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Outrage Ensues over South Amboy Redevelopment Vote

Rick Spinelli addressing the Council. *Photos by Joseph L. Kuchie

Ordinance Could Lead to Potential Drug and Rehab Facility

By Joseph L. Kuchie—

SOUTH AMBOY – A packed house of concerned residents left in disgust last week when the South Amboy council approved an ordinance to revise the Memorial Medical Center redevelopment plan.

A key part of the revision for the new redevelopment was the permitted use of 13 different entities including an alcohol/substance abuse treatment facility. While mental health clinics are prohibited in the zone, drug and alcohol rehab could potentially still be added to the area.

The new ordinance and public hearing came after the city of South Amboy had its decision to block the impatient facility overturned in Appellate Court in favor of Rocky Top LLC.

The vote was unanimous amongst all councilmen and women, who were all in attendance for the meeting on Wednesday night. Board attorney John Lanza explained to the public before the vote that the ordinance was court ordered and, if the board voted no, they would be in contempt of court.

Resident Rick Spinelli of Ward Street was not pleased with the timing of the public hearing considering the council was already preparing to vote yes. He also did not think it was fair that the meeting was held on the same day as South Amboy High School graduation, preventing many residents from coming out to speak their case.

Planner of AJV Engineering Inc. Angelo Valetutto talking with Board Attorney John Lanza

Lanza explained that the council was under time constraints from the courts to get this ordinance passed so they could proceed. He told Spinelli that the courts were expecting the results of the vote on Thursday morning.

One of the main concerns about the new facility was the safety of the nearby residents who could be affected by the patients roaming the streets. Former councilmen and current resident Bill Schwarick asked questions about similar facilities in Kearny and Keyport and if the council had contacted those towns about their issues.

“Has any thought to security been issued? Is there anyway we can ensure the residents that there is some sort of qualified security in place?” he asked. “Has the Mayor and council looked into contacting Kearny and Keyport to see if there’s been a problem with Endeavor house there and has the Chief of Police contacted them to see if there was an increase in crime?”

Lanza responded by saying those towns had not been reached out to and wouldn’t be unless a problem ensued with the facility or its patients. He reminded those in attendance that the facility was for patients who had already gone through the detox phase and were considered nonviolent.

Schwarick later showed his disappointment in the council when a young boy who lives next to the facility address his fear of walking to school everyday and the traffic that prevents him from crossing the street.

“That young man stood up in an adult forum with that courage and said he was afraid to walk to school down Bordentown Ave. and I looked up there and all I saw was vacant stares,” he said. “Shame on you.”

Resident Todd Christiansen has lived right across the street from the facility for over 20 years and was disgusted that this ordinance was up for a vote to begin with. He feared for his own safety and for the safety of other families in the area.

“There is no security being thought of yet and that is ridiculous. You should have that in place no matter what type of facility it is,” Christensen said. “I wouldn’t feel safe having a child in that neighborhood…I was a child in that neighborhood…and the fact that it’s turning into this embarrasses me and should embarrass you too.”

Another concern about the facility was the parking problems that may ensue. According to local neighbors, the parking on Bordentown Avenue is bad as it is and residents like Tim Walczak wanted to know if solutions like parking permits would be put into place.

“In the past when the hospital was opened we had permit parking…can we have that re-established?” he asked. “Parking by my house right now is like living in Hoboken…my kids have to park three blocks away. It’s already a problem.”

Lanza and Council President Joseph Connors said that residential parking permits were discussed by the council earlier in the day and Business Administrator Camille Tooker said that the ordinance for parking permits would likely be put back into effect to prevent any parking issues for residents in the area.

Tension grew later in the night when resident Adam Horezga spoke and presented his support for the new impatient rehab facility, which he believed presented less of a risk helping people with a problem than there would be with people leaving a bar late at night.

Rick Spinelli attempted to address Horezga directly, asking if he was a politician in town and where he lived in terms of the facility. He then went on to tell the stories of a family member who has suffered with drug addiction for 25 years and the toll it takes on everyone who surrounds him.

“Nobody in this room knows what I know and lived with it for 25 years,” Spinelli said. “The 12 step approach says they will get clean when they are ready and not a moment before. I think it’s an injustice what this whole board is doing tonight by putting this on the floor by voting it.”

Spinelli, visually affected by the evening’s discussion, voluntarily left the meeting after the council asked him to calm down. Horezga later spoke about how he lost his grandfather in a DUI accident and regardless of his position he still wanted what’s best for South Amboy’s residents.

Lanza reminded the crowd numerous times that a drug and alcohol rehab facility is just one of the potential uses for the new space but would not necessarily be used in that aspect. Residents believed that it would become a treatment facility because of the money it would potentially bring into the town.

When the vote was passed around 8:30 p.m. despite the public outcry, the council saw nearly 30 residents walk out of the room at once, many of them making their feelings heard. One resident was heard yelling “We’ll remember this on Election Day!”

Mayor Henry was not in attendance for the meeting in order to attend South Amboy High School’s graduation. He will be present for the next South Amboy council meeting on July 17.

The South Amboy business meeting originally scheduled for July 3rd has been moved to July 10th.


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