Meet & Greet with Doug & Gina

PRESS RELEASE: Bedminster RMC Announces Stevinson and Fernandez as Candidates for Bedminster Township Committee in 2022

The Bedminster Republican Municipal Committee is proud to announce their candidates for the Bedminster Township Committee for 2022.  Township Committeeman, Doug Stevinson, is running for a third, three-year term.  Mr. Stevinson has made leadership and local control a guiding theme of his service on the Bedminster Township Committee.  He emphasized the importance of the township controlling the affordable housing requirements that still affect the municipality.  Local control through zoning and collaborating with potential developers will ensure Bedminster’s growth is not dictated though a court order.  Any new affordable housing must be integrated with and complement the surrounding community.  He pledged to represent the electorate by providing mature, practical leadership that ensures a high quality of life while keeping property taxes low.  Mr. Stevinson, his wife and Board of Education President, Suzie, and their three children live in the Ski Hill neighborhood.

Committeewoman Gina Fernandez is seeking her second term.  She is a proven leader on the Committee, where she has used her experience as a union member and manager in a family business to modernize the Township’s Human Relations program.  Gina is a teacher in Union Township, and the mother of three.  She and her husband, Gus, have been residents of the township since 2006, first residing in the Parkside neighborhood in the Hills before moving to Deer Haven Road.  Ms. Fernandez has also improved Bedminster’s Recreation program, working with the new Recreation Director to revive Fall Fest for 2022.  Founder of the Hispanic Heritage Club of Union NJ, Ms. Fernandez will continue her work to keep property taxes low, preserve open space, and uphold our tight-knit community.

Bedminster RMC Chair Steve Parker said, “We are proud to nominate two, mature leaders that bring Bedminster values and a record of accomplishment that will ensure the township returns to normalcy with a high quality of life and continued low taxes.  We have a good team to lead Bedminster into the future.”

The Republican Primary Election is June 7th.

Republicans in Bernards Township, Bedminster seeking re-election

With the filing deadline for the June 7 primary less than three weeks away, the municipal candidate fields are starting to take shape in the five Somerset Hills towns.

Several incumbents contacted by this newspaper confirmed that they will be seeking re-election. Others have not yet announced their decisions – or failed to return messages inquiring about their plans.

The filing deadline for the primaries is Monday, April 4.

In Bernards Township, where one seat on the Township Committee will be filled this fall, incumbent Janice Fields, a Republican, said she would seek a second, three-year term.

The township Republican Municipal Committee plans to endorse for the seat at its screening meeting at 7:30 p.m. Monday, March 21. The deadline to apply for the endorsement was 5 p.m. Friday, March 11.

On Monday, GOP Committee Chairman Scott Mitzner said Fields was the only one to apply.

“No other candidates have submitted to run against her, which is a true testament to her outstanding work on the Township Committee and her incredible service to our community as mayor last year,” he said.

In Bedminster, two Republican incumbents, Doug Stevenson and Gina Fernandez, plan to seek the endorsement of the township’s Republican Municipal Committee (RMC) for new, three-year terms on the Township Committee.

“Yes, I will be seeking re-election this year,’’ Stevenson said. “It has been a privilege and an honor to represent the residents of Bedminster over the past six years. I’m proud of the work we’ve accomplished on the Township Committee, navigating the community though the COVID-19 pandemic while maintaining fiscal responsibility.

“There are several initiatives in town that are in the planning phase, including our community gardens project and the extension of our sewer service areas, that I am excited to be a part of and that I would like to roll out to the public,’’ he added. “In addition, we have several major tasks to tackle coming up, including another round of contract negotiations with the PBA and monitoring the township’s compliance with the state’s affordable housing obligations, that I feel is critical for the township and its future and would also like to see through to completion.’’

Fernandez acknowledged that she is interested in serving a second term, but said she needs to “interview with the RMC before I can officially answer’’ the question of whether she’ll be running. “I will let you know some time after March 23rd.’’

In Peapack-Gladstone, the four-year mayoral term will be filled this year along with two, three-year seats on the Borough Council.

Mayor Greg Skinner has already announced that he will not be seeking re-election when his first term expires at the end of the year.

The two council seats are held by Republican Mark Corigliano, the council president, and Gian Paolo “G.P.” Caminiti, an independent. Neither have announced their plans.

The Peapack-Gladstone Republican Committee will be screening candidates for the spots at 7 p.m. on Monday, March 21.

In Far Hills, the terms of Mayor Paul Vallone and Borough Councilmen David Karner and Dr. Edward McLean, all Republicans, will be on the election ballot.

