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Belleville suspending alternate-side parking Dec. 15 until further notice

street sweeper generic


Interim Township Manager Kevin Esposito’s office is advising residents that, as of Dec. 15, alternate side of the street parking regulations are suspended, until further notice.

When temperatures fall below freezing, the township’s mechanical sweepers cannot function, the manager’s office said.

Stranger than fiction


By Karen Zautyk

Observer Correspondent 


For nearly eight decades, Theodore Zetterlund of Kearny lay in an unmarked grave in Holy Cross Cemetery, North Arlington. This past Sunday, 79 years to the day that he was killed by a bandit, he finally got his headstone.

His widow had bought it a few months after his death. But it was never installed. And for most of those intervening years, it was missing.

How it came to be found and at long last placed where Zetterlund rests is an incredible tale — a fantastic story involving a kayak and killie fish and an island that once was not an island and weeds and mud and water and a Kearny Police Department murder file and a case of the right person being in the right place at the right time.

That person is Bruce Dillin of Bayonne, a man who says he was “on a mission from God.” (Lest you think Dillin is some sort of religious fanatic, please note that he is using a quote from “The Blues Brothers.” This also was the explanation he gave a cop who spotted him prowling around the South Kearny swamps. Luckily, Dillin has a friend on the force.)

Now, as intriguing an individual as Dillin is, we will not start this saga with him. We start with Theodore Zetterlund, who owned a butcher shop/grocery store on Davis Ave. at Tappan St. in Kearny. (See ‘Then & Now,’) 

According to the news account in the New York Times: Shortly after 10 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 7, 1935, the 58-year-old Zetterlund and his wife, Kathryn, were closing up shop for the day when a man armed with a sawed-off shotgun entered the premises, told the merchant to raise his hands, and demanded he turn over his money.. Zetterlund would not comply with either order. Without saying another word, the bandit fired, at close range, fatally wounding the victim in the stomach.

The killer then fled, empty-handed, and was reportedly seen running into nearby West Hudson Park. Police cordoned off the area and searched, but did not find. That night, anyway.

An investigation led to the arrest in August 1936 of a Vincent Millinavich, who reportedly was tried, found guilty, sentenced to life and died in prison. We have no further details since we have not yet had a chance to examine the 800-page file.

In any case, Zetterlund was interred at Holy Cross, and the widow ordered a headstone, inscribed with his name and date of death. The price was $115 — quite a substantial sum during the Depression. (An inflation calculator indicates that amount is the equivalent of $1,993.05 in today’s dollars.)

She was making installment payments in small amounts — $8, $5, $2, $10 — and then they abruptly stopped. The headstone was never put on the grave.

Fast forward to May 2014.

Fisherman/hunter/ outdoorsman Bruce Dillin was kayaking on the Hackensack River near Laurel Hill Park in Secaucus, looking for killies to use as bait for fluke, when he saw a small island in a Meadowlands pond. “I landed my kayak and walked about 60 feet through 8-foot-high weeds, and I found myself looking straight down at a tombstone,” Dillin recalled. It bore Theodore Zetterlund’s name and the date of death. (At the time of discovery, Dillin had no idea who this person was, much less knowledge of the murder backstory.)

Photo by Karen Zautyk At Sunday’s ‘Rest in Peace’ service at gravesite in Holy Cross Cemetery (from l.): The Rev. Gary Grindeland, headstone hero Bruce Dillin, and John Burns of Hopper Monuments.

Photo by Karen Zautyk
At Sunday’s ‘Rest in Peace’ service at gravesite in Holy Cross Cemetery (from l.): The Rev. Gary Grindeland, headstone hero Bruce Dillin, and John Burns of Hopper Monuments.


His mind began racing: “How did it get here? Is this guy buried here? How did they bring him here? In a boat?”

Dillin is not one to leave questions unanswered.

One of the first things he did was to call a friend, Timothy Doolan, an environmentalist with the N.J. Turnpike Authority, who directed him to online topographical maps and aerial photos of the meadows in the mid-’30s, from which he learned that the island had not been an island then. It was dry land accessible by a road.

“And through the power of the internet,” Dillin said, “my secretary, Barbara, found out that Zetterlund was buried in Holy Cross.”

