborough, so greatly honored by being named as America's 23rd best place to live in 2007, could have fallen so mightily as to not even crack the top 100 in 2008? An explanation is in order! And here it is.

My first clue that something was different about this year's list was that none of the New Jersey towns that made the top 100 THIS year were in the top 100 LAST year. Could Franklin Township, Piscataway, and Edison really be more desirable than Hillsborough? One thing for sure, they each have a lot more residents than Hillsborough's 39,100 - Franklin has a population of nearly 60,000, and Edison over 100,000.

The population totals lead me to my next clue. All of the towns in this year's top 100, save one, have populations of 50,000 or greater! [Chapel Hill, NC is listed at 49,900]. Indeed, this year's listing is subtitled "America's Best Small CITIES".

So how is this different from last year's list? In 2007, CNN/MoneyMagazine rated America's best SMALL TOWNS - which they described as having populations between 7500 and 50,000.

Of Hillsborough's nearly 40,000 residents, there is nary a one who doesn't believe this is a great town and a great place to live. And while everyone must have been pleased that Hillsborough ranked number 23 last year, there are some who resented the use of the "100 Best Places to Live" title by our local government for what they believe were political purposes.

For those who couldn't wait for this year's list to come out so that Hillsborough could be knocked from it's perch, it must come as a disappointment to learn that they have been dished by a DIFFERENT LIST! A list with different criteria, created, no doubt, to highlight different kinds of towns and cities - and generate new interest and magazine sales.

When CNN/MoneyMagazine gets around to ranking the best small towns again, who knows where we will end up.

I know where I'll be - right here in Hillsborough. One of the top 100 places to live in America!

13 July 2008

No Work, All Play at the Camp Out

Camping. Our kids have been bugging us to take them camping for about a year. They love the idea of sleeping outside, in a tent, in their sleeping bags, eating hot dogs, toasting marshmallows, making smores, fishing, playing games, staying up late! Maybe they think that without the house, there can be no "house rules". And surely camping out is all play and no chores, right?

Well, if you took your kids for their first camping experience at the Hillsborough Family Camp Out at Ann van Middlesworth Park on Friday night, I'd say that description is just about right!

Hillsborough Township, NJ Campout 2008

Over 300 people set up their tents and made camp late Friday afternoon. Then it was over to the pond to do a little fishing while the good folks from Hillsborough Parks and Recreation got cooking with the hamburgers, hot dogs and fried chicken.

Hillsborough Township, NJ Campout 2008

If you were unlucky at the fishing hole, there was still plenty of time to enjoy the playground, or have a go at some of the picnic games, like the sack race, before heading over to the pavillion for dinner. Moms and Dads had a chance to catch up with old friends - and make some new ones.

Hillsborough Township, NJ Campout 2008

After dinner it was time to gather around the bonfire. There was a smaller campfire going nearby to toast those marshmallows - the kids loved this!

Hillsborough Township, NJ Campout 2008

Lights-out was at 11 p.m. Then it was just the four of us, shoulder to shoulder in our 8 foot square tent. No big mattresses for us - just the thin self-inflating sleeping pads - and the kids wouldn't have it any other way. This was the real camping experience they were looking for.

Everyone made it through the night, and the Rec. Department served up donuts and bagels at 7:30 the next morning.

And as for those chores - I did get the kids to help me take down the tent. Only after I promised to take them to the Family Camp Out again next year. (The truth is, I wouldn't miss it for the world!)

Hillsborough Township, NJ Campout 2008

09 July 2008

Let's Get Lit

Times Square got its first taste of neon in 1904 with an illuminated advertisement for Trimble's Whiskey. By the 1930s, Wrigley's was lighting up the New York night with this display for Spearmint Gum. And who can forget the Camel Cigarettes display which blew smoke rings over Broadway for 25 years between 1941 and 1966.

Now it's Hillsborough's turn. The township's Sign Review Committee has approved an illuminated directory sign for the Triangle Center shopping plaza at the corner of Triangle Road and Route 206. The new sign will be better for merchants because it will be larger, closer to the highway, in a better location, and - LIGHTED!

The story in Tuesday's Courier News doesn't say exactly how the new sign will be lit. Should we be expecting some old-fashioned multi-colored gas tubes? Maybe WaWa and QuikCheck will get into a "neon war" - each trying to outdo the other with bigger and brighter signs extolling the virtues of their coffee.

Better that than whiskey or cigarettes!

08 July 2008

The "Other" Triangle Rd.

If you're a newcomer to Hillsborough, you might be wondering how Triangle Rd. got its name. Old-timers, or anyone that's been here at least 15 years, will tell you that Triangle Rd. is shaped like a triangle. All you need to do is take away the section of road between South Triangle Rd. and Beekman Lane that was completed in 1993 - which led to the renaming of the second leg as "South" Triangle - and you will have the complete triangle-shaped road.

View Larger Map

Hillsborough's past includes at least one other triangle-shaped roadway. It can be clearly seen on the 1860 and 1873 maps, and as recently as 1933 this road was shown on the plot location map of the Abraham DuBois house prepared by the Works Progress Administration for the Department of the Interior (more about the DuBois house in an upcoming blog).