Vallone, who is serving his 12th year as mayor, announced this week that he will not be seeking a fourth, four-year term.

Karner, the longtime council president, said on Saturday, March 12, that he would be happy to step aside if another person wants to volunteer but if that doesn’t happen, he would likely continue to serve.

McLean, who was appointed to the council in November 2019 and then defeated Democrat Karen Reilly for a two-year unexpired term in November 2020, did not respond to an email inquiry from this newspaper.

In Bernardsville, Republican Mayor Mary Jane Canose and Republican Borough Council members Chad McQueen and Jena McCredie are all seeking re-election, and have been endorsed by the local GOP municipal committee.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in The Bernardsville News.

EDITORIAL: Change on the horizon in the Somerset Hills

Hundreds of new homes and apartments are expected to become available in the Somerset Hills towns in the months and years ahead, primarily as the result of state mandates requiring housing that’s affordable to lower-income families.

Some of these new developments are also expected to include restaurants, shops, park areas and other public gathering places. The details of the projects have been thoroughly reviewed by local planning board members, volunteers from the communities who’ve spent countless hours at long meetings over many months to help refine the proposals.

Working with town engineers and other experts, in addition to professionals hired by the applicants, they’ve often called for revisions to improve the plans and make them a better fit for their communities.

In some cases, the local planners have been criticized by residents who oppose the pending changes to their towns. But their hands have largely been tied by legal requirements that prevent them from outright rejecting the development applications, even though they may prefer to do just that.

While few are happy with the affordable housing mandates facing New Jersey towns, it seems the best course of action is to work cooperatively with the developers to meet the requirements while minimizing the impact on the towns.

Bedminster officials in particular have demonstrated that ability and helped design plans for a 160-unit apartment project that appears poised to become an attractive and beneficial addition to the Pluckemin Village area.

The application for land off Route 202-206 was approved by the township Land Use Board last Thursday. Despite already having hundreds of affordable homes, mostly at The Hills development, Bedminster was still required to provide additional affordable rentals. This project will help satisfy that mandate, and also provide retail space and other community gathering areas that may help revitalize that section of town. Traffic improvements are also included.

It seems an example of making the best of what could be a bad situation.

In Bernards Township, a new apartment complex is nearing completion at the site of a former supermarket at the Dewy Meadow mall off King George Road. That project, called The Enclave at Dewy Meadows, will be home to 198 apartments, including 30 income-restricted rentals. The number of market rentals seems high in comparison to the affordable ones, but is unfortunately a standard practice that gives developers a financial incentive to build the less expensive units.

The project includes a swimming pool, clubhouse and playground for the residents. While no public gathering areas or retail space is included, having new residents here should help keep existing businesses at Dewy Meadow viable.

We also like the fact that the affordable units are scattered among the other apartments in the project instead of being isolated in a separate building, which is often the case. It’s a more inclusionary concept that hopefully brings residents of various income levels together.

Plans for a 134-unit “inclusionary” development on Route 202 in Far Hills are also nearing approval but have faced considerable public opposition.

Bernardsville officials have received state approval for several smaller affordable housing projects in the borough, and are looking to include affordable units in the proposed Quimby Village redevelopment project, which is envisioned to include new retail buildings and public spaces.

The changes that will be coming to the quiet Somerset Hills towns may not be to everyone’s liking, but if done properly, will hopefully fit well into the established communities and even provide some long-term benefits.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in The Bernardsville News.

Jacobs to continue as Bedminster Mayor in 2022

BEDMINSTER TWP. – Mayor Larry Jacobs was informally chosen by his Township Committee colleagues on Monday, Nov. 15, to serve a fourth year as mayor for 2022.

Jacobs was the unanimous choice to lead the all-Republican governing body, which annually holds a straw poll after the November general election to determine the mayor for the following year.

Committeewoman Gina Fernandez “proudly” nominated Jacobs, with Committeeman R. Colin Hickey seconding the nomination.

Participating in the straw poll were Jacobs, Fernandez, Hickey, Committeeman Doug Stevinson and Committeewoman Renee Mareksi. All are Republicans.

Jacobs thanked his committee colleagues “for your vote of confidence.”

Later in the meeting, committee members congratulated the mayor on the vote as well as the general election victory that he and Mareski had in seeking new three-year committee terms.

“You’ve done an exemplary job,” said Hickey.

Jacobs again expressed gratitude. “There’s a lot to accomplish in the next year so let’s get to it,” he said.

He is expected to be formally chosen and sworn in at the committee’s annual reorganization meeting, which is held in the first week in January.

A resident of Hillside Avenue, Jacobs is in his ninth year on the committee and is its senior member in length of service. He is an environmental attorney.