“This is a man with two tombstones,” Dillin thought. But in June, he went to the gravesite “and . . . no tombstone!”

“The plot thickens, I thought.”

How much, he couldn’t guess. Word of his find, and quest, eventually reached his friend on the KPD, for whom the name “Zetterlund” rang a bell. The officer did some research and found the murder file. (Interestingly, that sawed-off shotgun used to kill Zetterlund was also fished from the Meadowlands, where the killer had thrown it.)

To solve the headstone mystery, the cemetery suggested that Dillin contact Albert H. Hopper Monuments “since they’ve been around the longest” — more than 130 years. And it turned out that Hopper, located on Ridge Road in North Arlington, directly across from the cemetery entrance, was the same company that produced Zetterlund’s headstone.

Dillin learned this after enlisting the help of Hopper’s current owner, John Burns of Burns Bros. Memorials, Jersey City, who hunted through old files in the basement and found Zetterlund’s. Burns learned that when the widow’s payments stopped, she had a balance due of $28.

Burns surmises that the stone simply sat in the company’s yard “for a long time.” “At some point,” he said, “they must have cleared out the yard.”

In those days, there was road access to the place in the Meadows where it was found, so Burns assumes it was just dumped there. Perhaps with some granite leavings from other work, since Dillin said there seemed to be a few chunks of uninscribed stone on the same island.


KPD Police photo, taken Aug. 18, 1936, shows Walter White of Jersey City, employee of the Hudson County Mosquito Exterminating Commission, with shotgun/murder weapon he found in a creek in the meadows.

Police photo, taken Aug. 18, 1936, shows Walter White of Jersey City, employee
of the Hudson County Mosquito Exterminating Commission, with shotgun/murder weapon he found in a creek in the meadows.


“Normally, we do everything possible to get a stone on the grave,” Burns noted. (But he wasn’t around back in the ‘30s or ‘40s.)

Burns offered to refurbish the Zetterlund stone and add the name of Kathryn J. Zetterlund, whom Dillin learned had been lying in the same unmarked grave as her husband since her death in 1975.

But first, someone had to get the stone out of the swamp.

Last month, Dillin (who had been more or less possessed by this project, this “mission from God”) returned to the island with his kayak and a raft, two 10-foot long posts, bricks to use as levers, a pry bar, steel cable and other tools.

He worked at the task for an hour and 45 minutes and was finally able to move the stone onto the raft.

And it immediately slid off and sank.

“You were in the Marine Corps!” Dillin told himself. “You can do this!”

To get the thing out of the swamp, he worked in and under the November-cold water for six more hours, four of them while stark naked. He had stripped to make the underwater work easier. (He organizes an annual Polar Bear Plunge, so you could say he had some preparation for the frigid conditions.) Luckily, no police were around to witness this part of the operation.

The submerged headstone was recovered. But Dillin couldn’t lift it onto his truck. He started towing it along the ground, but the cable broke. So he left the stone in the middle of a rarely-used road, intending to return with a hoist.

When he came back the next morning, the stone was gone. Seems a Turnpike maintenance crew had moved it. Dillin searched the weeds, and for the third time Zetterlund’s headstone was reclaimed from the meadows.

Dillin, who had been losing sleep over this quest, delivered it to the monument company, contacted Holy Cross and then the Archdiocese of Newark, which had to approve of the placement of the stone on the grave. The Archdiocese also managed to locate a distant relative of the Zetterlunds, since family approval also was needed.

And at 2 p.m. this past Sunday, Dillin, Burns and a few others gathered at the grave for a brief dedication ceremony conducted by the Rev. Gary Grindeland, pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, Bayonne.

Theodore Zetterlund can now rest in peace.

And so can Bruce Dillin.

Church will be restored


By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 


A local landmark church that was badly damaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 is getting government aid for a major fix. In fact, it received slightly more than double the amount it requested.

The New Jersey Historic Trust has awarded La Senda Antigua Church, which owns and occupies the former Dutch Reformed Church of the Second River in Belleville, awarded the church a Sandy Disaster Relief Grant for Historic Properties of $250,000.

Although there is a $150,000 cap placed on historic-related grants to religious facilities – and that’s the amount for which the church applied – Larry Hajna, spokesman for the state Dept. of Environmental Protection, which oversees the Trust, said that the state issued a “waiver.”