This mysterious road is absent from Hagstrom's 1945 map of Somerset County and seems to have just disappeared. By using all of the available sources I have been able to trace the old road onto a current map of Hillsborough, as shown below.

View Larger Map

Beginning at the intersection of Mill Lane and East Mountain Rd. (the original Amwell Rd.), our road travels southeast for about 5/8 of a mile, then makes a left turn and travels northeast for another 5/8 of a mile, ending at South Branch Rd. (also the original Amwell Rd.). If I remember my geometry correctly, this makes our road an equilateral triangle!

There is one short stretch of this long forgotten road still in existence. Hidden within the Woodfield Estates development, there is a narrow gravel drive named Eisler Lane. Published maps show this tiny dead-end street ending at its intersection with Danley Lane - but the Hillsborough Township GIS map shows the road continuing across the Amwell Rd. Bypass, right up to the intersection with South Branch Rd. - proof positive that Eisler Lane is the last remnant of one of Hillsborough's most ancient roads!

I would be curious to learn about any other "lost" roads in Hillsborough, no matter what their shape - leave a comment if you know any.

06 July 2008

Google Gas

If you've browsed this blog even a little bit over the past year, you will know that I am a big fan of Google Maps. I find the satellite map especially useful, and have recently started looking at the new Street View map - which is kind of cool and scary.

One of the useful new add-ons for Google Maps is the ability to map gas station prices compiled by GasBuddy.com. It's not possible to embed mapplets, but you can follow this link to have a look. Click on the blue push-pins to see the prices.

It appears that Lora's is the winner this week. And it's encouraging to see that none of the gas stations in Hillsborough are over $4 a gallon - even if my old friends at Exxon look especially lonely at $3.99, everyone seemingly having jumped ship to QuikChek.

You know, despite the big ribbon-cutting grand opening blah blah, I think I'll be loyal to Exxon and WaWa - at least for now. But thanks to Google, I'll be keeping an eye on Exxon. No way am I paying $4 a gallon!

04 July 2008

Signers' Day - August 2, 1776

On July 3, 1776, a day after voting to declare independence from Great Britain, John Adams wrote the following in a letter to his wife.

The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.

Almost. A verbal declaration is one thing, but a written one - well - that's something you can put a date on. And that is what the Second Continental Congress did the very next day, July 4.

It wasn't until a month later, on August 2, that the delegates got around to actually signing the Declaration. You know, August is the only month without any holidays. How about adding August 2 as "Signers' Day"?

03 July 2008


Even though most of my working life has been spent out of the office, I did spend enough time at a desk in the 80s and 90s to really come to hate it. I hated all of the office jargon - all of that "you get with me, I'll get with you, reach out to her" crap, and I especially detested all of the "re-engineering" b.s. popular at that time - "we don't need to make a better product, we just need to clear everything off the top of our file cabinets"! What?

Here's one that's still around, "You will be advised on a need-to-know basis". This directive always came with a huge loophole - your superior could simply decide that you didn't need to know! If you were on a need-to-know basis, you would be lucky to find out what you needed to know 24 hours before the project deadline.

New Jersey has been treating its citizens the same way. Residents potentially affected by zoning changes, proposals before the Planning Board, or introductions of new ordinances, aren't required to be notified until almost the end of the process. At that point, although comments from the public are welcome and noted, money has already been spent and plans have already been made. In other words - it's a done deal.

The Hillsborough Township Committee is looking to change this process, at least for Planning Board items. They have proposed notifying residents earlier in the process and increasing the number of residents subject to notification.

I agree with the Courier News that this would be a great benefit to the public. And I also agree that the state should think about changing their guidelines.

Maybe our committee can "get with" the assemblyman, or "reach out" to the governor - then maybe we can "re-engineer" the state!

02 July 2008

I'm a Dummy, You're a Dummy

We all make mistakes. And when we do, there's usually - hopefully - someone around to utter one of these two phrases, "It can happen to anyone, don't worry about it", or "I've done that myself a thousand times, no big deal".

What these consolers are really saying is, "Hey dummy, you're no dumber than the rest of us dummies - feel better now?"

And the answer is - YES! People seem to have a psychological need to be reassured that they are not idiots, or that, at least, they are no more idiotic than the next idiot.

Which brings us to the case of the Tiki Torch Oil and the Apple Juice.

One New Jersey resident died, and four others were sickened - one severely - by drinking tiki torch fuel that they had confused with apple juice. One of the victims is reportedly a toddler living right here in Hillsborough.

The outcomes are tragic enough, but get this. Of the 20 comments posted about this story on MyCentralJersey.com, not one person has offered up one of the magic phrases.

Take a look at these two photos and decide whether or not we're all being a little harsh.

I sure wouldn't put these two bottles out in front of a two year old. This would be no different than pasting a picture of the Kool-Aid guy on the red can where I store my lawnmower gas.

I would say that while confusing these two bottles might not "happen to anyone", the real idiots in this story are the manufacturers who sell their apple juice colored lamp oil in a clear apple juice bottle shaped package. And to them I say, "Hey dummies, you ARE dumber than the rest of us, and someone died - feel better now?"