One topic that didn’t come up was where the committee will hold the reorganization meeting.

Except for this past January, when the township was in the depths of the pandemic, the committee has started the new year with a public gathering usually at a local club or restaurant offering optional food and drink.

The January 2020 reorganization meeting was held at Fiddler’s Elbow Country Club on Rattlesnake Bridge Road after being held at Trump National Golf Club on Lamington Road each year from 2017 to 2019.

This past January, pandemic-related restrictions on indoor gathering led the committee to reorganize at town hall in a largely virtual format with no public present. Only Jacobs, Hickey and Mareski were physically present, while Stevinson and Fernandez participated from home via Zoom.

Committee members said just after Monday’s meeting that they planned to hold the 2022 reorganization meeting in-person but had yet to choose a locale.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in The Bernardsville News.

LETTER: Jacobs, Mareski ‘proven leaders’ in Bedminster

TO THE EDITOR: On Nov. 2, the voters will once again have the opportunity to protect the quality of life we’ve all come to expect and enjoy in Bedminster by re-electing Mayor Larry Jacobs and Committeewoman Renee Mareski to the Township Committee.

We live in a time where the words “politics” and “politicians” evoke emotional and dismissive responses from both sides of the aisle, often without consideration of the issue at hand. And while dysfunction and partisanship are words often used to describe events coming out of Washington D.C., and Trenton, the same cannot be said of local government here in Bedminster.

As mayor, Larry is constantly thinking of ways to improve the quality of life for all residents. While Bedminster’s low taxes, rural feel and community spirit define the township, it’s Larry’s foresight and ability to think steps ahead that enables us to continue to deliver effective and efficient government in the most cost effective manner.

Larry is a proven leader. Years ago, he had a vision for a Bedminster farmer’s market. That vision is now a reality that we all enjoy throughout the summer and fall seasons.

When faced with multiple accidents at the intersection of Rt. 202/206 and River Road, it was Mayor Jacobs who coordinated with the state Department of Transportation to change the timing of the traffic signals, posting of additional signage for traffic flow and painting of the travel lanes to ensure public safety.

Under Jacobs’ direction and leadership, we have also seen increased electric service reliability as well as faster internet connectivity in The Hills. He leaves no stone unturned in attempting to improve the lives of all who call Bedminster home.

Of equal importance, Larry has his finger on the pulse of Bedminster’s future. He has proactively engaged with county officials to commission reports as to the future uses of the AT&T campus should AT&T relocate operations in the future. As our top taxpayer in town, we all hope that AT&T retains its presence in Bedminster, but it is far from a guarantee, and Larry’s efforts have provided a pathway forward in the event AT&T relocates elsewhere.

Jacobs has also spearheaded numerous efforts to ensure the continued viability of Bedminster’s affordable housing program, which provides countless individuals the opportunity to prosper through home ownership. I am thankful for his leadership and guidance and can say without reservation that he has more than earned my vote to continue leading our wonderful community.

Mareski has similarly championed efforts to improve and augment the residents’ quality of life. She has a passion for the environment and is committed to working with our community members to deliver new and improved programs and services across numerous areas.

Working with interested community members, Renee has been instrumental in developing a new community gardens project, which we expect to break ground on in the coming months.

Renee also worked closely with representatives from Community in Crisis to help guide us through various issues relating to the state’s legalization of cannabis and our decision to opt out of the licensing rules and regulations relating thereto.

Perhaps most importantly, as more of us work from home, there has been an increased need for fast and reliable internet connectivity. Renee has rolled up her sleeves to work with Altice, the three master associations and all homeowner’s associations to implement Altice’s commitment to bring fiber service to The Hills neighborhoods, which will be a game changer for the improvement of internet connectivity.

I will be enthusiastically voting for both Mayor Jacobs and Committeewoman Mareski at the polls on Nov. 2, and I encourage my fellow Bedminster community members to do the same.

DOUGLAS STEVINSON
Ski Hill Drive
Bedminster Township

Editor’s note: The writer is a member of the Bedminster Township Committee. This Letter to the Editor originally appeared in The Bernardsville News.

EDITORIAL: Somerset Hills local endorsements

On Tuesday, Nov. 2, voters in Bernardsville, Bernards Township, Bedminster Township and Far Hills will decide election contests for municipal and school board positions.

In Bedminster Township, we support the re-election bids of Republican incumbents Larry Jacobs and Renee Mareski.

While their Democratic challengers bring intriguing international credentials and solid business backgrounds to the race, the incumbents have proven to be dedicated volunteers who understand the complexities of governing, particularly the unique challenges faced by Bedminster regarding the state’s demanding and often confusing affordable housing laws and regulations.