“It was felt by our reviewers that it wasn’t reasonable to expect that the local congregation could raise the balance of the money needed to facilitate the repairs,” Hajna said.

“We want to thank God — it’s a miracle,” said the Rev. Miguel Ortiz, the church’s pastor. “Everybody kept closing the doors on us until now. We hope that with the restoration, this will bring a good feeling to the community.”

A cross at the top of the church steeple was loosened from its perch by Sandy’s gusts and while it continues to dangle, it was secured there, thanks to a $40,000 emergency repair job financed by the township in the aftermath of the storm.

“We want to fix the steeple and, below that, several floors, all the way down to the basement, are damaged – beams and flooring,” Ortiz said.

But, the pastor noted, the interior and exterior structure has been compromised not only by Sandy but in past years, from water infiltration from rain and snow conditions.

As outlined by a summary furnished by the state, “Hurricane Sandy’s high winds and driving rain ripped the steeple and bell tower apart, literally. The metal cross at the pinnacle of the steeple was displaced, the steeple’s copper cladding was torn and peeled back and windows in the masonry tower were blown in.”

Photos by Ron Leir The Rev. Miguel Ortiz and his wife Lillian are grateful that the N.J. Historic Trust is providing funding to repair and restore their historic church which has been ravaged -- inside and out -- by wear and tear and Sandy.

Photos by Ron Leir
The Rev. Miguel Ortiz and his wife Lillian are grateful that the N.J. Historic Trust
is providing funding to repair and restore their historic church which has been
ravaged — inside and out — by wear and tear and Sandy.



A report by state reviewer Jennifer Stark said the grant “will fund emergency steeple stabilization completed immediately after Hurricane Sandy and more exhaustive restoration of the steeple and tower including masonry repointing, structural heavy timber repair, new copper cladding and roofing, exterior wood repair around windows and exterior painting.”

The structure, Stark reported, dates from 1853 and was designed by William H. Kirk of the Newark architectural firm Kirk & Kirkpatrick “and is the only Gothic Revival style religious building in Belleville. The church is a good example of early Gothic architecture constructed by a master builder.

“Never seriously altered, the church maintains its orginal architectural integrity.”

And it was one of about a dozen such churches in New Jersey employing primarily the Greek Revival form designed by the Kirk & Kirkpatrick firm between 1839 and 1858, Stark noted.

Because the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on Dec. 21, 1978, and on the State Register on July 12, 1978, (and dedicated as a local landmark by the Belleville Historic Preservation Commission on July 4), the owner must comply with certain architectural guidelines during the restoration process.

This the owner is apparently prepared to do, as noted by Stark, in her comments that, “The owner has had an engineer with historical project experience survey the church and evaluate the condition. It is recommended that this professional continue to further document the current conditions, identify and prioritize preservation and repair phases, and costs, for future planning and fundraising efforts. The scale … and complexity of the work also warrant the services of this professional to provide construction documents for the brick and mortar project ….”

Stark estimated that the project could run “between $300,000 and $400,000.”

Ortiz said he’s exploring whether the church can apply any of the grant money towards repayment of the $40,000 lien placed on the property by the township. “So far, we’ve been paying it off at the rate of $500 a month,” he said.

Asked how soon the repair work could begin, Ortiz said that probably won’t happen until around March, due to the obstacles presented by the winter weather conditions.

2 teens are charged in Kearny arson


By Karen Zautyk 

Observer Correspondent 


A cooperative investigation by the Kearny Fire Department and Police Department into a devastating house fire on Garfield Ave. last month has resulted in the arrest of two township youths on arson charges.

The suspects, aged 15 and 16, are both students at Kearny High School. After being taken into custody last week, they were remanded to the Hudson County Youth House.

Police Chief John Dowie characterized the boys’ actions as “just a random arson attack” as opposed to the targeting of specific victims.

The two-alarm blaze gutted a single-family home on Garfield Ave. at the corner of Elm St. on Nov. 10.

It was reported at 3 a.m. and quickly spread through the structure. The occupants, a man and a woman, were able to escape, but the man suffered minor smoke inhalation after he reentered the house to rescue three dogs, Dowie said.

KFD Chief Inspector John Donovan, who conducted the initial investigation, determined that the fire apparently started, not indoors, but outside the Elm St. side of the house, towards the rear of the property.

For it to begin outside, “it took some human intervention,” Donovan noted.

The starting point could also be identified by the burn patterns on the building.

Once arson was suspected, KPD Sgt. Rick Poplaski and Det. John Plaugic joined Donovan in the investigation. Plaugic canvassed the neighborhood for witnesses and obtained security videos from cooperative homeowners. Dowie said the footage showed “two shadowy figures” heading south on Elm at about the same time the blaze broke out.

After the direction of flight was determined, Plaugic, Det. Lt. Anthony Gouveia and Det. Michael Gonzalez located more residential videos. One tape, provided by a homeowner in the area of Elm St. and Bergen Ave., reportedly gave a clearer view of the suspects and the route they traveled.

Even clearer videos were then located by Gonzalez at two businesses near Bergen and Kearny Aves. These were provided to the KPD for viewing “in house” by patrol officers, Dowie said. Officer John Fabula passed the descriptions on to his street sources and obtained the first name of one possible suspect, and the department’s Kearny H.S. school resource officer, Steve Montanino, was then able to furnish the teen’s full name and address, Dowie reported.

On Dec. 2, after questioning at headquarters, the 16-yearold and, subsequently, his alleged 15-year-old accomplice, were charged with arson, aggravated arson and conspiracy to commit arson.

Kearny Fire Chief Steve Dyl, noting the “cooperative effort” between the departments, commended both Donovan for his “efforts and diligence” and the police for their “very good detective work.”

Citing the KPD, he said, “I’d like to applaud them.” Dowie thanked the homeowners and merchants who obligingly provided the police with access to their security videos, which helped crack the case.

Regarding two other recent Kearny fires, Donovan reported that a Nov. 20 blaze in a two-family home at 47 Beech St. was accidental and began with a space heater. He said the cause of the Nov. 23 apartment house fire at 425 Beech St. is still undetermined, “but we can’t rule out smoking.”

Those Yuletide fires


By Karen Zautyk 

Observer Correspondent 

Have you ever seen a Christmas tree go up in flames? If you answered “yes,” I can all but guarantee it was via a video. If you had seen it happen in person, you’d likely not be around to answer the question.

An evergreen, especially a dry one, doesn’t smolder or burn bit by bit. It bursts into flames like a torch, taking with it anything flammable in the vicinity. And then the rest of the room. And the house. If you’d like to see what happens, there’s a video link at www.kearnyusa.com/FireDepartment. On the right side of the page, click on Fire Safety for the Holidays. Which is also what this article is about.

Last week, we sat down with Kearny Fire Chief Steve Dyl and Chief Fire Inspector John Donovan to get some tips on keeping fire-safe during the season.

Trees are at the top of the list.

According to the National Fire Protection Assoc., 48% of home Christmas-tree fires are caused by electrical problems, and a heat source too close to the trees causes 27%.

Even with an artificial tree, you need take care: Be sure it is labeled, certified or identified by the manufacturer as fire-retardant.

For live trees, safety begins when you’re choosing one. Make sure it has fresh, green needles that do not fall off when touched.

Before placing it in the stand, cut 1 ro 2 inches off the base, to expose fresh wood.

Then, add water to the tree stand DAILY.

Make sure the tree is at least three feet away from any heat source, including fireplaces, heat vents, radiators, candles and lamps. And make sure it is not blocking any exits.

As for lights, use only those labeled by an independent testing lab. And note that some are for indoor use only, some for outdoor, but not both.

Replace any light strings that have worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections. Check for frayed or kinked wires. Connect no more that three strands of mini-lights or a maximum of 50 bulbs for screw-in bulbs.

Lights usually come with instructions. Follow them.

Turn the tree lights off before leaving the house or going to bed.

And NEVER use real candles on a tree.

When the tree starts dropping needles, it’s time to discard it. And when you do take it outside, don’t stand it against the house.

This is also the season when extension cords tend to proliferate. “Extension cords are for temporary use,” Dyl noted. And “if an outlet looks like an octopus,” you’ve overloaded it. Power strips are good, if they are UL listed and if you don’t overload them.