In addition, they have led a team that’s preparing for future challenges, including the possible loss of AT&T, the township’s largest commercial tenant, and addressed lingering issues facing residents of The Hills such as utilities problems.

The Republicans have also shown responsiveness to the community’s needs during times of crisis, including the pandemic, the tragic loss of a local police sergeant to COVID-19 and a devastating fire in The Hills development. They have earned re-election.

Editor’s Note: The entire article with endorsements for neighboring towns appears in The Bernardsville News.

LETTER: Jacobs, Mareski have been ‘extremely proactive’ in Bedminster

TO THE EDITOR: This past week’s issue of The Bernardsville News featured the headline, “Affordable housing focus of campaign” in reference to the race for Bedminster Township Committee.

Really?

As I read further, I came to understand that it was the issue being created by the local Democrats running for office.

I sit on many boards in Bedminster, including serving as the chair of the Bedminster Land Use Board, president of my local condo association and treasurer of the Hills Village North Master Association. I’ve never seen or heard from these folks, and by their own admission, they do not serve in any voluntary capacities with the town, their homeowner associations, the Bedminster School or any other organizations.

Yet they are defining the issues? I highly doubt it. Based on the article, both were hard pressed to identify actual issues in dispute.

The fact is, both the Bedminster Township Committee and the Land Use Board with leadership from Mayor Larry Jacobs have been extremely proactive in anticipating, as opposed to reacting to, the real issues facing our community.

Over the past 18 months, the pandemic has introduced a host of issues that Bedminster had to deal with head-on. Our residents have faced food challenges, loss of income and threats to their very health.

In each and every instance, the mayor and committee have risen to the challenge and served the interests of the community at large, be it in the form of a local food pantry, vaccine clinics, COVID information resources or access to parks and trails in the midst of crushing lockdowns.

Some of the problems facing us come from external sources we have little direct control over, but we work them aggressively regardless. For example, persistent power outages in The Hills and poor cable service are two issues that the Township Committee has leveraged their influence to address.

As a result, we’ve seen dramatic improvements in JCP&L’s performance, and Altice has now agreed to run fiber to the home for all Hills residents. These aren’t headline grabbing issues, but they are the ones residents want solved.

Most recently, Mayor Jacobs, through our Planning Board, initiated a detailed study with the county to look at the AT&T property. AT&T is the single largest commercial ratepayer and comprises a significant portion of the Bedminster tax base.

They are now a Texas-based company, and their lease on the campus expires in 2023. Their departure would have a significant impact on the Bedminster taxpayer.

We have worked exhaustively with the landlord, AT&T, our planners and outside consultants to understand our options and identify preferred outcomes. Rather than letting fate determine our future, we are driving the project to ensure the most favorable results for our residents.

Be it the unexpected, including responses to floods or fire, or the mundane, like recycling containers or speed signs, the mayor and committee proactively tackle the problems and get results.

Traffic safety improvements on Routes 202/206? Check. Addressing the eyesores in Pluckemin Village? Check. Revamping the budget in times of crisis to keep taxes flat? Check.

On Nov. 2, I plan on voting for the team that consistently works the issues, as opposed to creating the headlines.

Please join me in re-electing Mayor Larry Jacobs and Committeewoman Renee Mareski to the Bedminster Township Committee.

CAROL GUTTSCHALL
Heatherwood Lane
Bedminster Township

Editor’s note: This Letter to the Editor originally appeared in The Bernardsville News.

LETTER: Bedminster Democrats told ‘do your homework’

TO THE EDITOR: to be blatantly honest, I’m kind of sick of politics.

As an individual involved in local government, that might come as a surprise. Unlike Washington D.C., we have something unique here in Bedminster, a functional government that puts the people first, not the party or politics.

We’re all volunteers, after all, just doing our part to better the community we know and love.

However, when I see uninformed attacks from the other side of the aisle, I wonder if it’s just a ploy to distract from a lack of involvement and no real platform on their end.

Most recently, the Mayor and Township Committee have been accused by the Bedminster Democrats of not properly administering the affordable housing program. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Democrats, having aligned themselves with a real estate agent interested in gaming the system to his advantage, have based their assertions on hearsay and secondhand information instead of facts. Like I teach my students, an argument without accuracy, validity and evidentiary support will leave one believing in logical fallacies. I can think of no better example than these affordable housing allegations.

You see, I am proud to say I got my start here through the Bedminster affordable housing program, as did my colleague, Committeewoman Renee Mareski. It afforded both of us a chance to be part of this incredible community, and was a first step into home ownership that we otherwise may have not been able to attain.