Extension cords should not be run through the back of a door, because the door can damage it if it closes on the wire. And make sure cords aren’t running under rugs or creating tripping hazards.

Outdoor extension cords should be labeled for outdoor use and plugged into an outdoor outlet labeled GFCI (Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupter).

Other holiday tips:

If you’re hiding presents from the kids, do not store the gifts in the oven.

Seriously. Dyl said the KFD has responded to fires caused by toys hidden in ovens — as well as pizza boxes and newspapers stored in ovens.

After opening gifts, do not throw the wrapping paper in the fireplace. It tends to create fiery little flakes that could float back into the room.

UL-listed battery-operated candles are a lot safer than real ones. If you insist on decorating with real ones, don’t buy the cheap kind- Cheap tapers, for example, can tend to bend over as they melt.

Don’t leave burning candles unattended. If you go out, put the candles out.

When entertaining, make sure all your guests know how to get out in case of fire. And if you are visiting, especially if you’re staying overnight, make sure you know the safe exits.

As for general winter-time fire safety:

Have your chimney serviced and your boiler/furnace checked.

Do not forget to add water to the boiler.

Do not store things near the boiler or furnace.

Never use an oven for heating.

If you have a portable space heater, make sure it is UL listed and has tip-over protection. Plug it directly into the wall socket. Make sure it is on a non-combustible surface and keep it away from combustibles. And shut it off when you leave the room.

If you have a gas fireplace and you smell gas, do not light it. Call the KFD or PSE&G immediately.


Test your smoke alarms monthly. Make sure you have working carbon monoxide detectors – – one of them within 10 feet of the bedroom.

Don’t warm up your car inside an attached garage.

And remember to check that Christmas-tree fire video.

Bianchi focused on redevelopment


By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 


Redevelopment of the borough’s meadowlands acreage will be “the first priority” of the incoming administration of Republican Mayor-elect Joseph Bianchi.

In a recent interview with The Observer, Bianchi – who, along with his Borough Council running mates, defeated the Democratic team led by incumbent Mayor Peter Massa in the municipal election Nov. 4 – said he’d like to take a cue from the borough’s southern neighbor Kearny in Hudson County.

“I’ve been very impressed with the way Kearny is developing their portion of the meadows district off Rt. 7 and elsewhere and I’d like to see development on our 50 acres of meadows,” he said.

There has been some activity already, with the new owner of the old Bergen County Utilities Authority property having leased the facility to PSE&G to use as an equipment storage site and staging area for upgrades to its regional high tension wires. But to stir more interest in the area by prospective investors and job creation, Bianchi said he intends to revive a municipal redevelopment board and hire a “specialist who knows the meadowlands and how to market our properties.”

The board that he envisions would have eight members – appointed by the mayor with consent of the Borough Council – “from all walks of life.” Bianchi said he would look to these board members – all of whom would serve as volunteers – and the “part-time” specialist – who would receive a “small stipend, maybe $25,000 and no benefits” – to come up with a redevelopment plan for the meadows area which would then be brought before the mayor and council for deliberation and, ultimately, adoption before it could be implemented. “No town or town council can do this,” Bianchi said, because “they have enough to do running the town.” While the borough has struggled to find additional revenues in recent years to offset tax hikes, Bianchi insisted that it should be seen as a community on the rise.

“North Arlington is strong and healthy and our future is bright,” he said. “We have an excellent Police Department [even though, with a force of 25, it falls 10 short of its T.O.] which is doing a wonderful job and our Volunteer Fire Department and Volunteer Emergency Squad, with the finest equipment available, are among the best in the USA.

“Our Public Works Department has 10 men and we do the best we can plowing and patching the streets, cutting down dead trees and grinding stumps – working very hard,” he added.

“Our recreation program is filled with volunteers who donate their time to coach and educate our kids,” Bianchi said. “There was a time when we didn’t have enough places to play but now we have a brand new county park and new high school field accessible to the community for exercise and walking, along with Zadroga Park for soccer and Alan Park for girls’ softball.”

As mayor, Bianchi said, “My thought is I’m willing to allow the girls from the high school to practice [softball] at Alan Park but to play their games at the county park” to allow enough playing time for the girls’ recreation softball program.

Bianchi, a hair stylist by trade who has served as a volunteer firefighter for the past three decades, thanked Mayor Massa “for his service to our community” along with the borough residents who voted for Bianchi as mayor after his having served seven years on the Borough Council (leaving a vacant seat to be filled) and 25 years on the Planning and Zoning Board.

Bianchi said he was “very humbled by the overwhelming show of support I received from the voters and I will work every day to live up to the confidence they showed in me to lead our community,” Bianchi said. Being given such an opportunity is “one that I will respect and cherish every day of my tenure.” He’s looking forward to working with his running mates Kerry Cruz and Dan Pronti and the rest of the council.

“We have a lot of work to do to revive our town and get it moving in a positive direction and I am counting on the support of – not only the Borough Council – but the residents as well. North Arlington is home to many intelligent and caring people and I hope to call on them to help me make decisions that will positively impact the future of the borough.”

Arce resigning after 11 years of service


By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 


Now only three remain. A second member of the five-person dissident Democratic ticket, swept into municipal office by Kearny voters in 2003, is stepping down from her post.

Councilwoman Alexa C. Arce, who was elected to a First Ward seat on the Town Council in 2003, announced at Tuesday night’s council session that she was resigning, effective Jan. 5, 2015.

“I’m expecting my first child in a few weeks,” Arce said, “so I’ll be focused elsewhere.” Arce, who will be relocating from Kearny to be close to other family members, said she “thought it over so long” before concluding that separating herself from the demands of government service was the right thing to do.

She’ll also be taking some time off from her job as a manager for the Bank of America.

Mayor Alberto Santos, who ran with Arce as head of the slate opposing the HCDO (Hudson County Democratic Organization)-backed ticket led by James Mangin, said that the local Dems county committee, which he chairs, has 15 days from the day Arce’s seat is vacated to submit the names of three nominees to temporarily fill the seat.

The Town Council, he said, has 30 days from the time of the vacancy to pick one of the three to fill out the balance of Arce’s unexpired term, which is two years.

“Being a public servant is not easy,” said Arce. Looking back on her elective career, she said she’d be able to recall “some wonderful moments … [like] the creation of a new park in the First Ward, but also some tough choices.”

Perhaps the hardest choice she faced, Arce suggested, was accepting the offer to run for office in the first place and then, once she agreed, she was intensely engaged “in a full primary battle.”

No regrets, though, Arce added. “I’ve enjoyed working with all of you,” she told her fellow council members.

And, judging from her colleagues’ comments, the feeling was mutual.

Said Santos: “It was an honor to work with you. You’ve been consistent and responsible throughout,” despite what the mayor characterized as the initial “theatrics” from the opposition “when local government was not operating effectively.”

Santos credited Arce for her candor. “You’d always tell me where you stood,” he said, “but your focus was always on practicality and getting things done for the community.”

Councilwoman Carol Jean Doyle, the Third Ward candidate on that 2003 ticket, thanked Arce “for rounding up those Bank of America volunteers for our [annual Passaic] river cleanup. I’ve enjoyed working with you.”

The Fourth Ward candidate on the ticket, Councilman Michael Landy, commended Arce for her “calm and logical” approach, even in the heat of debate, and for her “reassuring voice” that all would be well.

The fifth member of the team, Barbara Cifelli-Sherry, resigned from her Second Ward council seat in October 2009 after moving to the Third Ward. She subsequently ran, successfully, for the Board of Education last year.

Arce’s First Ward counterpart, Councilman Albino Cardoso said he was “very proud” to have supported her in 2003 and, after he was elected to the council, “You were always at my side to teach me everything.”

Third Ward Councilwoman Eileen Eckel joined the chorus, telling Arce, “You’re one of those rare people who brings out the best in all of us. I appreciate your friendship and counsel over the years,” especially, being “sassy,” she said.

And Fourth Ward Councilwoman Susan McCurrie offered this tribute: “I’ll miss you …. You’re going for a good cause.”

During her 11 years on the council, Arce has served as chairperson for the Transportation Committee and a member of the Police, Water and Recreation Committees. Most recently, she was the council liaison to the Planning Board.

She has volunteered and fundraised for March of Dimes Walk America, Project HOPE (Homebound Outreach Project for the Elderly) at Beth Israel Medical Center, AIDS Walk and Making Strides – Walk for Breast and Ovarian Cancer.