I am forever grateful for this opportunity, and I wish nothing more than to provide this opportunity to future generations to come, as is the purpose and intention of the affordable housing program, both here in Bedminster and throughout the state.

Like any institution, there are always opportunities for improvement. Last year, Mayor Jacobs and the committee took action to replace the current administrative agent with a professional services organization that has a long history and proven track record of managing affordable housing programs throughout the state.

Imagine my surprise when we were suddenly criticized for making a substantive improvement to an underwhelming and underperforming program.

But as the story unfolded, I came to realize that the objections were coming not from those who wanted to part of the affordable housing program, nor from those who have been part of the affordable housing program, but rather from those who were looking to take advantage of the program and didn’t get their way.

As a teacher, I have rules in my classroom. No cheating. Take turns. No cutting in line. These rules are there for a reason – so that every one of my students has a chance to participate fairly and equally.

The same should hold true for the affordable housing program. Apparently, that’s not what the opposition supports.

Most recently, the committee, in response to new state requirements mandating additional affordable housing beyond what previously and currently exists, zoned for newly required affordable rental units. We did it in a thoughtful way, integrating the units within the community, just as The Hills did 40 years ago.

We accomplished this without spending taxpayer money or depleting the existing funds that sustain our current affordable housing program. Those funds are there to help individual homeowners make improvements, provide down payment assistance and maintain the program going forward. The program is administered by our new professional affordable housing agent with input from our new Affordable Housing Advisory Committee.

We’ve set up the program for the inclusion of the next generation of individuals who want a chance to join our community through the affordable housing path. It’s called equity. I, and the rest of the Township Committee, are proud to have preserved the program and ensure its viability for years to come.

Anyone who knows me can attest that I am a planner and a doer. I have never been, and will never be, content to sit on the sidelines.

I’m dismayed when individuals who aren’t even involved take cheap shots and cry foul play for personal or political gain. “Do your homework” not only applies in my classroom, but it’s a lesson for real life as well.

I know who’s done the work, put in the time and has their facts straight. On Nov. 2, I’ll confidently be voting for Larry Jacobs and Renee Mareski for Bedminster Township Committee, and I encourage you to do the same.

GINA LISA-FERNANDEZ
Deer Haven Road
Bedminster Township

Editor’s note: The writer, a Republican, is a member of the Bedminster Township Committee. This Letter to the Editor originally appeared in The Bernardsville News.

LETTER: Bedminster officials came through after Hills fire

TO THE EDITOR: Feb. 13, 2021, was the worst night of my life.

I was woken up around midnight to the sound of someone yelling, “Get out, get out, the building is on fire!”

The building 53 in Village Green was on fire. My first thought was that I was having a bad dream but, unfortunately, I wasn’t. Within the next few minutes, I found myself running out of my condo into the freezing cold night wearing pajamas, a coat and shoes.

I cried as I watched the firemen battle the flames rising from the building, wondering if everything I own would be lost.

The following days and weeks were full of so many emotions; scared, thankful that I, and everyone in the building, got out safely, and full of many questions as I played the night over and over in my mind.

Needless to say, it was all quite traumatizing. However, I am so very grateful to the many people who reached out to me in the days that followed to offer their prayers and assistance as needed. I was grateful to the Bedminster-Far Hills Fire Department and the other fire departments that responded to the scene and worked in the freezing temperature to get the fire under control.

However, the fire department was just one of many groups that were instrumental in helping the residents of building 53. Bedminster Township, in particular the Township Committee, immediately reached out to see what they could do to help.

I spoke with Mayor Larry Jacobs many times over the following weeks. He promised his help in any way that he could, whether it was the use of Town Hall as a meeting place, making sure that the township processed any paperwork or requested permits as quickly as possible, or providing lists of resources that we could call for help.

I am personally very grateful to Mayor Jacobs for all that he did for us to try and get the rebuilding process started as soon as possible.

Many residents from Bedminster, as well as surrounding towns, reached out wanting to know how they could donate to the fire victims. Renee Mareski worked with the township to set up a donation program, which was truly appreciated.

The fire is not the only time that Major Jacobs and Renee Mareski have gone above and beyond to be available to Bedminster residents and offer their help.

I think that Bedminster is very fortunate to have them as well as the rest of our very responsive Township Committee members.

On Nov. 2, I will be supporting Larry Jacobs and Renee Mareski for re-election and I hope you will, too!

LISA ROBINSON
Larkspur Court
Bedminster Township

Editor’s note: This Letter to the Editor originally appeared in The Bernardsville News.