Recounting that bitterly contested 2003 Primary contest, Santos said the slate aligned with the HCDO was placed on Line A of the ballot while, “we were kicked over to Line E.”

The dissident ticket didn’t mind “working with the county,” Santos said, but its members also wanted to give Kearny residents more of a say in running the town, he added.

“Our ticket won by a 2-1 margin,” the mayor said and the victory gave the dissidents at 7-2 majority on the governing body – which became 9-0 a few years later.

Improvements eyed at Kearny Point

By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 


The town governing body is poised to adopt a conceptual redevelopment plan for the Kearny Point Industrial Park, after having voted Dec. 2 to introduce an ordinance to approve the plan and is expected to adopt it at a public hearing before year’s end.

Mayor Alberto Santos said that adoption – following the Planning Board’s Dec. 3 approval of a site plan and variance applications in support of the proposal – would set the stage for the town to act on the owner/developer RTL Services’ application for a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) and for RTL to begin work in 2015. Santos said the town will also likely act on a request by Carlstadt developer Ed Russo for a PILOT on a proposed expansion of a redevelopment project at Bergen and Schuyler Aves. for an additional 70 apartments.

The 126-acre property at Kearny Point – originally home to the Federal Shipyard and Dry Dock Co. – fronts along the Conrail tracks and Central Ave. to the west and the Hackensack River to the east, has been used for warehousing and distribution facilities for the last half-century.

However, because of flooding from Super storm Sandy in 2012, “many of the buildings are currently vacant or have been demolished,” according to a report on the redevelopment plan prepared by Heyer Gruel & Associates, the town’s planning consultants.

In its PILOT application filed with the town, RTL envisions an investment in excess of $100 million for a water quality improvement project to enhance the property’s water, stormwater and sanitary sewer infrastructure systems, demolition of existing substandard buildings and infrastructure, a soil improvement program to minimize settlement that could disrupt new water facilities and construction of an impervious cap to mitigate contamination of the site and the river.

As part of the future use of the site, RTL is hoping to deploy a “flex space” concept where “a structure with high ceilings containing an open floor plan … can be modified [with partitioning, for example] to accommodate individual needs of its tenants. Individual areas can be leased for uses such as office space with warehouse, research and distribution facilities and other light industrial uses [as well as] general loading accommodations,” Heyer & Gruel reported.

In another commercial development, the Kearny Planning Board voted Dec. 3 to permit Signature Pre-Owned LLC, a used car dealer at 375 Schuyler Ave., to relocate to 369-371 Schuyler.

Signature owner Victor Castro, represented by attorney Ken Lindenfelser, told the board, “I need a little more room to make [the business] work.”

Castro plans to use an existing one-story, 1,900 square foot masonry building on the new site as an office for himself and three employees and possibly as a showroom for “one or two” of the 18 used cars he’ll have on the 9,000 square foot lot.

The rest of the cars will be contained on a portion of the new property which will also accommodate parking spaces for up to five customers, he said.

Castro’s Scotch Plains engineer Thomas Quinn told the board that the front of the masonry structure will be replaced by a glass front, that a roll-up metal garage door will be installed at the southwest corner of the building and that existing chain-link fencing will be extended along the northern property line so that the entire site will be enclosed.

Board member Michael Martello, who also serves as town administrator and construction code official, advised Castro and Quinn that as per licensing requirements for used car dealers, fencing “must be set back one foot beyond the property line” and that exterior lighting cannot “reflect onto the adjacent property.”

While the plans show a fairly tight configuration for the used cars to be stored on the lot, Quinn told the board that Castro’s employees “will have ample room to maneuver cars in and out of spots.” The process will be eased, he added, by the fact that customers are asked to make appointments so the employees will have ample time to do the maneuvers.

Since Schuyler is a county roadway, Castro must also get approval from the Hudson County Planning Board before he can go forward with the move, Martello noted.

Thoughts & Views: A time for remembrance


Do you know anything about the S.S. Leopoldville?

That’s a rhetorical question, because odds are you don’t. As Christmas Eve nears, I wanted to share the story because this Dec. 24th marks the 70th anniversary of a tragedy that cost the lives of 763 American soldiers but was an official secret for many years.

I first learned of it in 1999, from a retired New York City police lieutenant, Allan Andrade, when I was working for the N.Y. Daily News.

The column I wrote then is available online, but also available, and of greater import, is the book Andrade authored, “S.S. Leopoldville Disaster: December 24, 1944.” You can find it on Amazon.

At risk of plagiarizing myself, I’m repeating the story for Observer readers because those 763 men deserve to be remembered.

The U.S. Army troops were members of the 262nd and 264th Regiments of the 66th Infantry Division who were being transported across the English Channel, from Southampton to Cherbourg, for deployment in the Battle of the Bulge. In all, there were 2,235 soldiers, including some British forces, aboard the Leopoldville, a former Belgian passenger liner converted into a troopship.

As the ship approached the French coast, it was torpedoed by a German U-boat and sank. More than 500 of the Americans are believed to have gone down with the vessel. Another 248 died of injuries, drowned or froze to death in the frigid Channel. In all, 493 bodies were never recovered.

Those who were found were piled on a Cherbourg pier. Andrade provided me with a quote from his book, from a Linden man, Robert Hesse, who had witnessed the scene. “Live ones were stacked up with the dead ones. Some were so frozen, they could only move their eyes, but that was enough to save their lives.”

For whatever bureaucratic/ diplomatic reasons, the story of the Leopoldville was kept secret and remained so long after wartime censorship could be used as the explanation. Survivors were ordered not to discuss the sinking. The families of the victims were given scant information. The telegrams sent by the Army read, “Missing in action.” Or, “Killed in action in the European area.”

The U.S. Army records were not declassified until 1959; the British files, not until 1996.

(An interesting sidelight, although it may be apocryphal since the sources have not been verified: As the story goes, for decades, the French Navy used the sunken wreck of the Leopoldville as a training site for divers. This supposedly ended in the late ‘90s when they finally learned the facts about the ship.)

In 1997, a 66th Infantry Leopoldville memorial was finally erected at Fort Benning, Ga. It is inscribed with the names of the dead, including 24 from New Jersey. Among them are two local men: Pfc. Malcolm B. Christopher of Nutley and S.Sgt. Gilbert J. Steuble of Belleville.

For a complete list of the victims — which, coincidentally, was complied by Andrade — visit leopoldville.org.

That’s one of the benefits of the internet. Things that had been lost to history are now being rediscovered. The dead can become, as they should be, the honored dead.

And now, I will deliberately plagiarize myself, paraphrasing the words I used to end the column I wrote for The News:

Come Christmas Eve, you might acknowledge the supreme sacrifice of the Leopoldville victims. With a silent prayer on a holy night.

 – Karen Zautyk 

Union pickets Passaic Ave. mall site


Members of Local 3, Building Construction Laborers of North Jersey, are picketing a Passaic Ave. mall development site where a new BJ’s is slated as the anchor tenant.

Currently, Danco General Contracting is demolishing the old Congoleum factory on the site to clear the way for construction of new retail outlet stores by DVL Holdings LLC.

Paul Roldan, Local 3 field representative for Hudson and Essex counties, said the union is upset about Danco’s use of non-union labor and about safety at the work site.

Danco, according to a published report, is paying its workers $22 to $25 an hour with no benefits. Roldan said the union scale “area standard” is $54 an hour. And, he said, the benefit of having union labor is that, “all of our people are OSHA (federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration)-trained.”

Aside from that, Rolan said that, “for jobs of this magnitude,” there’s no reason why at least some Kearny area residents shouldn’t be employed. For tax-abated development projects exceeding $20 million, the government permits Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) between the community and the developer, which, he said, would “trigger the use of a [union] apprenticeship program for at least 20% of the work force at the project.”

Asked about that, Kearny Mayor Alberto Santos said that local government “cannot mandate the use of union labor” but they can sign a PLA “which requires the contractor to employ and train apprentices” and “a contractor with non-union workers would have to pay union dues for the length of the project and follow union rules on pensions and work conditions. Kearny does not have a PLA policy.”

Asked if the town would consider implementing such a policy, Santos said: “We would need a cost analysis done before doing so. Unlike Jersey City [which has a PLA], Kearny does not have the same level of developer interest.”

 – Ron Leir